Duce Staley

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Carson Wentz is a giant faker

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Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Carson Wentz is a giant faker

Looking at the stat sheets can give a decent idea of how Carson Wentz is performing this season. 

It's just not the only way. 

The Eagles care about stats, sure. But they also care about the details that don't show up in the stat sheets. For example, the team even grades Wentz on his ability to carry through a fake after he hands the ball off. 

How good is he at it? 

"He carries out his fakes better than anybody I've ever seen," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "I think that helps us. You don't notice it a lot of times but it's those little things; the cumulative effect of those things, so that if we run play action, so that if he ever keeps something off of that. He takes a lot of pride, and it's one of the things that I think has helped him develop. 

"He works very hard and he doesn't take plays off in practice. I've never seen a quarterback carry out fakes like he carries out fakes and how serious he takes his ball handling and every aspect of it. It's excellent."

Carrying through his fakes isn't an area where Wentz has gotten better from Year 1 to 2. In fact, he said he developed the skill while in college, playing in North Dakota State's pro style offense. So he's always been pretty good at it. 

Wentz said he has always liked to see how defenses react. Fakes go both ways. He can carry through a fake after a handoff, but perhaps more importantly, he can fake the handoff into a naked bootleg. 

"Anything like that, any little thing that's going to help the play or give us an extra spilt second to get a backside cutoff block or something like that," Wentz said, "those are big things that I think … and I'm not the only one who does that. Everyone goes the extra mile to help their guys out. It's definitely a satisfaction you see when someone does have to honor that."

Let's get situational 
If you're looking for an area Wentz has greatly improved from Year 1 to Year 2, how about situational football? 

Four games into the 2017 season, Wentz has thrived in some important parts of the game, specifically on third downs. 

"In the development of becoming an elite franchise quarterback, that's something we've talked to him about from the start: really what sets you apart as a quarterback is how you perform in situational football," Reich said. "That's third down and red zone. Then what kind of a knack do you have of making big plays on first and second down? That's really what separates those elite players.

"And so becoming a playmaker on third down and in the red zone is a big part of any quarterback's development. I think he takes a lot of pride in that. I think he knows that. I think he studies it a lot. I think he has a lot of confidence in the players he's throwing to."

So how well is Wentz performing on third and fourth downs? 

Yeah, that's not bad. 

Overall this season, the Eagles have converted on 50.8 percent of their third-down situations, good for second in the league. For perspective's sake, they were 20th in the league in 2016 at 37.9 percent. 

"That, going back even to training camp, I remember you guys were always asking on the biggest thing I was focusing on and it was situational football," Wentz said. "And that comes from talking to Coach Reich, Coach (Doug) Pederson, Coach (John) DeFilippo. They were always harping that. Going back last year, watching the tape and just discussing, ‘alright, if this was the situation, what would you have done differently?' And those are things that I really took to heart, really focused in on."

While Wentz has greatly improved on third and fourth downs, there is still room to grow in the red zone. Through four games this season, Wentz has completed 9 of 17 passes (52.94 percent) for 60 yards and five touchdowns in the red zone. 

Wentz's completion percentage in the red zone is 14th in the NFL. At 55.56 percent, Wentz is slightly better inside the 10. 

Clement time
The Eagles will likely be without Wendell Smallwood (knee) this week against the Cardinals. That leaves just two of their original five running backs — LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement — healthy for Sunday's game. 

After Darren Sproles went down, Smallwood assumed most of the team's third-down duties, but now he's out. So Clement might be the next guy up in those situations. 

"It's just the nature of the game," Clement said. "Some guys go down, some guys have great opportunities in front of them. It's about what I can do to better prepare myself for this game Sunday."

As a third-down back, Clement needs to be able to pass protect as well as catch the ball out of the backfield. Those are two areas he has worked to improve since his arrival as an undrafted free agent this spring. 

While catching the ball is important, the most important thing on third downs, especially for a rookie, is pass protection. The Eagles can't put Clement on the field to block if they're worried Wentz is going to get his head knocked off. Pederson said Clement has been "improving" as a blocker thanks to work with running backs coach Duce Staley. 

Clement credited Staley, along with Pederson, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and his elder teammates — Blount, Sproles and Smallwood — for helping him. 

