Eagles

Will Jay Ajayi make his Eagles debut this Sunday?

uspresswire-ap-pederson-staley-ajayi.jpg
USA Today Images/AP Images

Will Jay Ajayi make his Eagles debut this Sunday?

The clock started counting down from the moment Jay Ajayi was traded to Philadelphia. 

Five days until kickoff. 

The Eagles' new running back will have three days of practice and a Saturday walkthrough before the Birds host the Broncos at 1 p.m. on Sunday. 

Will Ajayi play? 

Well, head coach Doug Pederson wouldn't say Wednesday. But it seems quite possible that Ajayi might have at least a limited role depending on how the week of practice goes. 

"It all depends on how well he does pick it up," Pederson said. "And listen, you can't just throw everything at him right away. He's got to sort of push Miami's offense out one side and embrace ours. It's harder to do than easier. We've just got to spend some extra time with him and do the best we can to get him at least a few plays that he's comfortable with."

If Ajayi does play Sunday, he'll face the second-best rush defense in the NFL (after the Eagles). Denver has given up just 72.9 yards per game on the ground this season. 

Pederson said there will likely be some carryover from the Dolphins to the Eagles, but the terminology and even the way the Eagles teach footwork might be different. Pederson said they'll need to spend extra time with Ajayi to get him comfortable. 

Carson Wentz said it'll be on the coaching staff and players to help Ajayi catch up. From there, he and his new running back will need to work on forging chemistry. 

"That stuff sometimes takes time," Wentz said. "It takes a lot of communication. It might be watching film and showing him some looks and some different things. I think with Duce (Staley) as his running backs coach, Duce does such a great job with all the running backs, I think he'll get him up to speed really quick. We'll just have to get through that." 

Once Ajayi is comfortable and has the offense down, it would stand to reason that his role in the offense will increase. On Wednesday, Pederson sidestepped questions about the roles of the running backs once that happens. He simply said the running backs have strengths and the Eagles want to gear their offense to utilize them. Eventually, though, Ajayi will have a bigger role in the offense and there are only so many snaps and carries to go around. 

"This guy's a tough, powerful runner and he's got great vision," Pederson said of Ajayi. "He's got a great first step, quick back inside behind tackles and guards. One guy doesn't necessarily bring him down all the time. You have to go back a little bit to really watch him run routes and see that he's very capable of being a route runner out of the backfield and brings a really aggressive run demeanor to our offense." 

After the game Sunday, the Eagles have a bye week, which should allow Ajayi to spend some extra time learning his new playbook. 

"It's hard," Pederson said. "All he's known is Miami and we've got to get that out."

Don't get hung up on Keenum, Vikings pose daunting task for Eagles

ap-vikings.jpg
AP Images

Don't get hung up on Keenum, Vikings pose daunting task for Eagles

Eagles-Vikings
6:40 p.m. on FOX
Eagles +3

The Eagles are hoping the clock doesn’t strike midnight on their Cinderella story just as they’ve arrived at the doorstep to the Super Bowl.

Few expected the Eagles to be playing the Vikings for the NFC Championship, let alone hosting the game at Lincoln Financial Field. Few thought they would still have a shot at the big game once Carson Wentz was lost for the season. Yet, here they are, one win away from a trip to Minneapolis in two weeks.

It will take a tremendous effort to beat the Vikings, who matched the Eagles' win total in 2017 with 13, and were the No. 2 seed to the Eagles’ No. 1 seed in the playoffs. But should they manage to pull this one off, it will make for one of the most unlikely celebrations in franchise history.

Better than the Falcons in every way
Confidence is sky high after the Eagles dispatched the reigning conference champions in the divisional round, but make no mistake – the Vikings present a much bigger challenge than the Falcons.

That might seem obvious to some. After all, the Vikings won three more games this season. Yet, whether it’s because they were in the Super Bowl last year or the perception they have more star power, particularly under center, others view the Falcons as a superior foe. Put another way, many fans were hoping the Eagles would draw the Vikings in the NFC Championship.

