Eagles

Carson Wentz knows exactly what Eagles' offense is missing

Carson Wentz knows exactly what Eagles' offense is missing

It’s really hard for an NFL team to go 12 straight games without a 40-yard catch by a wide receiver, but when you have the receivers the Eagles had last year it’s not too surprising.

The Eagles were among the NFL’s worst big-play teams a year ago. They recorded their fewest 40-yard pass plays in two decades and they didn’t have a touchdown longer than 32 yards the last 15 games of the season.

In fact, their wide receivers didn’t have a TD longer than 20 yards after the opener.

Once DeSean Jackson’s season ended essentially after one game, there was zero firepower in the offense, and the fact that the Eagles were able to make the playoffs and finish with the No. 12 offense in the league is a testament to what Carson Wentz was able to do with a cobbled-together offense of practice squad receivers.

But it’s a tough way to win. Really, it’s almost an impossible way to win.

“I would love to see us have some more explosive plays,” Wentz said Thursday. “We had a lot of long drives last year, and obviously hopefully getting DeSean Jakcson back and some of these younger guys can help lend itself to some more explosive plays. Maybe we don’t always have to put together 15-play drives, but if that’s what we’ve got to do, that’s what we’ve got to do. But I’d love to see more explosive plays.”

✔ The Eagles only had six pass plays of 40 yards all year, and only three teams — the Falcons (5), Colts (3) and Bears (2) — had fewer. 

✔ Of those six plays, two were DeSean Jackson touchdowns vs. Washington on opening day, two were by running back Miles Sanders, then one each from Nelson Agholor Week 2 against the Falcons and Deontay Burnett in the second Giants game, just a few days after he signed with the Eagles.

✔  So over the last 14 games of the season, the Eagles only had three pass plays of 40 yards or more, and none of them went for touchdowns.

How bad is all this?

The six pass plays of 40 yards or more were the Eagles’ fewest in a season since 1999, when they had just four – two by Doug Pederson, two by Koy Detmer.
From 2000 through 2009, with Donovan McNabb at the helm, the Eagles led the NFL with 120 pass plays of 40 or more yards - 12 per year.

During Chip Kelly’s three years, the Eagles led the NFL with 45 pass plays of at least 40 yards - 15 per year.

When Wentz’s 2017 season ended after 13 games, he had the 6th-most 40-yard plays in the NFL.

But if there’s nobody to catch it, it doesn’t matter how nice a deep ball he throws.

The Eagles actually had 24 touchdown drives of at least eight plays last year, 2nd-most in the league (the Ravens had 27). So they were able to sustain drives, thanks mainly to their 45 percent 3rd-down efficiency - 4th-best in the league.

But they need big plays and everybody knows it. If you can’t stretch the field, you make it a lot easier for defenses to shut you down.

Which brings us to Jalen Reagor, John Hightower, and Quez Watkins, the Eagles’ three speedy rookie draft picks.

The Eagles aren’t scheduled to start actual practice until mid-August, but Wentz has finally gotten onto the field throwing with the rookie and so far he likes what he sees.

“They’re all fast,” he said. “They can all roll, so I’m excited about that. We’ve barely been on the grass together. It’s just been really two days now and we’re not practicing or any of those things, but I’m really excited (for) once we get the pads on and we’re full-speed out there, but all three of them can roll. They’re quick, they’re fast, natural ball catchers. I’m excited for all those guys because they all have a great chance to help this team right away this year, even in Week 1. Not to put too much pressure on those guys, but I’m excited to see how they develop here these next couple weeks.”

Whatever the Eagles get out of Reagor, the 1st-round pick, and the two late-round picks, it has to be an improvement over last year.

A big one.

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Chad Johnson geeked up about these DeSean Jackson clips from training camp

Chad Johnson geeked up about these DeSean Jackson clips from training camp

DeSean Jackson is 33 years old now and he’s coming off a sports hernia surgery that basically wrecked his 2019 season. 

But he still has it. 

On Friday afternoon, former NFL receiver Chad Johnson shared some 1-on-1 practice video that Jackson sent his way from the Eagles’ ongoing training camp practices. Johnson was pretty excited to get these clips and posted a couple on his Twitter account. 

