Andrew Kulp

LeGarrette Blount advises Eagles to 'stay humble' after 5-1 start

LeGarrette Blount advises Eagles to 'stay humble' after 5-1 start

With a 5-1 record, the Eagles sit all alone atop the division and conference standings, and are tied for the best mark in the NFL. Their quarterback was recently given the best odds of winning the league’s Most Valuable Player award. So, yes, right now, a trip to the Super Bowl seems to be very much on the table for this squad.

But take it from LeGarrette Blount, somebody who’s won a couple of world championships — the Eagles can’t afford to get caught up in the hysteria right now.

“We could lose 10 in a row,” Blount said Tuesday. “We could go 6-10, so we don't want to jump the gun, jump to conclusions. We want to make sure we take it week by week, day by day, keep a level head and make sure we're going to be ready for whoever the next opponent is.”

Blount is one of only five Eagles players with a Super Bowl ring and the only member of the roster who owns multiple. The veteran running back won two of the last three years with the New England Patriots organization, which has been a perennial championship contender for the better part of the last two decades.

In other words, Blount knows better than anybody inside the Eagles’ locker room exactly what it takes to not only reach the big game and come away victorious but also how to sustain that success.

“You have to stay grounded,” Blount said. “You have to stay humble and make sure that all the guys that are in the building are on the same page. The coaches, the staff, everybody is on the same page, ignoring the noise, not worrying about what other teams are doing, what other teams' records are — just worrying about ourselves and locked into us.”

Easier said than done given the week the Eagles just had.

After going to Carolina and upending a tough Panthers squad on Thursday night, the Eagles watched as massive blows were being dealt to some of their stiffest competition over the weekend. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone on Sunday, potentially crippling one of the NFC’s elites for the remainder of the season. And Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is awaiting word on the status of a six-game suspension that could seriously hamper the division rival.

But the noise can also be Eagles fans and their exponentially rising expectations, or a media that’s quick to point out any tiny flaw and raise controversy.

Blount has experienced the latter firsthand. Two weeks into the 2017 campaign, he finished a game without a carry — an Eagles’ loss — and was averaging 3.0 yards per carry going back to the preseason. The constant questions coming from reporters about his role easily could have become a distraction.

In the four weeks since, Blount has 344 yards on 56 carries for a 6.1 average. He never allowed the noise to get to him, instead becoming a big reason behind the ongoing four-game winning streak.

“We know what we've been doing to get to this point,” Blount said. “We know what it takes, so we just have to buy in to continue to do that, and continue to do everything that it takes to continue winning games.

“A big part of it is just making sure you ignore the noise, don't listen to the outsiders, everything that is in house stays in house, and that you make sure and know that everybody that you see on TV isn't in your corner. Sometimes that can discourage the younger guys. Every now and then you'll hear them say, 'Oh, did you hear them say this,' or, 'Did you hear them say that? Or, 'Did you see this,' or 'Did you see that?'

“The big part is making sure that everybody ignores that stuff.”

Blount has been through extraordinary highs and lows in his football career and learned to maintain an even keel. But Eagles leadership has also done a tremendous job insulating players from the kinds of rumblings that have a tendency to create discord and cause entire seasons to come off the rails.

For evidence, look no further than rumors that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was trying to undermine head coach Doug Pederson — and how quickly such talk dissipated.

“The veteran groups have a lot to do with it,” Blount said. “I also think the coaches have a lot to do with it — keeping the guys grounded, keeping the guys to where we have to continue to come here and work if we want to continue the success.

“Most of the young guys, all of them have bought into the program, and everybody's locked in and knows their role and what they want to do.”

While Blount wouldn’t go so far as to draw parallels between the ways the Eagles and the Patriots handle distractions, it’s clear he’s been able to quickly establish a bond with his new teammates and coaches since signing in May.

“Every team is different,” Blount said. “I can't compare this team to the New England teams, or any other team. We have a really close-knit team. We believe in each other. Everybody loves each other and we have each other’s backs.”

As far as Blount’s performance on the field is concerned, the best may be still to come. He’s finished with at least 12 carries in each of the last four games and looked explosive and elusive while doing it. And with extra rest between a Thursday night game in Carolina and this Monday’s contest at home against Washington, the bruising runner said he’s feeling refreshed.

Most of all, it sounds as though Blount is in a great frame of mind and feeling comfortable with all of his surroundings. And if you’re looking for a great read on the Eagles’ situation through six games, just listen to the guy who’s come to expect confetti and parades in February.

