Eagles' defense up for challenge of slowing Chiefs' high-octane offense

Eagles' defense up for challenge of slowing Chiefs' high-octane offense

Not all that long ago, Andy Reid presided over an explosive offense featuring running back LeSean McCoy, receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and a guy who back then was a big-play tight end in Brent Celek.

Today, Reid's offense comes at teams with tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and running back Kareem Hunt.

Fast, young, explosive. All that's different is the uniform.

The Eagles' defense, coming off an impressive debut in Washington last weekend, will have its hands full this weekend with a star-studded Chiefs offense (see 5 matchups to watch).

"You want games like this," Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said. "That's why we play this game.

"We're both coming off somewhat big wins. For us, a division opponent. For them, the Super Bowl champs. It's going to be a good matchup. They have great skill players, but we have skill players on our side of the ball that they have to worry about, too."

Reid has always had an eye for skill players, and in Kelce, Hill and Hunt — along with QB Alex Smith — the Chiefs have a nucleus that could bring Kansas City its first top-10 offense since Dick Vermeil was head coach.

"Obviously they have a lot of speed on the field, a lot of formation shifts, motions, some things we'll have to prepare for," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said.

"Guys who are well-established in this league who have made plays and obviously, you've got some rookies that are playing well. Really good quarterback, really good coach. They're very, very impressive."

The Chiefs opened the season with a 42-27 win over the Super Bowl champion Patriots a week ago Thursday, so not only are they explosive, they'll be well-rested going into their intriguing matchup with the Eagles at 1 p.m. Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

In Foxboro, Hunt put together the greatest debut by a rookie running back in NFL history, with 246 yards from scrimmage (148 rushing, 98 receiving, three TDs). Hill, who had 860 scrimmage yards last year as a rookie, added seven catches for 133 yards. Kelce had 5 for 40 but was over 1,100 yards last year.

"They do a lot of things to get your eyes going one way to create miscommunication within the defense to get somebody open," McLeod said.

"You see a lot of that. That's a big part of their scheme, so our biggest thing is communication is going to be key, discipline is going to be another, trusting that everybody's going to do their job and has that responsibility and not to do another person's job.

"We [have to] do that early and show that we can stop those plays that they scheme up. Because it seems like every team they play they have a set number of plays that they direct just for that specific team, so I think that's going to be the game plan early. Stop that and they'll get back into their regular offense."

With the 23-year-old Hill and the 22-year-old Hunt, this is only the fourth time in NFL history teammates 23 and under both surpassed 130 scrimmage yards on opening day.

In 1966, Dan Reeves and Bob Hayes of the Cowboys did it. In 1973, it was Jim Bertelsen and Lawrence McCutcheon of the Rams, and just last year it was achieved by Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks of the Saints.

Probably the only way Hunt and Hill won't be making plays for the Chiefs for the next five or six years is if Chip Kelly replaces Reid again and trades them.

"They are both talented guys and I think what stands out about it is if you pay too much attention to any one guy, that another guy can make you pay," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said.

"That 87 (Kelce) demands a lot of attention, also. They have a lot of talent across the board and the quarterback can get the ball to all of them.

"If you want to spend too much attention on Tyreek than Kelce, then the running backs, all those guys can make plays. You have to play good, sound defense. You have to be good across the board. It's not just about taking one guy out of this offense. If you try to do that, I think there's a lot of other guys that can [hurt you]. We can't overplay one person at the expense of the other guys."

The Eagles' defense opened the season by limiting the Redskins to just 10 points and 264 net yards of offense.

But the Chiefs have a much higher-octane offense than the post-DeSean Redskins.

"There's not really that many teams that have one guy that you can stop and feel good about," Jenkins said.

"This league is too filled with talent. We know for a fact that there's going to be matchups that each guy is going to have to win. Whether it's on their receivers or the speed they've got in the backfield, or it's their tight end or it's their quarterback getting rid of the ball.

"Everybody's going to have to match up to win and we're going to need everyone to win those 1-on-1s. That's the beauty of having a team sport. Everybody's going to have to contribute. So we're looking forward to that. We're not trying to take away just one or two guys. We're going to see if we can match up."

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Johnson returning after concussion

AP Images

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Johnson returning after concussion

It turns out it wouldn't have mattered if the Eagles played the Panthers on Sunday instead of Thursday. Lane Johnson would still have missed the game. 

The veteran right tackle didn't clear the NFL's concussion protocol until Monday. But he'll be back in action on Monday night against Washington. 

For Johnson, the Panthers game was the 11th game he's missed since the start of the 2016 season after he missed 10 last year because of his PED suspension. Watching the game on Thursday night was an all-too-familiar feeling. 

"I didn't like it," Johnson said. "I didn't like it at all to be honest with you. As much time as I've been away from this building the last two seasons. I feel fresh, feel rejuvenated and ready to get back out there."

Johnson watched Thursday night's game at his house with his wife, but he didn't watch the whole thing. He watched some, took a break, and then watched the end. He said he knew the Eagles were going to win. 

Halapoulivaati Vaitai started the game in Johnson's place and did OK. After a horrendous start, Big V settled in and played fairly well. Johnson was impressed and thinks Vaitai is "becoming the player he's meant to be." Johnson remembered things didn't click for him until around his ninth NFL game. Thursday's was Big V's seventh career start. 

