Eagles

Eagles-Cowboys: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Cowboys: Roob's 10 observations

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ARLINGTON, Texas — This game had Josh Huff throwing the longest pass of the night by an Eagle, it had the refs calling a holding penalty on Chase Daniel, it had Caleb Sturgis becoming the most accurate kicker in Eagles history and it had the Eagles going overtime at AT&T Stadium for the second time in 11½ months.

And in the end, it had the Cowboys beating the Eagles 29-23 in overtime in a battle for first place in the NFC East (see Instant Replay).

Some good, some bad. Some very bad.

So if you’re still awake ... here’s tonight’s (this morning’s) 10 Instant Observations:

1. It’s astonishing to me what Carson Wentz is able to do without an impact wide receiver, without an effective tight end of late, with a patchwork offensive line and with a running back who turns 34 next summer. Imagine if Wentz had Dak Prescott’s weapons? Wentz is so ridiculously good he transcends the mediocrity around him. After seeing Prescott in person, I don’t think there’s any question who the better rookie is. It’s not even close. Wentz can do so much more with so much less. He completed 74 percent of his passes Sunday night (32 for 43) for 202 yards, a TD and no interceptions. And at least five of the nine incompletions were drops. Imagine if Wentz had just average wide receivers? The kid is special, and once the Eagles surround him with some talent, he’s going to be unstoppable.  

2. The Eagles’ desperate need for a playmaker has never been so glaring as it was Sunday night in Dallas. Wentz can throw the ball down the field, he just has nobody who can get open. And when they do get open, they drop the ball. I’m not big on giving up a draft pick for a guy who might help you for half a dozen games by the time he gets here and learns the playbook, but the Eagles have to consider everything at this point. A trade, Bryce Treggs, re-signing T.O. ... everything. You just can’t play an entire season without throwing the ball down the field.

3. The Eagles had plenty of chances to put this game away, but their play-calling and execution on 2nd-and-short and 3rd-and-short was bad (see Standout Plays). Those are plays you just have to convert, and the Eagles didn’t have the juice to get it done on the handful of key plays that they needed to put Dallas away. This wasn’t Doug Pederson’s finest day as a play-caller. Too much horizontal, not enough vertical. This was a winnable game, but too many mistakes once they took that 10-point lead caught up with them in the second half and overtime. They had chances. A 3rd-and-2 early in the third quarter where they lost two yards. A 3rd-and-2 late in the fourth quarter where they lost two yards. A 3rd-and-4 where they dropped a pass. You can’t give the Cowboys that many chances, especially here, and the Cowboys showed why they haven’t lost since opening day. They took advantage of the opportunity the Eagles gave them and it got them to 6-1.

4. Caleb Sturgis was not a good kicker in Miami. Made 77.5 percent of his field goals in 2013 and 2014 with the Dolphins, which ranked him 31st of 34 kickers in the NFL who attempted at least 25 field goals during that two-year span. He was also 6-for-13 from 50-plus yards. So Cody Parkey gets hurt early last year, there’s nobody else on the street, and the Eagles sign Sturgis. He misses a 33-yarder on opening day, Chip Kelly decides to keep him around another week, and he goes 4-for-4 the next week against the Saints and winds up 18-for-22. He beats out Parkey this summer and all he’s done this year — after once again missing his first attempt of the season — is go 17-for-17 with three straight 50-yard makes, including Sunday's clutch 55-yarder to give the Eagles the lead just before halftime. Sturgis made 78 percent of his kicks with the Dolphins but is at 87.5 percent with the Eagles, including 5-for-7 from 50 yards and out. Chip could have easily cut Sturgis after that terrible 33-yard miss. But he kept him around, and Sturgis right now is absolute money. Sometimes you just never know.

5. Darren Sproles was nothing less than brilliant Sunday as the surprise lead ball carrier. His 86 rushing yards on 15 carries were the fourth-most in his career and his most in five years, since he had 88 as a Saint against the Colts on Oct. 23, 2011. With fumble-prone Ryan Mathews in mothballs most of the night (4-for-10), Sproles had his second-most carries as an Eagle and fourth-most in his 10-year career. Here’s the thing: I still think 14 carries every week is too much for Sproles. Sproles at 33 is still faster than most backs 10 years younger. He’s such a great Eagle. Just this little guy with so much heart. I just hope the Eagles don’t over use him. The reality is the Eagles don’t have a running back right now under 33 years old that they trust, and that’s not good.

6. I really believe Jordan Hicks is right on the brink of becoming a Pro Bowl-caliber middle linebacker. The ball just seems to find him. Now, you can say his interception was just a terrible pass by Prescott, but he makes the plays when they’re there and that’s all you can ask. Hicks has now jammed three interceptions, four pass knockdowns, four fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, five tackles for loss and a sack into 15 career games. The Eagles haven’t had a big-time middle linebacker since Trott, and Hicks is there right now.