Getting back to Destiny
The Eagles might get back second-year DT Destiny Vaeao this week. That could be a nice boost for a team that's without Fletcher Cox again. 

Vaeao hurt his right wrist during the opener in Washington and has missed the last three weeks. That was a shame for Vaeao, who had a tremendous training camp, according to the coaching staff. 

"It's tough," Vaeao said about missing time. "Every Sunday that passed by, it hurts not playing. You just have to be patient and everything will come."

Quote of the Week I: "The whole (offensive) line is playing unbelievable right now. They're playing kind of pissed off. They just have an attitude about them, which is awesome to see." — Carson Wentz 

Quote of the Week II: "Hey, there's Bruce Arians!" — Brandon Graham, spotting FanRag reporter John McMullen on the sideline at practice wearing a Kangol hat

Quote of the Week III: "I thought I should have not tried to stiff arm him and just ran straight and I would have scored." — Blount's thoughts after he went back and watched his career-long 68-yard run against the Chargers.  

Random media guide note: If Rodney McLeod could be any superhero, he'd be Batman. 

Roob's Top 10 opening day moments: Wentz, T.O. debuts, Pickle Juice Game

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Roob's Top 10 opening day moments: Wentz, T.O. debuts, Pickle Juice Game

Today is my 30th straight Eagles season opener. That's 16 wins and 13 losses.
 
Not to mention 661 opening day points, 522 opening day points allowed, 159 punts, 205 penalties, 78 sacks and 93 sacks allowed.
 
The Eagles' leading opening-day rusher over the last 30 years? LeSean McCoy, with 571 yards in six openers.
 
Leading receiver? Duce Staley has the most catches with 31 in seven openers. DeSean Jackson the most yards with 428. Brian Westbrook the most touchdowns with four.
 
Leading passer? Donovan McNabb, naturally, with 2,327 yards, 20 TDs and 10 interceptions and an 86.2 passer rating
 
Wes Hopkins has a team-high four interceptions in the last 30 openers, Trent Cole the most sacks with 7 ½ in 10 openers.
 
And David Akers is the Eagles' leading scorer on opening day since 1988 with 70 points in 12 openers.
 
With all that in mind, here are my top 10 personal opening day memories since that first opener in Tampa back in 1988.
 
1. The Onside Kick
Eagles 41, Cowboys 14, Texas Stadium, Sept. 3, 2000
Andy Reid had been plotting it for weeks. If the Eagles lost the coin toss, they were going to open the season with an onside kick. In the famed Pickle Juice game, Akers' game-opening kick took the Cowboys completely by surprise. Dameane Douglas recovered, the Eagles marched down the field and scored on McNabb's one-yard TD pass to Jeff Thomason and not only went on to rout the Cowboys,  but they went on to go 11-5 and really announce their arrival as one of the NFL's elite teams.
 
2. T.O. Goes to Work
Eagles 31, Giants 17, Lincoln Financial Field, Sept. 12, 2004
All Terrell Owens did in his first regular-season game as an Eagle was catch three touchdown passes from McNabb as the Eagles clobbered their division rivals and set the tone for their Super Bowl season. To put T.O.'s performance in perspective, only three wide receivers have had three TD catches on opening day in the 12 ensuing seasons (Plaxico Burress in 2007, Hakeem Nicks in 2010 and Victor Cruz in 2013). Owens went on to catch a franchise-record 14 touchdown passes as the Eagles went 13-1 to clinch the No. 1 seed and sweep through the playoffs on their way to Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville.
 
3. Our first look at Chip
Eagles 33, Redskins 27, FedEx Field, Sept. 9, 2013
Before he became the guy who tore up the roster and was fired before even completing his third season, Chip Kelly was an offensive genius. At least we thought so for a little while. Our first glimpse of Kelly's offense was a Monday night season-opener in Washington, when the Eagles, led by Michael Vick, Shady and DeSean, scored 33 points in a 26-minute span to take a 33-7 lead over the Redskins before hanging on late in the fourth quarter. The Eagles operated at such an insanely fast pace to open the game they ran 53 plays just in the first half! The Eagles piled up 322 yards before halftime — which turned out to be the most a Chip Kelly team ever netted in a first half. In his first game, no less. And DeSean and LeSean were both over 100 yards in the second quarter. It wasn't sustainable. Especially after Chip gutted the roster. But for about a year and a half, it sure was fun.
 
