Eagles

Eagles-Redskins thoughts: Matchup of QBs with something to prove

Eagles-Redskins thoughts: Matchup of QBs with something to prove

1 p.m. on FOX
Eagles -1.5

The Eagles are set to kick off the 2017 NFL season in Landover, Maryland on Sunday, where they will attempt to snap a five-game losing streak to NFC East rival Washington.

It’s no secret the Eagles haven’t beaten Washington in nearly three full years. As right tackle Lane Johnson said earlier this week, “We need one against this team,” so there should be no shortage of urgency Week 1.

That’s just a sampling of one of the many storylines from the days leading up to the Eagles’ first game.

Injury report
The Eagles appear to be completely healthy heading into opening day, which head coach Doug Pederson described as, “a great thing.” Every player listed on the injury report practiced fully all week.

The same cannot be said in Washington, which lists three players as questionable for Sunday, including a pair of starters.

Early indications are both center Spencer Long (arthroscopic knee surgery) and slot receiver Jamison Crowder (hip flexor) will play. Rookie linebacker Ryan Anderson (neck stinger) is less certain but likely to see only a limited number of snaps if he does suit up.

The injuries to Long and Crowder don’t seem like too big a deal, so it’s unclear whether the Eagles gain much of an advantage. For what it’s worth, Pederson doesn’t anticipate injuries being a factor.

“Most teams are usually 100 percent (for Week 1),” Pederson said. “I mean, guys are a little beat up, but for the most part, I think around the league, everybody's pretty healthy going into the first game.”

A chink in Washington’s armor
Washington’s defense will be anything but 100 percent.

The big news out of Washington this week was the abrupt departure of second-year safety Su’a Cravens. Cravens left the team last weekend and is considering walking away from the game permanently. The 22-year-old has time to rethink his sudden retirement, but he will not be on the field Sunday.

Little-known Deshazor Everett takes Cravens’ place. Everett recorded his first career interception against the Eagles last season on a pass intended for Zach Ertz. It’s an incredibly small sample size, however, as Everett played just 78 defensive snaps his first two seasons in the league, according to Football Outsiders.

Even assuming Everett performs capably, he’s not Cravens, a 2016 second-round pick who is in the mold of the increasingly popular safety/linebacker hybrids. His absence threatens to not only weaken the secondary but also take the teeth right out of defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s aggressive scheme.

Key matchup: Malcolm Jenkins vs. Jordan Reed
Were it not for injuries, Jordan Reed might be one of the premier players in the league. Even still, he’s managed 153 receptions for 1,638 yards and 17 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Redskins coach Jay Gruden will flat out admit, “A lot of our offense revolves around 86, our tight end.”

Yet, interestingly enough, Reed hasn’t often been a factor vs. the Eagles. During their Week 16 contest in 2015, Reed racked up 9 receptions for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns. In five other meetings, he has 14 receptions for 102 yards total, with zero touchdowns.

Gruden credits safety Malcolm Jenkins for the Eagles’ success defending Reed. “It’s a great matchup, it always is, when he gets on the field with Malcolm Jenkins,” Gruden said. “Malcolm does one of the better jobs against him than anybody.”

Given the departures of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in free agency, Reed’s role in Washington’s offense could be more vital than ever. But the Eagles have limited Reed in the past, thanks in large part to Jenkins, whose ability to shadow the 6-foot-4, 246-pound tight end will go a long way toward dictating the outcome of this game.

How good is Kirk Cousins really?
We’re about to find out.

Kirk Cousins has thrown for 9,083 yards and 54 touchdowns over the last two seasons. He’ll earn a whopping $43.89 million between 2016 and ’17 alone. At this point, it’s sort of taken for granted that Cousins has established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.

Is he? It’s certainly not a given Cousins will continue on as one most prolific passers in the league now that Garcon and especially Jackson are out of the equation. Even then, Washington’s record is only 17-15-1 record the last two seasons with Cousins at the helm, including a lopsided first-round playoff exit.

Cousins is headed for free agency next offseason and will make a lot of money regardless, but he still has plenty to prove. He’s had tremendous personnel, yet hasn’t won. I’m not ready to anoint this guy the best quarterback in the division, much less on the heels of losing two 1,000-yard receivers.

How good is Carson Wentz really?
Likewise, while there’s a ton of enthusiasm for the Eagles right now, we’re going to learn quite a bit about Carson Wentz this season. “We're in the second year of a potentially special, young quarterback,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. “We don't even know that yet.”

Wentz is coming off a good-not-great rookie season. He threw for 3,782 yards – the fourth-highest finish in franchise history – and managed to win seven games without much of a supporting cast. He also had trouble pushing the ball down field and tossed 14 interceptions.

The Eagles rebuilt the offense around Wentz, and while the organization isn’t depending on him to become an overnight sensation, it sounds like “progress” is the key word around the NovaCare Complex this season.

“My expectation with Carson is he'll be better in Year 2 than Year 1, he’ll significantly be better in Year 3 than Year 2, and he’ll be significantly better in Year 4 than Year 3,” Lurie said.

