Eagles

Carson Wentz the big winner after Eagles' free-agent flurry

Carson Wentz the big winner after Eagles' free-agent flurry

When Carson Wentz went to sleep on Wednesday night, his best outside receivers were Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham. 

No more tossing and turning. 

Wentz will sleep a little easier from now on. 

While Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith will be counting their millions and while Howie Roseman will be receiving praise for pulling off the short-term deals, the real winner on Thursday was the Eagles' 24-year-old franchise quarterback. 

Wentz finally has some weapons aside from his hunting rifles. But these weapons are actually good for the Birds. 

All things considered -- the ups and downs included -- Wentz had a solid rookie campaign in 2016. The No. 2 overall pick completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 3,782 yards, 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in Year 1. As a rookie and for a team with a serious deficiency at wide receiver, he moved into fourth place all-time for Eagles passing yards in a season. 

Wentz wasn't perfect as a rookie, but he certainly didn't do anything to disprove the Eagles' notion that he can be the guy to lead the franchise for the next decade. And now he has the tools to make a jump in that all-important second year. 

The objective this offseason was pretty simple. A year removed from working to acquire a franchise quarterback, this entire offseason was all about finding ways to build around him. While signing receivers to what are basically both one-year deals might not seem like the way, it at least ensures that Wentz will have quality receivers to work with in 2017. It ensures that he'll be able to get into a rhythm and be able to count on his receivers to catch passes. 

It ensures that his growth won't be stunted by players who simply don't belong. 

How many times did Wentz seemingly avoid pressure, run around in the backfield for five or six seconds only to find that no one had gotten open? How many times did he throw for a first down only to have the ball dropped? How many times could a receiver have pulled in a tough pass that wasn't perfectly thrown to help him out but didn't? 

Forget Bryce Treggs and (yes, sorry) Paul Turner. DGB and Agholor are now afterthoughts -- if the Eagles get anything out of them next year, great. But now, the Eagles will have proven commodities lining up for them next season -- these guys chose to come and play with Wentz, too.

And the way the puzzle should fit makes a ton of sense. 

Jeffery is the big-bodied (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) receiver that Wentz can feel confidence in when he throws up a 50-50 ball. More times than not, Jeffery will come down with it. 

Smith, even after six years in the league, is still a burner. He's the field-stretcher who can finally help Wentz hit on long balls. Just six players have caught more 40-yard passes than Smith (25) since he entered the league in 2011. That was an area where the Eagles were awful in 2016; they had just six 40-yard completions. 

And Jeffery can catch the deep ball, too. Both Smith and Jeffery have had a season with more 40-yard catches than the Eagles pulled in during 2016. 

On top of Jeffery and Smith, the Eagles will still have two of Wentz's favorite targets -- Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz -- roaming the middle of the field. The two additions ought to help both of them find plenty more open space across the middle. 

Those Eagles fans who always see the glass as half-empty -- and there are plenty -- will scoff at these moves. They'll point at the declining numbers for both players, which are undeniable facts. Catch totals have dropped for Jeffery and Smith in each of their last three seasons. But without that drop-off, neither would be holding press conferences in Philly on Friday. Instead, they'd be playing on huge deals elsewhere. So think of these moves as low-risk, high-reward options.

The low risk comes in the form of the short-term contracts. The high reward will come if having them for at least a year helps Wentz grow. 

Because ultimately, that's what it's all about: helping Wentz grow. 

And it's hard to grow without getting a good night's sleep. 

Unselfishness at core of Eagles' balanced, lethal offense

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AP Images/USA Today Images

Unselfishness at core of Eagles' balanced, lethal offense

You look at the stats, and nothing jumps off the page. No running back on pace for 1,000 yards, no wide receiver on pace for 1,000 yards. Heck, even the all-world quarterback hasn't thrown for more than 211 yards in his last three games.

No 100-yard games by a wide out or tight end. Only one 100-yard game by a running back, and that was two months ago.

Four different guys have led the team in rushing, three different guys have led the team in receiving, 11 different guys have scored touchdowns.

Heck, in the win over Dallas Sunday night, the Eagles' longest catch wasn't by one of the speedy free agent wide receivers, and it wasn't by Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins or Zach Ertz. It was by rarely used 11th-year tight end Brent Celek, who turns 33 in January.

You want Pro Bowlers? This is not the offense for you. You want guys to score you a ton of fantasy points? This is definitely not the offense for you. 

You want a Super Bowl contender? Welcome to Philly, where head coach Doug Pederson has found a way to get a bunch of players used to being the guy to suppress their egos and do whatever's necessary to help the team.

LeGarrette Blount led the NFL in rushing touchdowns last year. Jay Ajayi was a Pro Bowler last year. Alshon Jeffery has been a Pro Bowler and was fifth in the NFC in receiving yards per game over the last four years. 

