Eagles Mailbag: Jay Ajayi's numbers; is Donnel Pumphrey a goner?

Eagles Mailbag: Jay Ajayi's numbers; is Donnel Pumphrey a goner?

It’s hard to believe but we’re less than two weeks away from the start of training camp. Doesn’t it seem like the Eagles won the Super Bowl, like, last week? 

Anyway, the entire team will report to the NovaCare Complex on July 25 and the first practice of the summer is the next day on July 26. The first preseason game is Aug. 9 against the Steelers. 

The season opener is Sept. 6 and it’ll be here before you know it. 

Let’s get to your questions: 


If Ajayi puts up 1,200 and eight touchdowns, the Eagles would be thrilled. The last Eagle to do that was LeSean McCoy in 2013. In fact, there have only been seven seasons in Eagles history where they’ve had a running back put up those numbers. Shady in 2013 and 2011, Ricky Watters in 1996 and 1995 and Wilbert Montgomery in 1981, 1979 and 1978. So it’s hard to do. Think about this … as good as the Eagles’ offense was in 2017, they had just nine rushing touchdowns as a team

So I don’t see Ajayi putting up 1,200 and eight, but I’m down with a 1,000-yard season. I think that’s possible. There’s still going to be a rotation in 2018, but without LeGarrette Blount taking carries, I think Ajayi will have enough opportunity. Remember, Blount led the team with 766 yards last year but lost his chance at a 1,000-yard season when Ajayi was traded to the Birds in the middle of the year.

I think with another year under his belt and without Blount taking carries now that he’s in Detroit, Ajayi will get over 1,000 in 2018. 

I’m not ready to completely write Pumphrey off, but I also haven’t seen anything that lets me know he can play in the NFL. There’s no sugarcoating it … Pumphrey was terrible last summer and if he’s that bad again this year, the Eagles might have to just give up on him. But if he shows some promise, things get trickier. Then they might have to find a roster spot for him. 

Either way, it’s hard for me to envision him really seeing time on the field this season. Is he really going to improve enough to take Ajayi, Darren Sproles or Corey Clement off the field? I just don’t see it. 

No, during a handful of spring practices, Sidney Jones hasn’t done enough to take a starting corner job from Jalen Mills or Ronald Darby. And unless one of those two really struggles, I think the Eagles will stick with them. But I expect Jones to prove himself plenty this season and to play a decent amount. I’m a complete believer in his ability and his recovery from injury. Before that Achilles injury, he could have been the first cornerback taken in the draft; he was that good. And even if he needs to shake off rust, that talent is going to show itself. He might not be a starter this year, but he’s the future of the secondary. 

I don’t remember receivers running free in the NFC Championship Game. The Vikings scored seven points in that one. As for the Super Bowl, yeah, that wasn’t great. The Patriots put up 613 yards and 500 of them came through the air. It was just the 16th game in NFL history where a team has put up 500 passing yards in a regular season or playoff game. So not great. 

But that was against the greatest quarterback in NFL history and the Eagles still won the game. I understand why you might rewatch that game and be concerned (actually it’s impressive you can watch that game and be concerned. They won the freaking Super Bowl), but that was an anomaly. They gave up 195 yards passing to the Falcons and 263 to the Vikings who trailed for most of the game. 

The Eagles bring back Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod and essentially add a first-round pick in Jones. I think they’ll be good. 


See: Snowball + Hell. 

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Eagles film review: Encouraging signs from Andre Dillard vs. Vikings

Eagles film review: Encouraging signs from Andre Dillard vs. Vikings

Because Jason Peters left the Eagles game in the second quarter on Sunday, rookie left tackle Andre Dillard played 47 snaps, getting the first real playing time of his young career. 

While there were a few plays he’d like to have back, it was overall a pretty encouraging performance. 

What did Doug Pederson think about it? 

“He had some good plays. He had some bad plays, quite honestly,” Pederson said. "He's going against a great defensive end. [Vikings DE Everson] Griffen is a tremendous D-end and I have a lot of respect for him and his game, and there were times where Andre looked really good and then there were times when he got a little off balance. 

“We have to do some technique work with him still some more. Just a young player in that atmosphere, but I thought overall, he did some really good things.”

That’s a fair assessment from Pederson. There really was some good from Dillard and some bad. But after rewatching the tape, I saw plenty of encouraging signs from the 24-year-old first-round pick. 

