Eagles

Sudfeld proves ready if Eagles need him

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Sudfeld proves ready if Eagles need him

The Eagles won't have a quarterback controversy on their hands, but Nate Sudfeld is ready if called upon.

Sudfeld, making his NFL regular-season debut Sunday, saw the bulk of the action under center in the Eagles' 6-0 Week 17 loss to the Cowboys (see breakdown). The second-year passer came on in relief of Nick Foles in the second quarter, completing 19 of 23 attempts for 134 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He was also sacked three times.

Playing with his fellow backups for all but the first series, Sudfeld held his own and avoided turnovers. He showed adequate arm strength, good pocket awareness and mobility, accounting for the Eagles' longest gain of the day with a 22-yard run.

It was a performance Sudfeld can build on. Yet afterward, the 24-year-old was far from satisfied.

"Pretty solid for the most part in terms of efficiency and everything, but I felt like there were some plays that we weren't able to finish," Sudfeld said. "I took two sacks that I shouldn't have. And overall, you want to actually get points and finish drives, but we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit.

“I still feel like it was all there, we just didn't play to our best.”

A sixth-round draft pick by the Redskins in 2016, Sudfeld was signed to the Eagles' practice squad in September, then added to the 53-man roster in November. He became the backup to Foles after the season-ending injury to Carson Wentz, amid calls for the team to sign an experienced signal caller.

Despite his rapid ascension up the depth chart, nobody had any idea what a Sudfeld-led offense might look like until Sunday.

"Reps always help," Sudfeld said. "I felt confident before today that I could go in and do my part and help this team win, but stacking some reps together is awesome.

“I'm more confident than ever in my ability, and I know that I could help this team out if they need me.”

Sudfeld completed 82.6 percent of his passes, though he stuck with short-to-intermediate routes, finishing with a modest 5.8 yards per attempt. The thought process of the approach was part making smart decisions, and part taking what the defense would give him.

"That's a little bit of how Dallas is," Sudfeld said. "They're a bend-but-don't-break defense. They're going to try to force you to just check it down all game, and they stayed true to that. There were a few times I'm sure I could've maybe given it a shot downfield, but I was just trying to play efficient today.

“You always wish there could be more, but I feel like one more drive, and those shots were coming.”

Though much was made about this being Sudfeld's first regular-season action, the Indiana product claimed it wasn't vastly different from his six preseason contests with the Redskins.

"Everybody makes such a huge deal out of regular season, and guys are so much better, and they are," Sudfeld said. "Everybody is.

“But playing preseason is really fast paced also, and I've said it before, that's guys fighting for their livelihood. They're trying to be a football player for their life, for their career, so I think there are a lot of similarities. It's more similar than it is different.”

Of course, the pace may have felt similar to an exhibition game because it was that in many respects. The Eagles had already clinched the top playoff seed in the NFC, and by halftime, they were resting as many starters as possible. And while the Cowboys played many of their starters until the end, they were eliminated from postseason contention last week, lacking urgency.

Still, the opportunity to go against a defense made of actual NFL players rather than the back end of a 90-man roster was an invaluable experience for Sudfeld.

"Before this game, I felt if the team ever required me to play and help this team," Sudfeld said, "I felt I was able to do it, but it's always good to get reps and do it in live action."

In many respects, Sudfeld outplayed Foles on Sunday. Sudfeld was far more accurate and showed an ability to make plays with his feet that Foles doesn't have, no doubt prompting some observers to believe the backup will be a better option when the playoffs get underway in January.

That's probably a touch unfair, but all of a sudden, the Eagles don't look so crazy for stashing Sudfeld all season and opting to keep him as the backup instead of signing a free agent off the street. He looked like a legitimate prospect, perhaps even somebody with a future in the league.

"For the most part, the whole game I felt in pretty good rhythm," Sudfeld said. "Obviously, you want to put points on the board and stuff, but I never really felt out of rhythm by any means.

Lane Johnson using underdog status to raise money for Philly schools

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Lane Johnson using underdog status to raise money for Philly schools

How do you turn being a home underdog into a good thing? Use it as motivation to win a football game.

How do you turn being a home underdog into a great thing? Raise money for Philadelphia schools and win football games. That’s what Lane Johnson is doing.

After the nation doubted the Eagles against the Falcons, Johnson and Chris Long donned dog masks after divisional round win, embracing the role of underdogs. Now, Johnson has his own T-shirt and is raising money. A lot of it, too.

Shirts can be purchased at lj65.shop for just $18 and Johnson tweeted that more than 3,000 have already been sold.

