Eagles take care of business, then watch Bears help them punch playoff ticket

Eagles take care of business, then watch Bears help them punch playoff ticket

LANDOVER, Md. — The Eagles were pretty quiet as they walked toward the visiting locker room at FedEx Field after dismantling the Redskins. 

As they filed into the closest locker room door, they did so virtually silently. Some players were a little giddy, some were already asking if there was a TV in the locker room. But most were silent. 

Eventually, about 15 minutes later, Jay Rock’s “WIN” — which has become a new anthem of sorts for the 2018 Eagles — was heard blaring through the closed locker room doors. 

The Eagles won. The Bears won. The Eagles and Bears will face each other next weekend in the playoffs because of it. 

That was a hell of afternoon, wasn’t it? 

“I’m just tired,” said a subdued Lane Johnson. “I’m just tired from playing that game. That’s really it. We’re excited, but we know what’s coming for us in the Bears.”

Those same Bears are the reason the Eagles punched their ticket to the playoffs on Sunday. The Bears took down the Vikings, 24-10, which allowed the Eagles to take the sixth-seed in the playoffs with their win over the Redskins to get to 9-7 on the season. The Vikings were eliminated. 

It was a day of nerves for the Eagles because they didn’t fully control their own destiny. For Eagles fans, it was a day of nerves because it’s pretty hard to follow three or four games at once. 

By the time the Eagles made it into the locker room, the Bears were already up 24-10, so everyone pretty much knew the situation. 

“But there was still a chance,” Zach Ertz said, “so we were just watching the game tick on our phones on the game cast. And luckily, we’re in the playoffs.” 

Like Ertz said, some Eagles watched the progress in the Bears’ game on their phones. At least one group huddled in a back room off the locker room around a TV after FOX switched over the game in Minnesota since the Eagles’ butt-kicking of the Redskins ended much earlier. 

They all watched until the final second ticked off in Minnesota. 

All week, the Eagles preached the importance of focus. They needed to control what they could control; that meant beating the Redskins. But once they were in FedEx Field, it was nearly impossible for them to remain blissfully unaware of what was happening in Minnesota. 

The score would occasionally flash on the giant monitor at FedEx Field and the Eagles fans who took over the stadium cheered every time they saw the Bears had a lead. 

“You knew they were up,” Ertz said. “You didn’t know how much.”

Ertz remembered taking a peek at the giant screen when the Bears were up 13-10 in the second half. By that point, the Eagles were well ahead of the Redskins, so it all came down to the Bears’ beating the Vikings. 

“I didn’t know how the game was going to go,” Ertz said. “But I’m very thankful that Chicago pulled it off. 

Perhaps one of the most surreal moments of Sunday afternoon were the “Let’s go Bears!” chants that reverberated around the 63,000-seat venue. 

Think about that. Eagles fans in FedEx Field, chanting for the Bears, who were playing against the Vikings in Minnesota. 

Like we said, it was a hell of an afternoon. 

“I did hear that,” Brandon Graham said. “We was having fun on the sideline. That was the whole thing today. We was like, ‘If we’re going out, we’re going out having fun.’ I think once we knew what was going on, it got even crazier. I’m just excited because we got another opportunity to play.” 

Doug Pederson will undoubtedly thank his former coworker Matt Nagy for not resting his starters and helping the Eagles make it to the playoffs. But now Pederson will try to beat him. 

Everything worked out on Sunday. The Eagles have a shot. And that’s all they could have asked for. 

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How Carson Wentz’s mind has become a weapon for Eagles’ run game

How Carson Wentz’s mind has become a weapon for Eagles’ run game

Carson Wentz first said it after the win over the Bills and it definitely piqued my interest.

After the Eagles’ 31-13 win in Buffalo, Wentz stated that running the ball was the “recipe” for his team. He spoke about the importance of controlling the line of scrimmage. And he mentioned it again after the win over the Bears.

It seemed like a strange thing for a 26-year-old franchise quarterback to say.

That is, until you realize just how involved and invested Wentz is in the Eagles’ run game.

“That’s what he’s embraced, the power of the five guys in front of him and the abilities of the backs,” 40-year-old backup quarterback Josh McCown said. “When you have those weapons, you have to use them and he’s not afraid to use it.

“And his mind. His mind is a weapon. When you can identify fronts and realize this is a good run vs. that, it’s rare and it’s hard for quarterbacks. When you get a guy that can do that and you got the guys up front who can pull it off, it can be a weapon. He’s certainly helped us with that.”

That’s something very similar to what quarterbacks coach Press Taylor said earlier in the week, that Wentz’s mind is “one of the strengths” of the Eagles’ rushing attack.

You’ve probably seen it several times this year. Wentz will be at the line of scrimmage and check to a run play based on what the opposing defense is showing. But it’s a more detailed process than that.

And Wentz is heavily involved.

“Carson, since Day 1, has been very involved in the run game,” center Jason Kelce said. “Probably a little different than a lot of other quarterbacks. He really wants to know what the checks are for, why they want to do them. With some guys, I’m really the one who’s taking control of it and that’s not the way he is. He’s a guy that wants to know why we’re doing everything. He’s a very cerebral guy. He’s very knowledgeable when it comes to the run game, really any facet.”

Likewise, McCown is impressed that a “rather young” quarterback has the awareness and control over games that Wentz does.

