Andrew Kulp

Eagles Week 3 report card: Shorthanded backfield grades out highest in win over Colts

Eagles Week 3 report card: Shorthanded backfield grades out highest in win over Colts

Carson Wentz picked up a victory in his return, but how did he and his teammates grade out after their gritty 20-16 win over the Colts in Week 3?

Quarterback

Carson Wentz: 25/37, 255 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT, 84.9 RAT

Wentz was mostly accurate (67.6 completion percentage) and flashed his trademark escapability. He was also slow going through some of his progressions, which was to be expected after a nine-month layoff. That’s all well and good, but Wentz’s two turnovers deep in the Eagles’ end — a flat-out terrible interception and a somewhat unlucky fumble — could’ve been backbreakers. Ultimately, he did enough to win without several primary weapons.

Grade: C+

Running backs

Wendell Smallwood: 10 ATT, 56 YDS, 1 TD; 3 REC, 35 YDS

Already touched on the makeshift three-headed monster (see story), but here are two more critical numbers: 1. Smallwood, Corey Clement and Josh Adams accounted for 51.7 percent of the Eagles’ total yards, and 2. zero fumbles between them.

Grade: A

Wide receivers

Non-entities, quite honestly. Nelson Agholor led with four receptions for 24 yards, while Jordan Matthews made a pair of grabs for 21. Kamar Aiken wasn’t targeted. The unit’s inability to create separation is a big reason why Wentz wound up eating five sacks. Yes, injuries, but still not good.

Grade: D

Tight ends

Dallas Goedert: 7 REC, 73 YDS, 1 TD

All seven Goedert targets went for completions, including a 13-yard score on the Eagles’ first possession, while Zach Ertz recorded 53 yards on five catches. Goedert is actually trying to block out there, too, albeit to mixed results.

Grade: A-

Offensive line

Jason Peters is a warrior. It looks like he’s still battling that quad injury, yet the left tackle is still out there bulldozing people and keeping his quarterback (mostly) clean. Wentz was hit just seven times, largely due to coverage, and Eagles backs averaged 4.4 yards per carry.

Grade: A-

Defensive line

Derek Barnett: 5 TKL, 2 TFL, 1.5 SK, 2 QBH

Even before finishing off a late Colts rally with a fourth-down sack, Barnett was showing up in the run game — though backs carried only 11 times (for 37 yards) in the first place. Regardless, very possibly the second-year pro’s best game to date. Fletcher Cox 'quietly' registered four tackles, one for loss and a half-sack. Short, quick passes kept the rush at bay, yielding just four hits on the quarterback.

Grade: A-

Linebackers

Jordan Hicks: 8 TKL, 2 PD

Solid, if not especially noteworthy performance, particularly Hicks, who led the team in tackles.

Grade: B+

Defensive backs

Jalen Mills: 5 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 PD

Mills made a bunch of plays, even if his 33-yard pass interference penalty set up the Colts’ lone touchdown. Ronald Darby was beaten by a perfect pass for the score, then was solid the rest of the way. The defense allowed just 164 yards through the air on 40 attempts — a meager 4.1 average.

Grade: A-

Special teams

Corey Clement: 2 FUM

Two fumbles officially, but really three muffed punts for Clement, who looked uncomfortable in a return role. Jake Elliott hooked a 55-yard field goal try, though was otherwise perfect. D.J. Alexander’s penalty for running into the Colts punter could’ve ended poorly, but did not result in a first down. Sloppy overall.

Grade: C-

Coaching

Eagles’ record: 2-1

Two things needed to happen for the Eagles to win this game: 1. Doug Pederson needed to lean on his running backs and tight ends, and 2. Jim Schwartz’s defense had to force the Colts to dink and dunk their way down the field. The game plans were exactly what was necessary given the circumstances — Wentz’ return, injuries, opponent — even if the execution was lacking at times.

Grade: A-

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Young running backs Corey Clement, Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood deliver for Eagles

Young running backs Corey Clement, Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood deliver for Eagles

No Jay Ajayi or Darren Sproles in the backfield? No problem for the Eagles, who instead fielded the dynamic three-headed monster of Corey Clement (yes!), Josh Adams (okay…) and Wendell Smallwood (really?).

Yes, really.

Clement, Adams and Smallwood combined to rush 32 times for 142 yards — a 4.4 average — and a touchdown in the Eagles’ 20-16 win over the Colts on Sunday (see Roob's 10 observations). Clement and Smallwood tacked on an additional six receptions for 54 yards in a strong, all-around performance.

It was exactly the effort the Eagles needed from a young, unheralded group of running backs. Despite missing Ajayi (back) and Sproles (hamstring) with injuries, the emphasis was on running the football due to Carson Wentz returning under center after a nine-month hiatus.

