Eagles

Kelly, Eagles better be right on DeSean decision

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Kelly, Eagles better be right on DeSean decision

They better know what they’re doing here.

The Eagles just got rid of one of the NFL’s most electrifying players in the prime of his career without getting anything in return, apparently for the crime of choosing his friends incorrectly.

DeSean Jackson has never been arrested for anything more serious than marijuana possession and driving with tinted windows, according to the NJ.com report, and those charges came five years ago and were eventually dropped. He’s never tested positive for a banned substance. What’s the worst thing he’s done in six years with the Eagles? He was suspended for one game in 2011 for missing a team meeting.

What he has done is make big plays more often than anybody in the 81-year history of the franchise. Game after game, year after year.

Jackson grew up in a section of Los Angeles where he was surrounded every day by gangs and crime. He rose up above all that to become a three-time Pro Bowl receiver with a charity foundation that raises money to fight pancreatic cancer, which claimed his dad.

And so far, the worst thing I’ve learned about Jackson is that he has close friends who are active gang members. Which really means that he’s still friends with the people he grew up with in L.A.

Jackson is a young African-American man from Compton who grew up around other young African-American men from Compton, and last time I checked, that’s not a crime.

Anybody care to take a guess what percentage of professional athletes have friends or associates who have gang ties? It’s not an insignificant number. Guilt by association isn’t a reason to cut somebody.

Now, obviously there could be a lot more out there that we haven’t heard. Stuff the Eagles know that they haven’t shared. Things Chip Kelly saw that the rest of us didn’t see. Charges or allegations that haven’t been revealed yet by authorities.

But if Jackson was such a distraction, he distracted his team last year all the way to a 10-6 season, an NFC East title and a playoff berth, and he distracted himself all the way to 82 catches, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns.

Distracted himself to a career year.

Jackson is such a bad influence on his teammates that in four of the five seasons he’s played at least 12 games, the Eagles have reached the playoffs.

So Kelly will move on without his top playmaker, and that leaves the Eagles awfully thin at wide receiver.

There’s Riley Cooper, who had a couple big games in the middle of last season, but averaged 18.6 yards the first five games of the year, 49.7 receiving yards the last seven games of the year and had 11 games with 53 or fewer yards.

There’s Jeremy Maclin, who’s been a steady contributor when healthy but doesn’t have nearly the game-breaking ability that Jackson has.

Jackson has 18 career touchdowns of 50 yards or more. Maclin has four.

And there’s … Ifeanyi Momah, B.J. Cunningham, Brad Smith, Will Murphy, Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson and Jeff Maehl.

In other words, there’s Maclin and Cooper.

And if you want to include hybrid running back Darren Sproles in the equation, feel free. But keep in mind that Sproles averaged 8.5 yards per catch last year, and Jackson averaged nearly twice that.

The Eagles have reminded us all offseason that this is a historic wide receiver draft, so apparently that’s where they plan to replace Jackson.

So maybe you get a stud and maybe you don’t. Maybe you get Freddie Mitchell or maybe you get Reggie Wayne. Maybe you get A.J. Jenkins or maybe you get Kendall Wright. Maybe you get Dwayne Bowe or maybe you get Craig Davis.

You don’t know. You never do. The draft is funny that way. You might think you know, but you really don’t. Not with wide receivers.

DeSean Jackson, we all know what the Eagles had. It wasn’t a projection. It wasn’t guesswork. It was documented and it was electrifying and it was a blast to watch every Sunday for six years.

Derrick Ward, who spent eight seasons in the NFL as a running back with the Giants, Buccaneers and Texans, put some perspective on all this via Twitter Friday afternoon:

“I'm born and raised in South Central LA. I have uncles who are still gang bangin’, cousins who still gang bang. But what does that have to do with someone playing football and ballin’ out for your team?”

Nothing.

Still, the Eagles had every right to do what they did, and Kelly’s credentials certainly can’t be questioned after taking a lost franchise and going 10-6 with a division title in his first year in the NFL.

Maybe this really is a case of addition by subtraction, and cutting ties with Jackson help the Eagles turn into an elite NFL team and Super Bowl contender.

But they better be right. Because outright releasing a 27-year-old three-time Pro Bowler coming off his finest NFL season just might unprecedented in NFL history.

The Eagles have had two Pro Bowl wide receivers in the last 15 years, and they’ve released both of them in their prime.

Andy Reid ultimately did the right thing with T.O., although the Eagles have won just three playoff games in nine years since he left.

Kelly better be right about this one.

Derrick Gunn's NFL Week 7 Picks: Will Falcons avenge Super Bowl loss to Patriots?

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Derrick Gunn's NFL Week 7 Picks: Will Falcons avenge Super Bowl loss to Patriots?

Derrick Gunn makes his picks for Week 7 of the NFL season.

