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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Cowboys part ways with OC Scott Linehan, and Dez Bryant has a laugh

Cowboys part ways with OC Scott Linehan, and Dez Bryant has a laugh

After five seasons of ups and downs, the Cowboys have moved on from offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and are now in the hunt for a new play-caller. 

Linehan joined the Cowboys as a passing game coordinator in 2014, but was promoted to OC in 2015 and held that title for four seasons. 

But he was the team’s play-caller for the last five seasons and one of his former stars seemed to chime in on social media Friday afternoon: 

After it was announced on Friday, Jason Garrett released a pretty bland statement about the decision. 

The decision was slightly surprising because Linehan was expected to return. But the Cowboys really struggled earlier this past season and Linehan and his play-calling were criticized often. 

Here’s a look at the Cowboys’ offense over the five years with Linehan. 

2018: 21.2 points per game (22nd), 343.8 yards per game (22nd)
2017: 22.1 points per game (14th), 331.9 yards per game (14th)
2016: 26.3 points per game (5th), 376.7 yards per game (5th)
2015: 17.2 points per game (31st), 335.1 yards per game (22nd)
2014: 29.2 points per game (5th), 383.6 yards per game (7th)

Definitely some ups and downs during his time in North Texas. During his five years, the Cowboys had some great rushing years with Ezekiel Elliott and DeMarco Murray. But the passing game never really caught up, even when it had the best offensive line in football. 

Since the Cowboys peaked in 2016, there has been a steady decline the last two seasons. 

We’ll see who the Cowboys hire as a play-caller or if they’d opt to hand that responsibility back to Garrett. The Cowboys might just be limited because Dak Prescott, while a solid quarterback, is also a limited player.

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Exploring top landing spots this offseason for Nick Foles

AP Images

Exploring top landing spots this offseason for Nick Foles

We’ve already examined all the factors that are going to go into the Eagles’ decision about Nick Foles (see story), but now it’s time to figure out where he’s going to land. 

While oddsmakers left the Eagles on the board, it seems pretty clear that Foles is going to move on to another team one way or another this offseason. I still think the most likely way he leaves is as a free agent, but there could also be a trade if the Eagles can work one out and Foles is agreeable. 

Anyway, let’s try to figure out where Foles will land with the help of some odds. 

OK, let’s go team by team: 

Miami Dolphins
It seems like the Dolphins are ready to move on from Ryan Tannehill as their starting quarterback after six seasons and a 42-46 record. Cutting Tannehill would leave a ton of dead money ($13 million) but would also save $13 million in cap room. If the Dolphins really want to move on, the dead money will be worth it. 

Keeping with the theme of 13, that’s where the Dolphins pick this year. Now, just a few years ago, the Eagles were able to move from 13 to 8 to 2 to draft Carson Wentz, but unless the Dolphins are willing to do that, they’re kind of in no man's land in the middle of the first round wanting a QB in a QB-deficient draft. So maybe they need to go the free agency route. 

Adam Gase is gone and the presumed new head coach will be the Patriots’ Brian Flores. He’ll likely be hired whenever the Patriots’ season is over, either this weekend or in a couple weeks. Maybe he’ll sign the guy he watched outduel Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII. 

Washington Redskins 
Last offseason, they picked up Alex Smith, but his injury is really significant, so it’s time to find somebody new. It would make more sense for them to try to try to get a young quarterback to build around, but they have the 15th pick. 

And Dan Snyder can probably talk himself into thinking they’re a QB away. Remember when the Redskins got off to their 6-3 start in 2018. Well, then they had crazy injuries, so he might look at his team and think they’re a lot closer than they actually are. 

Jacksonville Jaguars 
These odds actually came out before we learned Jacksonville was about to hire John DeFilippo as their offensive coordinator, so you can argue they should be even higher on the list now. Flip coached Foles for just one year in Philly, but that year ended with a parade on Broad Street. 

The Jags had a disastrous 5-11 season in 2018, but that came after they were 10-6 the year before. So if they think there’s still enough talent in that locker room to be a playoff team, they might just be one QB away. While Foles threw some interceptions this year, he ain’t Blake Bortles in that respect. He could give the Jags the chance to win close, defensive games as long as he doesn’t make mistakes. 

They do have the seventh pick, though, so maybe the Jaguars ought to think about drafting a QB. 

Denver Broncos
Case Keenum is still under contract in Denver, but they shouldn’t let that change anything they do at the quarterback position. In fact, John Elway told Peter King that Keenum was more of a short-term fix. That doesn’t sound good for Keenum. 

Foles is still just 29, so it’s not like he couldn’t be a longer-term fix. And picking at 10th in the draft doesn’t guarantee the Broncos will be able to draft the next QB either. Foles might be as good an option as any. 

Philadelphia Eagles 
Howie Roseman said on Tuesday that the Eagles would like to keep Foles, but how realistic is that? They’ve committed to Carson Wentz being the quarterback, so can they afford to have an insurance policy of over $20 million? The problem here is that’s money they could use elsewhere to build a team around Wentz. And is it fair to the franchise quarterback to always be looking over his shoulder? Even Wentz admitted there’s an added level of pressure after all of Foles’ success. 

The flip side of this is that Wentz hasn’t stayed healthy. He’s been injured in both of the last two seasons and Foles has stepped in for the playoffs. We’d have to just trust that Wentz is going to stay healthy next season. As insurance policies go, Foles is the best one. 

New York Giants 
Eventually, the Giants have to move on from Eli Manning, right? They really should move on from the 38-year-old quarterback now and I think Foles would make a lot of sense. 

The Giants clearly have some offensive weapons and could use a steadying force like Foles, who has played for head coach Pat Shurmur before. 

The big fear about Foles is that he’ll only work in Philadelphia. Well, why not go to a landing spot with an offense that at least has some similarities? Remember, Shurmur was in Philly for Foles’ Pro Bowl 2013 season under Chip Kelly and comes from the Andy Reid tree, which means his offense has similarities to Pederson’s in some ways too. From a purely football standpoint, I like the Giants as a landing spot. But there are some emotional hurdles to get over. 

Oakland Raiders
Head coach Jon Gruden and GM Mike Mayock seem to love Foles and they might be ready to move on from Derek Carr in Oakland or wherever the heck they’re going to play this season. Mayock and Gruden both have ties to Philly and are both very familiar with Foles. 

The Raiders also have three first-round picks, so if the Eagles end up trying to trade Foles instead of letting him walk, the Raiders have the firepower to get a deal done — if that’s the way they want to go. 

It doesn’t mean much, but Foles’ seven-touchdown game came against the Raiders in 2013. 

Carolina Panthers
Apparently, Cam Newton might be in danger of missing the 2019 season because of a shoulder injury. So if the Panthers think he’s not around in the 2019 season, they’ll need someone to play quarterback. Enter Nick Foles? 

The problem here is that Foles wants to go to a good situation and I’m not sure this is it. Newton has one more year left on his contract after 2019, which means Foles would have to play well enough to make the Panthers change their organizational direction and go with him instead. Don’t know why he’d choose that as a free agent. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 
The Bucs hired Bruce Arians as their head coach, but it seems like they’re sticking with Jameis Winston at QB. If there’s a change, maybe it would make sense for Foles. But if there isn’t, not sure why they’re on the list. 

A bonus one from me: Cincinnati Bengals
I’m not convinced the Bengals are going to stick with Andy Dalton, which would make Foles an attractive option, especially for new head coach Zac Taylor, who is the brother of Eagles QBs coach Press Taylor. The Bengals still have A.J. Green and Joe Mixon, so it might not be that bad of a landing spot for Foles.

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