Eagles

Wendell Smallwood appears to be odd man out in Eagles' RB rotation

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Wendell Smallwood appears to be odd man out in Eagles' RB rotation

Despite the acquisition of Jay Ajayi, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson insisted on Wednesday he will continue to employ a rotation at running back.

"I think it's kind of the way it's been going," Pederson said. "There's certain things that (LeGarrette Blount) does, and there's certain things that Jay can do, and there's certain things that (Corey Clement) can do.

“We continue to embrace that and design our run game around their strengths.”

But there was one name that was conspicuous by its omission when Pederson went over the rotation — Wendell Smallwood.

Maybe that doesn't mean anything. Maybe Pederson was simply rattling off a few examples and left it at that.

Or maybe it's a sign of things to come. Maybe the Ajayi trade will finally butt Smallwood out of consideration for regular playing time, at least for the time being.

“Nothing changes with Wendell," Pederson said. "We just keep him coming and keep feeding him when we can.”

Smallwood has 38 carries and 10 receptions so far this season. But in the Eagles' last game, the second-year back only touched the ball twice, and it was the third time he finished with fewer than five.

If nothing changes, as Pederson claimed, we can assume Smallwood's role will remain limited, at best. And when pressed further on the issue, the head coach admitted he really wasn't sure how everything would play out.

“I can't tell you until I get to gameday, honestly," Pederson said. "I don't know. I'm not going to speculate until (Ajayi) knows our system how we're going to necessarily use him.”

Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich also tried to make the case that the club “loves” Smallwood.

“We are happy with all the guys that we’ve got in the building,” Reich said. “To get a spot in this building is not easy and when you get a spot in this building, it means we love you and you're ours. You're our family and you get treated like that, with the respect that you've earned your way here.

“Every person, whether it's the top guy or the quote-unquote bottom guy on the roster, every spot is valuable.”

A fifth-round draft pick in 2016, Smallwood did have an opportunity to earn a job as one of the Eagles’ primary backs in training camp. However, a hamstring injury sidelined the second-year player for a portion of the summer.

Smallwood also missed two games this season with a knee injury, and was sidelined multiple times during his rookie season as well.

The 23-year-old’s health has been one issue. Another, the Eagles seem hesitant to rely on him in pass protection, which can often conspire to sideline young backs. Nor has Smallwood seized a bigger role with his performance on the field, averaging a modest 4.0 yards per carry during his brief NFL career.

The bottom line is the Eagles clearly felt Ajayi upgraded the roster, and no matter how they spin it, at least somewhat at Smallwood’s expense.

"The message has never changed," Pederson said. "We're going to constantly look at bringing in competition at every spot.

“Competition makes us better. Competition makes each individual better. This is no different. Whether it's OTAs or Week 9, Week 8, whatever it is in the regular season, it doesn't change."

The Eagles are trying to make the claim nobody’s role has to change after the addition of Ajayi. Both Pederson and Reich also said the meager 13 snaps Smallwood played against the 49ers was simply the way the rotation worked out.

But between the Eagles signing Blount in May, trading for Ajayi on Monday, and Clement’s emergence as a viable option this season, Smallwood continues to lose ground in that competition.

Doug Pederson uses last season's losing streak to motivate Eagles

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Doug Pederson uses last season's losing streak to motivate Eagles

This time last year? The Eagles actually still had a winning record and were thinking playoffs.
 
Then disaster.
 
The Eagles were 5-4 going into Week 10 a year ago and proceeded to lose their next five games, the first three in blowout fashion.
 
It was the Eagles' longest losing streak since an eight-game streak in 2012, Andy Reid's last year, and third longest since a seven-game streak spanning 1998 and 1999.
 
More importantly, it was the team's longest losing streak that began with a winning record that late in a season since the notorious 1994 collapse in Rich Kotite's final season — a 7-2 start turned into a 7-9 finish.
 
A losing streak like that can either destroy a team's character or make it even stronger.
 
And Doug Pederson knew it could go either way.
 
"I look back at that, and I just kept reminding the team that you put in the hard work and the preparation, and you believe in each other, you believe in yourself, you trust the process, and that's not cliché," he said Friday.
 
"You have to trust what I'm talking about, what the coaches are talking about, and just stick together, and there's no pointing fingers. That's what they did. They hung together."
 
That losing streak began with a home loss to Seattle. Although the final score was 26-15, it was a 26-7 game until a Dorial Green-Beckham touchdown in the final minutes. (Really.)
 
