Fletcher Cox

Breaking down Eagles' 2018 Pro Bowl chances

AP Images

Breaking down Eagles' 2018 Pro Bowl chances

Pro Bowl voting began this past week, and ideally, the Eagles won't have anybody actually playing in the game.
The 2018 Pro Bowl is scheduled for Jan. 28 — a week before the Super Bowl — and players from the Super Bowl-bound teams will be headed to Minneapolis that weekend, not Orlando, where the Pro Bowl will be held this year.
But with the Eagles sitting at 8-1 heading into Sunday's game against the Cowboys, there's a good chance they'll have a sizable contingent selected for the annual exhibition.

Let's take an early look at the Eagles' locks, hopefuls and longshots for 2018 Pro Bowl honors.
And remember, once again, the NFL is picking Pro Bowl teams based on the conference.
Carson Wentz: Wentz is a lock to make his first Pro Bowl, which would make him the fourth Eagles quarterback in the last 10 years to receive the honor, following Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Nick Foles. No other team has had more than two. Interesting that the Eagles have had only four players make a Pro Bowl team within their first two years since 1990 - Donovan McNabb in 2000, DeSean Jackson in 2009, Nick Foles in 2013 and Cody Parkey in 2014.
Fletcher Cox: The only lock from the defense, which is more of a statement on the brand of team defense the Eagles are playing these days than anything else. This will be Cox's third Pro Bowl, something only five Eagles defensive linemen have ever achieved — Reggie White (seven), Hugh Douglas (three), William Fuller (three), Charlie Johnson (three) and Floyd Peters (three).
Zach Ertz: It's always tricky for players to get to that first Pro Bowl, but it's hard to imagine Ertz not getting picked. Despite missing the Broncos game, he's been the best tight end in the NFC. He leads all NFC tight ends in catches and yards and is tied for the lead in TDs with Seattle's Jimmy Graham with six. Barring a huge dropoff, Ertz is a lock.
Lane Johnson: Johnson has played at a consistently high level, but a few things are working against him. His two suspensions shouldn't be a factor, but they won't help his chances. Players are branded a certain way, and Johnson has to overcome a league-wide reputation as a guy who's tested positive twice. But if it's based on level of play, he'll go.
Jason Kelce: Kelce probably has a better chance than Johnson, just because he's an already a two-time pick and has that Pro Bowl reputation around the league. He made the team last year despite not having a very good year. Kelce has been exceptional this year and is in the middle of the No. 1 offense in the NFL. Close to a lock.
Brandon Graham: Graham once again has everything but the sacks. He's played very good football, consistently pressured the quarterback, been exceptional against the run, but … it's all about the sacks with defensive ends. He has 5.0, which is a good number after nine games and just 1 1/2 shy of his career-high of 6 1/2 from 2015, but nine NFC defensive ends have more. Have they played better than Graham? Probably not. But he needs to get to double digits to really have a good shot at making his first Pro Bowl.
Malcolm Jenkins: Jenkins made his first Pro Bowl in 2015 and should have made the team last year, but didn't. He's having a great year but doesn't have any interceptions and he's going to probably need at least two or three to get himself in the picture. What he does have going for him is that he's extremely popular among his fellow players. His activism, his strong voice within the NFLPA and his reputation as a guy who's going to fight for player rights will really help. That stuff shouldn't matter but it does.
Brandon Brooks: Brooks is in his seventh year and has never made a Pro Bowl. The longer you play without making one, the harder it is to get picked. Especially at a non-skill position. But he's sure deserving. That whole right side of the O-line is with Kelce, Brooks and Johnson.
Jalen Mills: This is going to come down to interceptions. Mills needs to overcome the fact that he was never a big-name college guy, wasn't a high draft pick and his personality might bug some opposing wide receivers — the ones who vote for CBs. But he's got three interceptions, and right now Detroit's Darius Slay is the only NFC cornerback with more. If he can get to five? He'll be in the mix.
Patrick Robinson: Robinson is in a very similar position as Mills. He doesn't have that league-wide reputation as a top corner, but he's sure played like one. Robinson is now with his fourth team in four years, and he's an eighth-year player who's never been a Pro Bowler, so he needs to overcome that journeyman reputation. But like Mills, he has three interceptions. A couple more gets him in the picture.
Nigel Bradham: Bradham has one sack, no interceptions, and no forced fumbles. Without stat numbers, it's tough for outside linebackers to make a Pro Bowl team, no matter how solid they are against the run and in coverage. Bradham is a sixth-year veteran without a Pro Bowl on his resume, and he'll probably need INT and sack numbers to make his first one.
Jake Elliott: Elliott doesn't have the accuracy of some kickers, so his only chance is to keep racking up the 50-yarders. Going into Dallas, he shares the NFL lead with five 50-yarders, including, of course, the game-winning 61-yarder against the Giants. But overall, he's at 85 percent, which sounds high but is actually only sixth-highest among regular NFC kickers. And he's missed three PATs. His only chance is another game-winner or two and a bunch more 50-yarders.
Rodney McLeod: McLeod has a couple interceptions and has played well all year, but it's hard to imagine him making the Pro Bowl and Jenkins not. And it's hard to imagine both safeties getting picked. Like any DB, McLeod can improve his chances with a couple INTs and maybe a pick-six during the voting period. 

