Eagles

Eagles' draft options at CB, WR after Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith signings

Eagles' draft options at CB, WR after Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith signings

During the 2016 season, it was clear the Eagles had two glaring needs: wide receiver and cornerback.

On Thursday, de facto GM Howie Roseman eliminated one of those needs by signing veteran receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith.

But what about corner? A.J. Bouye, Stephon Gilmore and Logan Ryan were three of the top corners on the market. The Eagles weren't seriously linked to any of them, and on Thursday Bouye landed with the Jaguars, Gilmore agreed with the Patriots and Ryan went to the Titans.

Roseman chose to surround Wentz with proven commodities rather than add to the defense.

With how phenomenal this cornerback draft class is, that appears to be a wise move.

The experts have spoken, and they say this defensive back class could be historically good. As a draft nerd who spends a good portion of his free time studying college football players, I can tell you this year's crop is stupid deep. There could be as many as seven corners taken in the first round this year.

But the depth doesn't stop there either. Players like Colorado's Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon are intriguing prospects. Both players met with the Eagles during the combine and both will likely be available in the third round. This was something Roseman and vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas surely factored in when assessing the free-agent market.

Besides, Roseman has been down this road before. The Eagles shelled out big money to Nnamdi Asomugha and Byron Maxwell and both were disasters. They've tried Band-Aid corners like Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who were equally as dreadful. Knowing how strong this draft is, why overpay someone like Bouye -- who the Jaguars paid handsomely -- after only one strong season?

With that said, drafting a corner is no sure thing. Of all the corners the Eagles have drafted recently -- that they haven't traded to Super Bowl champions -- Jalen Mills is the only one still on the roster (Jaylen Watkins is sort of a hybrid but spent most of last season as a safety). Roseman and Douglas are now under even more pressure to find the right fit.

And speaking of fit, Jim Schwartz's defense isn't the easiest on a young corner. Mills will likely be the only corner returning from 2016. Given his lack of foot speed, he seems destined for the slot. Maybe the Eagles disagree with that sentiment, but if I'm right, they'll need two starting outside corners before the season starts.

Schwartz needs his corners to play on an island if his defense is going to work. If you're able to snag Washington's Sidney Jones, he could likely handle those duties from Day 1. He's the most gifted cover corner with the best technique in the class. But drafting a corner in the second or third round and expecting him to play in this defense is a big ask.

Conversely, the Eagles spent big at wide receiver after not really throwing any money at the position over the last decade or so. Jordan Matthews has been mostly successful in the slot, but the team hasn't drafted a legitimate outside receiver since taking Jeremy Maclin in the first round in 2009.

After missing on Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor, the Eagles didn't draft a receiver last season. Jeffery and Smith are here, but both are on one-year deals. Roseman still needs to look closely at the position for the future. The position may not be as stacked as corner but the receiver crop has many intriguing names beyond the top trio of Mike Williams, Corey Davis and John Ross.

Zay Jones out of East Carolina has seen his stock soar and for good reason. Jones posted ridiculous numbers at ECU, hauling in 158(!) passes for 1,746 yards. He impressed at both the Senior Bowl and the combine, where he measured at 6-foot-2 and ran a 4.45 40. Someone like explosive Louisiana Tech receiver Carlos Henderson, who could be available in the third or fourth round, is worth a hard look. Henderson averaged 18.7 yards per catch and caught 10 touchdowns.

Another need that gets somewhat overlooked is at defensive end. Brandon Graham was the Eagles' only edge rusher to get consistent pressure last season. The hope is Vinny Curry will bounce back after signing a huge deal last offseason, but you can't rely on that. If someone like Tennessee's Derek Barnett is there at No. 14, he's worth a look. Barnett recorded 32 sacks in just three seasons with the Volunteers.

There are a number of Eagles fans enamored with Florida State's Dalvin Cook. I get it. He is talented and the Eagles don't have a starting running back. Cook's multiple shoulder surgeries and an off-field incident (he was acquitted after a woman alleged that he had punched her in the face) are red flags. For a running back to be taken in the top half of the draft, he has to be a near sure thing. Consider this: Of the NFL's top 10 rushers last season, only rookie Ezekiel Elliott was a first-round pick. Luckily for the Eagles, this is another position rich with talent in the draft.

It's a risk to rely on so many young players to fill needs, but it's a calculated one by Roseman. They say the third time's a charm, but in this case, the last thing the Eagles needed was another Asomugha or Maxwell.

Eagles-Cowboys predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Cowboys predictions by our (cough) experts

The Birds are back.

And fresh off the bye week, they hop right into a doozy Sunday night against the divisional rival Cowboys at AT&T Stadium (8:30 p.m./NBC).

