Eagles

Eagles-Packers: 10 observations

Eagles-Packers: 10 observations

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Carson Wentz was perfect, Derek Barnett showed why he was the 14th pick and a rookie running back had a rough first game in the Eagles' 24-9 loss to the Packers on Thursday night in the preseason opener (see Instant Replay)

The Eagles will play again next Thursday night at home against the Bills at 7 p.m. 

Here are 10 observations from the preseason opener: 

1. Wentz wasn't in the game long, but he did everything the Eagles wanted him to do. He went 4 for 4 for 56 yards and a touchdown, to go along with a perfect 158.3 passer rating. The touchdown pass was his most impressive play of his short night. He had Clay Matthews grabbing around his ankles, but Wentz was able to shake him off and find Mack Hollins in the middle of the field for what ended up being a TD. 

Wentz's strength and ability to extend plays is sometimes overlooked but it's that ability that makes him have a chance to be a special player. That's what has worked for so long in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers. 

2. Give C.J. Smith credit. The second-year cornerback was burned by a pretty weak double move from wide receiver Jeff Janis for a 20-yard touchdown just a couple plays after giving up a 10-yard pass to Geronimo Allison in the first half. On the touchdown, Smith just bit way too hard on the first move. He had safety help from Jaylen Watkins but it came too late and, to his credit, quarterback Brett Hundley threw a perfect pass into the end zone. 

But he rebounded. Smith came back on the next series and did what corners need to: He forgot about the last play, breaking up a pass near the sideline. He also broke up a pass late in the third quarter and nearly picked it off. 

3. Hollins has looked good in shorts in the spring and then good against his own team in training camp. We just needed to see it in an actual game. Hollins showed what he can do on Thursday night. He caught a pass from Wentz across the middle of the field and did the rest. He was aided by some shabby tackling from Packers defenders but managed to hug the sideline and get into the end zone. He then ran toward the bleachers and acted like he was going to do a Lambeau Leap but held up. Still, a nice play for the rookie. 

4. Donnel Pumphrey is still a work in progress when it comes to punt returning. The first punt he saw, he decided to field it even though there were a few Packers in his area. He caught it, but it was an adventure and could have been disastrous. The second one he saw, he called for a fair catch, but muffed it, luckily recovering his own fumble. Pumphrey was not used as a returner in college, so this is new for him. He's looked relatively smooth during practice, but doing it in a game is a different animal. 

On offense, Pumphrey got a ton of touches but was completely ineffective. He had nine touches for 17 yards. 

5. Barnett picked up his first sack in an Eagles uniform, and it was a beauty. After getting pretty good pressure on his first series, Barnett used an inside move to toss Packers tackle Jason Spriggs out of the way. Spriggs is 6-foot-6, 301 pounds, but Barnett tossed him aside like he was nothing. 

And that was just the beginning for Barnett. Working from the right defensive end spot, he was just too hard to handle for Spriggs, who was a hot name coming out of last year's draft. After a less-than-stellar start to his training camp, Barnett had a good showing in his preseason debut. He did what he was supposed to: dominate second- and third-team players. 

6. After the Eagles' first-team defense left the field in the first half, two players from the starting unit remained: Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson. Mills had a good day and even Robinson broke up a pass. But their still being in the game late is a reminder about how fluid the situation is at corner. That competition is far from over. 

7. Matt McGloin made a pretty good tackle on Thursday night, which tells you about how the play started. McGloin threw a pass directly to linebacker Joe Thomas, who took off for 30 yards before McGloin brought him down. McGloin just didn't have a very good night and hasn't looked good throughout training camp. Unless he really turns it around in the next couple preseason games, he's not going to have a roster spot. 

Doug Pederson inexplicably allowed McGloin to throw 42 passes before taking him out of the game for Dane Evans. McGloin completed 28 of those for 205 yards. His long was a 38-yarder. 

8. Eagles receiver Marcus Johnson has had a really good training camp. He's been so good that plenty of folks have already called him a roster lock. But on Thursday, Johnson didn't play after having a hamstring injury earlier in the week. And while Johnson didn't play, another receiver fighting for a roster spot did. 

Bryce Treggs had a really good game. He and McGloin seemed to mesh in the second quarter. Treggs, known as a speedster, ran right past second-round draft pick Kevin King. Treggs had five catches for 75 yards in the first half, finishing with seven catches for 91 yards. 