4. Total Domination
Eagles 38, Panthers 10, Sept. 13, 2009, Bank of America Stadium
This all happened: Victor Abiamiri returned a Jake Delhomme fumble two yards for a touchdown, DeSean had an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown and McNabb threw touchdown passes to Brent Celek and Westbrook. One other thing: that all happened in the second quarter. The Eagles spotted the Panthers an early 7-0 in the 2009 opener, then scored 31 consecutive points, including 28 in the second quarter — tied for the second-most points the Eagles have ever scored in any quarter. They scored those 28 points in 11 minutes, 36 seconds. Remember, the Panthers were coming off a 12-4 season and had allowed only 14 points per game at home in 2008. The Eagles doubled that. In one quarter.
 
5. McNabb Goes Wild
Eagles 38, Rams 3, Sept. 7, 2008, Lincoln Financial Field
This game had everything. A 90-yard touchdown catch by Hank Baskett. A touchdown run by Tony Hunt (who had only 14 career carries). It had Greg Lewis's only 100-yard game. The Eagles recorded their most lopsided season-opening win in franchise history to open their last NFC Championship Game season. McNabb was brilliant in this one, completing 21 of 33 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns before letting Kevin Kolb finish (and throw for 53 more yards). And three Eagles went over 100 yards - Baskett, Lewis and DeSean. With their 35-point win over the Rams in 2008 and their 28-point win over the Panthers a year later, the Eagles became only the ninth team in NFL history to win consecutive openers by 28 or more points.
 
6. Introducing Carson Wentz
Eagles 29, Browns 10, Sept. 11, 2016, Lincoln Financial Field
Eight days after being promoted from No. 3 to the starter, Carson Wentz began his NFL career with a 75-yard touchdown drive that he capped with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews. Wentz went on to complete 22 of 37 passes for 278 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. With help from Matthews (7 grabs for 114 yards) and Ryan Mathews (77 rushing yards) and a defense that held the Browns to 107 yards and three points in the second half, the Eagles began the Wentz Era with an easy win over RG3 and the Browns. Wentz's 101.0 passer rating made him only the 13th rookie in NFL history to record a passer rating over 100 on opening day of his rookie year.
 
7. Down Goes Randall
Eagles 20, Packers 3, Sept. 1, 1991, Lambeau Field
On the first play of the second quarter, Randall Cunningham's 10th snap of the season, Bryce Paup went low at Randall Cunningham as he released a pass intended for Fred Barnett. Cunningham didn't get up. He was later diagnosed with two torn ligaments in his left knee and a year after his MVP season, Cunningham was finished after just four passes. One-time Super Bowl hero Jim McMahon, who had thrown only nine passes the year before, replaced Cunningham and threw touchdown passes to Keith Byars and Fred Barnett as the Eagles began life after Randall. The Eagles wound up using five QBs that year — Jeff Kemp, Brad Goebel and Pat Ryan also played — and despite going 10-6 with one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, they failed to reach the playoffs. The Eagles allowed just 222 yards per game that year, fewest in NFL history in a 16-game season.
 
8.  A Force To Be Reckoned With
Eagles 41, Buccaneers 14, Sept. 4, 1988, Tampa Stadium
To understand how big the 1988 opener was, you have to remember the Eagles were coming off SIX straight losing seasons as they began Buddy Ryan's third year as head coach. But they went into Tampa and destroyed Vinny Testaverde and the Bucs, taking a 27-0 lead at halftime on the way to a lopsided win. That 27-point lead is the fourth-largest opening day halftime lead in NFL history. Randall threw first-quarter TD passes to Mike Quick and Kenny Jackson and later ran for another touchdown, and the Eagles also scored on a fake punt when safety Terry Hoage ran 38 yards for a touchdown. Hoage's 38 career rushing yards are sixth-most in NFL history by players with one career rushing attempt. Hoage also had two of the Eagles' five interceptions. Hopkins, Seth Joyner and Eric Allen also had picks. And, yes, Hoage is the only player in NFL history with two interceptions and a rushing TD in the same game (four others had one INT and a TD run).
 
