Eagles

Breaking down where Eagles ranked on Pro Football Focus' top 101 list

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Breaking down where Eagles ranked on Pro Football Focus' top 101 list

The annual list of the 101 best NFL players came out in full this week from Pro Football Focus and four Eagles made the cut.

Some people love the evaluation site, some people hate it. But it’s still fun to take a look at how the Eagles ranked on the list. 

5. Fletcher Cox

What they said: There’s an argument to be made for Fletcher Cox having the very best, second-best season of all time, and more people would be talking about his 2018 campaign if it weren’t for the sheer domination of Aaron Donald. Cox ended the year ranked second among interior defenders with an overall grade of 92.5, and his 101 quarterback pressures were the most we’ve ever seen from a defensive tackle not named Donald.

My take: It’s nice to finally see Cox get his due. For years, he had been an underappreciated player in the NFL, but now everyone is noticing just how good he really is. The only defensive player ranked higher than him was Aaron Donald, who was again named the Defensive Player of the Year. That was Cox’s goal coming into this season and while he didn’t achieve it, he had a tremendous season, breaking double digits in sacks for the first time while playing with a revolving door of defensive tackles next to him. 

50. Brandon Graham 

What they said: Brandon Graham had yet another great year as the Eagles’ premier pass-rusher. He earned an overall grade of 88.1 last season, tying for ninth out of 113 edge defenders, while his 70 total pressures (56 hurries, nine hits, five sacks) were the fourth-most for an edge defender in 2018.

My take: I’ll be honest. I thought Graham was really hindered by that ankle injury early in the season. He just didn’t look like the same guy. Later in the year, he started to get the kind of pressure we’re more accustomed to. Still, I think Michael Bennett was, overall, the Eagles’ best defensive end in 2018. That doesn’t take anything away from Graham, who had a big season despite a low sack total of four. 

64. Jason Kelce

What they said: Kelce may very well be the best all-around center in the NFL, and his 2018 season further proved that point. The Cincinnati grad turned Philadelphia legend led all centers in run-blocking grade (80.6) while ranking second behind Oakland’s Rodney Hudson in pass-blocking grade (88.0).

My take: Kelce was the seventh offensive lineman on the list, but the first center. Kind of like Graham, I thought Kelce was visibly struggling while dealing with his knee injury early in the year. But once he got healthy, he was back to his normal, dynamic self. I think Kelce is the best center in the league and when he’s full-go the Eagles offense is tremendously better. 

91. Zach Ertz 

What they said: Ertz finished his record-setting 2018 season with the most ever receptions by a tight end, with 116 on 154 total targets. In his sixth season, he finished as the sixth-highest graded player at the position with an overall grade of 76.0 and a 79.5 receiving grade.

My take: Like in the All-Pro voting, Ertz finished behind George Kittle (13th) and Travis Kelce (23). Kelce was first-team All-Pro and Kittle was second-team. It’s just a shame two other tight ends had great seasons this year because it makes Ertz’s year seem less special; it wasn't. Simply put, Ertz put together one of the greatest seasons ever for a tight end and I’d certainly argue he should be much higher on this list. 

The snubs: Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Malcolm Jenkins, Michael Bennett

Everyone can’t make these lists, but these four players would have been deserving of spots too. Johnson is the best right tackle in football. Brooks was the Eagles’ most consistent OL and one of the best guards in the league. Jenkins never gets the respect he deserves as being one of the best and most versatile players in the league. And Bennett got great pressure at end and tackle after a slower-than-usual start.

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Ronald Darby’s play, Fletcher Cox’s health, blitzing and more in Jim Schwartz takeaways

Ronald Darby’s play, Fletcher Cox’s health, blitzing and more in Jim Schwartz takeaways

There were plenty of interesting topics talked about with Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz at his Tuesday press conference. 

Here are some of the highlights: 

Is Darby healthy?

It seemed pretty clear the Falcons were targeting cornerback Ronald Darby on Sunday night. Darby’s 2018 season finished on IR with an ACL tear, but he returned for Week 1. In Week 2, Matt Ryan kind of picked on him Sunday night. 

Schwartz mentioned that despite the obvious struggles, Darby “made a couple big plays” for the Eagles. And Schwartz doesn’t think the injury is the problem, but perhaps the time the injury forced him to miss. 

“I think he has all of his speed back,” Schwartz said. “I don't see the ACL as being an issue at all for him. He's done a great job of rehab. He didn't practice a ton in training camp, so I think — and we have a few players that are in that boat. So I think that sometimes you can see some of that, I don't want to call it rust at this point, but there is a reason that we still do training camp and we still practice.”