5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Cowboys

USA Today Images

5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Cowboys

The Eagles didn't play last weekend but they still gained ground in the NFC East as all three teams lost. 

The Cowboys were one of them, falling to the Falcons 27-7 in Atlanta. 

But the Cowboys (5-4) will still be a tough test for the Eagles (8-1). This is a nationally televised Sunday night game down in Jerry's World. 

The Eagles are favored, but winning these matchups would go a long way in helping them get a win:

Cole Beasley vs. Patrick Robinson 
Beasley's numbers are way down this season. He has just 24 catches for 188 yards. The little shifty slot receiver is a tough matchup for Malcolm Jenkins, but Robinson seems much better equipped to shut him down in the slot. 

Remember, Beasley had a nine-catch 112-yard, two touchdown game against the Eagles in 2015. 

"[Beasley] looks exactly the same," Eagles DC Jim Schwartz said. "He's tough. He's a tough out. He's quick. He runs great routes. He's got speed to get down the field. I think that's one thing that's underestimated with him. He's a little bit sneaky, but he can get down the field too. " 

While it's easy to forget about Beasley on a team with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten and Ezekiel Elliott (when he's not suspended), Beasley has the ability to hurt teams. He's done it to the Eagles in the past. 

Jason Witten vs. Malcolm Jenkins 
Witten is 35 years old and he's not the Pro Bowl player he once was. But he still has 42 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns this season, so the Eagles can't sleep on him. 

This season, the Eagles have given up some yards to tight ends — 47 catches for 500 yards and four touchdowns. Just nine teams have given up more yards to opposing tight ends. 

But this is a much more manageable matchup for Jenkins than covering the shifty Beasley. Jenkins means so much to the Eagles and this weekend will prove another reason why. 

Lane Johnson vs. Demarcus Lawrence 
Two weeks ago, Johnson did a great job against Von Miller when the Broncos were in town. Things don't get any easier for him this week. Now, he'll go against Lawrence, who leads in the NFL with 11 1/2 sacks in nine games. Lawrence has just one game this season without a sack — it came against Kansas City a couple weeks ago. 

When the Eagles elected to keep Johnson on the right side after Jason Peters' injury, this matchup against Lawrence was one of the reasons why. Miller, Lawrence and Khalil Mack were the names thrown out because they all typically line up on the right tackle. For most games, that's an advantage. Against the Eagles, it's a pretty clear disadvantage because Johnson has been playing at a Pro Bowl level. 

Zeke-less 'Boys vs. top run D
The Cowboys are without Elliott this week and that's an absolutely huge loss for them. Elliott will be back by the time the regular season finale comes around, but he won't play Sunday thanks to his six-game suspension that finally kicked in last weekend. 

Alfred Morris was once a two-time Pro Bowler in Washington but he's just simply not Elliott. He's actually averaging 6.8 yards per attempt after just 25 carries this season, but we'll see what his numbers look like after a few more weeks. 

This week, he'll have a really tough test against the Eagles, who have the best run defense in the NFL. They've given up just 66.4 yards per game on the ground. The Eagles are the first team to give up fewer than 600 yards on the ground through nine games since the 2010 Steelers. They're just the 11th team in NFL history to do it. 

And teams just aren't running against them anymore (see story). But if the Cowboys can't run, it would put a lot of pressure on Dak Prescott to carry the team, something he hasn't really been asked to do so far in his career. 

Zack Martin vs. Fletcher Cox 
Martin is one of the best offensive guards in football, but he actually gave up a sack last week. It was the first sack of the season he gave up after he gave up just two all last season and one in each of the two previous years. Martin has given up just five sacks in his four-year career, according to ProFootballFocus. 

It doesn't happen very often, but Cox is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. It's obviously not all about sacks, Cox can change a game by simply getting pressure. The problem is that Martin doesn't give up much pressure either — just five QB hurries and one QB hit all season. 

The interesting part of this matchup is that teams elect to double Cox so often, but with an All-Pro guard against him, the Cowboys are much more likely to leave him 1-on-1. This is a heavyweight bout. 

