Eagles

Eagles unleash 4-headed RB monster vs. Cowboys

Eagles unleash 4-headed RB monster vs. Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Forget the three-headed monster of 2003. The Eagles have somehow invented a four-headed monster. And somehow it works.

On Sunday, the Eagles got contributions from four running backs in their 37-9 demolition of the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium (see Roob's observations). And that’s not supposed to happen.

New acquisition Jay Ajayi again showed tremendous explosiveness, gaining 84 of his 91 yards in the second half, including a 71-yard scamper run to set up a third-quarter TD. LeGarrette Blount had his best game in a while with 57 yards on 13 carries. 

Rookie Corey Clement once again did his thing, rushing just six times for 50 yards and a touchdown and also catching a two-point conversion. And even Kenjon Barner had a role Sunday night, with a career-long 22-yard catch and then his first touchdown of the season to open the game.

Four backs in uniform. All contributed. Not easy to do.

"Those guys all bring a different skill set," Carson Wentz said. "They do such a good job. The big boys up front lead the way with that. We can spread those guys out and use them at what they're best at. They make my job a heck of a lot easier."

Ajayi was getting 20 carries per game with the Dolphins. He has only 15 in two games with the Eagles but has certainly made the most of them. 

He’s the third player in NFL history with consecutive games of eight or fewer carries and 77 or more rushing yards. Former Eagle Felix Jones did it for the Cowboys in 2009 and Warren Williams for the Steelers in 1990.

Ajayi is also the first Eagle since Ricky Watters in 1996 with runs from scrimmage of 45 yards or more in consecutive games.

“It’s different,” Ajayi said. “It’s definitely not what I’m used to, but at the same time, it’s exciting to see all of us make plays. For me, whenever the number is called, just make your plays count and take advantage of your opportunities."

Sunday’s game was the Eagles’ first in 56 years in which three running backs each ran for at least 50 yards.

Last time it happened was also in Dallas — at the Cotton Bowl. On Oct. 22, 1961, Billy Ray Barnes [89 yards], Timmy Brown [66] and Ted Dean [76] did it in a 43-7 win over the Cowboys.

“Everybody has their role,” Clement said. “I have a specific role, LaGarrette, (Wendell) Smallwood, Kenyon, Jay, we’re not selfish out there. To have four guys in the rotation, it means a lot because defenses really can’t keep up with the style of running that we have.”

When training camp began, Blount was the No. 1 back and Darren Sproles, Smallwood and rookie Donnel Pumphrey were next in line. Of that group, only Blount was even in uniform Sunday night.

And they still ran for 215 yards, including 180 in the second half.

Ajayi and Barner both joined the team during the season, and Clement just keeps earning more and more playing time and more and more touches as an undrafted rookie. Blount has the fifth-highest per-carry average in the NFL among backs with at least 100 carries.

It’s a unique group. They each have different skill sets and they each have different roles and they each seem to genuinely not care who makes the big play.

And judging by the laughs and good-natured ribbing and trash talk in the locker room after Sunday's win, they all genuinely like each other.

“We’re all focused on ‘we,’ we’re not focused on ‘I,’” Barner said. “We all understand our roles, we all want to see the other guys do well, and we’re all unselfish. It starts with (position coach) Duce (Staley), who really sets the tone in the (meeting) room.”

The Eagles are now second in the NFL with 145 rushing yards per game, second only to the Jaguars' 161. They're tied for fourth at 4.6 yards per run

Their 2,313 rushing yards are their most through 10 games since 1949, when they had 2,317.

And they're doing it all without anybody on pace to rush for 900 yards.

“It all starts with preparation and everybody knows their role,” Blount said. “Everybody has a significant role on this team. All the backs do — me, Jay, Wendell, Corey, Kenjon, all the way down. Everybody has a role and they’re good at it and they all embrace it."

