Eagles

Game vs. Bears a big night for Eagles' rookies

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Game vs. Bears a big night for Eagles' rookies

There are 22 rookies on the Eagles’ roster. That’s 22 youngsters who’ve dreamed most of their lives about playing in the NFL. That’s 22 youngsters who are working desperately to live out their dream. That’s 22 youngsters who are now just a few hours from playing professional football for the first time.

The Eagles open the 2014 preseason at 8 p.m. Friday at Soldier Field against the Bears.

And those 22 kids can’t wait.

“I’m very fired up, I’m excited,” said Kevin Graf, an undrafted rookie offensive tackle from USC. “I’ve been waiting -- this has been my dream my whole life.

“I’m on pins and needles, can’t wait for game time. Just an exciting moment for me and my family.”

For high draft picks like Marcus Smith and Jordan Matthews, these games aren’t crucial. They’ve got the team made.

For guys like Graf, Beau Allen, Kadron Boone and Henry Josey, nothing is guaranteed beyond today.

“I’ve been excited just being here, and now that the moment’s come and it’s actually about to become reality, just trying to stay relaxed and just stay focused and make sure I go out there and just do what I have to do to keep making these coaches trust in me,” said Josey, who ran for 2,771 yards with 30 touchdowns at Missouri, despite missing a year with a knee injury.

“It’s something you love doing so much and then the moment’s here again, it’s time to play football. The competition level and playing against somebody different than ourselves makes everything so much more exciting. I’m just ready to play.

“It’s going to be pretty big for me. It’s another emotional step probably for some people in my life just for everything I’ve been through, but it’s just another football game and that’s the way I have to look at it. I can’t take it as some big moment. I have to stay focused. I’ve always been a patient guy. I’m not going to hit any home runs off the bat. I’m just hoping to have a good game.”

With Riley Cooper and Jeff Maehl unlikely to play Friday and Jeremy Maclin iffy, all the rookie receivers should get a lot of snaps.

That means a kid like Boone, who played at LSU, should have a chance to show what he can do.

“Friday night is going to be a big night, a childhood dream coming true, but it’s a job and you can’t let it get to you,” Boone said. “Just have to go out there and do my job.

“A lot of kids, they dream about this moment, but for me to actually have it come true, just soak it all in and enjoy the experience, but once it’s kickoff, just have to get in the zone and do my job. At the end of the day, you just have to be locked in. You can’t let that overwhelm you.”

There’s a ton at stake for a kid like Allen, a seventh-round pick out of Wisconsin who’s gotten a ton of first-team reps at nose tackle because Bennie Logan has been banged up.

With a strong preseason, Allen has a good chance to survive final roster cuts. It begins Friday night.

“I’ll be excited,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you’re playing football, and I’ve been playing football for 10 years and it’s no different whatever level you’re in, and I just have to remember that and just go out there and do my assignments.

“I want to play well and use the techniques that I’ve been coached every day. I don’t want to lose my head and get caught up in it.”

Although Smith isn’t battling for a roster spot, he is battling for playing time at outside linebacker.

Smith, the 26th player taken in this year’s draft, has been getting good reviews for his work at practice, but this will be full-speed, full-contact, against guys he’s not familiar with.

“I’m going to have butterflies, of course, that’s every game,” Smith said. “But once I get out there and once the first play happens, they’ll be gone. But I’m ready to play. I’m ready to show people what I’m all about.”

Eagles rookie report: Barnett's best game; Hollins' 1st score

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Eagles rookie report: Barnett's best game; Hollins' 1st score

The rookies contributed in a big way to the Eagles' 34-24 win over the Redskins at the Linc on Monday night (see breakdown).

First-round pick Derek Barnett played his best game, WR Mack Hollins scored his first TD and RB Corey Clement showed off his improving skill set for the 6-1 Eagles.

Let's take a look at some of the highlights in this week's rookie report.

1st quarter, 5:05, 1st-and-10 at WAS 7 - Redskins 3, Eagles 0
Corner Rasul Douglas was the first rook to make a play in this one. Playing off coverage as he has for most of the season, he lined up against WR Ryan Grant, the lone receiver on the left. Grant ran a short hitch. Douglas made another aggressive play on the ball, reading the route and the quarterback and tackling Grant immediately for a three-yard gain.

