Next goal for Eagles' defense? Consistency


Next goal for Eagles' defense? Consistency

We all saw last Sunday what’s possible when the Eagles’ defense plays at a high level in all phases.

Their first shutout in 18 years.

Now the goal becomes a little harder.

Do it all the time.

“Every week we ask ourselves, ‘How can we get more consistent?’” Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. “It was a great game defensively. It all came together. But can we sustain it? Can we repeat it? Can we do it for four quarters?”

Consistency has certainly been elusive for the Eagles’ defense this year.

They held the Jaguars to three points over the final 50 minutes on opening day, then allowed 26 or more points in four straight games for only the fifth time in franchise history (but the second time in two years).

Then came that 27-0 win over the Giants going into the bye, the Eagles’ first shutout since 1996.

“We got a shutout, we set the bar high for ourselves,” linebacker Brandon Graham said. “Now let’s go see if we can do it again. When you start something you’ve got to finish it.

“Our goal is to hold teams to 17 points and under. We do that, we should win the game.”

But the Eagles have held only the Jaguars and Giants to 17 or fewer points this year, and those teams rank 32nd and 22nd in the league in offense.

It was about this time last year that the Eagles’ defense really got rolling. From early October through mid-December, they held nine straight opponents to 21 or fewer points, at one point limiting four of five to 17 or fewer.

Sixteen teams – half the league – have held three or more opponents to 17 or fewer points so far this year. The Colts, Ravens and Cards – who the Eagles face Sunday – have held four teams to 17 or fewer points, and the Lions have held five.

So the shutout was great. But that consistency the Eagles seek remains elusive.

“I think we’re pretty far from being where we want to be,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “As we continue to grow in our understanding of our scheme and our understanding of our roles and how to best execute that, the sky’s the limit.

“When we can have everybody doing their job on every play, on every down, it becomes harder for offenses to beat us, and when we play as a team, you see different guys sacrificing themselves so that other guys can make plays, it makes our defense that much better.

“You’ve got guys taking on two blockers, and that’s keeping our backers clean. You’ve got pass rushers not being selfish and keeping the pocket integrity so you don’t get the quarterback leaking out, and that’s giving us time on the back end. You’ve got guys pressing when they’re supposed to press, and that gives our D-line that extra step they need to get to the quarterback, and it all just plays hand in hand and when you got guys buying into their job and how it fits all together, I think we just continue to get better.

“We’re far from where we see this thing going, but we’re definitely going in the right direction.”

Even with the shutout, the Eagles’ per-game rankings remain 24th in yards allowed, 23rd in rushing yards allowed, 23rd in passing yards allowed and 23rd in first downs allowed.

The Eagles are 5-1 coming out of the bye, with a brutal stretch of games coming up, starting with the Cards at 4:05 p.m. Sunday in Glendale, Ariz.

“We just want to get better each week than we were the week before,” defensive lineman Cedric Thornton said.

“As a defense, we just try to focus on consistency, everybody do their job every play and one play at a time. I feel like we’re getting closer and closer every week. We don’t want to take any steps back.”

If the defense can approach its performance against the Giants, the Eagles are going to win a lot of games over the next 10 weeks.

And beyond.

But if we get the defense that allowed 115 points from Week 2 through Week 5, they’ll be in trouble.

“We’ve had flashes where we’ve played real well just the second half or just the first half or just the first three quarters,” Davis said.

“Finally we put four quarters together of team defense, and as we get better and better, the goal is to be great every week. It’s nice to see we’re capable of that, but we’ve got a lot of growth to do. Now we have to sustain it and build on it.”

Carson Wentz fought back against jealousy toward Nick Foles

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Carson Wentz fought back against jealousy toward Nick Foles

Was he jealous? Was he envious of Nick Foles? Carson Wentz doesn’t exactly say yes. But he doesn’t say no, either.

“You’ve got to fight that, you’ve got to fight that,” Wentz said Tuesday.

“It’s human nature to want to be on that podium and be the guy. You grow up wanting to be there, but not being able to be up there, there’s nobody I’d rather have up there than Nick.”

Wentz may have been the most valuable player in the NFL, but Foles, his close friend and teammate, is the one with a Super Bowl MVP trophy.

Wentz did everything he could to support Foles once he suffered a season-ending knee injury in early December. And Foles has spoken several times about what a good teammate Wentz was.

But after leading the Eagles to a 10-2 record with 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, it wasn’t the easiest thing to watch his backup achieve football immortality with a record-setting run through the postseason.