So just know when Wentz makes a check, there’s a whole long process behind it.

Really, it starts with film study during the week as the Eagles work to create their game plans. It continues on the sideline during games, based on the actions of the opposing defense. These are conversations between Wentz, Kelce and offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland.

Sometimes, there are glaring reasons for a check. Other times, there’s a more back-and-forth discussion between the group about what might work and where there might be a flaw in their thinking.

Wentz, as you might imagine, downplayed his involvement in the run game. “Not a ton,” he said, before crediting Stoutland and Kelce.

Don’t buy it.

“He’s involved in all of it,” Kelce said.

It’s not like Wentz is Peyton Manning up there with the full playbook at his disposal. There are “tight parameters,” as Taylor put it. If the defense shows this, check to that. But with all their prep work, the Eagles feel confident that Wentz and Kelce will get them into successful plays.

Recently, that has meant a whole bunch of runs. With their receivers struggling this season and with DeSean Jackson out, the Eagles have kind of become a run-first team. While Wentz thinks chunk pass plays will come, he also thinks the Eagles can win like this.

And that’s all he cares about.

“I think he wants to win,” Taylor said. “So I think he will do whatever it takes for us to win the game.”

For now, that means running the football. And Wentz will be involved every step of the way.

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5 matchups to watch as Eagles host Patriots in NFL Week 11

5 matchups to watch as Eagles host Patriots in NFL Week 11

The Eagles (5-4) are back from their bye week with what might be their toughest game of the season against the Patriots (8-1) at the Linc.

The last time these two teams played against each other in a game that mattered, the Eagles won 41-33. But a lot has changed since then.

Here are five matchups to watch on Sunday:

Tom Brady vs. Jim Schwartz

No, the Patriots didn’t win Super Bowl LII — I remember that pretty clearly — but Brady did have a big statistical game. He threw for 505 yards with 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. That’s the most passing yards ever in a playoff game. I know they lost and I know that was nearly two years ago, but Brady carved up the Eagles that night. His numbers this season aren’t nearly as incredible. In nine games, he has 2,536 yards with 14 TDs and 5 INTs, but he’s still capable of having a big game.

“Yeah, he's a tough competitor and gives them a chance to win every week,” Schwartz said. “He doesn't make many mistakes.”

So it’ll be on Schwartz to find a way to force him into a few mistakes on Sunday. Maybe that means blitzing, maybe that means showing a few looks for which the Patriots won’t be prepared.

There will be pressure on Schwartz, with an extra week to prepare, to figure out a way to slow down Brady more on Sunday than he did in the Super Bowl less than a couple years ago.

Julian Edelman vs. Avonte Maddox

The Patriots’ top receiver this season has been Edelman, who missed Super Bowl LII 18 months ago. In 2019, the 5-10 slot receiver has 63 catches for 663 yards and four touchdowns. To put that in perspective, the Eagles’ top two receivers (not including tight ends) are Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. They have a combined 66 catches for 635 yards and six touchdowns. Edelman is a real threat.

Maddox returned for the Bears game before the bye and will be given a tough task on Sunday in Edelman. Edelman has been consistently good this season but also has two 100-yard games.

Stephon Gilmore vs. ???

The Patriots are famous for taking away their opponents best player and they do this in a few different ways. Gilmore is their best corner, so it would make a lot of sense if they just match him up against the Eagles’ best receiver. But Alshon Jeffery’s status is in question. So there could also be the possibility that the Patriots decide to put Gilmore on tight end Zach Ertz, a possibility offensive coordinator Mike Groh didn’t dismiss earlier this week. It’ll be interesting to see what the Patriots decide, especially if Jeffery doesn’t play.

It’s worth noting that the Eagles will probably use a lot of 12 personnel (two tight ends) in this game. And they already use that personnel package more than any other team in the league. It’s something the Patriots have struggled with. More on that from NBC Sports Boston.

Doug Pederson/Mike Groh vs. Bill Belichick

This is where Pederson needs to be innovative. The Eagles will have to have a few scenarios in their minds of how the Patriots want to defend them and have wrinkles ready to throw at them. In a lot of games, I think the coaching matchups are overblown; the players win or lose games. But the most intriguing thing about this game is the chess match that will go on between Belichick and the Eagles’ offensive staff, which includes Carson Wentz. The Patriots’ defense is an opportunistic bunch, leading the NFL in takeaways. So Wentz will have to be careful with the ball, but Pederson’s play-calling needs to be better in this game. Should be fun to watch.

Eagles’ run game vs. Patriots’ run defense

Before the bye week, we watched the Ravens run for 210 yards against the Patriots in their huge 37-20 win in Baltimore. Now, 61 of those yards came from Lamar Jackson and the Eagles won’t have that type of run game production from their quarterback this week. But the point is that I think the Eagles can run on the Patriots.

While they have the 11th run defense in the NFL, giving up 99.1 yards per game, you have to remember that they’ve been up on teams. In four of their nine games, the Patriots have given up fewer than 60 rushing yards. But in those four games, the Patriots have outscored their opponents 74-14 in first halves, including three first-half shutouts. Many teams got behind them and were forced to abandon the run.

And, overall, the Patriots are giving up 4.7 yards per carry, which ranks 26th in the NFL.

The Eagles have found success running the ball this season and they should try to get that run game going against the Patriots.

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