Eagles-49ers: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-49ers: Roob's 10 observations


There are no trap games with this team. No looking past anybody. No letting the conditions or the refs or long road trips affect them.

They just win football games.

The Eagles reached the midway point of the season 7-1 Sunday, and how much fun is this? Seriously! The best team in the NFL plays in South Philly! 

An elite quarterback and a world-class defense have carried the Eagles to six wins in a row, and on a rainy Sunday at the Linc, they did what they had to, demolishing the 49ers 33-10 (see breakdown).

It was a fun Sunday, so let's make this a fun Roob's 10 observations!

1. Really encouraging to see the Eagles win a football game on a day when Carson Wentz wasn't at his best (see report card). Wentz missed people he usually hits, threw an interception, took sacks when he held onto the ball too long and generally just wasn't quite the same Wentz we've seen so far this year, although he did throw two TD passes. But the defense allowed only one short-field TD, the secondary didn't allow any big plays and got in the end zone, special teams got another Jake Elliott 50-yard field goal and a blocked field goal and everybody on the roster kind of made up for Wentz's average-for-him day (see story). That's the sign of a great team.

2. Another sign of a great team is one that answers when it has to. Wentz's interception and the 49ers' third-quarter touchdown made it a 20-7 game, the Eagles were coming off three straight 3-and-outs, and the crowd at the Linc was getting a little antsy. But it took the offense only three plays to get the lead back up to 20 — notably Corey Clement's career-long 22-yard run and Wentz's 53-yard TD pass to Alshon Jeffery. Every team, no matter how talented, no matter how successful, is going to face adversity. This team really seems to know how to bounce back from it in a huge way.

3. Speaking of Clement, I'd really like to see more of both him and Wendell Smallwood. LeGarrette Blount has not been quite as productive the last two games as he was in the previous five games, and I really like what Clement and Smallwood bring to the table as change-of-pace backs. Blount was 14 for 29 against the Redskins and 16 for 48 Sunday against the 49ers, a combined 2.6 yards per carry the last two weeks. Clement finally got involved at the end of the game and ran the ball hard and productively (see rookie report). Let's get back to sharing the load.

4. Loved the deep ball to Alshon Jeffery. I've been disappointed in Jeffery's inability to go up and use his 6-foot-3 frame and his long arms and secure 50-50 balls, but he finally did that in the third quarter, going high up over rookie corner Ahkello Witherspoon and catching a deep ball from Wentz and then fighting Witherspoon off and jogging into the end zone with his longest TD catch in an Eagles uniform. That's why the Eagles signed Jeffery. And that's what he has to keep doing.

5. Speaking of deep balls, Wentz continues to show that it's a strength of his and not a weakness. Wentz has now thrown five TDs of 50 yards or more, which is just one shy of the franchise record for an entire season. In fact, only four quarterbacks in NFL history have had more 50-yard TD passes through eight games. Wentz has the arm strength and the touch, and now he has the receivers to go get those balls. Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, Torrey Smith, Mack Hollins and Jeffery all have receptions of 50 yards or more. Those plays just take the life out of defenses. The deep ball has become such a big-time weapon for this team, and it's not going away.

6. Doug Pederson deserves so much credit for getting this team ready to play every single week. The one loss was on the road by seven points to a team that goes into Sunday night 5-2. Ever since that three-game stretch last year with the Seahawks, Bengals and Packers, this team has been competitive and prepared every single game, and that just speaks volumes about Pederson and his handle on his players.

7. Jalen Mills has been so solid this year, and it was great to see him get into the end zone after picking off C.J. Beathard. With the offense sputtering and the Eagles clinging to a 10-3 lead, that was a play the Eagles really needed to open up some breathing room. Mills' spiraling 37-yard TD return increased the lead to 17-3 when not a lot was going well. Mills has quietly had a consistent, productive season this year, and since he's been here longer than all the other cornerbacks, it's easy to forget he's only 23 (see story ). Mills is proof that you don't need world-class speed to be a big-time NFL cornerback. He's tough, smart, physical, confident and fearless. With 21-year-old Rasul Douglas playing well, 21-year-old Sidney Jones waiting in the wings and 23-year-old Ronald Darby also in the mix, this is an extremely promising young group of cornerbacks.

8. Fletcher Cox has been playing at such a high level for so long it's easy to forget just how dominating he is. He just destroys people. I really think he deserves to be mentioned up there with the great defensive linemen in Eagles history — Reggie, Clyde, Jerome, Hugh. He did pick up a sack Sunday, giving him 4½ this year and 33½ in his career. But it's what he does play after play after play. The power and athleticism that he combines to win matchups on the line of scrimmage really make this an elite defensive line. He's so much fun to watch.

9. It's really something to see Mychal Kendricks playing at such a high level. Kendricks, inexplicably in Jim Schwartz's doghouse for most of the last two years, has to play now, with Jordan Hicks out, and he responded with a monster game Sunday —seven tackles, a sack, two quarterback hurries and a pass knockdown. If Kendricks can stay healthy, he really makes Hicks' absence a lot easier to handle.

