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."

LeGarrette Blount has found a new home

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LeGarrette Blount has found a new home

A big piece of the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl season is moving on. 

Running LeGarrette Blount has signed with the Detroit Lions. Blount's deal will be for one-year, $4.5 million, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport

Blount, 31, was scheduled to visit the Lions on Friday and he didn’t leave without a new deal. He’ll reunite with Lions head coach Matt Patricia, who was the defensive coordinator in New England when Blount was there; the familiarity probably helped. 

Last offseason, Blount took his time deciding where he’d land. He didn’t sign with the Eagles until May and his contract was worth around $1 million. He apparently showed enough during 2017 to get a bigger deal this time around. 

After beginning the season as the Eagles’ primary runner, he eventually saw his role diminish after the Birds added Jay Ajayi through a trade. Still, Blount played in all 16 games and rushed for 766 yards during the regular season. More importantly, he had 14 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl LII. Blount had a rushing touchdown in all three playoff games after having just two during the regular season. 

Perhaps more important than his contributions on the field, it was Blount’s unselfish nature that seemed to rub off on his teammates. When he and Alshon Jeffery were on board with that unselfish mindset, it seemed like the rest of the team followed. 

As recently as late February, Blount indicated he wanted to return to Philadelphia, where he really seemed to fit in the locker room and under running backs coach Duce Staley, whom Blount clearly respects. 

"Obviously I like it a lot there,” Blount said in February on NFL Network. “They like me a lot there. It's a mutual respect and a mutual agreement thing about how we feel about each other. Obviously, you guys know how I feel about the team, the guys; I love those guys.”

While Blount said he wanted to return to Philly, it was unlikely the Eagles could have (or would have) offered him the type of contract he’s getting from the Lions. 

Meanwhile, the Eagles still have Ajayi and Corey Clement under contract from last season. Kenjon Barner is a free agent. The running back position still seems up in the air, but the Eagles have a few months and a draft to figure it out. 

Looking back at trio of Eagles' 2016 extensions

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Looking back at trio of Eagles' 2016 extensions

Back in early 2016, just after Howie Roseman had been reinstated to his post of power, he pulled out some moves from the classic Joe Banner playbook. 

He tried to find value in projection. 

Within a nine-day span in early 2016, the Eagles signed Vinny Curry, Zach Ertz and Lane Johnson to lucrative five-year extensions. Since then, Ertz and Johnson have grown into Pro Bowl players, rendering their contracts relative bargains. 

Curry simply remained a good player, which is why he was cut on Friday afternoon

While Curry finally became a starter in 2017, he had just three sacks and the team drafted Derek Barnett and traded for Michael Bennett who was cheaper and better. It’s certainly not really a knock on Curry, who had his best professional season during the Eagles’ Super Bowl year. 

When Curry signed his five-year, $47.25 million extension in February 2016, he was just two years removed from his nine-sack season and was seen as a much better fit in the 4-3 scheme Jim Schwartz was bringing to town. So the Eagles paid Curry like he was going to play at a Pro Bowl level and it never happened. In that first year, the Eagles tried to peg him in as a starter opposite of Connor Barwin, but Brandon Graham outplayed him. After Barwin was gone, Curry became a starter, but was just good; not great. 

Meanwhile, the two other big contracts handed to Ertz and Johnson have clearly worked out. Cutting Curry really speaks more to the nature of NFL contracts these days than it does to the level of his play. 

Sure, Curry never played to the level of his contract, but the deals for Ertz and Johnson look much better. And unlike Curry, both of them had one year left on their rookie deals when the Eagles tried to gain value in re-signing them early. It’s worked out. 

Ertz was the first of the three to sign his five-year extension. His was worth $42.5 million and as a Pro Bowler in 2017, he’s beginning to outplay it. He’s now the fifth-highest-paid tight end in the league and he’ll continue to drop on that list as he plays out the next four years of that deal. The best part of Ertz’s contract is it wasn’t heavily backloaded, which has allowed the Eagles to restructure with him the last two offseasons to create some cap room. 

The second of the three big five-year extensions based on projections went to Lane Johnson. His deal was worth $56.25 million. Of course, Johnson’s suspension in 2016 was tough, but he rebounded to have an incredible 2017. He’s the highest-paid right tackle in football, but he’s 10th among all offensive tackles, which is a good value. 

Twenty days after Curry signed his deal, Malcolm Jenkins also got a five-year deal, but at that point he had already been a Pro Bowler, so his deal was more based off of production than projection. 

During that entire offseason, every single time Roseman was asked about the moves he made that offseason, he continually said the most important ones were the moves they made to keep their own players. That obviously included the projection deals for Curry, Johnson and Ertz. 

Sure, only two of the three ended up being bargains with tenable contracts. But even Curry was useful during the two years he played of his extension before the Eagles took the out they built into the deal. That’s not a bad hit rate.