Eagles-Redskins: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Redskins: Roob's 10 observations


LANDOVER, Md. — A crushing performance by the defensive front seven, a shaky performance by the offensive line, more strange Doug Pederson play-calling, some superb special teams and lots of Zach Ertz, Carson Wentz and Nelson Agholor and much more in our season-opening 10 observations of the Eagles' 30-17 win over the Redskins (see breakdown).
Bring on the Chiefs!
1. This was a win for the Eagles' defensive front, which absolutely dominated the Redskins on Sunday. The Skins' running backs ran 13 times for 34 yards (2.6 per carry), and the front seven racked up four sacks and pounded Kirk Cousins into his worst game ever against the Eagles. Then the Eagles finished the 'Skins off with a Brandon Graham sack, a Cousins fumble and fumble return TD for Fletcher Cox in the final minutes. Nice exclamation point. Total domination. Cousins started the day with the fifth-highest passer rating ever against the Eagles, but he and the 'Skins' offense were just overmatched. The Eagles held Washington's offense to 10 points and 264 yards in its own stadium, the fewest yards the 'Skins have had against the Eagles in nine years. And thanks in large part to that front seven, the Eagles ended that ugly five-game losing streak to their division opponents down I-95. All in all, a monster performance for Graham, Cox, Jordan Hicks and Co.
2. There is work to do on the offensive line. This was just a shaky, inconsistent effort up front. I know fans like to pick on Jason Kelce, but the breakdowns were across the board up front. It's a good thing Wentz is so good at making something out of nothing — like he did on the 58-yard TD pass to Agholor and that 23-yarder down the left sideline to Ertz — but the O-line has to be better and more consistent and has to be able to give Wentz time in the pocket. Wentz has the ability to stand in there and make plays when things are breaking down around him, and he did a lot of that Sunday, but over the long haul? This effort from the offensive line was simply unacceptable.
3. Very tough to see Ronald Darby go down with what is believed to be a long-term injury just 18½ minutes into his Eagles career (see story). Rookie third-round pick Rasul Douglas, who was inactive Sunday, will likely move into a significant role, quite possibly as a starting outside corner with Jalen Mills, with Patrick Robinson staying in the slot. Now, if the Eagles felt Douglas was ready to start and play at a high level, they wouldn't have traded Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick to the Bills for Darby. But this is the hand they've been dealt. The Eagles were one of the NFL's healthiest teams last year, and those sorts of things have a tendency to even out over time. Regression to the mean and all that. There are a few other ways the Eagles could go. They could activate Dexter McDougle and play him in the slot and move Robinson outside. Or play Mills in the slot with Robinson and Douglas or McDougle outside. However they line up, this is a huge blow to the Eagles' secondary.
4. Speaking of Mills, he really built on his strong preseason with a terrific game Sunday. The Redskins were targeting him much of the game, with Terrelle Pryor in particular, but Pryor — a 1,000-yard receiver with the Browns a year ago — was really a non-factor with six catches for 66 yards. Cousins kept trying to challenge Mills deep with Pryor but Mills won those battles, and when he didn't, Cousins just missed him. Mills hung in against Jamison Crowder as well when matched up with him. Mills then made a potential game-saving interception in the end zone — the first of his career — in the fourth quarter. Mills isn't a rookie, but he's a 23-year-old making his first career opening-day start, and it was a very good one.
5. I liked the concept of the Eagles' offense early. First quarter, the Eagles had seven running plays and nine passing plays. Nice balance. LeGarrette Blount had a little head of steam going. Then Doug Pederson did what Doug Pederson often does and forgot about the running game. Over the next two quarters, the Eagles ran 33 plays — 27 pass plays, six runs. Not surprisingly, the Eagles struggled to get into a rhythm offensively during that span, and that 13-0 lead gradually disappeared. In the fourth quarter, nursing a two-point lead, the Eagles had to try to run the ball and they had four carries for no yards. When you don't run the ball for a long period of time, it's not easy to dial it up and have success. This has to change.
6. Wentz, I thought, played very well considering the chaos that was happening around him. He rarely had a clean pocket but still managed to complete 67 percent of his passes (26 for 39) for 307 yards with two TDs and the one INT on a tipped ball. He repeatedly turned pocket breakdowns into positive plays and made something out of nothing. He played better than his numbers. And his numbers weren't bad at all (see report card).
7. For all the talk about Agholor, nobody really knew what to expect once the games meant something. But Agholor indeed looked like a different guy Sunday. You could just sense his confidence, and it all started on the broken play just 3½ minutes into the game, when he found open space on a scramble drill and settled under a Wentz throw on one of those he-just-made-it-up plays, caught the football naturally and easily, then ran into the end zone for a career-long 58-yard touchdown. Agholor had surpassed his career high in receiving yards by the middle of the second quarter and finished with six catches for 86 yards. Agholor has looked like a different guy since OTAs and I have to give him a ton of credit for finding his way and reinventing himself after going through some pretty heavy stuff and openly discussing his self-doubt last year. Everybody has their own path, and on Day 1 of Year 3, Agholor showed he can play this game.
8. The two new receivers, Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery, combined for four catches for 68 yards (and a two-point conversion) — not terrible but probably not what the Eagles were hoping for. But it's not all that unexpected. This group played very little football together during the preseason, so it's not surprising that the Eagles' three leading receivers — Ertz (8 for 93), Agholor (6 for 86) and Darren Sproles (5 for 43) — are all guys Wentz was with last year. Smith and Jeffery both came close to making some big plays, and you have to hope that with more time together those plays will be made.
9. Special teams had another terrific day Sunday, with a turnover in the punting game that led to the Eagles' second touchdown and then a punt downed at the 1-yard line by Jaylen Watkins with seven minutes left in the game that gave the Redskins — down by two — an impossibly long field. I know this: Eagles special teams will always be elite as long as Dave Fipp is running the show.
10. It was great to see Ertz begin a season with a big performance. Much has been made about how Ertz always starts slowly and finishes strong, but he was huge Sunday, with big catch after big catch and no drops. Ertz's 93 yards are the most he's ever had in any game the first seven weeks of the season. I'm on the record as saying Ertz will catch 100 passes this year. He's ahead of that pace. I think huge things are in store this year for the fifth-year tight end.