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Claude Giroux carving out hybrid role

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Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Claude Giroux carving out hybrid role

VOORHEES, N.J. — Four games into the 2017-17 season, Flyers captain Claude Giroux acknowledged Friday he is still adapting to his move from center to left wing.

“I enjoy both,” Giroux said. “I enjoy playing hockey. It’s definitely a different game on the left side.”

Now centered by Sean Couturier, with Jakub Voracek on the right side, the Giroux line has certainly had its moments. But those chances haven’t necessarily manifested in a flurry of goals for the Flyers.

Giroux, Couturier and Voracek have totaled two goals and five assists in 5-on-5 situations, while the captain himself has one goal and one assist at even strength.

“I’m still getting adjusted here and just trying to stay in the system and be able to play my game, but I feel like our line, we have more to give,” Giroux said. “Five-on-five, we’re generating some good offense, but we can definitely do more.”

While the switch hasn’t sparked an immediate explosion of scoring for the Flyers’ top line, Giroux isn’t clamoring for a change back. As the 29-year-old veteran notes, he still takes plenty of faceoffs — a team-high 61 — and handles a lot of center responsibilities.

It’s a hybrid role, essentially.

“When we go back in our zone, if I’m the first one back, I’ll be playing low, so I do get some shifts playing center,” Giroux said. “It’s not like I miss it.”

One doesn’t have to watch very hard to see the chemistry developing between Giroux and his linemates. It may be only a matter of time before the experiment pays off and the unit starts to find the back of the net with regularity.

A successful trip in more ways than one
After a four-game road trip to kick off the season, the Flyers are looking forward to finally opening the Wells Fargo Center against the Capitals on Saturday night. However, as several players noted, getting their annual California tour out of the way early has its advantages, too.

“To start off the year in the middle of a long road trip is not the worst thing in the world,” Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “It’s probably tougher later in the season to go out there and win games like that.”

The Flyers took two of three off the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, sometimes referred to as the “Triangle of Death” when played in succession. They followed that up with a hard-fought regulation loss in Nashville at the hands of the Predators — a missed opportunity, for sure, although a 2-2 start on the road is nothing to complain about.

It was a valuable four points for the Flyers, although there was more to the trip than that. It also served as a bonding experience for a team that has four rookies and several new faces.

“Having so many young guys and new faces in the locker room, that helped build team chemistry and to get know the guys a little better,” rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim said.

In many ways, it was a more successful trip than the standings might let on. At the same time, while there were numerous positives to take away from the Flyers’ start, there’s no question they could also use a little home cooking.

“We’re happy with the way we’re playing,” Giroux said. “Coming home is definitely a boost.”

Ovechkin’s torrid start
While the Flyers are happy to be home, they won’t exactly be easing into their Wells Fargo Center slate. With a 2-1-1 record, the Capitals are off to a good start as well, with the hottest player in the NHL leading the way.

Alexander Ovechkin already has eight goals in Washington’s first four games, including three in the opener, followed by four in the encore. Lighting the lamp is nothing new for Ovechkin — he’s led the league in goals six times in his career — but even by his standards, his early-season performance has been downright scary.

“He’s that kind of player that when he gets hot, he gets hot, and right now it looks like everything he touches goes in,” Giroux said. “That’s why he’s been such a dominant player all his career. When he’s got a chance to score, he puts it in.”

Ovechkin is coming off something of a down season in 2016-17, finishing with 33 goals — his fewest in an 82-game campaign since the 2010-11 season. Looks like it’s safe to say he’s snapped out of it.

There’s no secret formula for stopping Ovechkin, either. The best way to keep to him from scoring is to simply avoid giving him anything easy.

“Don’t turn pucks over,” Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds said. “That’s when they hurt you. They have a lot of offensive firepower on that team.”

The Capitals are also the Flyers’ first Metropolitan Division opponent of the season, and their last for awhile. They don’t face another division opponent until they visit the Islanders on Nov. 22, a whole 16 games later.

“I think any time we play a team that’s in our division, it’s a pretty intense game,” Giroux said. “They’re fun to play, especially a home opener.

“They’ll be coming in hot, so we have to be ready.”

Grading the Eagles' 28-23 Week 6 win over the Panthers

Grading the Eagles' 28-23 Week 6 win over the Panthers

QUARTERBACK

Carson Wentz: 16/30, 222 YDS, 3 TD

Wentz is the real deal, plain and simple. Under intense pressure for much of the contest, the second-year quarterback kept his composure and continued to come up big in clutch situations. The Eagles were only 5 for 14 on third-down conversions this week, but it was enough, and Wentz's lone turnover occurred on a strip-sack in the first quarter. The numbers may not look incredible, but he got the job done, guiding his team to victory, on the road, against a quality opponent and defense (see 10 observations).