Press Taylor was right choice for Eagles' QBs coach

Press Taylor was right choice for Eagles' QBs coach

The Eagles were just a few days away from the Super Bowl and there was a clear indication of just how loose the team really was. 

On Feb. 1, Carson Wentz tweeted out a photo proving it. 

So, what’s the point of this? Why show a photo that Wentz sent out from an escape room well over four months ago?

Well, because it was a little glimpse into the future. Because the five guys in that photo are going to be the five guys in the Eagles’ quarterback room this season. 

Along with Wentz, Nick Foles and Nate Sudfeld, the other two are Press Taylor (sitting) and Spencer Phillips. This offseason, after John DeFilippo left Philadelphia to take the offensive coordinator job in Minnesota, the Eagles promoted Taylor to take his position as quarterbacks coach and then promoted Phillips to take Taylor’s spot as the assistant quarterbacks coach. 

It was probably a no-brainer. 

And it’s crazy to think, but just a year after the Eagles blocked DeFilippo from leaving the organization, DeFilippo has left … and the Eagles are going to be just fine. 

At the time, before the 2017 season, it made sense to block DeFilippo. He was seemingly integral to the development of a young Wentz and he certainly deserves plenty of credit for the big jump in Wentz’s play last season. But now, without him, the Eagles are going to keep a finely-tuned machine running. And they’re going to do it with a very young and very promising coach. 

Taylor is just 30 years old, which seems incredibly young for a coach who is supposed to lead the most important position room for the Eagles and possibly the most important position room in the entire league. He’s just one year older than Foles. 

He might be young, but Taylor is uniquely positioned to handle this responsibility. And aside from his football acumen — which has been touted by his superiors — it’s his relationship with the players in the room that made him such a no-brainer replacement for DeFilippo. 

“I feel really close (to Wentz, Foles and Sudfeld),” Taylor said last week. “I know what makes them tick going into it. And then we all had our own relationships. Obviously, I wasn’t their quarterbacks coach at the time, but I was in the room, sat through those conversations, had my own conversations out on the practice field. I feel like I know the things they like, the things they didn’t like. And then was able to learn from the other guys, the other coaches in the room.”

After the Super Bowl, Taylor is probably best known in the city for bringing the Philly Special to the Eagles. In his position last year, it was his job to mine gadget plays from around the league and found that play being used by the Bears the season before (see story). And that’s great. But all the stuff we don’t know about last year is what’s going to make the most difference for the Eagles this season. 

Taylor has been with the Eagles since 2013, when Chip Kelly brought him to town. And then Doug Pederson was smart enough (and without ego) to keep Taylor in 2016. The brother of Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor, Press has quickly worked his way up the ladder. 

Last week, Wentz was asked if the team wanted his opinion before promoting Taylor. 

“I think it was pretty much known how we felt about Press beforehand,” Wentz said. “We’ve seen Press behind the scenes the last couple years and how hard he works. A lot of guys have a ton of respect for him as a person and as a coach. I know that’s where I sit. So far, it’s been great. He understands the game extremely well. We’re very like-minded, both on and off the field. The relationship I have with him personally and the relationship he has with all the quarterbacks has been tremendous so far.”

The relationship between Taylor and the QBs is so important. Relationships for this entire coaching staff are so important. Really, that’s what has made Pederson so special. He has that “emotional intelligence” and understands how to deal with his players. 

Taylor seems to have that too. And really, that’s why the Eagles’ QB room won’t miss a beat. 

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Predicting Eagles’ 53-man roster after spring practices

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Predicting Eagles’ 53-man roster after spring practices

The Eagles are now in summer break mode until training camp in late July, when training camp starts. 

That’s obviously when the real practices begin, but we have seen them for several OTAs and then the mandatory minicamp, so we at least have something to work off of. 

It’s too early, but here’s my first crack at the Eagles’ 53-man roster: 

QB (3): Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld
This is easy … for now. There’s always the possibility Foles gets traded during training camp. Remember, this happened a couple years ago when Sam Bradford was shipped to Minnesota after the Teddy Bridgewater trade. But for now, we’ll keep all three of these guys on the list. 