Bonus matchup
It looks like Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith won't be able to play on Sunday night. That's a big deal because Chaz Green and Byron Bell were worked over against the Falcons — Bell will reportedly get the start on Sunday. Keep any eye on Vinny Curry and Derek Barnett in this game. They might have a chance to do some damage.

'Special' Tim Jernigan rewarded by Eagles for stellar play

'Special' Tim Jernigan rewarded by Eagles for stellar play

Tim Jernigan was sitting in his locker talking about his new contract when he kept getting interrupted.

"Wooooh, hooooo … $48 million, direct deposit, baby," Brandon Graham yelled as he walked past.

"Hey, Santander Bank? I need to make a deposit!" Chris Long barked. "A big deposit!"

Jernigan cracked up.

"It's been like this all day," he said.

Jernigan was back in Philadelphia Monday, four days after signing a four-year extension worth $48 million, including $26 million in guaranteed components.

The reworked deal starts in 2018 and gives the Eagles contractual control over the 25-year-old defensive tackle through 2021.

The Eagles acquired Jernigan and a late third-round pick that became Rasul Douglas from the Ravens in April in exchange for an earlier third-round pick.

"It means a lot," Jernigan said. "Especially coming from a place where, in a sense, there were questions marks.

"It feels good that Howie (Roseman) believes in me and Mr. (Jeffrey) Lurie believed in me. I’m definitely going to make them proud and make sure they know that they made the right decision.

“Just to be able to come in and work with these guys, it’s definitely a special group. Going out on Sundays, you have no choice but to be productive because you know that the guy beside you is going to do exactly that. So they push me so hard, the same way they feel that I make things better for them, I feel the same way about them."

In just nine games in an Eagles uniform, Jernigan has become a worthy partner of All-Pro Fletcher Cox. The two defensive tackles are the main reason the Eagles are ranked No. 1 in the NFL in rush defense and have one of the league's most feared front fours.

"Those two guys playing together here for a long time?" Long said. "That’s pretty awesome for the city of Philadelphia.”

The Eagles cut ties with a pretty good player in Bennie Logan in order to sign Jernigan, who draws more double-teams than Logan.

“He’s special," Cox said. "He’s really special, man. He does a lot of great stuff. What’s different about Timmy is he gets a lot of tackle for losses. He’s always just wrecking stuff.

“We talk about it all the time, just being a really good duo, just playing together and having fun. That’s really what it’s all about. For him to be here another four years, the guys upstairs are doing a lot of good things right now."

Jernigan has a team-high eight tackles for loss along with 1½ sacks and five quarterback hurries. But the numbers don't explain just how much he's helped Cox return to form as one of the NFL's most dominating linemen.

"He keeps offenses honest," Cox said. "They can’t just always slide to me. They’ve got to pick who they want to slide to. That’s the great thing about it. He brings that mismatch.

"He’s winning his 1-on-1s. That’s the key. When guys get 1-on-1s, you’ve got to win them. I’ll have my time when I get 1-on-1s, and when I do, I’ve got to win them.”

The Eagles gave Cox a six-year, $102 million contract last year, so they now have just over $150 million earmarked for their two starting defensive tackles. That's gotta be some sort of NFL record.

But they also like the option of keeping this duo together through 2021.

“That’s my brother, man," Jernigan said with a huge smile. "Fletch is a great guy. He’s done nothing but guide me since the day I got here. There’s never been any jealousy factor or anything like that. He’s done nothing but try to help me in every aspect on the field and off the field.

“We’re a lot alike. Whenever we strap those cleats up, we have one thing on our mind and that’s just to wreak havoc and be dominant. And then we have good guys playing beside us and just a strong team around us, so it’s easy to play like that.”

Cox, a two-time Pro Bowler, has played only seven games alongside Jernigan — he missed two games earlier this year — but he already considers the former Ravens second-round pick one of his favorite teammates.

“I try to be the guy out there who gets everybody else going, but you never know when it’s your time, and he does a great job just going out there having fun," Cox said.

"Everybody sees Tim out there having fun. That’s the type of swagger you want from a guy like that, especially a D-lineman."

When the Ravens shipped Jernigan to the Eagles, he arrived amidst rumors about his work ethic and consistency. But he's been nothing but a model citizen since getting here.

"I just like the way he works, his attitude," Long said. "He’s a great teammate on and off the field. 

"Obviously on the field coming from a scheme where he didn’t get to maybe showcase as much of his disruptive ability … seeing him come here and play a scheme that fits his level of disruption and explosive ability, you can really see flashes of what’s to come for the next few years here."