Eagles

Eagles-Steelers: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Steelers: Roob's 10 observations

BOX SCORE

We could probably fill 100 points tonight after this wipeout of the Steelers.

Fifty of them might just be: Wow.

The Eagles on Sunday handed the Steelers' their worst loss in 27 years, walloping everybody's AFC favorite 34-3 and extending their streak to a game and a half without allowing a touchdown (see Instant Replay).

New coach, new quarterback, but you could make an argument the Eagles are the best team in the NFL.

Three games in, the Eagles have won three blowouts. Sunday's was the most impressive (see photo gallery).

1. What Carson Wentz is doing simply defies belief. He isn’t playing at an insanely high level for a rookie, he’s playing at an insanely high level for a quarterback. It’s not about him being a rookie anymore. There’s nothing rookie about him. Wentz has managed to put together one of the finest three-game stretches in Eagles history, not just by a rookie but by any quarterback. And this after missing all of training camp and getting promoted to the starting spot exactly one month ago? It’s scary how good this kid is playing. His ability to recognize and diagnose what a defense is doing is off the charts, and he’s so accurate that as soon as he realizes who’s going to be open, the ball is on the way. He can fire it, he can float it, and he can do it all in mistake-free fashion. That’s what’s most impressive about all of this. Zero turnovers playing in his NFL debut, on a Monday night at Soldier Field and against a hot pick to win the AFC.

2. We all knew this defensive line was talented. But this? This group has played out of its mind so far. In all three games the opposing quarterback really had no chance by the second half. They are simply wearing people out, getting stronger and stronger as the game goes on and taking over in the second half. The Eagles still haven’t allowed a second-half touchdown this year. Look at net passing yards against the Eagles this year:

                                 1H                  2H

Browns                    118                  50

Bears                       145                  75

Steelers                   138                  84

They’ve been OK in the first half, but they are just destroying people in the second half. They have yet to allow 100 net passing yards in a second half. And that’s when teams that are trailing by double digits generally pad their passing stats. Ben Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl winner, and by the second half, the Eagles’ defensive line was just teeing off on him, giving him very little opportunity to get the ball down the field. This has been an astonishing stretch from the entire defense, but the defensive line in particular has been playing at a breathtaking level.

3. There was no announcement in the press box about Ryan Mathews, but we’re assuming his sore ankle, originally injured on opening day, was bothering him. Mathews had minus-five yards on two early carries, then didn’t play the rest of the game. In his place, we saw a real emergence from the Eagles’ two young backs. Rookie Wendell Smallwood ran 17 times for 79 yards and Kenjon Barner was 8 for 42, both career highs. Mathews has looked sluggish running the ball all year, and Darren Sproles – as electrifying as he is in all other facets of the game – really isn’t a runner anymore. Smallwood and Barner both hit the hole decisively and have wheels once they get into open space. Sunday, they combined for 25 carries for 121 yards. Very promising start for both backs.

4. One thing the Eagles did throughout this game was tackle exceptionally well, something that’s been a problem around here for a while. The Steelers, unable to run the ball, and with Roethlisberger under tremendous pressure, tried snap after snap to get the short passing game going, trying to get 1-on-1 matchups and then break tackles for big gains. But time after time, the Eagles swarmed the receiver as soon as he caught the ball, quickly limiting the damage. Fourteen of Roethlisberger’s 24 completions went for six yards or less, and this is a quarterback who is as good as anybody getting the ball down the field.

5. Malcolm Jenkins in particular was exceptional Sunday, both in coverage, stopping the run and tackling in the open field. Jenkins has been playing at such a high level since he got here in 2014 it’s easy to take him for granted. But he’s playing as well right now as any safety we’ve seen here. This is Brian Dawkins-level stuff right now.

6. A few words about Brandon Graham. This guy was so vilified early in his career for not being Earl Thomas, and all he’s done for seven years is work hard in practice, play as hard as he can on gameday, and hope to finally get an opportunity to show that he can play. Graham hasn’t been bad. He had 23½ sacks coming into this year, including 12 the last two years. But he’s been playing his best football ever this year, not just pressuring the quarterback, getting sacks and being around the ball — he’s got a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to go with three sacks this year — but also playing very stout against the run. Graham has played under three head coaches and five defensive coordinators, and he’s finally in a scheme that really suits his strengths. Graham has perservered, he’s overcome a lot, and you might notice nobody ever talks about Earl Thomas around here anymore.