Grade: A-

RUNNING BACKS

LeGarrette Blount: 14 ATT, 67 YDS

All numbers aside, this group struggled mightily in pass protection, especially Kenjon Barner. Barner wasn't effective with the ball in his hands, either, carrying five times for seven yards and catching one pass for nine yards. Blount was fantastic again, and the case could easily be made he should've touched the ball more. Have to think his limitations in the passing game keep him from being on the field more, although it's not as if somebody else was deserving of those snaps.

Grade: B-

WIDE RECEIVERS

Nelson Agholor: 4 REC, 55 YDS, 1 TD

Agholor is on a roll. He now has four touchdowns this season and really showed his wheels on this one, turning a short reception over the middle into a 24-yard score. Nice night for Alshon Jeffery as well with a team-high 71 yards on four receptions. Rookie Mack Hollins added two catched for 38 yards, and give Marcus Johnson a catch for 16 yards, as the Eagles spread the ball around and got everybody involved.

Grade: B

TIGHT ENDS

Zach Ertz: 2 REC, 18 YDS, 2 TD

It was a quiet night for Ertz, from the standpoint that he was targeted only five times, but he certainly made the most of the limited opportunities. The Eagles needed their tight ends to block here — not exactly Ertz's strong suit, but nobody is complaining when you score twice. That false start in the fourth quarter sure could've hurt though.

Grade: A-

OFFENSIVE LINE

Halapoulivaati Vaitai: Started at RT

Starting in place of Lane Johnson, Vaitai experienced his share of shaky moments (see breakdown). The backup right tackle had a hand in two sacks, one of which went for a forced fumble. Granted, Wentz likely could've got rid of the ball sooner. Vaitai would eventually settle down, and once he did, the offensive line was fine. The Eagles rushed for 103 yards with a 4.1 average (minus kneeldowns), while Wentz took three sacks and sustained eight quarterback hits — though much of that damage was inflicted early.

Grade: B

DEFENSIVE LINE

Fletcher Cox: 2 TKL, 0.5 SK, 2 QBH, 1 PD

This was one of the most dominant performances against the run that I can recall. Granted, Carolina has struggled in this phase all season, but outside of Cam Newton, they literally could not get anything going on the ground against the Eagles. Panthers running backs carried 13 times for one yard. Unreal performance, and it made the Panthers offense one-dimensional. The front four also registered 2.0 sacks and nine quarterback hits. Cox in particular was a beast making his return from a calf injury, forcing an interception (see story).

Grade: A

LINEBACKERS

Nigel Bradham: 10 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 PD

This was probably Bradham's best game of the season (see story). He prevented Newton from getting out of bounds during a two-minute drill. He held Christian McCaffrey short of the goal line to force a Panthers field goal. He sacrificed his body to make a pivotal third-down stop in the third quarter. The numbers speak for themselves. Jordan Hicks exited the game in the third quarter with an ankle injury but finished with four tackles, while Mychal Kendricks finished with a whopping 15 tackles in extended action.

Grade: A+

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Rasul Douglas, Patrick Robinson Jalen Mills: 1 INT each

Newton completed 28 of 52 passes for a 53.8 completion percentage, 4.6 yards per attempt with one touchdown pass and three interceptions. It should've been four picks, but a ticky-tack pass interference penalty against Jalen Mills wiped it away. Douglas led the way with three pass breakups (see rookie report), but the whole unit was solid in coverage. The longest play from scrimmage for Carolina in either phase was a 20-yard completion.

Grade: A

SPECIAL TEAMS

Jake Elliott: 2/2 FG, 2/2 XP

The Eagles nearly made a rare special teams miscue. Barner got clipped by his own man while attempting to field a punt and muffed it. Fortunately, Robinson was hustling on the play and there to clean up the mess. Otherwise, another strong effort. Elliott was good from 50 and 48 yards, and Donnie Jones averaged 51.0 yards per punt with one inside the opponent's 20. Jones also did a nice job handling a tough snap on Elliott's 50-yard try. Special teams captain Chris Maragos and Hollins both exited the game with injuries in the fourth quarter.

Grade: A-

COACHING

Eagles' record: 5-1

I'm sure you could nitpick all sorts of calls and decisions, but the record speaks for itself. Furthermore, to go down to Charlotte on a short week, with a hostile crowd and officiating crew, and beat a strong Panthers team speaks volumes about the job Doug Pederson is doing right now. They're winning on the road. They're winning close games. They're winning, period. If the season ended today, the Eagles would be the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and it's a credit to Pederson and his staff.

Grade: A+