Eagles

Who likely will and won't play for Eagles in Week 17

Who likely will and won't play for Eagles in Week 17

It certainly seems like Nick Foles is going to play in the regular-season finale on Sunday. 

While head coach Doug Pederson said he hasn't yet made a decision about playing his starters in the meaningless game against the Cowboys, he hinted very strongly on Tuesday that Foles will get some action. 

There's a fine line because Foles could obviously use the extra time with the offense, but the Eagles can't afford for him to get hurt. 

"If that's the approach, then I would have rested him last night, quite honestly," Pederson said. "I can't worry about that. I have to play and get him as many reps as he can and be smart about it. Obviously, we have a lot of football left. Our season is really just beginning, quite honestly. We'll be smart, make good decisions there as a coaching staff, talk to the coordinators about play time and all that and we'll have a good plan later in the week." 

Foles didn't play well in the win over the Raiders, so getting him extra work seems like an easier decision. He failed to complete a single pass to Alshon Jeffery, and the receivers, in general, weren't involved in the game plan. Pederson said Foles will learn from the game, but he made an effort to point out that Foles didn't deserve all the blame. 

Last week, Pederson talked about the importance of his team keeping its edge heading into the playoffs, which also hints towards playing some starters. 

So run the numbers. This last game isn't like in training camp when they had expanded rosters. This week, they have just 53 players on the active roster and game day rosters are limited to 46 players. 

"If you do the math," Pederson said, "some of your starters are going to have to play." 

But there's also a possibility some starters might not play. A good place to start is with injured players. Brandon Graham is day to day with an ankle injury he suffered against the Raiders. It would be hard to justify playing him in a meaningless game. Same goes for Stefen Wisniewski, who is getting over an ankle injury of his own. 

Pederson didn't rule out the possibility of activating cornerback Sidney Jones from the non-football injury list but again mentioned that he hasn't played real football in a long time. 

If you had to bet on one guy who hasn't gotten snaps before playing this weekend, backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld would make sense. The Eagles seem set on sticking with two quarterbacks, so Sudfeld will be one injury away from being the team's quarterback in the playoffs. 

"You'd love to hopefully get him some time in there," Pederson said. "We haven't really seen him in an Eagles uniform taking snaps under center outside of practice. It'd be good to get him some time."

Eagles' underrated blocking machine vs. Falcons

good-wiz2a.png

Eagles' underrated blocking machine vs. Falcons

Toward the end of the regular season, the Eagles' offensive line just didn't seem to be hitting its stride. 

That all changed on Saturday against the Falcons. 

The Eagles' O-line dominated in the trenches and helped guide the Birds to a 15-10 win to advance to the NFC Championship Game. What was the line missing down the stretch? Stefen Wisniewski. 

The starting left guard missed a couple games with an ankle sprain but returned for the regular-season finale. Then, he just happened to have his best game as an Eagle in the divisional round game. It also happened to be the very first playoff game of his career. 

The 27-year-old Wisniewski had played in 107 regular-season games without getting to the postseason — more than any other player on the active roster. When he got his first shot, he certainly made it count. 

Because Wisniewski didn't just do his job against the Falcons. He was dominant and made things happen all afternoon. 

Here's a closer look at some of his impressive plays against Atlanta: 

This first play came on the Eagles' second drive of the game. It's 2nd-and-3 and Jay Ajayi is about to break off an 11-yard gain right behind the hole Wiz opens up. Wisniewski is about to get to the second level after the snap and find linebacker Deion Jones, who is a dynamic player but is also just 222 pounds. 

At the mesh point, Trey Burton has come across to take care of the defensive lineman while Wiz is getting out in front on Jones. He doesn't just block him, he's about to push him back. 

Ajayi finishes the run strong, picking up 11 yards. He rode on the back of Wisniewski the whole way. 

Here's a different angle on the block to get an idea of how far Wisniewski drove Jones back. 

 

•••

These next three plays happened on consecutive downs. They were the last two plays of the first quarter and the first play of the second. Wiz got in a zone. 

On this one, Wiz is about to take on big Ahtyba Rubin, who weighs 310 pounds. 


On this zone read play, Ajayi sweeps left, so the entire defensive line shifts that way. Rubin goes with the play, but you can see where Wisniewski opens the hole. He makes it pretty easy on Ajayi. 

•••

The very next play is a screen, which has been a big part of the Eagles' offense when it gets clicking. 

"The screen game has been something we've worked on the last couple of weeks," head coach Doug Pederson said, "and it had to get better as the season wore on for us." 

On this play, Nelson Agholor is at the bottom of the screen. He's about to come in motion to create some space at the bottom of the screen. That's where Wisniewski is going to get out in front to clear a path for Ajayi. 

Ajayi is working through the line and is about to settle in his spot to catch the pass from Nick Foles. Meanwhile, Wisniewski gets to the second level to find a hat to block. 

Then, Wiz just bullies Jones again. He really used that size and strength edge to his advantage and didn't let the quicker Jones get around him. 

This was an important play because it showed just how big of a key the screen game could be. A little later, you'll get to see Wiz's most impressive play. It came on a screen later in the game. 

This is the first play of the second quarter. After Ajayi picked up nearly 50 yards in the first quarter, he's on the sideline getting a breather so LeGarrette Blount is on the field. He's gonna run right behind Wiz. 

