Reshaped Eagles defensive line turns in commanding performance in opener

Reshaped Eagles defensive line turns in commanding performance in opener

This was a message, an emphatic 60-minute message to everybody on the Eagles' schedule, that this is a different Eagles defensive line.
They were ballyhooed last year, supposedly one of the league's top units, but they never played up to those standards, really never came close. They finished in the middle of the pack against the run, sacking the quarterback and ultimately in the standings.
Exit Connor Barwin and Bennie Logan. Enter Tim Jernigan, Derek Barnett and Chris Long.
And goodbye five-game losing streak to the Redskins.
The Eagles' reshaped defensive line turned in a commanding performance in Sunday's season opener against the Redskins, limiting Washington to 10 points, 264 yards and no big plays, while recording four sacks in a 30-17 win at FedEx Field (see breakdown).
"That's what this whole defense is all about," middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "It’s about our front taking over a game and being disruptive and stopping the run. They did a hell of a job up front getting to the quarterback. He was very disrupted and just couldn’t get in a rhythm."
The Redskins, who ran for 230 yards against the Eagles here last year, managed just 64 rushing yards Sunday, only 34 of them from their running backs. Their 264 total yards is their fewest in the last 17 meetings since the Eagles limited them to 249 here in 2008.
This was total domination.
The defensive line created one turnover, pressuring Kirk Cousins into Jalen Mills' fourth-quarter goal-line interception, and then forced another, with Brandon Graham's second sack causing a fumble that Fletcher Cox scooped up and returned 20 yards for a clinching touchdown (see 10 observations).
Graham was all over the place, finishing with two sacks, two tackles for loss, four tackles and a forced fumble. Cox and Jernigan each also had a sack.
“We just wanted to set the tone early and create our own identity," Graham said. "There’s a lot of guys here from last year, and we (asked), 'Who are we going to be this year? Who's going to make that jump in Year 2 (under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz)?' And I think we all made that jump today.
"We kept playing together, no matter the situation. At the end, it was like, 'Let’s go make a play,' and we made a play at the end. (The secondary) took away Cousins’ first read and we were there to make a play."
Last time the Eagles held the Redskins to fewer than 300 total yards, one or fewer offensive touchdowns and recorded four sacks was the second game in 2003.
Yeah, it's been a while since the Eagles battered the Redskins like this physically.
"There’s a different feel in the locker room this year," Hicks said. "We can definitely feel it. It’s out there in the sideline. Guys care about each other, guys care about what’s actually happening in here and that’s what it takes to be a great team, a great defense."
In the Eagles-Redskins game down here last year, the Redskins averaged 7.0 yards per rush.
This time? Their longest run was six yards.
The Redskins tried to run early, but after their backs were just 10 for 22 in the first half, they called only three running plays in the second half, netting 12 more yards.
“We knew after last year them being physical with us and running the ball so well, we really put a premium on stopping the run and it showed," Hicks said.
"We took it head on and made them one-dimensional. Everybody did their job and trusted each other."
With Schwartz rotating everybody on and off the field, the Eagles got stronger as the game on (see grades).
The Redskins' last four drives: Interception, 3-and-out, fumble recovery TD and 4-and-out.
"Obviously, we came in today wanting to stop the run, that was the No. 1 thing, and we worked hard for a week and a half on that and guys made it happen, and it’s all a credit to that front seven," safety Rodney McLeod said.
“I was fortunate back in my Rams days to have a good D-line, but I see the same thing with these guys. They’re great. They’re professionals, they come to work every day, and they put it all out there. They dominated today.
"Mixing what we're doing on the back end with their pressure, it's a good thing right now, and you'll probably see more of it." 
Cousins began the day with the fifth-highest career passer rating ever against the Eagles but finished a pedestrian 23 for 40 for 240 yards, with one TD and one INT and a passer rating of 72.9.
“Any quarterback, if you hit him early, it kind of rattles him," Cox said. "We hit him a few times early and did a few things we haven’t done against them and you could kind of tell it rattled him up."
Cox became the 10th player in Eagles history with two or more career fumble returns for a touchdown. Only Seth Joyner — who somehow is not in the team's Hall of Fame — has more, with three.
Graham's two-sack game was the fifth of his career and gave him 30 as an Eagle. Cox's sack gave him 29½, which ties Jerome Brown for fourth-most in franchise history by a defensive tackle. 
“I think we got a hell of a D-line," Graham said. "Everybody was competing today, everybody was playing together. It’s not just me, it’s the guys that helped me balance out the rush and the guys in the back end that took away the first read and made the plays they were supposed to so we could make plays.
“We got a chance. It’s up to us to stay together and not start out hot like we did last year and go 3-0 and then fall off. We want to keep taking off."

