Eagles

5 reasons why Eagles are different than last time vs. Saints

5 reasons why Eagles are different than last time vs. Saints

It was just eight weeks ago when the Eagles went into New Orleans and got their butts whooped by the Saints at the Superdome, 48-7. 

That loss put the Eagles at 4-6 with two straight losses after the bye week, but they’ve rebounded, going 6-1 since that point to first make it into the playoffs and then take down the Bears on wild-card weekend. 

So, you’ve heard it already: These Eagles aren’t the same team that got smoked in New Orleans on Nov. 18 (see story).

Here are the five biggest reasons why: 

1. Nick Foles

I still think the Eagles will and should stick with their long-term plan with Carson Wentz, but it’s also impossible to not be impressed by what Foles has done since re-entering the Eagles lineup in the Rams game. Foles took over after that overtime loss in Dallas and since then, he’s helped guide the Eagles to a four-game winning streak that has them two wins away from another Super Bowl appearance. 

During this four-game win streak, Foles has eight touchdowns to five interceptions, so aside from his record-breaking performance against the Texans, it’s not like he’s putting up huge numbers every week. But there’s just something about Foles, especially in high-pressure situations. Undeniable. Even though he threw two picks Sunday, he drove the Eagles down the field in the fourth quarter and left the field with the lead. 

Sometimes, I think the Foles Magic factor is a little overplayed though. The team has improved since Foles took over, but it’s hard to quantify how much of that is a direct result of Foles’ being in there. It’s impossible to know, but he does have a calming effect on his teammates and he’s been a difference maker recently. 

In the first meeting between these two teams, Wentz had a tough game playing catch-up. He threw for 156 yards and three picks. 

2. Shored up secondary 

Drew Brees threw for 363 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Eagles in November. It was one of the greatest performances any QB has ever had against the Eagles. But that was a different secondary. In that game, Brees kept picking on an injured Sidney Jones and De’Vante Bausby and Chandon Sullivan, who have both since been cut. And you’ll also remember, Avonte Maddox got hurt in that game. 

Since then, the Eagles have figured out a secondary that seems to work. A much-improved Rasul Douglas and a healthy Avonte Maddox are the starters outside. Cre’Von LeBlanc, who has been a revelation and who might have saved the Eagles’ season according to Jim Schwartz, is the nickel corner. And at safety, Malcolm Jenkins is the mainstay, but Corey Graham and even Tre Sullivan have been playing better. 

Some of the improvements in the secondary are health-related, some of them are probably experience-related and maybe some of them are ski-mask related. Through the 10 games, including the Saints game, the Eagles had just seven takeaways. In the seven games since, they have 10. They have their black ski mask, a silly thing that has pumped some life into this defense. 

3. OL is balling 

The Eagles’ offensive line, which was supposed to be a strength of the 2018 team, is finally living up to that potential. They’re healthy and dominant right now. The entire OL and starting quarterback played all 68 snaps Sunday in Chicago and controlled that dominant defensive line. 

Jason Peters is finally fully back from the ACL tear last season and is managing everything else. Isaac Seumalo, Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce have also gotten healthy. Johnson has been a monster ever since he got snubbed from the Pro Bowl, when he showed up at the building at 2:30 a.m. to stew.

During this winning streak, the Eagles have faced some of the best pass rushers in the NFL — Aaron Donald, J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Ryan Kerrigan, Khalil Mack — and they have pretty much shut them down. 

4. DL is getting pressure 

The Eagles’ offensive line is supposed to be their strength on that side of the ball and their D-line is supposed to be their strength on defense. Guess what? Both lines have been playing their best football when the games matter most. If you’re wondering about that shored-up secondary I mentioned earlier, it probably has a ton to do with the defensive line getting much more pressure. 

Fletcher Cox and Michael Bennett have been absolute monsters. Brandon Graham is starting to heat up. Chris Long too. They got Tim Jernigan back and he’s been able to stay healthy. Even Haloti Ngata has been much better recently. For as well as some other players have been at linebacker (Nigel Bradham) and in the secondary (Jenkins, Douglas), the defensive line is still the key. 

5. Darren Sproles is back 

It’s hard to believe that a 35-year-old running back who missed most of the season with a hamstring injury has changed things, but Sproles absolutely has. He played 56 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps against the Bears and has made big play after big play since getting back in the lineup. In a few weeks, he’s gone from fans wanting him to retire to them wanting him to prolong his career for one more season. 

The Eagles are still going to pick their spots with Sproles, but he just gives their offense one more dynamic, but also dependable, option. He still has some magic left in him as he heads back to New Orleans, where he had his best pro seasons.

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Eagles waive DT Bruce Hector and DB Prince Smith

Eagles waive DT Bruce Hector and DB Prince Smith

The Eagles on Friday released two players, including a defensive tackle who played in 11 games over the last two years and a Philadelphia native trying to make the team as an undrafted rookie.

The moves, along with the additions of Vinny Curry and Marcus Green, leave the roster right at the 80-man training camp limit.