9. Halapoulivaati Vaitai went down in the second half with a left knee injury and didn't return. While he was on the ground, everyone started to remember that the Eagles can't afford to lose him. He's their best backup tackle. After him? The team has Dillon Gordon and Matt Tobin. All offseason the talk about the offensive line has been about interior depth, which the Eagles have. But the tackle depth is lacking and Big V's injury is a reminder of that. 

10. For the last few years, the Eagles' special teams has been among the best units in the league. But the unit wasn't great on Thursday. The Packers' punt return touchdown in the first half was a mess. First, Ron Brooks was the first guy down the field and couldn't make a play (he left with a hamstring injury). Then Terrence Brooks and Najee Goode, two good special teamers, couldn't make a play either. The refs probably missed a block in the back against Chris Maragos, but seeing that touchdown probably didn't make Dave Fipp very happy. Then, Joe Walker was called for holding, a call that negated a nice Pumphrey return. And then Caleb Sturgis bounced a 46-yarder off the right goal post. 

LeGarrette Blount advises Eagles to 'stay humble' after 5-1 start

LeGarrette Blount advises Eagles to 'stay humble' after 5-1 start

With a 5-1 record, the Eagles sit all alone atop the division and conference standings, and are tied for the best mark in the NFL. Their quarterback was recently given the best odds of winning the league’s Most Valuable Player award. So, yes, right now, a trip to the Super Bowl seems to be very much on the table for this squad.

But take it from LeGarrette Blount, somebody who’s won a couple of world championships — the Eagles can’t afford to get caught up in the hysteria right now.

“We could lose 10 in a row,” Blount said Tuesday. “We could go 6-10, so we don't want to jump the gun, jump to conclusions. We want to make sure we take it week by week, day by day, keep a level head and make sure we're going to be ready for whoever the next opponent is.”

Blount is one of only five Eagles players with a Super Bowl ring and the only member of the roster who owns multiple. The veteran running back won two of the last three years with the New England Patriots organization, which has been a perennial championship contender for the better part of the last two decades.

In other words, Blount knows better than anybody inside the Eagles’ locker room exactly what it takes to not only reach the big game and come away victorious but also how to sustain that success.

“You have to stay grounded,” Blount said. “You have to stay humble and make sure that all the guys that are in the building are on the same page. The coaches, the staff, everybody is on the same page, ignoring the noise, not worrying about what other teams are doing, what other teams' records are – just worrying about ourselves and locked into us.”

Easier said than done given the week the Eagles just had.

After going to Carolina and upending a tough Panthers squad on Thursday night, the Eagles watched as massive blows were being dealt to some of their stiffest competition over the weekend. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone on Sunday, potentially crippling one of the NFC’s elites for the remainder of the season. And Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is awaiting word on the status of a six-game suspension that could seriously hamper the division rival.

But the noise can also be Eagles fans and their exponentially rising expectations, or a media that’s quick to point out any tiny flaw and raise controversy.

Blount has experienced the latter firsthand. Two weeks into the 2017 campaign, he finished a game without a carry — an Eagles’ loss — and was averaging 3.0 yards per carry going back to the preseason. The constant questions coming from reporters about his role easily could have become a distraction.

In the four weeks since, Blount has 344 yards on 56 carries for a 6.1 average. He never allowed the noise to get to him, instead becoming a big reason behind the ongoing four-game winning streak.

“We know what we've been doing to get to this point,” Blount said. “We know what it takes, so we just have to buy in to continue to do that, and continue to do every that it takes to continue winning games.

“A big part of it is just making sure you ignore the noise, don't listen to the outsiders, everything that is in house stays in house, and that you make sure and know that everybody that you see on TV isn't in your corner. Sometimes that can discourage the younger guys. Every now and then you'll hear them say, 'Oh, did you hear them say this,' or, 'Did you hear them say that? Or, 'Did you see this,' or 'Did you see that?'

“The big part is making sure that everybody ignores that stuff.”

Blount has been through extraordinary highs and lows in his football career and learned to maintain an even keel. But Eagles leadership has also done a tremendous job insulating players from the kinds of rumblings that have a tendency to create discord and cause entire seasons to come off the rails.

For evidence, look no further than rumors that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was trying to undermine head coach Doug Pederson — and how quickly such talk dissipated.

“The veteran groups have a lot to do with it,” Blount said. “I also think the coaches have a lot to do with it — keeping the guys grounded, keeping the guys to where we have to continue to come here and work if we want to continue the success.

“Most of the young guys, all of them have bought into the program, and everybody's locked in and knows their role and what they want to do.”

While Blount wouldn’t go so far as to draw parallels between the ways the Eagles and the Patriots handle distractions, it’s clear he’s been able to quickly establish a bond with his new teammates and coaches since signing in May.