Eagles 43, Rams 35: Studs, duds, turning point and more

AP Images

Eagles 43, Rams 35: Studs, duds, turning point and more


LOS ANGELES -- The Eagles won a game, but they might have lost their season. 

With Nick Foles under center, the Eagles came back to beat the Rams 43-35 at the LA Coliseum, but franchise quarterback Carson Wentz left the game early with a knee injury late in the third quarter (see story)

Now all they can do is wait and hope. 

The Eagles clinched the NFC East and also took back sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the NFC after Carolina beat Minnesota earlier in the day. With the win, the Eagles got back to their winning ways after a loss in Seattle. They improved to 11-2. This is the Eagles' first 11-win season since 2009. 

It's just that everything feels so hollow after the Wentz injury. 

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the Eagles fear Wentz tore his left ACL, but the team hasn't confirmed anything since they ruled him out for the game. 

With the loss, the Rams fell to 9-4. It was just their second loss in their last eight games. 

Chris Long made a huge play in the fourth quarter. He had a strip sack that set up Jake Elliott's eventual game-winning field goal. 

After Wentz came out, Foles did enough to help the Eagles come back and win the game. It might be his job for a while. 

The Eagles took a 10-point lead into halftime, but that wasn't going to be enough in this shootout. The Rams were able to come back and score the first 14 points of the second half to take the lead. 

When Wentz threw a touchdown pass just before leaving the game, the Eagles took a 31-28 lead, but the Rams answered on the next possession. The Eagles' defense had trouble stopping Todd Gurley and the Rams' offense. 

Turning point
Long's strip sack came at a time where the Eagles absolutely needed somebody to step up and make a play. The veteran pass rusher did just that. 

Key stat
Before leaving, Wentz had another four-touchdown game. Before the Arizona game this season, he had never had a three-touchdown game. Since then, he's had six in nine games. 

Offensive stud
Before going out, Wentz was having another Wentz-like game. With his third-quarter touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery (No. 33), he became the Eagles' single season passing touchdown record holder. He broke Sonny Jurgenson's franchise record that had stood since 1961. 

Offensive dud
LeGarrette Blount had some opportunities but didn't make the most of them. Meanwhile, Jay Ajayi was much more explosive. For some reason, he didn't get the bulk of the carries. 

Defensive stud
Fletcher Cox is always disruptive but he really seemed to get after Goff on Sunday. It had to feel good facing a quarterback who isn't as elusive as Russell Wilson. 

Defensive dud
Nigel Bradham didn't have a bad game, but he dropped a couple possible interceptions. One came just a couple plays before the Rams scored their second touchdown. He could have kept points off the board. 

Rodney McLeod didn't have a very good game either. He was beat in coverage a couple times and missed a couple tackles. 

Key plays
•Brandon Graham scooped up the ball and scored a touchdown at the end of the game. 

•Long got a strip sack on Goff and McLeod was able to scoop it up to give the Eagles the ball on the Rams' 25-yard line. That eventually set up a 33-yard field goal from Elliott to give the Eagles a 37-35 lead. 

The Eagles' defense forced a 3-and-out on the next drive. And the Eagles were able to kill some time. 

