Mychal Kendricks

Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham deserve equal credit for Eagles' hot start

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Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham deserve equal credit for Eagles' hot start

A lot of accolades are being distributed after the Eagles' gutsy road win over the Panthers. And there is a multitude of worthy recipients.

There’s Carson Wentz, whose skill and rapid understanding of the NFL game may be overridden only by his toughness.

Or the return of Fletcher Cox and the immediate impact he made from a calf injury that held him out the previous two games.

How about Doug Pederson, who continues to quiet the critics while he out-schemes opposing coaches on a weekly basis? 

Maybe you’re more inclined toward the rookie kicker who was plucked off the Bengals' practice squad and has gone 10 for 10 since his big left tackle threatened him?

When you start a season 5-1 with four of those games on the road, there is a lot of credit to be divvied up.

But how about a little love for those Eagles' linebackers? Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks were everywhere against Carolina. The duo combined to register a whopping 17 tackles, including two for losses and two passes defended. This was despite, or perhaps because of losing Jordan Hicks in the first half of the game (see injury update).

The numbers alone don’t tell the story. Both players made game-altering tackles. The kind that stops the opposition from scoring a touchdown, like Bradham’s takedown of Christian McCaffrey just shy of the end zone on a 3rd-and-Goal in the third quarter. Instead of an 18-17 game, the Panthers settled for three points to make it 18-13. There were countless form tackles that prevented third-down conversions and forced punts. Game-changing plays.   

This really has been the case all season with this unit. Kendricks seemed destined for a ticket out of town after a couple of lackluster seasons in which his playing time had dwindled. But since training camp, he has been a man possessed and mirrors the playmaker the Eagles gave big bucks to in 2015. Bradham had a good year last season — his first with the Eagles — and despite a bit of a slow start this year, has come on strong of late. The two lead the Eagles in tackles this season. Not far behind on the list is Hicks, whose skill and versatility have never been in question, only his ability to stay on the field. This is a strong group.

Finding yourself near the end of the receiving line when it comes to praise — because there are so many other positive developments through six games — is a good problem to have. The kind of first-world problems Eagles fans would have signed up for on the spot prior to the season.

Eagles 28, Panthers 23: Carson Wentz almost flawless, but officials atrocious

Eagles 28, Panthers 23: Carson Wentz almost flawless, but officials atrocious

My thoughts from the Eagles' 28-23 win over the Panthers (see breakdown):

• Carson Wentz took a beating in this game as he was sacked three times and hit several other times.

That didn’t stop him from being nearly flawless (see 10 observations). Despite Wentz's completing just 16 of 30 passes, he was still able to throw for 222 yards and three touchdowns. He found the soft spots in Carolina's defense when he had to, connecting with eight different receivers. 

“We just have a bunch of guys that believe no matter the situation, we can win the ballgame,” Wentz said.

• Fletcher Cox returned after a two-game hiatus with a calf injury. He accounted for two tackles, half a sack, two quarterback hits and one pass defensed (see story)

Cox stated the calf injury never flared up and he gave a lot of credit to the Eagles’ training staff for getting him ready for this game.

• The Eagles’ defense had three official interceptions but should have had six. 

Rodney McLeod told me the Birds knew Carolina wouldn't be able to run the ball on them. That allowed the defense to be more creative on the back end in terms of anticipating and jumping pass routes.

• The officials were absolutely atrocious.The Eagles were penalized 10 times for 126 yards, while the Panthers had just one penalty for one yard. 

“We can't control the refs,” Cox said. “We just have to move on and play our game.” 

“Our coaches always tell us don't worry about the dropped flags, just focus and keep being aggressive,” Jalen Mills said. 

Both LeGarrette Blount and Mychal Kendricks informed me they had previously witnessed times in this stadium when the Panthers received a lot of calls. 

Luckily for the Eagles, it didn’t work this time.

Eagles rookie CB Rasul Douglas impresses in NFL debut

Eagles rookie CB Rasul Douglas impresses in NFL debut

Rasul Douglas was walking out of the visiting locker room at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday and Mychal Kendricks jumped up from his locker and started walking with the 22-year-old rookie.