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

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Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

When Doug Pederson said back in July that the 2017 Eagles "probably have more talent" than the Super Bowl Packers teams of the 1990s that Pederson played on, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Millions of eyebrows maybe.
The Eagles? Who hadn't won a playoff game since 2008 and were coming off a 7-9 record in Pederson's first season?
More talented than a team that went to the playoffs virtually every year from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s behind Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Reggie White and reached back-to-back Super Bowls in 1996 and 1997, winning one?
"I look back on my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs, those Super Bowl runs there," Pederson said on July 17.
"And do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?"
Seriously, Doug?
Six months later, Pederson's comments — which seemed so ridiculous at the time — don't seem so ridiculous, do they?
Because here are those 2017 Eagles, sitting 13-3 with a playoff win over the Falcons in the books and a berth Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings despite a rash of injuries to some of their best players.
The Eagles haven't lost a game with postseason implications since Carson Wentz was lost for the season, and they're one home win from reaching their third Super Bowl.
Pederson, who had two stints backing up Brett Favre with the Packers — from 1996 through 1998 and 2001 through 2004 — was reminded of his comments Friday before practice.
"I don't have a crystal ball, obviously, and it's hard to predict," he said. "You'd love to sit here and go, 'Yeah, in the summer, (I thought we were) going to be 13-3 and win the NFC East.' You'd love to be in that situation, or 16-0, or whatever it might be.
"I did have a feeling back then when I made that statement that we could be, we had the potential to be a good football team because of the way we've practiced and the talent that we brought to the roster and the progression of Carson in his second year.
"And then defensively, the front, the way they performed, and the back end, I saw a lot of the same similarities. So you just have that gut feeling when I made that statement."
Back in July, when Pederson made those comments comparing the Eagles to the Packers, he tempered them by saying talent isn't always enough. It takes much more for a team to have success.
"I (said) it takes great coaching, teaching, mentoring to also have our guys prepared each week to be in this position," Pederson said. "So all of that has kind of culminated. I think you look back on it and you go, 'Wow, maybe it was a true type of thing.'
"But we just keep doing our jobs, keep doing what we've been coached to do. Players play what they can do and what's in their control, and we're here today."

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday


Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

Veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) is the only Eagles player listed as questionable for this week's game. Everyone else on the 53-man roster is expected to be available. 

Ellerbe, 32, missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and Friday. 

The Eagles' starting MIKE linebacker was also listed as questionable last week and was able to play, so expect him to be good to go. After all, this is the NFC Championship Game. There's no resting for anything else. 

In Minnesota, wide receiver Adam Thielen (lower back) and safety Andrew Sendejo (concussion) are both listed as questionable. 

Thielen, the Vikings' top receiver, missed Wednesday's practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday. Just like Ellerbe, there's no saving him for next week. 

Sendejo was limited on Wednesday and Thursday, was a full participant on Friday, but is still technically in the NFL's concussion protocol. He'll need to clear that before he's able to play, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he's optimistic Sendejo will be able to play. 

Meanwhile, third defensive tackle, Shamar Stephen (knee/ankle), missed practice all week and has been ruled out. While Stephen isn't a starter, he played just under 40 percent of the Vikings' snaps this season, so missing him is still a loss.

After practicing indoors on Wednesday and Thursday, the Eagles loaded up on buses and spent their Friday practice outside at Lincoln Financial Field. Head coach Doug Pederson likes to get his guys outside for at least one day per week. 

The Eagles will have a walkthrough on Saturday before they'll be back at the Linc for Sunday's 6:40 p.m. kickoff in the NFC Championship Game.