Will the Eagles (8-1) push their win streak to eight games? Or will the Cowboys (5-4) answer the bell at home and keep things interesting in the NFC East?

Here are our expert predictions for the Week 11 matchup:

Reuben Frank (9-0)
Eagles 38, Cowboys 11. Usually, I work my way up to the actual prediction and try to build up a tremendous level of anticipation with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about matchups, trends, analytics and whatnot before getting around to the pick. 

But not this week. I’m not messing around here. The Eagles are going to crush this team. 

Here’s a stat I love: Since 2000, the Cowboys have lost 21 games by at least 22 points. Ten of them — almost half — have been against the Eagles. And five of their seven home losses since 2000 by 22 or more points have been at the hands of the Eagles. Don’t believe me?

2000 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 41, Cowboys 14
2001 at the Vet — Eagles 40, Cowboys 18
2001 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 36, Cowboys 3
2002 at the Vet — Eagles 44, Cowboys 13
2002 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 27, Cowboys 3
2003 at the Linc — Eagles 36, Cowboys 10
2004 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 49, Cowboys 21
2008 at the Linc — Eagles 44, Cowboys 6
2011 at the Linc — Eagles 34, Cowboys 7
2014 at AT&T Stadium — Eagles 33, Cowboys 10

Big Red used to crush the Cowboys, didn't he? Even soon-to-be-Florida head coach Chip Kelly had himself a rout of the Cowboys — it got the Eagles to 9-3 on Thanksgiving Day in 2014. 

So here’s the funny thing: I picked 38-11 and then decided to change my prediction to the averages of those 10 routs and it turned out to be … 38-11. That's fate. Eagles will return to Philly Monday morning 9-1 with an eight-game winning streak and a virtual lock on the NFC East. This one's going to be fun!

Eagles 38, Cowboys 11

Dave Zangaro (7-2)
No Sean Lee. No Ezekiel Elliott. And a banged-up Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith (at best). 

Even if all of them were completely healthy, I'd probably lean toward picking the Eagles. Without them? No-brainer. 

Now, maybe the Eagles come out of the bye week a little rusty. It could happen after a long layoff, especially after a flight to North Texas for the game. But the Eagles have proven time and time again that their focus just isn't an issue. There's no reason to expect that to be a problem Sunday night. 

And the Birds are getting healthy. Ronald Darby is back. As well as the Eagles' other corners fared while he was gone, there's a reason he's a starter. And they get back Zach Ertz, who just happens to be one of their most important offensive weapons. 

Games against division rivals are not normally easy, so maybe the Eagles don't blow them out. But I think this is a win. 

Eagles 27, Cowboys 20 

Derrick Gunn (8-1)
Now that their bye week is over, the Eagles are focused on wrapping up the NFC East. Dallas is licking its wounds after getting manhandled down in Atlanta. Elliott is serving his suspension. Lee is out with a hamstring injury, and the Pro Bowler Smith is ailing with a groin injury. 

It all sounds too easy for the Birds, but with Prescott on the other side, they’re not about to overlook this one. And they still remember what happened in Dallas last season.

Without Elliott and Smith, trying to establish a ground game against the Eagles’ top-ranked run defense will be near impossible. 

Dallas is 0-2 in games Lee hasn't played in this season. 

Carson Wentz will spread the wealth through the air, and now that Jay Ajayi has had extended time to get familiar with the offense, the Birds' running attack should be even more diversified. 

If the Eagles' defense can make the Cowboys' offense one-dimensional, it's game over.

Eagles 27, Cowboys 17

Ray Didinger (8-1)
The Otho Davis Scholarship Fund dinner was held this week, honoring the late Eagles trainer and awarding scholarships to students pursuing careers in sports medicine. The room was full of former Eagles players and Philadelphia fans and, of course, there was a lot of conversation about Sunday's big game against Dallas.

The confidence level was high. I heard a dozen variations on "This will be a blowout." The thinking goes something like this: No Elliott, no chance for the Cowboys. Their pitiful performance in last week's loss to Atlanta was all the evidence the Eagles fans needed. And, yes, if that same Cowboys team shows up Sunday night, the Eagles will be in fine shape.

But my guess is the Cowboys will play much better this week at home. I'm still not sure it will be enough because right now the Eagles are playing better than any team in the NFL. I'll take the Eagles, which will virtually wrap up the division title, but I don't think it will be as easy as some folks think.

Eagles 28, Cowboys 20

Andrew Kulp (8-1)
With all their injuries and suspensions, the Cowboys really don't look so hot. 

Arguably their three best players — Smith, Elliott and Lee — are all out. They won't be able to run the ball, they'll struggle to protect Prescott, and the defense will struggle to slow down Wentz and the Eagles' offense.