7. As impressive as the offense and defense have been, Doug Pederson has been just dazzling so far. His ability to call a game, to keep defenses off-balance, to establish the pass early and then start pounding the run … all of this is remarkable for a first-time head coach who’s never called plays before. Pederson has guided this team masterfully through a difficult few months, with the starting quarterback disappearing and then getting traded, two players in legal trouble, another player likely to get suspended and several players protesting during the national anthem. And here they are 3-0. Pederson has been astounding.

8. And how about the Eagles’ rush defense. The Steelers managed just 29 yards on 10 carries, and that includes a seven-yard Roethlisberger scramble. Their backs had just 22 yards. Nobody’s been able to run on the Eagles yet, and that makes this defense even scarier.

9. Seeing Cody Parkey miss two field goals for the Browns in their overtime loss to the Dolphins Sunday, including a 31-yarder as time ran out in the fourth quarter, and seeing Caleb Sturgis continue to boot all his attempts through the uprights is a good reminder of how a difficult roster decision has really paid dividends for the Eagles. Maybe it didn’t seem like a tough decision, since Sturgis outplayed Parkey throughout the preseason, but getting rid of a Pro Bowl kicker, who two years ago broke the NFL rookie scoring record, can’t be easy. Sturgis has been solid, making both his field goal attempts Sunday and seven of eight so far this year.

10. A couple quick stats to put this all in perspective:

• The last time the Steelers lost a game by 31 or more points, their quarterback was Bubby Brister. It was 1989 and a 41-10 loss to Boomer Esiason and the Bengals at Riverfront Stadium.

•  Wentz’s 102 pass attempts are the most in NFL history by any quarterback in his first three games. Dak Prescott is at 75 going into the Cowboys’ game Sunday night. (Update: Prescott is now at 99 after the Cowboys' victory over the Bears.)

• Wentz is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 30 or more passes with no interceptions in each of his first three games. Only three others had done it twice.

• The Eagles are the 23rd team in NFL history to open a season with three straight wins by 15 or more points. Of the first 22, 18 went to the playoffs.

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Unselfishness at core of Eagles' balanced, lethal offense

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AP Images/USA Today Images

Unselfishness at core of Eagles' balanced, lethal offense

You look at the stats, and nothing jumps off the page. No running back on pace for 1,000 yards, no wide receiver on pace for 1,000 yards. Heck, even the all-world quarterback hasn't thrown for more than 211 yards in his last three games.

No 100-yard games by a wide out or tight end. Only one 100-yard game by a running back, and that was two months ago.

Four different guys have led the team in rushing, three different guys have led the team in receiving, 11 different guys have scored touchdowns.

Heck, in the win over Dallas Sunday night, the Eagles' longest catch wasn't by one of the speedy free agent wide receivers, and it wasn't by Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins or Zach Ertz. It was by rarely used 11th-year tight end Brent Celek, who turns 33 in January.

You want Pro Bowlers? This is not the offense for you. You want guys to score you a ton of fantasy points? This is definitely not the offense for you. 

You want a Super Bowl contender? Welcome to Philly, where head coach Doug Pederson has found a way to get a bunch of players used to being the guy to suppress their egos and do whatever's necessary to help the team.

LeGarrette Blount led the NFL in rushing touchdowns last year. Jay Ajayi was a Pro Bowler last year. Alshon Jeffery has been a Pro Bowler and was fifth in the NFC in receiving yards per game over the last four years. 

They're used to being stars. They like being stars. They get paid to be stars. And they've all put their egos aside to be part of something special.

Pederson's greatest accomplishment this year has been to get everybody on the roster to buy into the notion of setting aside personal goals to help the team win football games.

These are guys with big-money incentives and tremendous pride in their numbers. They want to be considered the best at what they do. And they want to put up numbers that land them that next big contract.

But Pederson has them all locked into something bigger, something greater. That game in Minnesota in 2 ½ months.

"The bottom line is winning the game," Pederson said. "Bottom line. I don't go into a game saying, ‘Jay, you've got to get 100 yards rushing. LeGarrette or Alshon, you've got to have 100 yards receiving.’ 

