Reuben Frank

Eagles finally activate Tim Jernigan after long layoff

Eagles finally activate Tim Jernigan after long layoff

It may be a case of too little too late, but defensive tackle Tim Jernigan is finally back.

The Eagles on Tuesday activated Jernigan from the reserve-non-football injury list, and he’s expected to make his 2018 debut on Sunday, when the Eagles face the Giants at the Linc.

To make room on the 53-man roster, the Eagles released defensive tackle T.Y. McGill.

Jernigan hasn’t played since the Super Bowl. He got hurt during an unsupervised offseason workout, underwent disc surgery and has been on reserve-NFI since. 

During the interim, the Eagles slashed his contract, converting guaranteed money to non-guaranteed salary, so in a way he’s playing for his roster spot these last six weeks. He's earning $3 million this year.

Once Jernigan was cleared to practice on Nov. 5, the Eagles had three weeks to either activate him or shut him down for the season.

How much he can play and how much he can contribute after missing all of the offseason, OTAs, training camp and the first 10 games of the season remains to be seen. 

But considering what the Eagles have been running out there at defensive tackle, it’s hard to imagine he won’t be a major upgrade.

In Jernigan’s absence and with Haloti Ngata in and out of the lineup (he missed three games), the Eagles used Bruce Hector in six games (he’s currently on the practice squad), Treyvon Hester in six games (he had been on the practice squad) and the last two weeks McGill, who got 15 snaps against the Cowboys and 30 against the Saints.

McGill, who had previously spent time with the Seahawks, Colts, Browns, Chiefs and Chargers, earned $82,941 for his two-week stay with the Eagles.

“It’s been a long journey for him,” defensive end Chris Long said of Jernigan earlier this month. “He’s very eager. He’s been patient, because that’s not something to mess around with, but at the same time, I know he wants to be back out here with us. We’ve watched him work every day and he’s ready to roll.

“He’s definitely a complete player. We’re not going to expect him to come back the first game and light the world on fire. [But] he’s going to be a valuable member of the team.”

Jernigan, 26, spent his first three seasons with the Ravens before the Eagles acquired him for a 2017 third-round pick. He started 15 games last year for the Super Bowl champs. He has 15½ sacks in four seasons.

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Eagles lacking firepower to compete in modern NFL

Eagles lacking firepower to compete in modern NFL

It was impossible to watch the Chiefs-Rams game Monday night without saying to yourself, “This isn’t even the same sport that the Eagles play.”

That game was an extreme example — the first game in NFL history in which both teams scored 50 points — but this is what the modern National Football League is.

The notion that you win with defense isn’t really true anymore. The way the rules are written and the way the league is trending, you win by piling up an insane number of points and then holding your breath.

And that modern NFL is leaving the Eagles behind.

They can’t keep up.

You watch the Rams, Chiefs and Saints, and they’re playing a different game than the Eagles. In fact, those three teams are all averaging more points than the Eagles have scored all year.

The top five offenses in the league belong to five of the best teams in the league. Traditional defensive powerhouses like the Steelers and Bears are averaging close to 30 points per game.

• Rams (10-1) — third (35.4)

• Saints (9-1) — first (37.8)

• Chiefs (9-2) — second (36.7)

• Steelers (7-2-1) — fourth (29.9)

• Bears (7-3) — fifth (29.4)

• Texans (7-3) — 16th (23.9)

• Chargers (7-3) — 10th (26.2)

There are 11 NFL teams with a winning record, and 10 of them are ranked in the top half in the league in scoring (all but the Redskins).

Defense? The Chiefs are 30th. The Rams are 28th. The Saints are 15th. None of the top three defensive teams in the league have a winning record. Only five of the top 13 defensive teams have a winning record.

The teams that are scaring everybody right now are the Saints, Chiefs and Rams, simply because they’re able to outscore anybody.

Then there are the Eagles, who are plodding along with an anachronistic 20.5 points per game.

They’ve scored more than 24 once all year, and they’re averaging 20.5 overall and 19.2 at home.

Think about this: The Rams, Saints and Chiefs are scoring almost as many points per half as the Eagles are scoring per game.

You can’t compete like this. You can’t compete when you can’t generate piles of points in a hurry. You can’t keep up.

Now, the Eagles will tell you they’re close. They’re gaining yards but they’re just not scoring. But they’re only 19th in total yards. Just behind the Browns and 49ers.

With each passing week, it looks more and more like the Eagles have been left behind.

A year ago, this offense was explosive, unpredictable, dynamic, multiple and high-powered. The Eagles could win by shutting teams down, like they did in the playoffs against the Falcons, and they could win in a shootout, like they did in the Super Bowl. Or they could do both, like in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings.

Sunday, the Eagles' offense sank to a new low, managing just seven points against a Saints defense that was allowing nearly 30 per game.

The biggest challenge facing Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas and Doug Pederson right now isn’t finding healthy cornerbacks or effective pass rushers or playmaking linebackers, although they do need those.

It’s finding a way to rebuild this offense so the Eagles can keep up with the best teams in the league.