“Every team is different,” Blount said. “I can't compare this team to the New England teams, or any other team. We have a really close-knit team. We believe in each other. Everybody loves each other and we have each other’s backs.”

As far as Blount’s performance on the field is concerned, the best may be still to come. He’s finished with at least 12 carries in each of the last four games and looked explosive and elusive while doing it. And with extra rest between a Thursday night game in Carolina and this Monday’s contest at home against Washington, the bruising runner said he’s feeling refreshed.

Most of all, it sounds as though Blount is in a great frame of mind and feeling comfortable with all of his surroundings. And if you’re looking for a great read on the Eagles’ situation through six games, just listen to the guy who’s come to expect confetti and parades in February.

Judge grants Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott reprieve, cleared for 49ers in Week 7

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USA Today Images

Judge grants Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott reprieve, cleared for 49ers in Week 7

NEW YORK -- Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott was granted another legal reprieve Tuesday night in the running back's fight to avoid a six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations.

A New York federal judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the league's suspension, clearing Elliott to play Sunday at San Francisco.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty's ruling came five days after a federal appeals court overturned a Texas court's injunction that had kept Elliott on the field.

Crotty granted the request for the restraining order pending a hearing before the presiding judge, Katherine Polk Failla, who is on vacation.

The NFL was ordered to appear before Failla on or before Oct. 30 to argue why the suspension should not be blocked by a preliminary injunction -- the next step in the legal process -- until the court can rule on challenges the players' union brought against the suspension.

"We are confident our arguments will prevail in court when they are taken up again later this month," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

Elliott, last year's NFL rushing leader as a rookie, was barred from the team's facility Tuesday as players returned from their off week. The NFL placed him on the suspended list Friday, a day after the league's favorable ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The 22-year-old Elliott was suspended in August by Commissioner Roger Goodell after the league concluded following a yearlong investigation that he had several physical confrontations in the summer of 2016 with Tiffany Thompson, his girlfriend at the time.

Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, decided not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State, citing conflicting evidence, but the NFL did its own investigation. Elliott denied the allegations under oath during his NFL appeal.

The suspension's announcement in August led to weeks of court filings, with NFLPA lawyers contending that league investigators withheld key evidence from Goodell and that the appeal hearing was unfair because arbitrator Harold Henderson refused to call Goodell and Thompson as witnesses.

In an opinion accompanying the ruling, Crotty agreed with the Texas judge who had backed the claims of Elliott's attorneys. Crotty wrote that Henderson's denial of testimony from Goodell and Thompson was significant because of credibility issues related to Thompson.

"In effect, (Elliott) was deprived of opportunities to explore pertinent and material evidence, which raises sufficiently serious questions," Crotty wrote.

Attorney Daniel Nash, arguing for the NFL, accused Elliott's legal team of seeking relief from courts in Texas to evade courts in New York and the effect of the April 2016 ruling that reinstated a four-game suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady in the "Deflategate" scandal.

Nash warned Crotty that allowing the union to continue to delay the suspension would invite "every player who's suspended" to go to court for relief.

"They know under the Brady decision they have no chance of success. None," Nash said.

Attorney Jeffrey Kessler, representing the players' union, said the harm to a player's short career was serious when a suspension is served.

"He can never get that back," Kessler said, arguing that the irreparable harm -- among issues of law considered before a temporary restraining order is granted -- faced by a player is much greater than harm claimed by the league when a suspension is delayed. In his opinion, Crotty agreed.

Nash suggested during the hearing that the union was overstating its claims of irreparable harm.

"In their view, an NFL player missing six games is the end of the world," he said.

Brady managed to delay his suspension for a year through the union's court challenges. He served it to start last season, when the Patriots went 3-1 without him and later won the Super Bowl.

Elliott's case shifted to New York after the appeals court ordered the Texas court to dismiss Elliott's lawsuit, which Judge Amos Mazzant did earlier Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the New Orleans court ruled 2-1 last week that Elliott's attorneys filed the Texas lawsuit prematurely because Henderson had yet to decide on the running back's NFL appeal.

Elliott's legal team indicated it intended to pursue rehearing before a larger panel of the appeals court while also filing for the restraining order in the Southern District of New York.

The NFL filed in the New York court after Elliott's NFL appeal was denied because the league considers it the proper venue as the home of its headquarters and the site of the hearings before Henderson. It's also where the NFL won the Brady case in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Eagles visit Dallas in Week 11 on Sunday night, Nov. 19. They host the Cowboys in Week 17 on New Year’s Eve.