•Foles led a drive that was capped with a 41-yard field goal from Elliott. That made the score: Rams 35, Eagles 34. 

•Gurley seemed pretty unstoppable as the Rams drove down the field on a 75-yard touchdown drive to put them up 35-31 as Wentz was taken into the locker room. 

•After Wentz threw touchdown pass No. 4 of the game, he left with a knee injury and did not return. 

•On 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Doug Pederson left his offense on the field and Wentz found Alshon Jeffery for a touchdown to put them back on top 31-28. It was a tremendous fingertip catch from Jeffery. 

•Donnie Jones had his punt blocked by WR Michael Thomas. It was then scooped up by Eagles 2016 draft pick Blake Countess and returned for a 16-yard touchdown to give the Rams their second lead of the game (28-24). It was their second touchdown in 1:34. 

•The Rams came out after halftime and went down the field to score easily. They went on a 71-yard touchdown drive and had the Eagles completely off balance. 

•Pederson challenged a first down spot around the two-minute warning and got it overturned to force a punt. The Eagles were then able to march down the field and get a field goal to give them a 10-point lead (24-14) heading into the locker room. 

•Bad tackling got the Eagles again in the second quarter. Jim Schwartz wasn't happy with his team's tackling in Seattle and this play was like seeing that again. Cooper Kupp caught the ball near the left sideline and made Malcolm Jenkins and Patrick Robinson miss on his way to a 64-yard play. He scored a touchdown a couple plays later to make the score 21-14. 

•Burton's second touchdown catch came early in the second quarter. This time, he caught an 11-yard pass for a touchdown. It was also Wentz's 32nd of the season, tying the franchise record. 

•The Eagles third drive resulted in a touchdown too. This drive went 88 yards on seven plays. Wentz hit Burton for a 20-yard touchdown, his first of the game. Somehow, Wentz was able to weave it through traffic and Burton made a tremendous catch. 

•After a bad first drive, the Eagles responded, going on a 75-yard drive of their own. The big play was the first of the drive, when Wentz hit Corey Clement for a 28-yard screen pass. It was the longest pass to a running back all season. 

•The game didn't get off to a good start for the Birds. Wentz's second pass of the game was bobbled by Nelson Agholor and then interception. On the ensuing drive, the Rams went 37 yards with no trouble to take a 7-0 lead. Gurley broke off a 30-yard run.

Wentz left late in the third quarter. He suffered a knee injury and did not return. 

Left guard Stefen Wisniewski injured his ankle in the first half and did not return. Chance Warmack and then Isaac Seumalo filled in. 

The Eagles didn’t have Zach Ertz (concussion) or Joe Walker (neck) for this game. Both were listed as questionable coming into the weekend. 

Up next
The Eagles return to the East Coast, but their road trip isn't over. They're up in North Jersey to face the Giants next Sunday. 

Eagles-Rams: Roob's 10 observations

AP Images

Eagles-Rams: Roob's 10 observations


LOS ANGELES — The sight of Carson Wentz walking off the field late in the third quarter with a towel over his head and a trainer walking next to him was enough to make any Eagles fan's heart stop and send them into shock.

He's taken over our city with such class and grace, it's hard to even remember a time when he wasn't the Eagles' quarterback. It's tough to even imagine playing without him.

But that's the reality we're facing right now. This team has been incredibly resilient all year, and they came from behind to beat a 9-3 Rams team in their own building Sunday without Wentz. With this team? You just never know.

With the dramatic 43-35 win over the Rams at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum Sunday afternoon, the Eagles improved to 11-2 and clinched the NFC East (see breakdown).

So as we all await an update on Wentz, here are tonight's 10 Observations. 

1. Without immediately knowing the extent of Wentz's injury, it's tough to really speculate what this means for the Eagles. With Wentz, the Eagles are a legit Super Bowl contender. Without him? Nick Foles is certainly one of the better backups in the league and is capable of winning a couple games if Wentz is out for a few weeks or longer, especially considering the Eagles finish the regular season with the Giants at the Meadowlands and then the Raiders and Cowboys at home. But Wentz is what makes this team special, and his absence certainly changes everything. Without knowing any details, one alarming thing for me is how quickly Wentz was ruled out after he left the game. The Eagles have kept this thing rolling without Jason Peters, without Darren Sproles, without Jordan Hicks, and they deserve a tremendous amount of credit for that. But if Wentz is forced to miss any appreciable time … it's just hard to imagine this team accomplishing anything special without No. 11 behind center. Wentz has been so incredibly tough over these first 29 games of his career it's hard to even fathom him getting hurt. I think of him as some sort of superhero. Invincible. Watching him walk off the field reminded me of seeing Randall Cunningham carted off the field on opening day at Lambeau Field in 1991. Some things your brain just can't process.