"You were great out there, man," the sixth-year linebacker said . "Like, dude. You played really, really well. You were ballin' out there."

Douglas looked stone-faced but Kendricks kept it up.

"I LIKE the way you played. You got after it, bro. Liked it. Liked it, man."

Finally Douglas cracked a huge smile. Yeah, the Eagles lost, but Douglas enjoyed an auspicious NFL debut Sunday when forced into action after Jaylen Watkins left the Eagles-Chiefs game with a hamstring injury.

He played 39 of 53 defensive snaps, and according to Pro Football Focus graded out as the ninth-highest cornerback in the league on Sunday.

“I was more anxious than nervous. Just some butterflies," Douglas said. "After the first couple series, I was like, 'Man, this is where I’m supposed to be.'"

Matched up much of the afternoon with explosive Tyreek Hill, he allowed four catches but for only 22 yards with only five yards after the catch, according to PFF. 

He was physical and tackled very well and didn't seem to have any significant breakdowns. Hill, who had a 7-for-133 line in the opener vs. the Patriots, finished Sunday with four catches for 43 yards.

"I felt like I played OK," Douglas said. "It’s never as good as you think, it’s never as bad as you think. Just have to watch film and get better."

The Eagles played most of the game Sunday down three defensive backs, with Ronald Darby out indefinitely with an ankle injury and Watkins and safety Rodney McLeod both out for at least the day with hamstrings.

But the patchwork secondary, with Malcolm Jenkins and Corey Graham at safety and Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson and Douglas at corner, played tough. 

Considering it was his first career game, Douglas's performance was impressive.

"Rasul stepped in and I thought he did a good job," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "He tackled well and made no mental mistakes and that’s a tough duty against what they do offensively, from read option to reverses to shovel passes to jet sweeps to all the different stuff, and it’s a lot of moving parts, and I was proud of him for that part of it."

The Eagles allowed only two pass plays over 20 yards, but both were damaging — Alex Smith's 44-yarder to tight end Travis Kelce on the opening drive to set up a field goal (that was before Douglas entered the game) and Smith's 35-yarder to Chris Conley, who beat Mills, on the Chiefs' final touchdown drive.

Considering the state of the Eagles' secondary, it was a welcome performance.

"That’s the game," Jenkins said. "We understand that injuries happen, that’s why (other) guys prepare. 

"Honestly, we didn’t feel like we missed a step. Obviously, to lose a Rodney McLeod is tough, same thing with Jaylen Watkins, he’s our guy we can move around, but Rasul Douglas came in and played well, Corey Graham came in and gave us consistent snaps, he’s a veteran. So I don’t think we missed a beat on the back end."

Douglas was credited with four solo tackles, sharing the team lead with Vinny Curry and Jenkins, and he was credited with one pass breakup.

His tackling was exceptional. Five yards after the catch on four receptions means an average of 45 inches of YAC per reception.

"The way we played that game plan, we played off an awful lot against their receivers," Schwartz said. "It seemed every time we did get close to them we had a ball go over our heads, so we had a very concerted effort to keep them in front. That only works if you make tackles and I thought that Rasul, Jalen Mills and Jaylen Watkins when he was in the game, those guys did a good job of getting things tackled. 

"You can go and play 2nd-and-3, it’s hard when it’s a 40-yard chunk or a 50-yard chunk and it’s either a touchdown or the ball’s in the red zone. It only works if you’re making those tackles. 

"I’d say this: Rasul played with good anticipation. He didn’t cheat, he didn’t run down and guess. He played good technique and I was happy to see that.”

What will Douglas's role be moving forward? Tough to say. We don't know if McLeod and/or Watkins will be back for the Giants in the Eagles' home opener Sunday. And then there's Sidney Jones looming in the future as well, and the return of Darby later this fall.

But whatever the future holds, it was clearly an encouraging debut for the 6-2 rookie from West Virginia.

"Oh, it’s big," he said. "Definitely to see how (the NFL game) is. Especially going against one of the fastest players in football right now. It was definitely big for me."