After that came a 27-13 loss to the Packers at the Linc and then the low point, an embarrassing 32-14 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati, a game the Eagles trailed 29-0 late in the third quarter.
 
"That was sort of a defining moment at that point," Pederson said. "I guess we were as low as we were going to be as a team and organization coming out of that game. The guys responded well.
 
"(The) messaging was the same. We practiced the same after that. Lot of pride, too. Lot of pride in the coaches. Lot of pride in the players and this organization. …
 
"We needed to change it. We needed to fix it. Even though we didn't win a couple games after that, you saw steady improvement (and then) we figured out a way at the end of the season to win those two games and finish on a high note."
 
The Eagles rebounded to show some fight in close losses to the Redskins and Ravens, then closed out the season with wins over the Giants and the Cowboys. Granted, the Dallas win was over a bunch of scrubs, but after a five-game losing streak, any win was welcome.
 
Pederson said Friday that pushing through that five-game losing streak and coming out and staying together as a team was instrumental in this team's 8-1 start going into Sunday night in Dallas.
 
"I think it directly affects the team this season," he said. "Things happen for a reason, and you learn from them, especially in this business. And really, in life in general. Things happen, and you learn from them. You make the necessary corrections and you move on.
 
"You don't dwell in the past, but you remember, and you reflect from time to time. So I think it's a direct correlation to where the team is today, learning how to finish games and learning how to play together and understanding that they are a good football team."
 
The Eagles are atop every NFL poll these days. They have the NFL's best record and share the longest winning streak with the Saints, and Pederson said it's not always easy for the players to ignore all the praise being lavished on them.
 
"Well, it is hard because the team, rightfully so, is being praised in a lot of areas and they're well deserved of the credit and the praise," he said.
 
"But at the same time, we understand that we can't look past this week. We can't look past this game. It's a division game on the road, national spotlight again. It's two teams that are undefeated in the NFC East. I'd like to say that every game is important, but none more important than the one we're faced with Sunday night."
 
Sunday night starts a very difficult stretch, with four of the next five games on the road and three of those road games against teams with winning records.
 
A year ago, the Eagles were 1-7 on the road, finishing with seven straight losses.
 
This year, they go into AT&T Stadium Sunday 3-1 away from Philly.
 
"Four out of the next five weeks we're traveling, it's kind of like the start of the season," Pederson said.
 
"This is sort of a tough stretch, but at the same time, it's one that we welcome. If we want to separate and become a good football team and a consistent winner in this league, these are the stretches that you have to go through and find ways to win games."

Eagles Milestones: Carson Wentz chasing all kinds of feats

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Eagles Milestones: Carson Wentz chasing all kinds of feats

As we move into Week 11, the Eagles continue to chase several notable milestones, both individually and as a team.

We take a look at Carson Wentz's ongoing streaks, record-setting run defense and Jake Elliott's scoring pace in this week's edition of Eagles Milestone Watch:

• Wentz leads the NFL with 23 touchdown passes on top of the 16 he threw last year. Wentz’s 39 TD passes so far are 19th most in NFL history by a quarterback in his first two seasons but only three out of 11th place. At his current pace, he’ll have 55 career TDs by the end of the year, which would be second most in NFL history after two years behind Dan Marino’s 68.

• The Eagles Sunday night will be seeking their eighth straight game with 100 or more rushing yards gained and fewer than 100 rushing yards allowed. That would be the fourth-longest streak in NFL history and the second-longest in the last 50 years, behind only the Steelers’ 10-game streak in 2001. 

• Elliott has scored 75 points in eight games and is on pace for 140 points in just 15 games this year. The NFL rookie scoring record is 150 points, set in 2014 by Eagles kicker Cody Parkey, who's now with the Dolphins.

• The Eagles have scored 26 or more points in seven straight games. If they score 26 against the Cowboys, they would set a franchise record with eighth consecutive games with at least 26 points and share the 14th-longest streak in NFL history.

• If Wentz throws a touchdown against the Cowboys, this would be his 12th straight game with a TD pass. That would be the third-longest streak in Eagles history, behind two Randall Cunningham streaks — 18 games over the 1987 and 1988 seasons and 13 games in 1990. If Wentz throws at least one TD and one or fewer interceptions, he would have 12 straight games with at least one TD and one or no INTs, which would be the 13th-longest streak in NFL history.