Be careful what you wish for.

Clearly, the Vikings are much stronger defensively. With the No. 1 total and scoring defense, No. 1 third-down defense, and No. 2 run and pass defenses in the NFL, just moving the football, let alone scoring, could prove difficult for the Eagles. Minnesota limited five of its last seven opponents to 10 points or fewer.

Even offensively speaking, the Vikings are better. The vaunted Falcons offense that was so scary in 2016 finished 15th in scoring this season, and 23rd in the red zone. Minnesota ranked 10th and ninth, respectively.

Don’t underestimate the Vikings simply because they lack the name recognition of All-Pro players like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Minnesota is here for a reason, just like the Eagles.

Don’t get hung up on Case Keenum
I lost count of the number of times I heard a sentence begin, “If you would’ve told me only Case Keenum stood between the Eagles and the Super Bowl at the beginning of the season.” Yeah, nobody expected it, but there’s two problems with that statement.

First of all, Keenum has played well all season. The journeyman signal caller finished second in the NFL with a 67.6 completion percentage, fourth with 1.5 interception percentage, and seventh with a 98.3 passer rating. He didn’t necessarily throw for a ton of yards or touchdowns but played efficient football while minimizing turnovers and sacks. Keenum or not, the Vikings’ offense is dangerous.

Second, and perhaps more pertinent, is the Vikings could say the same about Nick Foles. It’s not like the Eagles will be taking the field with Wentz. They’re in the exact same boat.

It’s easy to denigrate Keenum, who prior to this season had a 9-15 record as a starter. The reality is he’s playing like a viable starter, even flashed franchise quarterback potential. If you’re suggesting the Eagles’ road is easy due to who’s under center for the Vikings, you might be overlooking a decent player, not to mention the obvious comparison to Foles.

A classic formula
Speaking of Wentz, so much time has passed since he was lost for the season, one can almost forget the Eagles looked like a different team with No. 11 in the lineup. The offense was far more capable of striking quickly and scoring in bunches, racking up 30 points or more in eight of his 13 starts this season.

Since then, the Eagles have taken on somewhat of a new identity, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Now, they’re built on running the football and playing stingy defense, a formula that’s been delivering Super Bowl championships successfully since the big game’s inception.

The defense has been good all season, finishing fourth in total yards and scoring, but often took a back seat to Wentz’s brilliance. Likewise, the ground attack was a major aspect of the Eagles' offense all season, even if it maybe lacked the sizzle Wentz would provide on a weekly basis.

Now, as the Eagles get set to host the Vikings in the conference championship, this is very much the defense’s team, while the offense must lean on the running game. Chances are good that, win or lose, the outcome is going to come down to how the Eagles perform in those two aspects.

Nick Foles' demeanor before biggest game of his life

usa-nick-foles.jpg
USA Today Images

Nick Foles' demeanor before biggest game of his life

Nick Foles stood at his locker Friday afternoon, gently crossed his arms and waited for the throng of reporters to assemble in a semicircle around him. 

Music was blaring throughout the room, so there was about a minute of waiting and small talk. A few joked, including Foles, that the rap music playing could give his interview a cooler vibe. 

Eventually, the music was turned down before Foles deadpanned: "I mean, do we have enough cameras?" 

Foles is about to play the biggest game of his life Sunday. There are thousands across the country and even in Philadelphia doubting whether or not he'll be able to play well enough for an Eagles' win. And Foles has been relaxed as ever all week. 

"Right now I just feel good. I feel calm," he said. "When you're in the moment, I just stress staying in the moment, preparing in the moment, doing anything you can right at this moment. The rest takes care of itself. That just keeps me level."

It's not just Foles. It's the entire team that's been loose this week. 

Dancing at practice, shooting hoops in the locker room. Heck, Donnie Jones and Lane Johnson have even serenaded their teammates with country songs as they walked into meetings this week. It's a group that's been loose all season; they haven't changed a thing even before the most important game of the year. 