That one is Jackson going against Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, in his first training camp with the Eagles. This will be a fun battle all camp long. Last year in training camp, DeSean dominated but he didn’t have a top tier cornerback to go against. 

It was fun to watch Jackson do this to the DBs in camp last year, but now he’s going against a three-time Pro Bowler and one of the best corners in the game. And Slay still stood no chance. 

That little hesitation step from Jackson and the explosion out of it is pretty wild. In a regular foot race no one is going to beat Jackson; if he gets the DB flat-footed, forget about it. And Jackson is going to beat corners as long as he’s healthy. That’s why so many defensive coordinators slide any help they can that way. 

And then there’s this hitch route that Johnson posted with some NSFW language.

On that one, you can see that Slay has to respect the deep ball and Jackson has that change of direction ability. One of the misconceptions about Jackson is that he’s just a go route deep threat; but that’s not the case. He can run short and intermediate routes well and it’s all set up from his ability to burn corners deep. 

The Eagles won’t be in pads until Monday, which is also when reporters are allowed to watch practice. I can’t wait to see this battle in person and report back. 

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Jon Gruden's curious comparison of Nelson Agholor and Randall Cunningham

Jon Gruden's curious comparison of Nelson Agholor and Randall Cunningham

Twenty-five years ago, Randall Cunningham retired after a dismal final season with the Eagles. 

Two years later he came out of retirement, signed with the Vikings and a year later had one of the greatest quarterback seasons ever, earned MVP honors and would have taken the Vikings to the Super Bowl if not for some terrible coaching by Dennis Green.

Cunningham’s offensive coordinator his last year in Philly? Jon Gruden.

Gruden today is head coach of the Raiders, and one of his pet projects is Nelson Agholor.

“A change of scenery worked for Randall Cunningham, maybe it will work for him,” Gruden told the Athletic.

Interestingly, Cunningham, who settled in Las Vegas after playing college football at UNLV, is now the Raiders’ team chaplain.

As for Agholor, he’s trying to rebuild a career that despite some great moments in 2017 and a brilliant Super Bowl never lived up to expectations.

"I trust him and I think he was picked high in the draft for a reason,” Gruden said of Agholor. "He’s a good player. You can pick up the Philadelphia Inquirer and they will probably say something different, but this guy has caught over 200 passes, he’s a young guy, he has played split end, flanker and in the slot. He caught eight or nine passes in a Super Bowl (9-for-84) and won a Super Bowl. So he's a world champion. He's a great person.”

Agholor caught 224 passes for 2,515 yards and 18 touchdowns in five seasons with the Eagles, who made him the 20th pick in Chip Kelly’s 2015 draft.

He never caught more than 768 yards in a season and he surpassed 64 yards in only nine of his 76 games here.

Agholor said he and Gruden actually have a family connection that goes back to when he was in high school at Berkeley Prep in Tampa and Gruden had just finished coaching the Buccaneers.

“He actually used to hang around after his days coaching in Tampa, he still lived in Tampa, and he would always go to a racetrack near his home, and my brother worked at that racetrack so him and my brother spent a lot of time talking every morning when Jon was getting his coffee about football and about my college career and things like that,” Agholor said in a Zoom call with Raiders writers. 

“So it’s a blessing to be in this opportunity having a previous relationship. But at the end of the day I chose this relationship because he knows the game and all I want to do is learn and be a better player.”

The Eagles, who paid Agholor nearly $19 million over the last five years, made no attempt to re-sign the 27-year-old after last season ended.

He signed a one-year minimum salary benefit deal with the Raiders worth barely above minimum wage - $1.0475 million.

In Vegas, he’ll likely compete for slot reps with Hunter Renfrow, who had 49-for-605 with 4 TDs as a rookie 5th-round pick last year.

“Honestly, this is a beautiful opportunity for me to get a chance to play with a guy like Jon Gruden, who has a background in coaching receivers,” Agholor said. “I chose this opportunity to make myself a better player. There’s no better opportunity to play for a head coach that knows receiver play and can articulate ways you can get better.

“My No. 1 goal is to progress as a player.  Lot of things that happened in the past, some really good things and some things I wanted to grow from. I told myself this opportunity is to be 2 percent better than the player I was in my previous five years.”
 

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