The Eagles have been rotating at the outside cornerback position — previously under the guise of Darby’s return — and Darby led that group with 59 snaps (89 percent) on Sunday. Schwartz said they enter games with a plan for their rotation, but then basically change it on the fly. 

But if Darby is still working himself back into game shape and the Eagles are already rotating, it would make a lot of sense to limit his reps, especially when it’s clear the opposing teams are going right at him for a reason.  

Fletcher doesn’t look like Fletcher 

Among that group of players who missed summer practices is Fletcher Cox, who hasn’t looked like his usual dominant self through two games. I guess it would have been unfair to expect Cox to return after missing training camp and be back to his All-Pro form, but the Eagles could certainly use that right about now. 

Even Schwartz admitted that Cox doesn’t look like himself. 

“Again, I don't really even consider the injury part of it,” Schwartz said. “It's more just where he is in coming back. Didn't practice a ton in training camp, but there's nobody grading on a curve this time of year because you didn't practice in training camp. Like when they put a ball in the air, the officials don't say, ‘Well, this guy's coming back from an injury,’ or, when it comes time to rush the passer, they don't say, ‘Well, we're going to pull a guy out because of that.’ Nobody cares about that stuff. It's a production league. It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. He'll get there.”

Cox will get there. I believe that, but now with injuries to Malik Jackson and Tim Jernigan, every team is going to double him. And a less-than-100 percent Cox going against constant double (and sometimes triple) teams is going to be tough.  

Did the Eagles blitz more? 

Jim Schwartz disagreed with the assessment that the Eagles blitzed more than usual against the Falcons. This seems like a semantics issue. Because maybe the Eagles didn’t blitz much more than usual, but they certainly used zero blitzes more. And that was the call on the game-winning touchdown to Julio Jones. 

“They made a good play,” Schwartz said. “I don't know how many times I can say today that it comes with the territory in the NFL, whether it's injuries, whether it's dealing with different situations during the game. But that's part of the risk/reward of blitzing. You want to blitz, you can make some plays, you can sack — but if they do get a guy blocked, there's nobody behind him.

“We took an aggressive approach. Tried to win the game right there.”

For the most part, Schwartz’s aggressive game plan worked wonders on Sunday. The Eagles forced Matt Ryan into his first three-INT game since 2017. And Ryan even noted to reporters that he hadn’t before seen a team run as many zero blitzes against him in a game. 

Pressure without sacks 

Through two games, the Eagles have just two sacks. That ties them for the second-worst total in the NFL. But Schwartz is unworried about that total. 

“I mean, the ball can come out,” he said. “I’d rather have an interception on Darby's play than a sack. Sometimes — I mean, sacks are always good, but you force the quarterback to make an errant throw and you get an interception, that's pressure from blitz, whatever.”

Schwartz has been saying this for years and he has a point. Pressure can affect a game even when it doesn’t result in a sack. Would the Eagles like more sacks? Absolutely. Which is why it’s a fair question to ask. But the answer is fair, too. 

Sidney Jones has a day

Schwartz thought Sidney Jones had a “bounce back” game against the Falcons. The former second-round pick had his first-career interception, but Schwartz was most pleased about Jones’ physical play against the run. That’s an important part of Jones’ game that he needed to improve in Year 3. 

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Eagles reportedly expected to be without DeSean Jackson for two weeks

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Eagles reportedly expected to be without DeSean Jackson for two weeks

The Eagles are expected to miss DeSean Jackson for “about two weeks” with an abdominal strain, according to ESPN’s Tim McManus.  

Jackson left Sunday’s loss in Atlanta after just 11 snaps with what was called a groin injury. 

The Eagles will face the Lions at home this Sunday, but will then play in Green Bay just four days later on Thursday Night Football. After that, the Eagles and Jackson will have a long week to prepare for the lowly Jets on Oct. 6. 

Losing Jackson for games against two undefeated NFC opponents hurts. 

Jackson had a huge game in Week 1, catching eight passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Without him, the Eagles will definitely miss his unique speed. That was an element they desperately needed in 2018. Jackson has played all 16 games in a season just twice in his career and hasn’t done it since 2013. 

Meanwhile, Alshon Jeffery has a calf injury that could sideline him for a game or two as well. 

That means the Eagles are down to just three healthy receivers on the 53-man roster: Nelson Agholor, JJ Argeca-Whiteside and Mack Hollins. 

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