Redskins at Eagles (8:30 p.m. on ESPN)
Because they have the best record in the NFC, the Eagles have a huge target on their backs and everybody is gunning for them. On Monday night, the Washington Redskins are hoping to take them down a notch. The ‘Skins come limping to the Linc. Their star rookie defensive lineman Jonathan Allen is done for the year with a Lisfranc injury. Their starting cornerbacks Josh Norman (rib) and Bashaud Breeland (knee) both might miss this key divisional showdown.

Carson Wentz has the Eagles offense rolling, and the defense has been rock solid against the run. Kirk Cousins will go after a Birds secondary ranked 29th against the pass (273.5 yards per game). One of the key matchups to watch closely is how the Eagles will try to defend against ‘Skins running back Chris Thompson, who is Washington’s leading rusher. More importantly, he’s their leading receiver, averaging 18.9 yards per catch.

In Week One the Eagles sacked Kirk Cousins 4 times, but since then he’s only been sacked 4 times. The Birds broke the ‘Skins jinx in the season opener. I look for the home team to make it a season sweep.

Pick: Eagles 28, Redskins 24

Buccaneers at Bills (1 p.m. on FOX)
The good news for the Bucs is Jameis Winston is expected to play despite dealing with an AC joint sprain in his shoulder. The bad news for the Bucs is they’re playing against a Bills team coming off a bye and a Bills' defense that is No. 1 in the league in points allowed at 14.8 points per game. Tampa Bay is also winless on the road. That won’t change this week.

Pick: Buffalo

Panthers at Bears (1 p.m. on CBS)
The Panthers have had a long time to lick their wounds after their encounter with the Eagles. The Bears are riding high after a stunning road win at Baltimore. Until the Panthers learn how to run the ball effectively, better teams will make them one-dimensional. Chicago has a potent run game, averaging 136 yards, but has difficulty scoring, putting up just 17.5 points per game. The Panthers go into the Bears' den and claw out a win.

Pick: Carolina

Titans at Browns (1 p.m. on CBS)
Desperate men take desperate measures and Hue Jackson is desperate to change the misfortunes of his 0-6 Browns. Jackson is going back to rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer who has 3 touchdowns and 9 interceptions this year. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is still dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, but he fought through it last week and threw for 306 yards against the Colts. The combination of running backs Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray takes a lot of pressure off Mariota. Look for the Titans to ground and pound the Browns.

Pick: Tennessee

Saints at Packers (1 p.m. on FOX)
These are dark days for Packers fans with Aaron Rodgers on the shelf with a broken collarbone. Meanwhile, the Saints have been marching, winning three straight. New Orleans has averaged 35 points in its last three and Drew Brees hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 1. The Saints will be doing more Lambeau Leaps than the Packers will this Sunday.

Pick: New Orleans

Jaguars at Colts (1 p.m. on CBS)
At 3-3, the Jaguars are tied for first place in the AFC South with Houston and Tennessee. Indy is just one game off the lead at 2-4. Jags rookie running back Leonard Fournette, who is second in the league in rushing, is questionable with an ankle injury. These Jaguars are an odd bunch to figure out and their wins have come in Weeks 1, 3, and 5. Since this is an odd week, I guess you know who I’m picking here.

Pick: Jacksonville

Cardinals at Rams (1 p.m. on FOX)
Looks like all the Cards needed was to find a running back to cure their offensive problems. In his Arizona debut last Sunday, Adrian Peterson had 26 carries for 134 yards and two touchdowns, along with a Cards win. The Rams have the league’s fourth-leading rusher in Todd Gurley. Both teams' offenses have the capability to light it up through the air, but if it comes down to the run game the Rams could be in trouble, as they allow 139.5 yards per game. With that said, I like the Rams at home in a close game.

Pick: Los Angeles

Jets at Dolphins (1 p.m. on FOX)
After falling behind 17-0 in Atlanta last week, the Dolphins mounted an impressive rally to pull off an upset win. The Jets have surprised many with limited offensive talent and have found a way to win three games. Division matches are usually difficult to pinpoint. The Jets are not the Falcons and since the Dolphins beat Atlanta on the road, they should handle New York at home.

Pick: Miami

Ravens at Vikings (1 p.m. on CBS)
Who are these Ravens? They look like contenders one week, then unravel against a team like Chicago the next week and look like pretenders. Minnesota’s defense is fast and rugged. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum has a firm grip on the offense. The Vikings will win their third in a row.

Pick: Minnesota

Cowboys at 49ers (4:05 p.m. on FOX)
These Niners are an interesting bunch. They haven’t won a game, but they’re in most of them. The Niners have set an NFL record by losing five consecutive games by three points or less. The 'Boys are coming off a bye and look to regroup. Their defense has been hot or cold. In this case, their D can be lukewarm because the 'Boys have just enough offensive firepower to hold off the Niners.