1st quarter, 4:26, 2nd-and-7 at WAS 10 - Redskins 3, Eagles 0
Barnett made a rookie mistake on this play. QB Kirk Cousins faked the handoff to RB Rob Kelley to the right and then rolled back to his left. With all of Barnett's momentum going right, a slight chip block from TE Jordan Reed knocked Barnett off balance. As Barnett is on the ground, Cousins was allowed to roll left and find TE Niles Paul for a 32-yard completion.

1st quarter, 3:05, 3rd-and-2 at 50 - Redskins 3, Eagles 0
It didn't take long for Barnett to get redemption. The Redskins unwisely tried to block Barnett with a tight end. This might work on defensive ends who don't have a high pursuit level, but as we've seen, that's not the case with Barnett. Every play that I've seen him 1-on-1 against a tight end, he won the matchup with ease. He got right around Reed and brought down Cousins for his first solo NFL sack (he recorded a 1/2 sack last week in Carolina). 

2nd quarter, 3:19, 2nd-and-16 at PHI 36 - Redskins 10, Eagles 3
This was really the turning point of the game. The Eagles couldn't get much going and Carson Wentz just took a sack to make it 2nd-and-long. Hollins lined up on the line to the right with Alshon Jeffery bunched behind him. Hollins ran down the field and gave a great head fake on a corner route to safety D.J. Swearinger before he turned on the jets and left Swearinger in the dust. Wentz threw a dime and Hollins snagged his first NFL touchdown. The route tree at North Carolina isn't exactly sophisticated. It's something Hollins has worked on and it really showed on this play.

3rd quarter, 9:43, 3rd-and-goal at WSH 9 - Eagles 17, Redskins 10
If the Hollins' touchdown was the turning point, this might have been the nail in the coffin. Coming out of the locker room, the Eagles drove right down the field and were in danger of having to settle for a field goal. Wentz lined up in the shotgun with Clement lined up next to him on the right. Washington sent a heavy blitz. Clement ran a wheel route on LB Zach Brown. Wentz defied physics to get off a tremendous throw under pressure. Brown had tight coverage but the ball is in a perfect spot where only Clement can get. And boy did Clement get it. He made an unbelievable catch and did an even better job keeping his feet in bounds.

3rd quarter, 4:12, 2nd-and-6 at PHI 48 - Eagles 24, Redskins 10
This was a tremendous play by Barnett. He set a hard edge on a bull rush against perennial All-Pro tackle Trent Williams and drove the veteran tackle backwards. He then came from behind to tackle Kelley for a one-yard loss. This play was even more impressive than the sack given it was against arguably the best left tackle in football.

4th quarter, 12:59, 3rd-and-6 at PHI 48 - Eagles 24, Redskins 17
This was an interesting play call. Doug Pederson either saw something the Redskins were doing on third down or really trusts his defense. Clement took the ball off tackle left. Backup tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai did a great job driving his defender backward while Clement patiently waited behind him. Clement was able to get the first down and keep what eventually turned into a touchdown drive going.

Analysis
Barnett was tremendous. He looked like a completely different player than he did in Week 1 against Williams (granted Williams has been hobbled by an injury). He's starting to get more comfortable in his secondary pass rush moves, including breaking out a nice spin move on one play. His confidence is growing week by week (see Roob's observations). With his two sacks tonight, he's now recorded 2.5 sacks the last two weeks. Not too shabby.

When Hollins was drafted by the Eagles, they acknowledged his prowess on special teams, but Howie Roseman was quick to point out that Hollins was more than that. He certainly showed that tonight. As previously mentioned, route running wasn't considered Hollins' strength coming out. But you could see on his college tape that he had the quick feet and suddenness to turn into a decent route runner. Hollins had just one catch, but he made it count.

Clement had a fumble in the fourth quarter that he recovered but maximized the rest of his touches. The work he's put in on becoming a better pass catcher has clearly paid off. And yet again he shows off his patience and vision when running the ball. Not bad for a guy who seemed like a long shot to make the team when the preseason started.

Jake Elliott apparently is human. After making his 12th straight kick — a 50-yarder — earlier in the game, he missed a 45-yard field goal with 21 seconds left.

Eagles 34, Redskins 24: Studs, duds, turning point and more

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Eagles 34, Redskins 24: Studs, duds, turning point and more

The Eagles didn't look like the best team in the NFL. Not even close.