The team released defensive tackle Bruce Hector and cornerback Prince Smith, an undrafted rookie who played at New Hampshire.

Hector originally made the Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent out of South Florida in 2018. He bounced up and down between the active roster and the practice squad three times and played in eight games, with 82 defensive snaps and 19 more on special teams. 

Hector, 25, was with the team in last year’s preseason but was traded on Aug. 22 to the Cards in exchange for safety Rudy Ford. But when the Cards released him nine days later, he rejoined the Eagles on Sept. 1 on the practice squad. 

He had two more stints on the practice squad and two on the active roster last year, playing 53 defensive snaps and 20 special teams snaps in three games. He was active for the Seattle playoff game and got five defensive snaps and seven on special teams.

After cutting ties with Hector, the Eagles have six defensive tackles remaining on the roster - Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway and Anthony Rush, who were all with the team last year, Steelers free agent Javon Hargrave and undrafted rookie Raequan Williams.

Smith grew up in Philadelphia and played high school football at Imhotep Institute Charter in West Oak Lane. He signed with the Eagles on April 30, just after the draft.

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How does Zach Ertz rank himself compared to Kittle and Kelce?

How does Zach Ertz rank himself compared to Kittle and Kelce?

His Madden rating dropped. His ranking among the top 100 NFL players plunged. He didn’t make all-pro. He caught 28 fewer passes than a year before.
 
Zach Ertz, who has more catches than any tight end in NFL history after seven seasons, is largely seen as No. 3 in the league these days behind George Kittle and Travis Kelce. 
 
Ertz laughs about all of it, and if there’s a sense he’s declining as a player, he sure doesn’t share it. Neither do the numbers.
 
“I do consider myself in that upper echelon of guys, in that same tier with all those guys,” he said on a Zoom call Friday. “I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think a lot of guys in this building feel the same way about me. I’m never in the business of comparing people. I think all three of us are at the top of our games, and I think we’re all perfect in the offense that we play in, honestly. I think we all have unique skill sets. We’re all very different, with some similarities. But overall I don’t think my game is any less than any of their games.”
 
Kelce is an incredible down-field threat. Kittle is a remarkable blocker. But Ertz just keeps putting together Pro Bowl season after Pro Bowl season.
 
And in the two years that Kelce, Ertz and Kittle have all been regular starting tight ends, Ertz has more catches than either of them.
 
You can argue that Kittle or Kelce is the best tight end in football, but you can’t argue with Ertz’s seven-year body of work.

It's unprecedented.
 
It includes the biggest 4th-down conversion in Super Bowl history, a 4th-quarter game-winning catch in the Super Bowl, an NFL-record 116 catches in 2018. 
 
He’s one of only four tight ends with six straight 700-yard seasons and one of only three with five straight 70-catch seasons.
 
He’s not even 30 yet, but he’s already 13th in NFL history among tight ends with 525 catches.
 
Just 68 catches out of 8th.
 
“The goal when I was a rookie was to (be) in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “I sat with my trainer growing up training for the combine and he said, ‘What are your goals when you get into the NFL?’ And I said, ‘I want to be a 1st-round draft pick and I want to go to the Hall of Fame.’ Unfortunately, I was not a 1st-round draft pick - three picks later - but I came to the best situation for me here in Philly. But the Hall of Fame goal is always something that I’ve strived for.”
 
Every eligible tight end that’s caught 600 passes is in the Hall of Fame. 
 
Ertz is 75 short, and he’s 29.
 
Four more seasons averaging 75 catches puts him behind only Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez. Pending what Kelce does.
 
“You talk about accomplishments, you talk about progress, it’s never something in my opinion you look at as you’re playing,” Ertz said. “It’s always the next season. How can you become a better football  player, how can I become a better teammate? Even when we won the Super Bowl, that next offseason my mentality didn’t change and I broke the record for catches. My mentality didn’t change. It’s always, ‘How can I be better this year than I was last year?’"
 
“I feel the best I ever have going into Year 8. I don’t think I’m slowing down by any means. Doug and my tight ends coach (Jason Peelle) said last year was my best year as a pro that they’ve seen. So overall I’m excited with where I’m at. The end goal will never change. I’m just fortunate and blessed to even have my name in those conversations this early in my career.”
 
What about his contract?
 
Ertz has two years left at $6.6 million this year and $8.25 million next year. What if the Eagles get into cap trouble? What if Dallas Goedert continues to establish himself as an NFL top-10 tight end? What if Kittle’s forthcoming deal redefines tight end salaries?
 
Who knows what the future holds, but Ertz is clear about one thing.
 
“From the moment I got here as a rookie … my goal was to be like Kobe Bryant or Jason Witten, play for one organization their entire careers,” he said. “I’ve made that known. I’ll let my agent and Howie (Roseman) handle the rest, but I know for sure I want to be here the rest of my career.”

Is he Kittle? Nope.

Is he Kelce? Nah.

But he's Zach Ertz, and that should be good enough for every Eagles fan.

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