7. I don’t care how many catches Huff does or doesn’t have, he has become such a weapon returning kicks that it doesn’t even matter. Huff followed his huge kickoff return TD last week that jumpstarted the Eagles when the offense was doing nothing against the Vikings with an electrifying 63-yarder against the Cowboys Sunday night. He now has his average up to 28.4 yards per kick return, which is eighth-highest in NFL history among returners with 40 or more career returns. This offense has so little firepower that a kick returner who can gobble up so many yards is huge.

8. Ezekiel Elliott’s final numbers were 22-for-96 (with a 72-yard run called back because of holding), so he didn’t get his fifth consecutive 130-yard game, but against this defense, that was a monumental game for him. I thought the Eagles to a great extent slowed him down, tackled well, were gap-sound, and he still ran for 96 yards. He’s a special player the Eagles are going to have to contend with him for a long, long time.

9. This was the third time in their last four games the Eagles didn’t have an offensive play of 30 yards or more. Their only offensive play longer than 30 yards since Sproles' 73-yard TD catch against the Steelers is Jordan Matthews’ 53-yard catch in the Redskins game. That’s almost impossible to do. The Eagles’ lack of firepower is shocking. They have one play of 30 yards or more in their last 242 offensive snaps. Think about that for a moment. That’s impossible to do. Tough to win when you can’t make a play down the field.

10. How about some props for Halapoulivaati Vaitai? Big V has gotten better in each of his three starts and really hung in there pretty well Sunday night in Dallas. It’s encouraging that he’s progressed each week from that disastrous start in Washington to a functional game against the Vikings and some more good stuff Sunday night. Seven more games for Lane Johnson, and let’s be clear — Vaitai is nowhere close to where Lane was when his suspension finally came down. But Big V has been solid, and he deserves credit for the steady improvement he’s made.

Bonus observation. Prescott’s numbers were ugly, but I was impressed. He was under siege most of the night but rallied the Cowboys back from 10 points down in the fourth quarter and made some big throws in overtime. Prescott was 14-for-34 for 231 yards in regulation but 5-for-5 for 56 yards and the TD to Jason Witten in overtime. He also ran for 38 yards. I’ll take Wentz any day of the week. But Prescott is impressive.

5 Minutes with Roob: Josh Andrews still waiting on his chance 4 years later

5 Minutes with Roob: Josh Andrews still waiting on his chance 4 years later

In today's "Five Minutes with Roob," Reuben Frank chats with Eagles guard/center Josh Andrews:

Roob: Let's clear the air first. You're definitely not related to Shawn Andrews?

Josh Andrews: No, I'm not. No relation to Shawn Andrews at all.

Roob: So that's one positive. Do you get that a lot?

Andrews: I've got it a few times now, but no relation.

Roob: Alright well that's good to know. Now, you've got a really interesting story. You've been here four years now. Talk about when you came here in '14, were there a lot of teams trying to sign you out of Oregon State? How did that whole thing go?

Andrews: Went undrafted, about three teams tried to grab me, but felt like the best fit was for the Eagles and I've been here ever since.

Roob: It's really crazy because obviously, they like you. Obviously, Chip (Kelly) liked you. Obviously, Doug (Pederson) likes you. But you haven't had a chance to play. How do you balance being here, preparing like you're gonna play every week and not having gotten that chance yet?

Andrews: Just gotta have that mindset to get ready every week. That's how I've been since I've been here. My time is coming, I just gotta wait and do what's best for this team right now and keep us winning.

Roob: Now there was a really interesting thing on Tuesday, Jim Schwartz, without prompting, I don't know if you heard about this, he mentioned you as far as talking about how guys on the offense help the defense prepare. And he mentioned that you'll go to him and say, 'Hey we're figuring this out in running scout team.' Because you run scout team center or guard, I guess mainly center I would think. That's kind of unusual for a defensive coordinator to mention a scout team offensive lineman. What do you bring to him? What do you see from the first defense that can maybe help?

Andrews: Just blocking schemes you know, the way that they're ran. Say if (Fletcher Cox) needs help with something I'll be like 'I think this is the best way to go.' And it's been working. They've been getting home a lot this season and it's really been paying off for our defense.

Roob: How hard is it to not play?

Andrews: Man, it's tough. It's really tough. But just gotta keep going. I love playing this sport and I will continue as long as I can. 

Roob: I remember there was one game, I think it was 2015, where somebody got hurt and you ran on the field and then they didn't leave the game. 

Andrews: Oh yeah, that was against the Cowboys in 2015. Lane (Johnson) got hurt, pretty sure it was Lane. And I was about to go in and then he came back on the field. I was like, 'Ah man, that was my shot.' But, I gotta keep positive. Gotta keep that positive mindset. That's how I've been ever since I've been here.

Roob: Now you've actually been here longer than most of the team. (Jason) Kelce's a guy who's been here your whole time. What have you learned from being around him, watching him play, watching him practice?

Andrews: He's such a smart guy man. On the field, the way he just commands attention, the way he commands the offensive line is just impressive to see. I try to mimic that every time I step on the field. I've learned so much from him over these past four years and he's just a great player to learn from and be under. 

Roob: Now preseason games I guess are like your Super Bowl now, right? Cause that's your chance to play. What do those games mean to you? You're not playing a lot. A few of them you're playing a lot. But what does it mean to get out there and have a chance to play?