10. I love how the fans give Brent Celek a huge ovation every time he catches the ball. It doesn't happen very often anymore. Celek, now in his 11th year with the Eagles, had a 14-yard catch Sunday on the Eagles' fourth-quarter touchdown drive and is 4 for 33 this year. But he's had a fantastic career and is still a big part of this team, and it's heartening to see the fans appreciate him. Totally deserving. 

Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

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Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

In the latest edition of Eagle Eye, Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks discuss Darren Sproles' upcoming retirement. Does it put the Eagles in an awkward position on game days? Why do players care so much about their ratings in Madden? Also, Barrett shares how he decided on his jersey numbers throughout his football career?

1:00 - Derrick is back! What did he do with his time off?
5:30 - Barrett spent time with his grandson ... who ate pancakes with ketchup.
10:00 - Darren Sproles says 2018 will be his final year.
15:00 - Why do players care so much about their Madden ratings?
19:30 - If you can script your career, how would you want to retire?
22:30 - How did Barrett decide on his jersey numbers?

Subscribe and rate Eagle Eye: Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Stitcher / Spotify / Art19

Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

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Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

One thing Andy Reid was spot on about during his long tenure with the Eagles was the importance of building around both lines. 

Big Red always made the offensive and defensive lines a priority, and during the Eagles’ stretch of deep playoff runs — from 2000 through 2009 — the O-line was anchored by guys like Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Jermane Mayberry and Todd Herremans and the D-line by Corey Simon, Trent Cole, Mike Patterson and Hugh Douglas.

During that 10-year stretch, the Eagles had the most wins in the NFC and the third-most wins in the NFL, and the one constant during that stretch was solid line play. 

Donovan McNabb was very good when healthy most of those seasons, and the Eagles always had good running backs and corners, but the heart of those teams was up front.

Just look at how Big Red drafted. Eight of his 11 first-round picks were linemen. After taking McNabb in 1999, all six of Reid's picks in the first half of the first round were linemen.

They obviously didn’t all work out, but Reid was committed to both lines, and Howie Roseman, then a young, rising personnel executive, was paying attention.

The Eagles have done a lot of things differently in the five years since Reid's final season here, but one thing Doug Pederson and Roseman believe in is building around the lines, and it sure paid off last year.

According to figures on salary cap website Spotrac, the Eagles in 2017 were the only team ranked among the top five in the NFL in both offensive line and defensive line spending.

And the only team that had a parade in February.

And they’re only going to spend more this year.

The Eagles will spend 22.36 percent of their 2018 cap money on the offensive line, fourth most in the league, and 28.84 percent to the defensive line, fifth most.

That’s more than half their 2018 payroll on the big guys up front.

The Jets — sixth in O-line spending, 10th in D-line — are the only other team in the top 10 in both.

Seven of the Eagles’ 10 highest-paid players last year were linemen, as are eight of their 13 projected highest-paid players in 2018.

And five of those guys — Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jason Kelce, Vinny Curry and Jason Peters — are actually holdovers from the Reid era.

Think of them as Reid’s parting gifts to the 2017 championship team.

Creating a Super Bowl roster was a complicated process for Roseman, and to be able to make this sort of financial commitment to the two lines means you just don’t have much money left for everything else. 

The only way to make that work is to build with cheap labor elsewhere. 

And that means younger players on bargain-basement rookie contracts, cheap but productive quarterbacks and low-round picks and undrafted players with cheapo contracts excelling.

It means drafting well and making exceptional free-agent decisions without overspending.

It’s a crazy juggling act, and Roseman juggled all those things magnificentely last year.

In fact, according to Spotrac’s data, the two lines are the Eagles' only positional groups ranked even among the top 15 in the NFL.

The secondary and QB positions rank 16th in cap allocations, tight end 18th, running back 21st, wide receiver 27th, linebacker 31st and special teams 32nd.

These numbers are all based on the 53 highest-paid players currently under contract, so they will change slightly once the final roster is set, but they won’t change much.

The Eagles were very good in a lot of areas last year — really, in every area — but their offensive line was the best in football and the best in Eagles history, and the defensive line was easily one of the two- or three-best in football.

Everything the Eagles did, everything they accomplished, started up front.

Put Peters back on the O-line and add Haloti Ngata and Michael Bennett to the D-line with an increased role for Derek Barnett, and both lines could conceivably be even better this year.

It’s going to get harder for Roseman to keep paying the Eagles’ linemen the way he has. Once Carson Wentz signs his next contract, the Eagles’ entire salary cap balance will change. 

Those $25 million annual cap hits for one guy have a tendency to make roster decisions way more challenging.

So it will be tricky for the Eagles to re-sign Graham. He wants a fortune, and he deserves a fortune. 

But even if Roseman can’t get that done, Barnett has three more years on his rookie deal, and that’s the key to making this whole thing work. 

You can’t re-sign everybody, so if you want to remain elite, you have to draft well so you can replace the people you invariably lose.

You lose Patrick Robinson, you have Sidney Jones waiting. You lose LeGarrette Blount, there’s Corey Clement ready to go. You lose Mychal Kendricks, you hope a Nate Gerry can contribute. Trey Burton leaves, and Dallas Goedert is cheaper and better.

You get what you pay for. And the Eagles right now are paying for the best in the business.

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