9. Safe Harbor
Eagles 17, Browns 16, Sept. 9, 2012, Cleveland Browns Stadium
It was an ugly game in an ugly season. Michael Vick and Brandon Weeden combined for eight interceptions in the 2012 opener, and after a miserable season, Reid was fired (as was Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who became offensive coordinator for Kelly, Reid's successor). But the ending on opening day was sure thrilling. The Eagles trailed the hapless Browns 16-10 when they took over with a 1st-and-10 on their own 9-yard-line with 6:25 left. Vick, who struggled all day, finally warmed up, and drove the Eagles into Browns territory. With the help of a McCoy three-yard run on 4th-and-1, the Eagles got down to the Browns' 4-yard-line with 1:23 left and faced a 3rd-and-4. That's when Vick competed a four-yard TD pass to tight end Clay Harbor, only his third TD in 26 career games up to that point. Harbor scored with 1:18 left in the game, making this the Eagles' latest game-winning go-ahead touchdown since 2003, when McNabb connected with Todd Pinkston on a game-winner with 32 seconds left against the Packers.
 
10. Historic comeback vs. the Jags
Eagles 34, Jaguars 17, Sept. 7, 2014, Lincoln Financial Field
The Eagles were getting ripped apart by Chad Henne. Think about that for a while. At halftime in the 2014 season opener, Henne was 12 for 17 for 167 yards and two touchdowns, Nick Foles was 12 for 24 for 139 yards with no TDs and an interception and the Jaguars had outgained the Eagles 188-129 and outscored them 17-0. The second half? All Eagles. The Eagles outscored the Jaguars 34-0 in the second half and outgained them 291-118. Henne was just 12 for 36 for 99 yards, Foles was 15 for 21 for 183 yards with two TDs and no INTs and the Eagles turned a 17-point deficit into a 17-point win. Thus the Eagles became only the second team in NFL history to trail by at least 17 at halftime and win by 17 or more. (The other came in 2010, when the Bengals were up 31-14 at halftime but the Bills came back to beat them 49-31.) 

Duce Staley never asked Ryan Mathews to tone down his physical style

Duce Staley never asked Ryan Mathews to tone down his physical style

Ryan Mathews' two-year run with the Eagles came to an unceremonious end last week when he was finally released after months in limbo. 

Mathews still had a roster spot and a locker for the last few months but most fans probably forgot he was on the team. He was even given special permission to rehab from his neck injury and subsequent surgery away from the team facility. 

Cutting him last Tuesday was merely a formality. The Eagles were simply waiting for him to heal completely and be cleared by doctors. 

It wasn't much of a surprise that Mathews ended his 2016 season on the injured reserve. In fact, that's kind of been a staple of his career. In seven NFL seasons, Mathews has played all 16 games just once. He missed a total of six games in two seasons with the Eagles.

It's possible that Mathews, who turns 30 in October, has already played his final NFL game. If that's the case, it will be a shame. Because when he's on the field, he's a dynamic and tough runner. But it seems like he's never on the field. 

And a lot of that has to do with his hard-nosed running style. Mathews is a punishing runner. It's just that often he's the one who comes out on the wrong side of it. 

While that physical style of running has been Mathews' hallmark, it's also likely been the biggest obstacle in his career. 

Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley emphatically said Saturday he never thought about asking Mathews to tone it down. 

"I would never do that," Staley said. "I think once you start talking about telling a guy to change his running style, I think you're kind of pointing him in the wrong direction. You have to understand this is something that's been done by that individual for a very long time. So to come along and be here for a year or two and all of a sudden try to change the way he runs, nah, not a good idea."

In 26 games with the Eagles, Mathews' yard per attempt average was 4.60. That's the third-highest mark in Eagles history among running backs with at least 250 attempts. LeSean McCoy's average with the Eagles was 4.65 and Ernie Steele's average in the 40s was 5.18. 

Because of his injuries, Mathews won't be remembered extremely fondly in Philly and that's a shame too. He was fun to watch — despite the fumble in Detroit — and played the position the way most fans really appreciate. 

"He's one of those guys that's going to pin his ears back, he's going to go and he's going to try to run you over," Staley said. "He plays with that physical style that old-school style of running back. That's what he plays with. I like it actually. 

"But you have to understand how fast and physical this game is. Things do happen. It's very unfortunate that injury came about. I thought he was having a good year. Once again, this is a violent game we play and things like that happen. You have to adjust and move on."