Andrews: It's gold man. That's everything for me right now. When I get a chance to get on that field, I give it all I got. I've done that ever since I've been here. That's just, like you said, my Super Bowl. Every time I go on that field I give it all I got. 

Roob: What's (offensive line) coach (Jeff) Stoutland meant to you? You've been around him a while now. 

Andrews: Great mentor. Great teacher. He's just been wonderful. He's really hard on us and it's for a good reason, to get us better and get us playing at a high level. That's the way he commands the player and I like that. 

Roob: What's special about this team now? You've been on some good teams and some bad teams since you've been here but you guys are rolling, 8-1, seven-game winning streak going into Dallas Sunday night. What do you like about the kind of vibe in this locker room?

Andrews: The vibe is awesome. Everyone's on the same page. Everyone's with each other. It's been really different from the past three teams I've been on. I feel like we're gonna go far with the team we got right now. 

Roob: Alright last question. Chip Kelly, do you think he's going to take the Florida job?

Andrews: Sheesh, I don't know. We'll see. That's a good question.

Carson Wentz's durability is his biggest strength

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USA Today Images

Carson Wentz's durability is his biggest strength

Forget for a moment all the record-setting touchdown passes, all the dazzling third-down conversions and the highlight-reel red-zone heroics.

One of Carson Wentz's greatest accomplishments these last two years has just been playing football every Sunday. Being out there for his team without fail every week.

That alone puts him in an elite group.

Look around the league. Tyrod Taylor just got benched in Buffalo with the Bills in the playoff hunt. Trevor Siemian was benched just before the Broncos came to Philly. The 49ers benched Brian Hoyer a few weeks before facing the Eagles

Last we checked, the Browns have already benched DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan this fall.

Heck, even one-time Super Bowl winner Joe Flacco was benched by Ravens head coach John Harbaugh during a loss to the Jaguars.

We've been through all of that. That quarterback carousel. It never leads anywhere.

Wentz on Sunday night will start his 26th consecutive game. Every game the Eagles have played since opening day last year. He's one of only 12 quarterbacks who's started all his team's games over the last two years.

Elite quarterback play is huge for any football team, but quarterback stability is just as important. And Wentz is finally giving this franchise something it's lacked for much of the last quarter century.

Think about it.

From 1991 through 2015, a 25-year span, the only years an Eagles quarterback started 16 games were Donovan McNabb in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2008. And McNabb got benched in 2008.

From 2010 through 2015, the six years between McNabb and Wentz, the Eagles used seven different quarterbacks. Not only did the Eagles not win anything during that span, there didn't seem to be much of a future either. 

The Eagles were stuck trying to build a championship team without an elite quarterback. Which is almost impossible to do.

All of which led Howie Roseman to make the franchise-altering decision that the Eagles had to do anything possible, no matter how drastic, no matter how extreme, to get that guy and turn the franchise over to him.

That realization, that organizational decision and the series of trades that landed Wentz in Philadelphia guaranteed that the Eagles would have quarterback stability and a chance for sustained success for the foreseeable future.

Just by starting 25 games in a row, Wentz has done something no Eagles QB had done since McNabb started 31 straight from opening day 2003 through Week 15 of 2004. With the No. 1 seed locked up, he didn't play the last week of the season.

McNabb started 51 straight games from midway through 1999, when he replaced Doug Pederson, through Week 10 of 2002, when he broke his ankle against the Cards (but threw four touchdowns anyway).

And along with those two McNabb streaks and streaks by Ron Jaworski and Randall Cunningham, Wentz's run of 25 starts is already the Eagles' fifth-longest since Norm Van Brocklin started 36 straight from 1958 through 1960.

You've probably already picked up on the fact that the Eagles' greatest periods of success in the NFL's modern era — the 1960 championship and the 1980 and 2004 Super Bowl appearances — just happen to coincide with periods of tremendous quarterback stability.

And maybe very soon we can add another era to that list.

Just by being out there every Sunday, Wentz has separated himself from most quarterbacks in the NFL.

Of the 12 QBs who've started every game since opening day last year, only six have a career winning record. And of those six, only Wentz and Dak Prescott — both 24 — are under 28.

They'll meet for the third time Sunday night in Dallas, and whatever happens, both franchises are in good hands for the foreseeable future.

For the Eagles, these are heady days. Wentz is having an MVP season and Roseman and Joe Douglas have surrounded him with a deep and talented roster.

An entire generation of quarterbacks — Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer — will be retiring in the next few years. And most of the young QBs lining up to replace them are unproven. Even guys like Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson will be in their mid-30s in five years.

How many NFL teams know who their quarterback will be in, let's say, 2023? The Texans with Deshaun Watson, the Rams with Jared Goff, Marcus Mariota in Tennessee and probably Jameis Winston in Tampa. And the Eagles and Cowboys. Anybody else?

Most NFL teams are in a constant search for that elite quarterback. Not around here. Not anymore.

The most important question facing almost every NFL team is one the Eagles won't have to even think about for a decade.