Eagles

5 key Eagles matchups vs. Falcons

5 key Eagles matchups vs. Falcons

If you've been living under a rock this week, you might not have heard that the Eagles are underdogs against the Falcons at home.

Yeah, that's a No. 6 seed as the favorite over a No. 1.

It seems like some of the Eagles are using that as a little extra motivation; some don't give a hoot. But it's not all that surprising given the way the Eagles finished the season and given the way backup Nick Foles played down the stretch.

While the Eagles aren't favored, they absolutely can win on Saturday. They have a pretty good shot too. Winning these five matchups would go a long way in making it happen:

Julio Jones vs. Eagles' corners
Julio Jones is the closest thing the NFL has to one of those Monstars from the movie Space Jam. Yeah, I know it's a different sport, but Jones is kind of what it would look like if a football player got incredible skills pumped into him to make him some alien super freak. He's 6-4, 220 and plays just as big. The scary part is he's just as speedy and dangerous with the ball in his hands. He's not just a fade or go-route risk. He can catch a slant and take it to the house.

The Eagles have seemed hesitant all season to travel a corner, so don't expect Ronald Darby to follow Jones on Saturday. It seems likely that Jalen Mills will stay on the left side of the defense and Darby on the right. They'll see Jones as much as he lines up on their sides.

Jones has been dealing with an ankle injury but he's going to play in this game and he'll probably have a big role too.

Lane Johnson vs. Vic Beasley
Lane Johnson has played at a ridiculously high level all season and finally got his due when he was named to the Pro Bowl and a first-teamer on the All-Pro team. Johnson has handled some of the best pass-rushers in the NFL all season, so he should be able to stop Beasley, but it won't be easy either.

Beasley's sack numbers were way down in 2017. He had just five sacks after a 15½-season in 2016. A big reason for the drop-off was his role in the defense. The Falcons asked Beasley to drop into coverage more often in 2017, but they've gone back to asking him to rush the passer more. He got a sack on the third play of the game against the Rams and is absolutely a threat on Saturday afternoon.

Ben Garland vs. Tim Jernigan
In general, the play of the Eagles' defensive line is going to be huge on Saturday afternoon against the Falcons. Getting to quarterback Matt Ryan and stopping what Doug Pederson called a "two-headed monster" running game is going to fall on the D-line. This is just the matchup inside of the matchup.

The Falcons lost left guard Andy Levitre for the season, so Ben Garland is filling in. Garland is a veteran but has just three starts in his NFL career. Jernigan normally lines up on the left guard, which is important to remember because the Falcons have a great center. Alex Mack is a Pro Bowler so he's tough inside, but Fletcher Cox requires so much attention on the left side of the defensive line. If Mack goes over there to help, that means Jernigan will have 1-on-1s against a backup left guard.

Jernigan has been dealing with an ankle injury for most of the season, but this extended break — he didn't play in the finale either — should help him more than anyone. He'll have a big role on Saturday.

Jay Ajayi vs. Falcons' run D
Unlike his teammates, Ajayi has actually played Atlanta once already this season. On Oct. 15, when he was still in Miami, he helped the Dolphins beat the Falcons 20-17 in Atlanta. Ajayi carried the ball 26 times for 130 yards in that game. In fact, it was his best game of the season as a Dolphin and it's the biggest rushing game the Falcons allowed by any player all season (see story).

Ajayi, who has a long-term chronic knee injury, didn't play in the season finale and got one day off last week, but is now well-rested and ready to go for the playoffs. Last week, he said he was preparing for "war" in the playoffs. That's a good sign.

The most carries Ajayi has had as an Eagle came when he got 15 against the Rams, but look for him to have a big role in Saturday's game. Pederson didn't rule out the possibility of using him as a workhorse back and it might be time for him to do it.

Nick Foles vs. Nick Foles
Foles, to put it simply, needs to play better. He just does. It seems like he has plenty of confidence and it seems like the team has plenty of confidence in him. But Foles just has to play better against the Falcons than he did in the last five quarters he's played in the regular season.

In those five quarters, Foles completed only 46 percent of his passes. He threw two interceptions to one touchdown and had a passer rating of 48.2. That's not going to get it done in the playoffs.

Now, Foles doesn't need to come out and be Carson Wentz. No one really expects him to do that. But he needs to at least be the good version of himself. He needs to play more like the guy who threw four touchdown passes against the Giants. If Foles can do that, the Eagles have a pretty good shot at winning this thing.