Vaitai played OK, but the Eagles are clearly much better with Johnson in the lineup and they'll need him this week as he'll see plenty of veteran pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan. 

The concussion Johnson suffered in the first half against Arizona was the first of his career. The Eagles pointed out a couple of plays where it could have happened but Johnson didn't remember when it happened. He just knew he didn't feel right when he went into the locker room at halftime. Unless the concussion happened on the last play of the half -- it didn't look like it -- Johnson played concussed for at least some of that game. 

It took about a week for Johnson to feel normal again. 

"I'm fresh," he said. "I think I'll be a different animal. That's all I'll say." 

The great escape
Malcolm Jenkins is a busy man. Between all the work he does to fight against social injustice, running his foundation and owning a clothing store, he has a pretty hectic life. 

But when he gets to the NovaCare Complex all Jenkins has to worry about it football. 

"When I step into this building, this is my escape from everything else," he said this week. "Life is kind of hectic outside of these walls but here, this comes easy. It's one of those things that I put a lot of time in this building, watch a lot of film, work hard out there on the field and the weight room. This has become easy for me. This has become the peaceful part of my week." 

Jenkins is 29 now, but his play hasn't dropped off even a little bit. He's still one of the most important pieces of the Eagles' defense. 

In typical fashion, Jenkins has played all 384 defensive snaps this season. He's the only player on the Eagles' defense to be in for every play.  

"I feel like I'm having a solid season," he said. "Obviously, statistics aren't very alarming but I'm not missing any plays. I'm getting guys lined up. It's just one of those things where I think everybody is concerned about their role in the team. As long as we're winning, I'm happy." 

Let's get physical
During his conference call with Philly reporters this week, Washington head coach Jay Gruden made a somewhat surprising confession. He thinks the Eagles were more physical than his team in Week 1. He also said that's the only time it's happened to his team this season. 

"I think it's just always a physical hardcore matchup that's fun to watch," Gruden said. 

That's a pretty big compliment to the Eagles and their front office. Howie Roseman always talks about the importance of building a team in the trenches and that's been the hallmark of the team this year. They've been good on the line on both sides of the ball. 

Quote of the Week 1: “We’re made different this year. We have a different character makeup in that locker room, and nobody’s going to ever settle for anything less than greatness." — Carson Wentz (see story)

Quote of the Week 2: "I think a lot of people get caught up in these numbers. I think there's too many fantasy football players in the world." — Gruden on Alshon Jeffery's impact with the Eagles  

Quote of the Week 3: "I was there. Joe Jurevicius on a jerk route. Took it 80." — Gruden on the last game at the Vet. He was there. 

Random media guide note: Steven Means' favorite meal is cereal. He enjoys Frosted Flakes and Cinnamon Toast Crunch  

Weekly meetings helping Doug Pederson, Carson Wentz get on same page

USA Today Images

Weekly meetings helping Doug Pederson, Carson Wentz get on same page

It doesn't seem like such a big deal at first. The head coach and quarterback get together and talk? 

So what?
Doug Pederson said Saturday it is a big deal and said his wide-ranging weekly 1-on-1 shoot-the-bull sessions with Carson Wentz have become an important part of Wentz's success as a quarterback, Pederson's success as a coach and the Eagles' success as a team.
Pederson said before practice Saturday morning that every Thursday night -- or Friday night the week of a Monday night game -- once most people have left the NovaCare Complex, he and Wentz sit down and just talk.
"We kind of talk about a lot of things," he said. "A little bit about football and a little bit about life."
The Eagles are 5-1 going into their huge Monday night showdown with the Redskins at the Linc, and Wentz and Pederson, both in their second year, are both enjoying considerable acclaim. 

Wentz, with 13 touchdown passes and three interceptions, is having an MVP type of season so far, and Pederson is an early favorite for Coach of the Year.
They're clearly on the proverbial same page, and Pederson said something as simple as a weekly brainstorming session with nobody else around is a key part of that success.
“I think it’s important for myself as a play caller and (Carson as) a quarterback that we kind of get on the same page," Pederson said.
"I want to hear his thoughts from the week of practice and he wants to hear my thoughts. We spend maybe 10 or 15 minutes talking football and the rest of it is we’re talking deer hunting stories. He loves to deer hunt and all that and I do too. I talk about my days in Green Bay with Brett.
"It’s just that time where he and I can just sort of take a deep breath and exhale and really kind of get on the same page going into the game basically. I think it’s important we continue to do that."
Pederson said he and Wentz met individually occasionally last year and earlier this year, but in recent weeks the Thursday night sessions have become a regular and important part of his and Wentz's regular routine.
Obviously, the head coach and quarterback meet all the time, but Pederson said these sessions are a unique opportunity because it's late in the week, it's just the two of them and the conversations aren't just limited to football.
“Andy (Reid) would do it during the week, not necessarily 1-on-1 at night or anything like that, but he would pull Alex (Smith) aside during the day," Pederson said.
"I know back when Donovan (McNabb) was here, even then he would have conversations with him. Marty Mornhinweg would do it with Michael Vick.
"I’ve been around coordinators or play callers who have done that with the quarterback. I just think it’s important that that line of communication is open, the dialogue is there and I want to make sure he and I are seeing the same things going into those games."