"It doesn't work that way. We don't design the offensive plays to work that way. If it happens, great. Alshon a couple weeks ago had an opportunity to be our first 100-yard receiver this year.

"It's just the guys just want to win, and it doesn't matter who's hot in the game. Our quarterback is so prepared and well-prepared, knowing exactly where to go with the ball in the passing situations. We ask him to do so much in the run game. And it's all part of the process, and these guys have bought in 100 percent, and they prepare that way. 

"You see it on game day. They're just all making plays and they're all contributing right now."

The Eagles are an NFL-best 9-1, and a win at home Sunday against the lowly Bears gives them nine straight wins, which would tie a franchise record set in 1960 and matched in 2003.

Their last four wins have all been by double digits, they're averaging 32 points per game, and they're on pace to score the 15th-most points in NFL history.

And they're doing it without anybody on pace for a 1,000-yard season and with just one 100-yard game by a receiver or running back.

Every coach talks about unselfishness, but Pederson genuinely has these guys living it and breathing it.

Why does it work?

"Because we all want to win," Blount said.

And it works because the quarterback is the most unselfish guy of all and legitimately doesn't care about anything other than getting a win.

"Winning is contagious, and the guys feed off of that," Pederson said. "And so it really doesn't matter who makes the play. It's just at the end of the day, just find a way to win the game."

Eagles DE Derek Barnett wreaking havoc as sacks starting to pile up

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USA Today Images

Eagles DE Derek Barnett wreaking havoc as sacks starting to pile up

With each passing game, it's starting to become clearer and clearer why the Eagles used their first-round pick on Derek Barnett. 

The rookie defensive end is beginning to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. 

"This guy is very disruptive, explosive," head coach Doug Pederson said. "He's another one of those unselfish guys. He just wants to win and do whatever he can to help the team win."

Barnett, the 14th overall pick in April's draft, had two sacks and a forced fumble in the Eagles' 37-9 win Sunday night over the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. 

In addition to Barnett's two sacks (he forced a fumble on one), he also applied pressure and hit quarterback Dak Prescott on two of his three interceptions. 

It seemed like Sunday was probably Barnett's best NFL game so far. The 21-year-old humbly didn't go along with that assessment. 

"I think I did some good things, but I need to do a better job in the run game," Barnett said. "I didn't do that well in the run game. At the end of the day, we won. That's all that matters. We got a victory and let's all go back to Philly." 

After failing to record a sack in his first five NFL games, Barnett now has 4.5 in his last five games. He is second among all NFL rookies in sacks this season. 

He's already eighth on the Eagles' rookie sack list and could move up that list quickly. Two more sacks would put him third behind just Reggie White (13) and Corey Simon (9.5). 

Sacks sometimes come in bunches. 

"I just think they're coming now," Pederson said. "I think he's getting comfortable in the role. He's developing. He's understanding the game. He studies tackles, he studies his opponent. He's developed a couple of different moves. It's just his willingness. It just clicks for any player. They start to come. I love where he's at right now too." 

Even before the sacks started coming, Barnett was quietly getting pressure. Now, he's getting pressure and finishing the plays. 

Barnett played 51 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps Sunday and is closing on the 50 percent mark on the season. While he hasn't been widely talked about as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, he could make a case quickly if these numbers keep piling up. 

More importantly, he could offer the Eagles a dangerous pass-rusher as they make their way down the stretch and into the playoffs.

And he's doing it with the same traits that made him attractive to the Eagles in the first place. 

Remember just after he was drafted, when vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas raved about Barnett's "excellent" ankle flexion? 

Well, check out Barnett's bend on his fourth-quarter strip sack: 


 

He bent around the left tackle and came at Prescott horizontally. 

He did it earlier in the game on the Rodney McLeod interception: 

 

And remember how much everyone praised his high motor and compete level? 

Check out his first-half sack. He willed his way to a sack and wouldn't let Prescott escape. 

Sunday was Barnett's second career two-sack game; they came less than a month apart. And it looks like there are plenty more sacks in his future. 

"They're starting to come in slowly but surely," Barnett said. "Everybody says to pass rush, you have to keep on rushing. You can't get down. You're going to be in your little slumps and stuff. You have to keep on grinding through it. It's eventually going to break."