That means finding explosive playmakers. That means figuring out how best to use Carson Wentz’s immense talent. That means rebuilding the aging offensive line. That means getting guys who have the speed to make plays down the field. That means figuring out exactly how to incorporate a running game into a modern NFL offense. That means putting together a coaching staff that’s innovative and creative and aggressive.

Teams are scoring at will these days. The Chiefs have scored 35 points seven times, the Rams and Saints six times. 

The Eagles have had games with 7, 17, 18, 20, 20, 21, 21 23 and 24 points.

Heck, Frank Reich’s Colts are averaging 30 points per game in his first year as a head coach, and they’ve gone 34-37-42-29-38 in their last five games.

The question is no longer how much do the Eagles miss Reich, it’s how big a rebuilding project do they face to be able to play offensive football again at a high level? To be able to stand toe to toe with the best teams in the NFL and even be in the game.

The Eagles have some good pieces in place. With each passing week, it’s becoming clearer and clearer they don’t have enough.

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Doug Pederson almost went for 4th-and-1 on Eagles' 1st drive

Doug Pederson almost went for 4th-and-1 on Eagles' 1st drive

Just a few minutes into the game Sunday, every Eagles fan was probably wondering what Doug Pederson would do.

After a pass to Josh Adams on 3rd-and-11 picked up 10 yards and left the Eagles with a 4th-and-1 on their own 24-yard line just 87 seconds into the game, Pederson faced his first huge decision of the day.

Do you risk going for it, knowing that if you fail the Saints will probably score in just a couple plays but understanding that if you convert you could really set a positive, aggressive tone for the day?

Or do you punt, flip field position and take the conservative way out?

As we now know, the Eagles punted, the Saints took a 3-0 lead eight plays later, led 17-0 by early in the second quarter and rolled to a 48-7 win.

Pederson admitted on Monday he seriously considered going for it on that 4th-and-1.

Would the ending have been different? Probably not. Even if the Eagles converted there’s no guarantee they would have gone down and scored. But it was impossible to watch that sequence and wonder if 2017 Pederson would have gone for it and if the game would have played out differently from that point.

“I was real close,” Pederson said. “I know we were way back on the 30-yard line or 25-yard line, somewhere in there. But that was one that possibly, you get that, and you stay on the field and you see what happens. But that's one I look at that maybe you do something different right there.”

Under Pederson, the last three years, the Eagles have converted 81 percent on 4th-and-1 (25 for 31), including 5 of 7 this year. That’s fourth highest in the NFL since 2016.

When they run, they’re 17 for 21 during that span. When they throw, they’re 8 for 10.

League-wide, 4th-and-1 is a 66 percent play since 2016 and a 73 percent play this year.

When Wentz keeps it on 4th-and-1, he’s 10 for 10.

Here’s a breakdown of the Eagles’ 4th-and-1 attempts under Pederson (with all these stats coming from Pro Football Reference):

Running

Carson Wentz: 10 for 10
Nick Foles: 2 for 2
Corey Clement: 2 for 2
LeGarrette Blount: 1 for 2
Ryan Mathews: 1 for 2
Jay Ajayi: 1 for 1
Darren Sproles: 0 for 1
Josh Adams: 0 for 1

Passing

Carson Wentz: 5 for 7
Nick Foles: 2 for 2
Trey Burton: 1 for 1

Sam Bradford was 1 for 1 in 2015, and actually the last time the Eagles failed to get a first down on a 4th-and-1 quarterback keeper was Dec. 29, 2013, when Foles was stopped for no gain in the third quarter of the Eagles’ 24-22 win over the Cowboys.

Obviously going for it on 4th-and-1 inside your own 25-yard line is a rarity. The Eagles have tried it only once in the last 25 years, and that was trailing the Vikings, 24-9, in 2013, and LeSean McCoy was stopped for no gain.

League-wide, there have been 24 tries on 4th-and-1 from inside the 25 the last 10 years, with offenses converting 67 percent of the time.

What about in the first quarter of a scoreless game?

That’s happened only twice in the last 25 years and both were fake punts — by the Packers with Tim Masthay in 2011 (he ran six yards for a first down against the Bucs) and by Kevin Huber of the Bengals against the Steelers in 2013 (he lost a yard and fumbled).

The only recent first-quarter 4th-and-1 attempt that wasn’t a fake from inside a team’s own 25-yard line came in 2016, when RG3 — then with the Browns — converted from the Browns’ 21-yard line with Cleveland already trailing the Bengals, 13-0.

The Eagles needed about half a yard for the first down, although there was no measurement.

Wentz can fall down and get half a yard.

“I think it just sends a message to the team that we're going to maintain that aggressiveness that we have established here,” Pederson said.

So why not go for it?

“Early in the game, it was the first drive,” he said. “Just punted the ball right there.”

And got killed.

The Eagles won a Super Bowl last year by defying the norm, and it’s impossible not to wonder if things would have been different if Pederson did it again in the first quarter Sunday.

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