For most of the first half on Monday Night Football, the Eagles were a mess. They were committing penalties, giving up big plays and floundering on offense.

Then things changed.

Then Carson Wentz started to look like an MVP. And then the Eagles started to look like the team fans in Philadelphia have become used to seeing over the first half of the season.

They started to look like the best team in the NFL again.

The Eagles recovered from their early missteps to beat Washington 34-24 at the Linc on Monday night to remain in control of the division and the conference (see 10 observations).

With the win, the Eagles are 6-1 and are all alone with the best record in the NFL. They also gained more ground, sweeping the season series with Washington, which fell to 3-3.

While the Eagles picked up a big win, they did suffer a couple losses. Jason Peters (knee) and Jordan Hicks (ankle) both left the game and did not return. The Eagles have lost important players before but these will be hard to overcome. 

Wentz was dynamic on Monday Night Football. In a second straight nationally televised game, Wentz dazzled and showed why his name is at the forefront of the NFL MVP discussion.

Wentz completed 17 of 25 passes for 268 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. His four touchdowns went to four different receivers. Wentz finished the game with a passer rating of 126.3. It's the third game in a row he's had a passer rating over 100 and it's just the sixth such game of his career.

Turning point
The Eagles looked awful early in the game, but then they broke out of a funk when Wentz hit Mack Hollins on a 64-yard touchdown bomb. That changed the game and brought some life back into the Linc.

Key stat
Before the Arizona game, Wentz had never had a three-touchdown game. He has three in a row now and 11 in three games.

Wentz has more touchdown passes in the last three games (11) than 19 teams have all season.

Offensive stud
Wentz is the real deal. After a bad start, he made some spectacular plays and carried the team. He's a legitimate MVP candidate.

Offensive dud
Torrey Smith didn't have much of an impact. He didn't have a catch and was targeted just once.

Defensive stud
Malcolm Jenkins played a great game on Monday night. He was everywhere. He stopped Jordan Reed on a key third down before Wentz hit Hollins on the deep touchdown pass.

Defensive dud
We'll give this to Najee Goode but that's probably unfair. It looked like Chris Thompson was his responsibility on the touchdown. Hard duty, as Jim Schwartz would say.

Key plays
• Corey Graham picked off a Kirk Cousins pass to give the Eagles great field position and Jake Elliott drilled a 42-yarder to add three more points.

• On 3rd-and-8, Wentz somehow pulled off a magic trick and escaped a sure sack. He was able to escape and scramble for 17 yards. He capped the drive with a touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor. It was Wentz's fourth TD pass of the game and it put the Eagles up 31-17.

• Cousins hit Reed on a short touchdown pass to cut into the Eagles' lead. It made the score 24-17.

• Wentz threw a ridiculous pass while getting hit by two guys and hit Corey Clement in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown. Clement tapped both feet in to put the Eagles up 24-10.

• After a Washington three-and-out, Wentz and the Eagles got the ball with 1:52 left in the half and drove down to score another touchdown. The big play on the drive was a 46-yarder to Zach Ertz, who then caught a four-yard touchdown pass to put the Eagles up 17-10.

• Wentz hit Hollins on a 64-yard touchdown bomb in the second quarter to tie the game at 10-10. It was Wentz's fourth 50-yard pass of the season. He had just three all last season.

• Cousins found Thompson for a seven-yard touchdown to put Washington up 10-3. Thompson was wide open in the flat and the Eagles were missing Jordan Hicks and Mychal Kendricks.

• Elliott drilled a 50-yarder to start the second-quarter scoring. It was his 11th straight make.

• Derek Barnett picked up his first solo sack to end a Washington drive in the first quarter. It came at a good time.

• After Washington kicked a field goal on their opening drive, the Eagles' first offensive drive was a disaster. They had four penalties and gained just five yards. It ended when Wentz threw a deep interception that was basically an interception.

Injuries
Ronald Darby (ankle) might return next week but was inactive against Washington. So was Mychal Kendricks (hamstring), who popped up on the Eagles' injury report during the week.

The Eagles lost Hicks (ankle) on the second play of the game and Peters (knee) on the first drive of the second half (see story).

Up next
The Eagles have two more home games before their bye week. Next Sunday, they'll face the winless 49ers and then face the Broncos before their week off.