They're used to being stars. They like being stars. They get paid to be stars. And they've all put their egos aside to be part of something special.

Pederson's greatest accomplishment this year has been to get everybody on the roster to buy into the notion of setting aside personal goals to help the team win football games.

These are guys with big-money incentives and tremendous pride in their numbers. They want to be considered the best at what they do. And they want to put up numbers that land them that next big contract.

But Pederson has them all locked into something bigger, something greater. That game in Minnesota in 2 ½ months.

"The bottom line is winning the game," Pederson said. "Bottom line. I don't go into a game saying, ‘Jay, you've got to get 100 yards rushing. LeGarrette or Alshon, you've got to have 100 yards receiving.’ 

"It doesn't work that way. We don't design the offensive plays to work that way. If it happens, great. Alshon a couple weeks ago had an opportunity to be our first 100-yard receiver this year.

"It's just the guys just want to win, and it doesn't matter who's hot in the game. Our quarterback is so prepared and well-prepared, knowing exactly where to go with the ball in the passing situations. We ask him to do so much in the run game. And it's all part of the process, and these guys have bought in 100 percent, and they prepare that way. 

"You see it on game day. They're just all making plays and they're all contributing right now."

The Eagles are an NFL-best 9-1, and a win at home Sunday against the lowly Bears gives them nine straight wins, which would tie a franchise record set in 1960 and matched in 2003.

Their last four wins have all been by double digits, they're averaging 32 points per game, and they're on pace to score the 15th-most points in NFL history.

And they're doing it without anybody on pace for a 1,000-yard season and with just one 100-yard game by a receiver or running back.

Every coach talks about unselfishness, but Pederson genuinely has these guys living it and breathing it.

Why does it work?

"Because we all want to win," Blount said.

And it works because the quarterback is the most unselfish guy of all and legitimately doesn't care about anything other than getting a win.

"Winning is contagious, and the guys feed off of that," Pederson said. "And so it really doesn't matter who makes the play. It's just at the end of the day, just find a way to win the game."

Eagles DE Derek Barnett wreaking havoc as sacks starting to pile up

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USA Today Images

Eagles DE Derek Barnett wreaking havoc as sacks starting to pile up

With each passing game, it's starting to become clearer and clearer why the Eagles used their first-round pick on Derek Barnett. 

The rookie defensive end is beginning to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. 

"This guy is very disruptive, explosive," head coach Doug Pederson said. "He's another one of those unselfish guys. He just wants to win and do whatever he can to help the team win."

Barnett, the 14th overall pick in April's draft, had two sacks and a forced fumble in the Eagles' 37-9 win Sunday night over the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. 

In addition to Barnett's two sacks (he forced a fumble on one), he also applied pressure and hit quarterback Dak Prescott on two of his three interceptions. 

It seemed like Sunday was probably Barnett's best NFL game so far. The 21-year-old humbly didn't go along with that assessment. 

"I think I did some good things, but I need to do a better job in the run game," Barnett said. "I didn't do that well in the run game. At the end of the day, we won. That's all that matters. We got a victory and let's all go back to Philly." 

After failing to record a sack in his first five NFL games, Barnett now has 4.5 in his last five games. He is second among all NFL rookies in sacks this season. 

He's already eighth on the Eagles' rookie sack list and could move up that list quickly. Two more sacks would put him third behind just Reggie White (13) and Corey Simon (9.5). 

Sacks sometimes come in bunches. 

"I just think they're coming now," Pederson said. "I think he's getting comfortable in the role. He's developing. He's understanding the game. He studies tackles, he studies his opponent. He's developed a couple of different moves. It's just his willingness. It just clicks for any player. They start to come. I love where he's at right now too." 

Even before the sacks started coming, Barnett was quietly getting pressure. Now, he's getting pressure and finishing the plays. 

Barnett played 51 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps Sunday and is closing on the 50 percent mark on the season. While he hasn't been widely talked about as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, he could make a case quickly if these numbers keep piling up. 

More importantly, he could offer the Eagles a dangerous pass-rusher as they make their way down the stretch and into the playoffs.

And he's doing it with the same traits that made him attractive to the Eagles in the first place. 

Remember just after he was drafted, when vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas raved about Barnett's "excellent" ankle flexion? 

Well, check out Barnett's bend on his fourth-quarter strip sack: 


 

He bent around the left tackle and came at Prescott horizontally. 

He did it earlier in the game on the Rodney McLeod interception: 

 

And remember how much everyone praised his high motor and compete level? 

Check out his first-half sack. He willed his way to a sack and wouldn't let Prescott escape. 

Sunday was Barnett's second career two-sack game; they came less than a month apart. And it looks like there are plenty more sacks in his future. 

"They're starting to come in slowly but surely," Barnett said. "Everybody says to pass rush, you have to keep on rushing. You can't get down. You're going to be in your little slumps and stuff. You have to keep on grinding through it. It's eventually going to break."