Eagles 2018 training camp battles: Defensive line

Eagles 2018 training camp battles: Defensive line

As we get near the start of the Eagles’ 2018 training camp, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the key position battles to watch this summer. 

Today we’ll look at the defensive line. 

Names to know

Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata, Chris Long, Derek Barnett, Destiny Vaeao

What to watch

The only guy we don’t really need to waste time talking about is Cox. He’s really good and he’s going to need to be a big part of the team. OK, enough about Fletch. 

There are a lot of moving pieces here. It starts with a couple of injuries. Jernigan is still recovering from offseason back surgery and is probably a candidate to begin the season on the Non-football Injury list. And Graham is also recovering from surgery to help heal a high ankle sprain he had late last season and played through in the playoffs. As long as Graham is healthy by the start of the season, he’s going to start at defensive end. That means we know two starters for the season opener. 

The team added Bennett through a trade and added Ngata through free agency. The Eagles also cut Vinny Curry and let Beau Allen walk. Still, this is a very strong unit, perhaps even stronger than it was a year ago. 

Long contemplated retirement but came back and Barnett should improve as he enters Year 2. They, at the very least, make this unit incredibly deep. Even more, defensive line coach Chris Wilson said he wants Barnett to push for a starting gig this year. Last year, Barnett was a rotational player and was often a pass-rushing specialist. 

There are a few ways the starting lineup might work out and it’s really dependent on Jernigan’s health and Bennett’s comfort in the defense. The Eagles have options with Bennett because of his ability to play end and tackle. If the Eagles really see Ngata as a rotational player unable to start until Jernigan returns, perhaps Bennett slides inside. That might give the Eagles a chance to get their four best on the field: Graham, Cox, Bennett and Barnett. Not a bad idea, unless they think Bennett is a liability in the run game, where Ngata would obviously be a better fit. The Eagles also have Vaeao, but even though he’s well-liked by coaches, can’t imagine he’d start over Ngata. 

Either way, the Eagles are going to continue to rotate. So beyond fighting for starting gigs, this is about fighting for playing time and snaps. There are limited numbers to go around. 

Prediction

Graham is healthy for the season opener but Jernigan is not and starts the season on NFI. I think Graham, Cox, Ngata and Bennett begin the season as starters, but Bennett and Graham spend plenty of time inside on passing downs. Eventually, don’t be surprised to see Barnett’s playing time increase to the point where he’s a starter. 

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Nick Foles delivers powerful speech after winning Best Championship Performance award at ESPYS

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Nick Foles delivers powerful speech after winning Best Championship Performance award at ESPYS

A year ago at this time, Nick Foles was preparing for a season on the bench as he just tried to stick around the NFL after falling back in love with the game.

He has a little higher profile now.

While Foles is preparing to possibly head back to the bench in favor of Carson Wentz, he is now the reigning Super Bowl MVP and added another trophy to his case on Wednesday night, when he was given the Best Championship Performance award at the ESPYS.

During his acceptance speech, Foles thanked a bunch of folks, used the word “y’all” more than enough times to remind everyone he’s from Texas and spoke candidly about the incredibly unique path his career has taken.

Here is Foles accepting the award from comedian (and Jim Schwartz’s former college teammate … seriously) Jim Gaffigan.

No, an ESPY is no Super Bowl MVP, but it’s a pretty nice honor and Foles is certainly deserving after leading the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl. Just a reminder, Foles completed 65 percent of his passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl LII.

Here’s his full speech from Wednesday night at the ESPYS:

I’m honored to be in front of all y’all. I never planned a speech. I quite frankly never expected to win this award or to even be in this moment. I just want to thank the good Lord for giving me the ability to play the game I love. You know, thank my wife Tori, she’s gone through her own battles the last five years. You’ve always been an inspiration. A lot of my family is here, so thank y’all for always supporting me.

It’s been a crazy career. If any of y’all know my career path, it doesn’t make sense. But you know, I’m here right now. My teammates, coaches, you know what, we faced so much adversity this year, we have an amazing team. It’s so much fun to go to work in that locker room every single day. I couldn’t have done it without y’all. We see what happened. We won the first Super Bowl in Philadelphia history, so we’ve got a special group of guys.

And then to the Philadelphia fans. Y’all get a (bad) rap everywhere, but the passion, y’all bring it every single day. So thank y’all. And finally, there’s a lot of kids watching this and it’s kind of been the theme. There are going to be people who doubt you. Don’t listen to them. What matters is what’s in here (taps on chest) and the people who love you and support you. Go out there every day and be bold. Thank you.

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