All the stuff about this being a division rival on the road or the possibility of the Eagles coming off their bye week flat are going to fade pretty quickly with one simple reality. The Cowboys are an inferior opponent right now. Maybe not 49ers bad, or even Broncos bad, but at this point, they could struggle to finish .500.

Eagles 38, Cowboys 23

Corey Seidman (6-3)
No Zeke, no Lee, maybe no Smith, banged-up Bryant … the Cowboys are oozing with "nobody believes in us" potential this Sunday night. And just when one team is so undermanned that all hope looks lost (see: Giants-Broncos earlier this season), things turn out in an unexpected way.

Still, I'm not taking the Cowboys in this game. If they had Zeke, I think I would. But Alfred Morris is in that Rob Kelley mold of plodding running back who tends to struggle against the Eagles, and that'll make the Cowboys' offense one-dimensional. With Bryant at less than 100 percent, I just don't see Dallas keeping the pace.

Eagles 34, Cowboys 17

Doug Pederson uses last season's losing streak to motivate Eagles

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Doug Pederson uses last season's losing streak to motivate Eagles

This time last year? The Eagles actually still had a winning record and were thinking playoffs.
 
Then disaster.
 
The Eagles were 5-4 going into Week 10 a year ago and proceeded to lose their next five games, the first three in blowout fashion.
 
It was the Eagles' longest losing streak since an eight-game streak in 2012, Andy Reid's last year, and third longest since a seven-game streak spanning 1998 and 1999.
 
More importantly, it was the team's longest losing streak that began with a winning record that late in a season since the notorious 1994 collapse in Rich Kotite's final season — a 7-2 start turned into a 7-9 finish.
 
A losing streak like that can either destroy a team's character or make it even stronger.
 
And Doug Pederson knew it could go either way.
 
"I look back at that, and I just kept reminding the team that you put in the hard work and the preparation, and you believe in each other, you believe in yourself, you trust the process, and that's not cliché," he said Friday.
 
"You have to trust what I'm talking about, what the coaches are talking about, and just stick together, and there's no pointing fingers. That's what they did. They hung together."
 
That losing streak began with a home loss to Seattle. Although the final score was 26-15, it was a 26-7 game until a Dorial Green-Beckham touchdown in the final minutes. (Really.)
 
After that came a 27-13 loss to the Packers at the Linc and then the low point, an embarrassing 32-14 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati, a game the Eagles trailed 29-0 late in the third quarter.
 
"That was sort of a defining moment at that point," Pederson said. "I guess we were as low as we were going to be as a team and organization coming out of that game. The guys responded well.
 
"(The) messaging was the same. We practiced the same after that. Lot of pride, too. Lot of pride in the coaches. Lot of pride in the players and this organization. …
 
"We needed to change it. We needed to fix it. Even though we didn't win a couple games after that, you saw steady improvement (and then) we figured out a way at the end of the season to win those two games and finish on a high note."
 
The Eagles rebounded to show some fight in close losses to the Redskins and Ravens, then closed out the season with wins over the Giants and the Cowboys. Granted, the Dallas win was over a bunch of scrubs, but after a five-game losing streak, any win was welcome.
 
Pederson said Friday that pushing through that five-game losing streak and coming out and staying together as a team was instrumental in this team's 8-1 start going into Sunday night in Dallas.
 
"I think it directly affects the team this season," he said. "Things happen for a reason, and you learn from them, especially in this business. And really, in life in general. Things happen, and you learn from them. You make the necessary corrections and you move on.
 
"You don't dwell in the past, but you remember, and you reflect from time to time. So I think it's a direct correlation to where the team is today, learning how to finish games and learning how to play together and understanding that they are a good football team."
 
The Eagles are atop every NFL poll these days. They have the NFL's best record and share the longest winning streak with the Saints, and Pederson said it's not always easy for the players to ignore all the praise being lavished on them.
 
"Well, it is hard because the team, rightfully so, is being praised in a lot of areas and they're well deserved of the credit and the praise," he said.
 
"But at the same time, we understand that we can't look past this week. We can't look past this game. It's a division game on the road, national spotlight again. It's two teams that are undefeated in the NFC East. I'd like to say that every game is important, but none more important than the one we're faced with Sunday night."
 
Sunday night starts a very difficult stretch, with four of the next five games on the road and three of those road games against teams with winning records.
 
A year ago, the Eagles were 1-7 on the road, finishing with seven straight losses.
 
This year, they go into AT&T Stadium Sunday 3-1 away from Philly.
 
"Four out of the next five weeks we're traveling, it's kind of like the start of the season," Pederson said.
 
"This is sort of a tough stretch, but at the same time, it's one that we welcome. If we want to separate and become a good football team and a consistent winner in this league, these are the stretches that you have to go through and find ways to win games."