Just after the snap, Wiz lends some help to Jason Kelce, who is blocking big 346-pound tackle Dontari Poe. He then turns his attention to Jones, who has become his whipping boy at this point in the game. 

At this point, Wisniewski has picked up his second block on the play and you can see where Blount is going to find the room to sneak ahead for an 8-yard gain. 

••• 

This next play comes about a minute later in the second quarter. The Eagles were running all over the Falcons but Foles was having trouble getting into a rhythm. Pederson is going to find a way to get the ball into one of his playmaker's hands anyway. Agholor will take the ball on an end-around and Wisniewski is going to make it happen.

Lane Johnson swings around to get out in front of Agholor to provide a lead block, but it's Wisniewski who opens the hole. 

The Eagles gained 21 yards on this play to get them down to the 3-yard line. This led to their only touchdown of the game. 

We went in chronological order, which allowed us to save the best for last. Wiz was incredible on this 32-yard screen pass in the fourth quarter. He actually blocks three guys on one play and forces one away from a tackle. 

Pederson caught the Falcons off guard by running a screen pass to the same side on two consecutive plays. He knew they wouldn't be expecting it. But it was still gutsy to run it on a key 3rd-and-7. 

Just after the snap, Wisniewski gets enough of a block on Adrian Clayborn to give Foles plenty of time to deliver the ball. It's Wiz's job to let Clayborn through, but if he doesn't get a piece of him, the talented pass-rusher might have been able to blow up the play before it ever got a chance to develop. 


After getting the block at the line of scrimmage, Wiz gets out in front and takes care of the two defenders that get in his way. It's hard to see it with the photos, so take a look at his incredible play here: 

Pretty impressive, huh? This 32-yard screen pass got the Eagles across midfield, and they eventually got close enough for Jake Elliott to kick a 21-yard field goal to put them up 15-10. It was a huge score because then the Falcons needed a touchdown instead of a field goal. 

"I'll tell you, it was just set up perfectly for us and well-executed to have Wiz downfield and block one," Pederson said, "but take out two, obviously helps the play."

It took Wisniewski a while to prove himself this season. Even though he signed an extension this offseason, the Eagles seemed hesitant to give him the starting left guard spot. Isaac Seumalo was the starter going into the season and Chance Warmack was given the first shot to replace him when he struggled. 

Eventually, though, Wisniewski got the nod and has been playing at a really high level all season. The Eagles have three Pro Bowl or All-Pro linemen, but without Wisniewski, this line just didn't seem to work. With him, they were dominant on Saturday. 

Eagles turned a cliche into a badge of honor

ap-eagles-falcons-celebration.jpg
AP Images

Eagles turned a cliche into a badge of honor

A few seconds after Nick Foles ran onto the field for pregame warmups on Saturday afternoon before the divisional playoff game, Carson Wentz emerged from the same tunnel. Wearing an all-black Eagles sweatsuit and a green Eagles beanie, Wentz hobbled his way past onlookers with a single crutch tucked up under his right arm.

A reminder of what could have been.

More importantly, a reminder of how improbable all of this has been.

The Eagles are one win away from going to the Super Bowl without their franchise quarterback, their Hall of Fame left tackle, their starting middle linebacker, their most dynamic offensive playmaker, their original kicker and their special teams captain.

If a few months ago someone would have told you the Eagles were going to lose all of those players and still be in the NFC championship game, you probably would have laughed in their face. You probably would have called the men in the white coats to come and take them away.

But here we are.

The question is, how did we get here? How the hell is this even possible?

Well, it starts with coaching. Remember when that attention-seeking bozo said Doug Pederson was the least qualified head coach in NFL history? (see story.) Oops. If Pederson pulls this off, winning a Super Bowl with Foles and a group of other backups, it'll be one of the greatest achievements in modern coaching history. All season, his players have believed in him and he's believed in his players.

The front office deserves a ton of credit, too. Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas built this roster. They stockpiled talent at the back end of the depth chart. They overturned the team from a year ago. They brought in the exact right mix of vets and players yearning to prove themselves on one-year deals. They drafted well. They gambled by adding who some considered to be a problem child running back at the deadline and relied on a veteran locker room to put him in his place. At every single juncture, they pushed the right buttons.

And then the players believed.

They took that clichéd "next man up" philosophy and wore it on their chests like a badge of honor. The second-year left tackle stepped up. The linebacker who once requested an offseason trade acted like a true professional and started balling. The veteran backup quarterback who was once named the starter in Philly for "the next thousand years" was able to block out the haters and keep his confidence high.

The injured guys didn't go anywhere either. Wentz was finally allowed on the sideline against the Falcons and was able to help Foles settle down. Jason Peters was on the field before Saturday's game, offering advice and words of encouragement for his fellow offensive linemen. Jordan Hicks and Chris Maragos are always present in the locker room. Darren Sproles met up with the team during its week-long trip to Southern California and flew back with his teammates to be here for the stretch run.

This is a team. This is a dance-together, put-it-on-the-bulletin board, wear-the-dog-masks-together team. They were underdogs against the Falcons. They're underdogs against Vikings, who have dealt with a couple huge losses themselves this season.

With one more win, the Eagles are going to be underdogs in LII in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.

They're doing all this without Wentz and Peters and Hicks and Sproles and Maragos and Sturgis and without just about anyone outside of the NovaCare Complex believing in them even a little bit. That's why it's all so crazy.

So of course they're going to be underdogs from here on out.

Just bet against them at your own risk.