RB (4): Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, Matt Jones
The Eagles kept five out of the gate last summer. That included Donnel Pumphrey, who landed on IR shortly after. I have Pump and Wendell Smallwood both missing the cut in favor of Jones. The Eagles signed Jones this offseason and head coach Doug Pederson talked like the veteran is really in their plans. In order to get on the field, he’ll need to cut down on his fumbles, but he’s on the squad for now. 

TE (3): Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers 
Billy Brown didn’t have a great spring, so we can’t give him the nod over Rodgers, who didn’t do anything to lose his spot. Josh Perkins had a decent camp, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll make the team. Rodgers for now, but Brown could sneak in with a great training camp. 

WR (6): Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Markus Wheaton, Shelton Gibson 
Greg Ward and Rashard Davis had good springs, but it’s hard to see either of them beating out these guys and that’s with the Eagles keeping six. I have them with six because the top four are locks, Gibson stuck last year and has improved and Wheaton is coming off an impressive spring. He’s the last guy in. 

OL: (9) Jason Peters, Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Chance Warmack, Matt Pryor, Isaac Seumalo
The five starters and Vaitai are no-brainers. I then kept Warmack as a backup guard, Pryor as a backup tackle and Seumalo as a backup everything. Seumalo has struggled early in his career, but that versatility is enough to keep him on the roster. No Jordan Mailata. It’s possible the Aussie makes the team, but there’s no way he can play this year. If he makes the team, it’s just because the Eagles don’t want to chance him going elsewhere. 

DE (6): Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Michael Bennett, Chris Long, Josh Sweat, Steven Means
Really, the top five here are pretty easy. The question is if they keep a sixth, which would be a pretty high number of ends. But it’s just good to have Means around. He’s a great practice player who brings a ton of energy and is also versatile enough to move inside on certain downs. He’s worth keeping in the building. 

DT (4): Fletcher Cox, Haloti Ngata, Destiny Vaeao, Elijah Qualls 
We’re light on defensive tackles, but Bennett and Graham can slide inside sometimes, so we don’t need as many. Until I see Tim Jernigan on the practice field, I’m going to assume that he’ll start the season on the NFI. That keeps a spot open for Qualls. Keep an eye on Aziz Shittu too. He is healthy after a knee injury last year and had a great spring. 

LB (5): Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, Corey Nelson, Nate Gerry, Kamu Grugier-Hill 
I left Joe Walker off this list for now, but I think he still has a shot to make the team; he’s just had trouble staying healthy in his short NFL career. Either Nelson, Gerry or Grugier-Hill will win the WILL job left by Mychal Kendricks. The Eagles also have veteran LaRoy Reynolds, but he wasn’t able to practice all spring. We’ll see what he can do in training camp. 

CB (6): Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, De’Vante Bausby
This time last year, we were talking about cornerback as a positional weakness for the Birds. A lot has changed. Darby and Mills will start and I still think Sidney Jones is going to win the nickel job. And then the team still has Bausby, who has come on strong, Douglas, who is a great guy off the bench and a rookie draft pick in Maddox. Maddox might not make the team on merit, but they drafted him and can’t afford to lose him. D.J. Killings is off the roster for now. 

S (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Chris Maragos, Corey Graham
Tre Sullivan is left off this list, which is hard to do based on what the team thinks of him and based on how he looked this spring. But I still can’t see the team being comfortable enough to really give him playing time. I also haven’t seen enough from undrafted Jeremy Reaves. Graham is on the street right now, but he reportedly wants to play and the Eagles still seem interested and have the cap space to get it done. That makes too much sense to me; I think he’ll be back. And as long as Maragos is healthy, I think he’s still a valuable special teamer. 

Specialists (3): Jake Elliott, Rick Lovato, Cameron Johnston
Easy for now. They’re the only ones on the roster. 

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