Hopefully, the home dogs continue to eat this weekend against the Vikings.

Game-winning stand just another play for Eagles' defense

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Game-winning stand just another play for Eagles' defense

There were no special instructions. No extraordinary measures taken. Not much was said. Not much needed to be said.

The game was on the line. The season was on the line. For the Eagles' defense, it was just another play. The stakes were just incredibly high.

It was 4th-and-goal for the Falcons at the Eagles' 2-yard-line in the final seconds Saturday.

Give up a touchdown, and the season's over. Stop the Falcons and you're one game closer to the Super Bowl.

"Our guys, we don't do a whole lot," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Our guys know what to do, and they have downloaded that software enough that it's a little bit automatic for them.

"We also didn't change. We don't surprise the players. What we practiced in our red-zone period is what we played."

The Falcons had already driven from their own 24-yard-line down to the 2-yard-line.

Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, has the fourth-highest passer rating in NFL postseason history, behind Jeff Hostetler and Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Bart Starr.

That's what the Eagles' defense was up against.

"At that point, you sort of have to trust the players and the players have to trust the scheme," Schwartz said. "I think you saw a combination of both of those. We didn't feel the need to blitz. Played coverage, played good technique."

The clock showed 1:05.

Ryan’s two favorite receivers, Julio Jones and Mohamad Sanu, both lined up on the right side of the formation, Jones outside with Jalen Mills on him and Sanu in the slot with Malcolm Jenkins covering him in a battle of North Jersey natives.

Ryan took the shotgun snap from center Alex Mack at the 7-yard-line and immediately rolled to his right, retreating to the 10 as he neared the sideline.

Nigel Bradham, lined up as the left linebacker, trampled blocking tight end Levine Tollolo, who had his hands full with Brandon Graham, and ran around guard Wes Schweitzer, giving him an angle on Ryan. 

Meanwhile, Vinny Curry, after getting cut blocked to the ground by Falcons running back Tevin Coleman, quickly bounced back up and began pursuing from Ryan’s left. 

Ryan pumped once toward Sanu, who was covered by Jenkins. He quickly looked left but saw only Curry closing in. Thanks to the pressure, he had to quickly backpedal back to the 14-yard-line and finally was forced to unload that lob toward Jones at the right sideline in the end zone.

At that point, it was up to Mills, who had Jones blanketed, and the rest is history.

The ball went through Jones’ hands, his feet came down out of bounds anyway, and after an agonizing moment looking for flags, the play was over.

"A lot gets made of what Jalen did, rightfully so," Schwartz said. "You're talking about a Pro Bowl, All-Pro receiver, 1-on-1. But Malcolm playing the seven route to Sanu and Rodney (McLeod’s) ability to help him leverage that, that was because he's looking for Julio Jones first.

"Julio slips, he's looking for Sanu, nowhere to go and now he has to re-rack that thing and by then, Nigel is closing down on him and everything else.

"If Malcolm doesn't get that route that he covered, if he doesn't get that covered, nobody's talking about Jalen Mills right now."

Mills was physical with Jones but not physical enough to draw a flag. Schwartz said Mills has made huge strides this year with his technique, and on the biggest play of his life, his technique was perfect.

"It's one thing to have confidence, but that's just not the sole requirement for the position," Schwartz said.

"There's a lot of technique that goes along with playing, and I think if you look at that last play, he did a great job of staying square. Meaning his shoulders were perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.

"What the receiver there is trying to do is get you turned so he can come back for the ball. He could never get Jalen turned."

Mills is 23 years old, a second-year pro, a former seventh-round pick, a first-year starter.

To think that he made one of the most historic plays in Eagles postseason history is remarkable.

"I think every player makes a big jump from year one to year two, as far as knowledge of scheme and knowledge of opponents and things like that," Schwartz said.

"(Defensive backs coach Cory) Undlin and Jalen have worked really hard. He's haunted the hallways quite a bit, even on off days this year, just trying to improve his technique. It hasn't been by chance that his technique has gotten better. It's a lot of hard work that's gone into it from a coaching standpoint and from a player's standpoint."

The bottom line is that this defense has played tremendous football all year.

And with the season on the line, everybody simply went out and did their job. Nothing more, nothing less.

"I just think a part of our success is our guys just understand what's asked of them in the schemes," Schwartz said.

"They communicate well. We don't make a lot of mistakes, mental mistakes, and I think that makes it hard to drive the ball on us.

"When you get into those situations where is it's closed quarters and you don't have to defend deep balls, our guys have a good understanding of what opponents are going to do. I was proud of them on that play."