2. Foles? He looked rusty, which you would expect. In his first extended playing time since Nov. 6 of last year with the Chiefs, he completed a few difficult passes, engineered two fourth-quarter field goal drives, made a huge 3rd-and-8 connection with Nelson Agholor just after the two-minute warning, and generally avoided the kind of mistakes that backup quarterbacks often make. Foles is a good quarterback. He'll never be what we saw in 2013. But if Wentz does miss significant time, there aren't a lot of backups I'd rather have.

3. I was eager to see how the Eagles' defense would stack up against one of the NFL's top offenses, and for much of the game, it wasn't pretty. The Rams piled up 28 points in the game's first 46 minutes — they also scored on special teams — and Todd Gurley, despite just 13 carries, really gashed the Eagles, running for 96 yards and two touchdowns along with three catches for 39 more yards. The Eagles' tackling was terrible for much of the game, they didn't force any turnovers for 3 1/2 quarters, Jared Goff was playing efficient and productive football and hitting some big plays. Then Chris Long and Rodney McLeod made the kind of play that great defenses make, Long stripping Goff and McLeod recovered, and that set up Jake Elliott's game-winning field goal. And on the Rams' next drive, which started with 3:45 on the clock, the Rams didn't gain a yard, and then the Eagles essentially ran out the clock. It wasn't always pretty, but the Eagles went into the L.A. Coliseum and beat one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, and the defense's performance in the fourth quarter is one of the big reasons. When they had to stop the Rams, they did.

4. I really like the way LeGarrette Blount has handled this season, especially his unselfish, team-first approach after the Jay Ajayi acquisition. And Blount has really run the ball well. But I feel like we're at the point where Ajayi needs to be this team's lead running back. Doug Pederson clearly wants a rotation and doesn't want to upset the balance the Eagles have had so far. He feels like it makes the Eagles unpredictable and tougher to defend. But Ajayi just looks explosive right now, even without much work. He's only had 44 carries in the five games he's played, but among them are runs of 71, 46, 30 and 29 yards. He's averaging 7.0 yards per carry since getting here, which is nuts. He knows the offense. He knows the system. He's comfortable with this offensive line. Blount was 7 for 12 Sunday, Ajayi was 15 for 78. Ajayi has to be the guy from here on out.

5. The Rams committed three really stupid three personal fouls in the second half, the first two extending a touchdown drive. Those are penalties great teams don't commit. They're penalties the Eagles don't commit. It really kind of puts into focus how the Eagles really don't lose their cool in the face of adversity, which isn't always an easy thing to do.

6. Was nice to see a big contribution from Torrey Smith Sunday, with 6 for 100 — his first 100-yard game since 2015 and only his second since 2013. Smith has been a non-factor the last two months — just 7 for 98 in his last seven games before Sunday — but he's not the kind of guy to hang his head or demand the ball. He just kept working, and Sunday it paid off.

7. Alshon Jeffery continues to play better than his numbers. He finished 5 for 52 Sunday, but that third-quarter touchdown, where he scooped the ball off the ground just before it hit the field, was a thing of beauty and a huge play on fourth down. Jeffery doesn't have huge numbers, but he does have eight touchdowns, including six in the last six games.

8. How about some props for Trey Burton? This kid has to be the best third tight end in the history of the universe. And what a story. Undrafted out of Florida in 2014, made an immediate impact on special teams, only had three catches his first two seasons, gradually worked his way into the rotation and is now a legit target for Wentz. With Zach Ertz unable to play Sunday with lingering effects of a concussion, Burton caught four passes for 55 yards, the second-most yards of his four-year career, and had his first two-TD game. Burton had one TD in his first 50 games and has four in his last eight. The kid is big and fast and has the softest hands, rarely drops anything, and Wentz clearly loves throwing to him. Burton is due to become a free agent after the season, and the Eagles really need to find a way to keep him.

9. I know it didn’t mean anything in the big picture, but Brandon Graham deserves to get into the end zone. The way that guy plays and what he’s meant to this team over three head coaches and five defensive coordinators and six position coaches? His touchdown on the final play of the game, as the Rams fumbled trying to run some crazy length-of-the-field trick play, gave the Eagles a welcome exclamation point on a wild win. It was the first TD of Graham's eight-year career, and I know he's going to enjoy it.

10. Finally this. Whatever Wentz's injury turns out to be, allow me to put Wentz's recent run in perspective. He threw 27 touchdown passes in the Eagles' last nine games. Only six QBs in NFL history — Tom Brady, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and George Blanda — have ever thrown more in any nine-game span. All are Hall of Famers. Whatever happens from here on out, this is a special kid and however much time he misses, he's going to win a ton of football games for this franchise over the next decade.