About six minutes into answering questions about Doug Pederson's play-calling, getting into an offensive rhythm and, of course, Case Keenum, one reporter noted to Foles that he seemed really calm. 

"I feel great, honestly," Foles said. "Just living in the moment, doing everything you can to prepare and then going out on Sunday and giving it everything you have. That's all you can ever do. Sometimes when you press and try to do too much, it becomes difficult. I think we just have a great schedule throughout the week, it's something we've been doing all throughout the year and we feel comfortable with it. You just sort of stick to the schedule, stick to your preparation. 

"I trust the guys next to me. The big reason I love playing football is I trust the guys next to me, I love the guys I play with. That's probably my greatest strength. I know I can depend on them and they can depend on me." 

Can I kick it? 
Without Jake Elliott's three field goals last Saturday, the Eagles aren't able to take down the Atlanta Falcons and they wouldn't be in the NFC Championship Game. 

Elliott, the rookie kicker who the Eagles added this season after Caleb Sturgis went down, will turn 23 on Sunday. The same day he'll very possibly need to make a game-winning field goal to send the Eagles to the Super Bowl. 

Last week, before his first playoff game, Elliott talked about how he handles pressure (see story). There's certainly a lot of it in the playoffs. 

"That's one thing with Jake," Pederson said. "It doesn't get so big for him. He handles all these situations. Inside he might be a ball of nerves, but on the outside, he's cool, calm and collected. Obviously some of the big kicks he's had this season already has really prepared him for it. If it comes down to that, he can make that kick. We all have faith and trust that he'll do it. When you step away from it and go, yeah, he's a rookie, first-year kicker, but he's been exposed to a lot of veteran kicks this year, and he's got a great future ahead of him."

The one slightly concerning thing about Elliott is his propensity to miss short kicks. While he's been incredible from long distances, extra points have been a problem. Including the playoffs, Elliott has missed four extra points. The only kicker to miss more this season? Vikings kicker Kai Forbath. 

So in a game pretty much everyone thinks will be close, this is something to watch. 

Of Elliott's four missed extra points, two have gone wide left, one went wide right and the one last week hit the left upright. 

Including extra points and playoffs, Elliott has actually been more accurate from 40-plus (90 percent) than inside 40 yards (87.7 percent) this season. Go figure. 

Thanks, Howie
Earlier this week, Eagles VP of football operations Howie Roseman was named the NFL Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America. Not much of a surprise. He revamped a team that went 7-9 and helped turn them into the top seed in the NFC, capable of overcoming major injuries to key players. 

While many probably thought the Eagles were going into a season of building with second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, Roseman went out and brought in players that he knew could help this season. 

For the coaching staff, it had to mean a lot that Roseman believed there was an opportunity to win this year. 

"It's tremendous," Pederson said. "Howie has come a long way through the last couple years, and to be in this position, to help this football team win and succeed on the football field is a credit to him and his staff. That's the thing that he and I with the communication, the open communication of being on the same page with the types of players that we want to have in this building and the types of good character people and obviously good football players, number one. 

"But it's just a credit to him and what he's done and being able to find the guys that we've been able to coach and help us get in this position."

Quote of the Week I: "But at the end of the day, it's going to come down to is our D-line better than theirs? I mean, they got a dominant D-line, we have a dominant D-line. And we'll see who shows up on Sunday." -- Fletcher Cox

Quote of the Week II: "He speaks with a lot of passion and intensity. And there's meaning behind his words. You want to be right there and you want to feed off of that intensity. You've already got a lot of emotions and energy in yourself already, but when you've got a guy like that, you feed off of that too." -- Steven Means on Malcolm Jenkins

Quote of the Week III: "I probably eat more than any guy I've seen. My best moment was I once ate 30 slices of pizza in one sitting. You know Cicis Buffet? Yeah, shut that place down." -- Stefen Wisniewski 

Random media guide note: Brandon Graham's first job was working the grill at McDonald's.