The guy lining up to his right thought so too. 

“I thought he played real well,” left guard Isaac Seumalo said. “He’s a really good player. I thought he played really well.” 

On Tuesday, I watched a handful of his best and worst snaps with my colleague and former NFL offensive lineman Barrett Brooks. 

Here’s what we came up with: 

The Bad 

This was Dillard’s first snap of the game and he ends up on his backside as Griffen nearly gets a sack on Wentz, who somehow pulled a Houdini to escape. Before the snap, Griffen was so excited to face fresh meat that he jumps off, but was able to get back. Because of the silent count, Dillard was busy watching the ball. 

Anyway, this snap looked awful live Sunday, but watching the tape, Barrett pointed out what made it look so bad. You’ll see as the running back (Miles Sanders) comes out of the backfield, he actually trips Dillard, who loses his balance and then gets driven into the ground by Griffen. Maybe he still gets beat on the play anyway, but he probably doesn't end up on the ground if his feet don’t get tangled. And you’ll notice that Dillard’s hands are wide initially, but he quickly gets them repositioned. Barrett also noted that if Dillard doesn’t get tangled, he probably runs the arc with Griffen. 

This is the very next play. Again, it looks worse than it actually was for Dillard. Here, the Vikings run a T-E stunt and Seumalo struggles to pass it off. These stunts are designed to get the looper free, but a lot of times the DT ends up getting pressure. That’s what happens here. Seumalo needs to a attack a little more. 

Even though Dillard was put in a tough situation, he actually rebounds quite nicely and gives Wentz enough time to escape. It wasn’t a great play from Dillard, but it wasn’t as bad as it looked either. 

On this quick screen play, Dillard is supposed to get to the next level and block a linebacker. But he gets to his spot late and doesn't get his feet set quick enough, so he’s off balance and the ‘backer sheds the block and makes the tackle. If Dillard is able to make a better block, there’s a lot of room ahead for Alshon Jeffery. 

To me, this was Dillard’s worst snap of the game. The Vikings’ DEs normally stick to their sides, but with Griffen out of the game, Danielle Hunter lined up for a snap on the right side. Hunter doesn’t do anything super special, but his one-handed stab devastated Dillard. 

In this case, Dillard has to use his hand better to try to beat the stab. But the reason this play is troubling is because I wonder about Dillard’s overall strength. I know he’s quick and athletic, but it seemed like he was getting pushed back way too easily in this game, even on some “good” snaps I’ll show you below. I think he needs to get stronger, which is something a lot of folks said when he was drafted. 

The Good 

On this snap, Dillard gets lined up against linebacker Anthony Barr. It’s worth pointing out that Barr is a pretty big linebacker at 6-5, 255. Barrett was really impressed by Dillard’s hand placement on this rep. He gets them inside Barr immediately and controls him. 

Based on what he had already seen to this point, it’s a questionable decision from Griffen to try a spin move; the power moves seemed to be working much better. But this was really solid from Dillard to stay with the rusher and redirect him after the spin. 

This play reminded Barrett a lot of Dillard’s first snap from earlier in the game. Without getting tripped up by the running back, Dillard again gets his hands wide, but quickly gets them back inside and then starts to run with Griffen up the arc. 

Good design on the run here and Dillard does a nice job opening up the hole briefly. His run-blocking ability was a big question coming out of college. Because the Eagles were down early in this game, we didn’t get a ton of examples. Barrett liked this rep but thought no one finished their blocks and he’s probably right. 

This was one of the more interesting snaps on the afternoon for Dillard. Griffen uses a strong bullrush and puts Dillard on skates. The impressive thing is that Dillard sticks with the block and even though the pressure forces Wentz to throw off his back foot (it was an incredible throw, by the way), Dillard gives Wentz enough time to deliver the throw. 

The one thing Barrett really wanted to see from Dillard was to trap Griffen and get him to the ground. At one point on this bullrush, Griffen loses his balance and Dillard doesn’t take advantage of it. 

On this snap, Dillard is aware that the Eagles are sliding the protection his way. He knows help is coming inside, so he’s just worried about making sure Griffen doesn’t get around the edge. He’s fine with Griffen trying to spin back inside because that’s exactly where his help from Seumalo is going to be. Good awareness. 

Just another good block in the run game from Dillard, who does a nice job finishing. 