“It was pretty different but pretty special,” Wentz said. “We’ve become so close ever since he first got here. Developed a real friendship, a real relationship, more than just a working relationship, a true friendship between me and him — and Nate (Sudfeld) as well. So to go through that experience last year was pretty cool.”

For now, Foles is back with the Eagles, and depending on how fast Wentz recovers from his injury (see story), he will either begin the season backing up Wentz or starting until Wentz is ready.

This is unprecedented stuff. No quarterback has ever been a Super Bowl MVP and then been a backup on the same team the next year.

Without the right two guys, it wouldn’t work. It couldn’t work.

But Zach Ertz, who is close to both Foles and Wentz, said their unique relationship makes it possible.

“First and foremost, they have an amazing relationship with one another, and I think their faith is part of their relationship,” he said.

“They’re able to step back and just focus on the team. Both guys have no egos, especially Nick. That guy is as cool as they come. He’s a phenomenal teammate, I think everyone saw that come out last year, his ability even at the beginning of the year, what he was able to do with Carson, kind of helping him out.

“When Carson was playing, Nick would be a sounding board. So the dynamic really hasn’t changed in that regard. Even when Nick was playing, Carson did the same thing for him. So that relationship started to grow last year, and I’m assuming it’s going to be the same.”

Foles has made it clear he wants to be a starter (see story), so this could be a difficult situation. But it won’t be, Ertz promises.

“Nick is not a guy that’s going to demand anything,” he said. “Obviously, he could do some things in the best interests of his career down the road, but right now I mean the guy loves being in Philadelphia and I think he’s really having fun in playing football with this team.”

Zach Ertz missing Brent Celek as he takes his leadership role

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Zach Ertz missing Brent Celek as he takes his leadership role

There was a noticeable difference in the NovaCare Complex when Zach Ertz arrived on Monday for the first day of the Eagles’ offseason workout program. 

No Brent Celek. 

Celek, the 11-year pro, was cut earlier this offseason after a tremendous career with the Eagles. For the first time in Ertz’s six-year career, Celek won’t be around. 

And weirdly, Ertz will now assume Celek’s old role as the veteran leader in the Eagles’ tight end room. 

“It’s tough, obviously,” Ertz said on Tuesday. “He was the guy that when they brought me in, he was the guy, the veteran tight end in Philadelphia. He was the guy everyone knew about. And he didn’t treat me as a guy who was a competitor to him; he treated me as the guy who could help him further his career, where he didn’t have to take every snap. So it’s tough. That guy has been with me from the beginning, pretty much taught me how to be a pro in Philadelphia. 

“Even a couple years back, when the playing time began to increase in my way, he let me kind of take on a leadership role. He wasn’t overbearing by any means. He kind of let me lead in my own way. Even though he was the leader of the room, per se, he let me lead and slowly earn more of a leadership role in our room. He kind of set me up for this moment. I owe a lot of my success to Brent, the way he was a dominant blocking tight end, I was able to learn from that for a lot of years. I’m extremely thankful for him.”

While Ertz learned how to be a pro from Celek, he always tried to become a top-notch tight end like the Cowboys’ Jason Witten. He’s long admired his game. While some would argue Ertz finally had a breakout season in 2017, his last three years have been elite. Since 2015, he has 227 catches for 2,493 yards and 14 touchdowns. The only other TEs to put up those numbers or better over that span are Travis Kelce and Delanie Walker. And in 2017, Ertz did something Celek never did: he made a Pro Bowl. 

Celek was released and Trey Burton signed a lucrative deal to become the top tight end in Chicago, so Ertz is the only player left from last year’s tight end room. The Eagles brought in Richard Rodgers as a free agent and have a few younger prospects already on the expanded roster, but the Eagles’ brass has commented about how good of a tight end draft this is, so it would make sense if they add one later this month. 

If the Eagles do draft a tight end, the 27-year-old Ertz is going to try to be a strong veteran presence for the young player … kind of like what Celek was for him. 

“I told the guys the other day, I’m here to help however I can, whether that be talking football or just allowing them to watch how I approach things,” Ertz said. “I kind of was able to learn from Brent how to treat young tight ends coming in, young players coming in, so that’s one of the things that he kind of told me as he was leaving: that I kind of set the blueprint for your success. He didn’t say that verbally, but that’s how I took it. I want to repeat that for whoever comes in.”

Celek is gone, but through Ertz, his impact is still going to be felt in the NovaCare Complex for years to come.