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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Way too soon to write off forgotten Eagles running back Josh Adams

Way too soon to write off forgotten Eagles running back Josh Adams

Every conversation we’ve had about Josh Adams this offseason, every podcast, every roster projection, every Twitter discussion, has come to the same conclusion.

“Oh, he's not going to make the team.”

It’s an understandable opinion.

The Eagles’ backfield is crowded. Corey Clement is back, Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard have been added, Boston Scott had an impressive summer. Wendell Smallwood always seems to find a way to stick around. One-time fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey is still here.

And Adams? Because his production dropped late in the season and then he was the forgotten man in the postseason, playing just one combined snap against the Bears and Saints, we’ve all just kind of assumed he’s gone.

And maybe he is.

But let’s take a minute to take a fresh look at Adams.

There was a stretch in the middle of last season when he was actually one of the more productive running backs in the league.

From Week 7 through Week 14, a span of seven games, Adams averaged 5.1 yards per carry, seventh-best among all running backs in the league who had at least 75 carries during that stretch.

Look at this stretch from the Jaguars game in London through the overtime loss to the Cowboys in Dallas:

9-for-61, 6.8 at Jaguars
7-for-47, 6.7 vs. Cowboys
7-for-53, 7.6 at Saints
22-for-84, 3.8, vs. Giants
20-for-85, 4.3 vs. Redskins
7-for-36, 5.1 at Cowboys

That’s solid, consistent production, especially for an undrafted rookie who began the year on the practice squad.

Here’s one thing I really liked about Adams: He was always good for at least one long run per game. During the seven-week stretch from the Jaguars game through the first Redskins game, he ripped off six runs of 18 yards or longer, and during that period, only Saquon Barkley (8) and Joe Mixon (7) had more in the entire NFL.

Now at some point late in the season, Adams hurt his shoulder seriously enough that he needed post-season surgery to repair a torn labrum.

It’s not clear when Adams got hurt, but he kept playing, and the injury would certainly help explain the late-season drop in production.

Adams averaged just 2.7 yards per carry the last three weeks of the regular season and then got that one postseason snap, a two-yard carry against the Bears.

But when evaluating Adams and his possible future as an Eagle, we have to take the injury into consideration.

Adams did enough during that two-month stretch in the middle of the season to at least warrant an honest look this summer.

Even starting the season on the practice squad, getting just 11 carries the first seven weeks of the season and then getting hurt, Adams still led the Eagles in rushing and became the 20th undrafted rookie in NFL history to rush for at least 500 yards, three or more TDs and an average of 4.3 yards per-carry or higher.

When you step back and look at his season, he was pretty darn good in all but the two December games against the Rams, the NFC champs, and the Texans, who had the No. 3 rush defense in the NFL.

Obviously, Sanders and Howard project to be the heart of the running attack. A healthy Clement can catch, run, block and play special teams. Smallwood and Scott can both run, catch and return.

Adams is limited. He isn’t a polished receiver — he caught just seven passes last year — and he plays very little on special teams — just 48 snaps as a rookie, only two in the last six games.

That puts him at a disadvantage from the start. So for him to win a spot on the 53 the Warrington native and former Notre Dame star has to have a healthy training camp and show exceptional production as a runner.

The odds are against him. But Adams is 22, he was the Eagles’ leading rusher last year, and undrafted rookies don’t have an eight-game stretch averaging 5.1 yards per carry by accident.

If we got rid of every rookie running back who had two mediocre games at the end of a productive season there wouldn’t be any running backs left.

Adams is talented. It’s tough to say where he fits in, but it’s way too early to say he doesn’t.

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Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at defensive end?

ap_derek_barnett_eagles.jpg
AP Images/Winslow Townson

Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at defensive end?

It was out with the old, and in with some more of the old for the Eagles at defensive end this offseason. Will the returning players make the unit better or worse in 2019?

Key additions: Vinny Curry (free agent, Buccaneers), Shareef Miller (draft, fourth round) 
Key departures: Michael Bennett (trade, Patriots), Chris Long (retired)

Why they could be better: Derek Barnett’s potential

Barnett had a nice rookie season with 6.0 sacks, including playoffs, and finished fourth on the club with eight tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits, all while playing only 41 percent of the snaps. It was looking like he could take the next step in 2018, too, with 2.5 sacks four games into the campaign — until a shoulder injury struck. Then it was a matter of weeks before he wound up on the injured reserve list. Up to that point, it looked like the former 14th-overall draft pick was very much on the verge of a breakout season.

There’s really no reason that can’t still be the case. At least, nobody ever expects a shoulder injury to derail a defensive end’s career. The Eagles are likely penciling him in for the starting job on the opposite end from Brandon Graham, and why not? As long as he’s healthy, Barnett’s body of work thus far suggests he’s on his way to enjoying a successful NFL career.

Why they could be worse: Michael Bennett’s proven production

One can assume the real reason the Eagles’decided to part ways with Bennett was over something (or things) behind the scenes. It wasn’t the return — a fifth-round pick for Bennett and a seventh. It wasn’t the contract, because the Patriots only wound up giving him an additional $1.25 million in base salary and no new years. And it sure as hell wasn’t production, because the three-time Pro Bowler was the Eagles’ most disruptive pass-rusher off the edge by a wide margin.

Bennett finished with 10.0 sacks last season, including playoffs, and it should’ve been 12.0 except for two blatantly incorrect roughing penalties. He also ranked fourth in the entire NFL with 30 quarterback hits, and narrowly finished outside the top-10 with 15 tackles for loss. Granted, Bennett turns 34 in November, and it’s possible his personality simply wasn’t a fit here. Regardless, the numbers speak for themselves.

The X-factor: Brandon Graham’s inevitable decline

Everybody loves BG. The sack totals haven’t always been there, save for the 9.5 he registered in 2017 — plus one pivotal strip sack in the Super Bowl — but he was always more productive than traditional counting stats indicated. Graham is 31 now, though, and last year was his least effective rushing the passer in a long time. His 4.0 regular season sacks and 1 forced fumble were his lowest since 2013, and this wasn’t merely a matter of racking up a bunch of Mamulas, either, as he landed just 11 quarterback hits.

Fortunately for the Eagles, who just signed Graham to a new three-year deal worth $40 million in the offseason, there are reasons to believe he could bounce back. First, he was coming off of offseason ankle surgery and only rejoined the team in mid-August. Second, he was still stout against the run. Third, Graham showed signs of life in the playoffs with 1.5 sacks and a strip. So, was his down season a matter of circumstance, or is this the new BG?

Are the Eagles’ defensive ends better or worse?

If he’s 100 percent, Barnett has the ability to blossom into a star. He was well on his way last season. Yet, the Eagles are depending on him to replace Bennett’s production, re-signed Vinny Curry to replace retired Chris Long’s production, and Brandon Graham to stop aging so noticeably. It also wouldn’t hurt if one of Shareef Miller, Josh Sweat or Joe Ostman became a reliable fifth rusher. The Eagles got younger, and arguably more talented, but there are too many questions to say the ends are better on paper. 

WORSE

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