If Wentz is the future of the franchise, as was hoped when he was taken No. 2 overall in the draft last year, we should see some growth this season. It starts on Sunday in Washington.

Rob Rants about Mike Lombardi's ridiculous backtrack

ap-usa-mike-lombardi-doug-pederson.jpg
AP Images

Rob Rants about Mike Lombardi's ridiculous backtrack

If you do what I do for a living, you’re in essence paid to have an opinion. Yes, there are other job requirements, but if you’re going to be a host/analyst, you better have a take. I’m not talking about a contrived, phony “hot take,” where a contrarian view is taken just for the sake of debate. I mean something you believe.

For example, heading into last week’s Eagles-Falcons game, I had serious doubt that Nick Foles could do enough to allow his team to win. I had full faith that the defense and coaching staff would do what they’ve done all season: deliver. I just worried that the offensive coaches couldn’t go out and execute the plays. Therefore, I thought the Eagles would lose a close game to the Falcons. I said it before the game and I’m owning it now. I was wrong. I typed those three words and I wasn’t struck by lightning. I could have been a homer and just picked the Eagles but I gave an honest opinion. One that was wrong.   

I mention this because far too many of my brethren in this business are afraid to cop to it when they are wrong. Exhibit A this week is Mike Lombardi. Lombardi, who has years of experience in NFL front offices, including with the Eagles, said this about Doug Pederson in September on his podcast at The Ringer:

“Now, everybody knows Pederson isn’t a head coach. He might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I’ve ever seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL.” 

Strong words. But that’s OK, Lombardi is paid to have an opinion. He comes from the unique position of a long NFL career. I find him to be a compelling listen on matters of the NFL and beyond. He’s not a fence-sitter, he’s not vanilla. He’s also an excellent storyteller.

Which brings us to this week. The Eagles beat the Falcons and are two wins away from finally winning a Super Bowl. Pederson has reached this point despite losing major parts to his roster, including Carson Wentz and Jason Peters. Pederson’s team is 14-3 this season and one of those losses was meaningless. I wrote Monday that he should be the Coach of the Year. A far cry from the least qualified person to coach a team.

On a more recent podcast, Lombardi kind of, sort of, backtracked ... but not really.

That's a begrudging, half-acknowledgment. Lombardi could no longer dig his heels in, so he gave you the, “If I offended anyone, I’m sorry” apology. It was half-assed.

What guys like Lombardi don’t get is, it’s OK to miss sometimes. When you’re in the prediction and analyst business, you are going to be wrong sometimes. You’re human. Your audience and the general public would rather you admit a mistake than keep paddling upstream with a foolish point of view. It shows some humility.

Time will tell if Pederson’s career as the Eagles' head coach is a success but there’s no denying the job he’s done this season in the face of adversity. 

And there’s also no denying you were wrong, Mike. And you know what, it’s OK.

For dominant Lane Johnson, 'bar set for many years to come'

usa-lane-johnson.jpg
USA Today Images

For dominant Lane Johnson, 'bar set for many years to come'

A year ago, he was coming off a 10-game suspension, playing for a losing team, unsure about his future, unsure about his career.

Today, Lane Johnson is on top of the world.

He's a first-time Pro Bowler, a first-team All-Pro, he just played in his first career postseason victory, his team has won 13 of its last 14 games that the starters played in and is now one home win from the Super Bowl.

He's still one positive test away from a two-year ban, but in his fifth NFL season, Johnson has finally backed up all his talk about being one of the NFL's best offensive linemen.

He proved he can be a dominating force without the help of banned substances, and he proved he can be out there for a full season as an anchor of one of the NFL's best offensive lines.

"I had a long offseason to ponder it, to think about it," Johnson said. "I knew physically what I could do on the football field, it was just a matter of being responsible, not making any bonehead mistakes and being part of the team.

"I've envisioned this for a long time, so it feels good to see it come to life."

Johnson is the Eagles' first right tackle named first-team All-Pro since Hall of Famer Bob Brown in 1968.

After a four-game suspension in 2014 and the 10-game suspension last year, Johnson was flat-out dominating this year.

With no help from any substances.

"Anything would be better than where I was last year," he said. "I always had confidence in what I could do. The coaches have seen what I could do, the other guys could see what I could do. It was just a matter of getting on the field and showing what I could do.

"Now the bar is set for many years to come. The world's there for the taking."

The Eagles face the Vikings Sunday evening in the NFC Championship Game at the Linc, and Johnson said that as happy as he is for himself, he feels for veteran teammates Jason Peters and Darren Sproles, two all-time great Eagles who suffered season-ending injuries.

"It's not about me, I'm just happy for all the veteran guys," he said. "J.P., he's heartbroken he can't be out there playing. Sproles, those guys. I like winning for the other guys, the veterans. (Brent) Celek's been here 11 years, this will be his second NFC Championship Game.

"It's really about those guys. We've got a lot of confidence right now. We're guaranteed one game left. I'm happy where we're at. Everybody's excited. Let's get back to work Monday and keep this going."