“We tried to keep the game very balanced and not just put it all on Carson out there,” Clement said.

As expected, Clement saw the biggest workload of the trio, carrying 16 times for 56 yards to go with three catches for 19. His 14-yard rush in the fourth quarter helped set up the game-winning score.

It was an impressive display of toughness by Clement — who also played a ton on special teams — after popping up on the injury report himself Friday with a quad injury.

“We can’t miss a beat just because two players are down,” Clement said. “It comes down to young guys being able to step up and rise to the occasion.”

Adams echoed that sentiment. Appearing in his first NFL game, the undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame pitched in six attempts for 30 yards.

“I just tried to take advantage of all the opportunities I got because you never know when it will be your last,” Adams said. “When I look at it, I’m going to want to see what I could’ve done better, but I’m excited to look at it.”

Yet it was Smallwood who turned out to be the unexpected star of the game. The third-year veteran has been lost in the shuffle going back to midway through last season, but led all Eagles backs with 91 total yards from scrimmage, including a 34-yard catch, and waltzed into the end zone for the winning four-yard touchdown.

Smallwood credited the play of the offensive line for his touchdown.

“I felt like that was almost one of the easiest touchdowns I’ve had,” Smallwood said. “(Eagles center Jason Kelce) and (left guard Stefan Wisniewski) worked up the double team, and I knew what was coming. We practiced that play all week.

“They blew those guys off the ball and I ran it in behind them.”

Smallwood’s tough running extended a number of plays and gained valuable extra yardage, though all three backs were physical. He suggested the group imposed its will on the Colts defense as the game went on.

“The coaches told us all week we’re going to run the ball, we’re going to make that a force, and I believe today everybody took it to (the Colts),” Smallwood said. “I believe that toward the end they kind of started wearing down against the run.”

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What's really going on with Michael Bennett and the Eagles?

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What's really going on with Michael Bennett and the Eagles?

A commentator’s seemingly innocuous remark about Michael Bennett’s role with the Eagles quietly became a subplot this week after the defensive end refused to speak to reporters.

Is the three-time Pro Bowl selection “none too happy” being a “backup” in Philadelphia, as NBC’s Cris Collinsworth indicated during the Eagles’ nationally televised opener? Only Bennett can say for sure, and he reportedly declined the opportunity when approached by team employees, while coaches denied knowledge of any issue when questioned.

But did Bennett’s actions betray the company line one week later when he appeared to take issue with being removed from a game? Good thing pictures are worth 1,000 words because the 10th-year veteran had nothing to add, essentially telling the media “no comment,” which naturally only adds to the mystery.

So what are we to believe exactly?

For starters — see what we did there, Michael? — let’s revisit March after Bennett was traded to the Eagles from the Seahawks.

“I think a great defensive line is about the rotation,” Bennett said.

“I’m comfortable with taking less plays, man.

“Just taking snaps off, being able to have a [longer] career, it’s something that every player wishes and dreams about. And this organization, when you think about play snaps and counts and keeping guys fresh for the moments that count.

“Because at the end of the day, it’s not about September or October or November; it’s about January and February.”

Bennett understood the situation he was walking into and not only seemed OK but also enthusiastic. As recently as training camp, there was no sign of distress.

“Obviously I care [about starting]," Bennett said to NJ.com. “But at the same time, I am not going to make it the most important thing to me. The most important thing for me is just getting in the game and playing as high as I can.”

Still fine. From July to September, with only two games in the books, how did we get to “none too happy?”

It’s entirely plausible Collinsworth’s anecdote was blown out of proportion. Bennett averaged eight sacks per season over the previous six. Yeah, the guy wants to play, and rightfully believes he should. Doesn’t necessarily mean he’s requesting a trade, either. Perhaps this is considered the coloring aspect of the color commentator job.

Furthermore, Bennett’s refusal to speak to the media may be the result of people twisting his words, not to hide his discontent. Wouldn’t be the first time somebody played that card in Philadelphia.

The controversy's very premise has flaws. While Bennett happened to finish fourth in snaps among Eagles ends against the Buccaneers in Week 2, he was just one snap behind Brandon Graham for most in the opener — hardly reason to complain.

And Bennett’s interaction with a coach on the sideline last week — does anybody have a transcript? Otherwise, we might not want to put words in another person's mouth.

Then again, maybe Bennett was pissed. He played the fewest snaps of Eagles defensive ends against the Bucs, yet led the group in quarterback hits and matched Derek Barnett with a tackle for loss.

All of which suggests if there is anything to these rumors, maybe the best answer is simultaneously the easiest — the Eagles need to put Bennett on the field more.

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