Pick: Dallas

Seahawks at Giants (4:25 p.m. on CBS)
This should be one of those good old rock’em sock’em type matchups. The Seahawks' and Giants' defenses can both bring it. Big Blue shocked the world last week by manhandling the Broncos in Denver. Russell Wilson is one of the best in the game at extending plays with his feet. Eli Manning is a stationary target with very few weapons to work with. Yes, I remember they found a run game against the Broncos but the legion of boom and company will be ready for it.

Pick: Seattle

Bengals at Steelers (4:25 p.m. on CBS)
The Steelers put it all together last week to hand the Chiefs their first loss. Do you want defense? This game is about defense. The Bengals are ranked second and the Steelers are third best in the NFL. The Bengals are well-rested coming off a bye and will be waiting for Le’Veon Bell. The wide receivers in this AFC North showdown are exciting … Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, John Ross. The Bengals two-game win streak stops in Da Burgh.

Pick: Pittsburgh

Broncos at Chargers (4:25 p.m on CBS)
Remember how we were all snickering at the Chargers for inventing new ways to lose close games? Well, laugh no more. The Chargers have won their last two by a grand total of six points. Meanwhile, the Broncos have lost two of their last three. This game features premier pass rushers on both sides —Von Miller, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The Chargers are 0-3 at home. This is a pick’em game. After closing my eyes and throwing at a dart board, I’m picking the Chargers. Don’t ask me why.

Pick: Los Angeles

Falcons at Patriots (8:30 p.m. Sunday on NBC)
A rematch of last season’s Super Bowl. It would be a small measure of revenge for the Falcons, but Atlanta is having problems finding the end zone. In each of their last two games, the Falcons have been held to just 17 points and lost both. Brady and company know how to score, but the Pats' defense has been inconsistent stopping the opposition from scoring. However, maybe that’s changing. In its last two games, New England held Tampa Bay to 14 points and the Jets to 17 points. Atlanta presents a much bigger test, but never bet against Bill Belichick at home.

Pick: Patriots

Zach Ertz making significant strides after offseason work with Carson Wentz

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Zach Ertz making significant strides after offseason work with Carson Wentz

The same Zach Ertz who's never had more than four touchdowns in a season now leads all NFL tight ends in touchdown catches. With four.

It's all part of the natural evolution between Ertz and Carson Wentz.

Ertz shares the NFL TD catch lead among tight ends with the Buccaneers' Cameron Brate and the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski.

And going back to last year, Ertz has six touchdown catches in his last seven games and eight in his last 13 games.

In his previous 40 games? He had five touchdown catches.

“I think it's just all the offseason work with Carson," Ertz said. "I think the coaches have a lot of confidence in me down there, and I think that stems from all the red-zone emphasis that we had all spring and summer.

"And then I’ve just made plays, the offensive line has held up, I think Carson is putting the ball in amazing spots, and I just go up and get the ball. I have the easy part."

Ertz had TD catches to give the Eagles' 14-0 leads against the Giants and Cards and then caught two last Thursday that turned a 10-3 deficit into an 18-10 lead as the Eagles beat the Panthers in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He's the first Eagles tight end with four TD catches through six games since Pete Pihos in 1955.

“The biggest thing is A) He puts in the work and B) He’s a really intelligent football player," Wentz said. "He knows coverages, recognizes things, knows when he’s hot (on a blitz).

"He’s really kind of in my head. He knows when I’m about to change his route, those types of things. With a guy like that, that knows how to create separation and play on time and be on the same page as me, that makes it tough to stop."

The touchdowns are most notable, but Ertz is off to the best start of his career in every category. His 34 catches and 405 yards are both second-most among all NFL tight ends to Travis Kelce's 37 and 423 (in seven games).

The Eagles, 5-1, face the 3-2 Redskins Monday night at the Linc. Ertz already has 54 career receptions against the Redskins — third-most ever by a tight end.

“It’s just Year 2 in this system," he said. "I’m a lot more comfortable in my role this year as opposed to last year. I was hurt, missed two games, and I was slowly integrated back into the game plan.

"I think this year I’m extremely confident in my role, I think they have the confidence in me to go out there and make plays when my number’s called, and it’s not going to be 10 targets every game. Last week it was two targets, 20 yards. It’s going to vary each and every week but I’m very happy with how they’re using me right now."

Ertz and Nelson Agholor are the first Eagles tandem with four touchdowns each through six games since Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams each had four back in 1992.

The red zone was a point of emphasis this offseason, and Wentz's numbers in the red zone are off the charts — 62 percent completion percentage, nine touchdowns, no interceptions and a 112.8 passer rating, fourth-highest in the NFL.

Ertz is third in the NFL with five red-zone first-down catches and fourth in the NFL with both six red-zone receptions and 49 yards.

“It’s timing," Wentz said. "It’s a timing thing and being on the same page.

"Red zone’s all about making plays. Playmakers making plays and playing on time down there is so crucial and that’s something we’ve really focused on. I think we’ve gotten better at all our spots on playing on time but he’s a guy that we feel creates mismatches and we take advantage of them."