In all, I thought it was a pretty encouraging performance from Dillard, especially considering the situation. He was forced into the game at a moment’s notice and without getting a chance to prepare. And he was also going against a team that has a pretty good pass rush. 

Based on Peters’ recent history, this won’t be the last we see of Dillard this season. There were definitely some things to build on here. 

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Eagles need to at least give JJ Arcega-Whiteside a chance to produce

Eagles need to at least give JJ Arcega-Whiteside a chance to produce

In the last three weeks, Mack Hollins has played 109 offensive snaps and has just one catch for 13 yards on five targets. 

And JJ Arcega-Whiteside still can’t get on the field. 

That needs to change. 

If DeSean Jackson misses more time, the Eagles need to find a way to incorporate their second-round pick over a player who has produced next to nothing for the better part of the month. During this three-week span, Arcega-Whiteside has played just 13 offensive snaps. 

“As a player, as a competitor, you want to go out there and compete, no matter if it’s a game, video game, school, whatever, you want to compete,” Arcega-Whiteside said on Tuesday. “So, yeah, in a way it is [frustrating]. But I’m bought into this team and the coaching staff. Whatever their plan is, I know it’s going to be best for the team.” 

It’s not that I don’t understand the Eagles’ reasoning for Arcega-Whiteside’s lack of playing time. I get their point (and I’ll explain shortly), but their reasoning just isn’t good enough for me. 

I don’t even know how much Arcega-Whiteside would help right now — in the two games he played a lot, he didn’t do much — but the Eagles have to be willing to find out. This is a second-round pick we’re talking about. Theoretically, this guy has enough talent to at least contribute more than the near-goose-egg they’ve been getting from Hollins. 

The Eagles’ reasoning, by the way, is this: Arcega-Whiteside’s primary position in their offense is at X receiver. That makes him Alshon Jeffery’s backup. Hollins is the top backup at the Z position, where Jackson played before his abdominal injury. 

When Arcega-Whiteside got to Philly in the spring and then in the summer, he played the X receiver position exclusively, but he has been cross training at the other spots more recently. Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh admitted that Arcega-Whiteside is still catching up most at the Z. 

When asked how long it would take for Arcega-Whiteside to learn the position to the point where the Eagles feel comfortable enough to put him in a game there, Groh said he didn’t have a timetable. 

But how long can it really take? 

Couldn’t they at least get him a few snaps at the position here or there? 

Groh, to his credit, really did try to explain it as well as he could on Tuesday. When Jeffery missed time with his calf injury a few weeks ago, Arcega-Whiteside’s focus during those practices was to play the X; the cross-training halted. 

“So learning a new position and not getting any reps at it is tough as a rookie player,” Groh said. 

At least Groh’s explanation made more sense than the one Doug Pederson gave at his press conference on Monday: 

“We've just been in a lot more 12 personnel. That’s just what it is. To answer your question, I guess yes, we could put him in there more. We could.”

Pederson always touts the versatility of his receivers. He wants all of his receivers to know every position so he can move them around the field. This would be a chance to show off that versatility. 

For what it’s worth, Arcega-Whiteside was supposed to factor into the game plan more in the game two weeks ago, but the opposing defense was showing a much different look in the game compared to the tape. All those plays for the rookie were wiped out once the game started. 

What has really made Arcega-Whiteside’s lack of production and playing time even more frustrating is the level to which other rookie receivers around the league have been contributing this season. 

Take a look at Arcega-Whiteside’s production compared to some receivers drafted after him in the spring: 

Arcega-Whiteside: 2 catches, 14 yards 
Parris Campbell: 10 catches, 62 yards, 1 touchdown
D.K. Metcalf: 16 catches, 336 yards, 2 touchdowns
Diontae Johnson: 20 catches, 212 yards, 2 touchdowns 
Terry McLaurin: 23 catches, 408 yards, 5 touchdowns 
Hunter Renfrow: 12 catches, 101 yards
Darius Clayton: 12 catches, 189 yards, 1 touchdown
KeeSean Johnson: 16 catches, 145 yards 

Arcega-Whiteside was pretty honest when asked if it bothered him to look around the league and see other rookies having bigger roles for their respective teams. 

“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t,” he said. “At the same time, I can’t worry about what anybody else is doing. They’re in different situations than I’m in.”

That’s true. But maybe the Eagles should consider changing Arcega-Whiteside’s situation pretty soon. At least give him a chance to produce. 

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