Eagles

How can the Eagles slow down Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins?

How can the Eagles slow down Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins?

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz met with reporters on Tuesday for his weekly press conference. 

Here are my three big takeaways: 

Praise him like you should 
Avonte Maddox returned to the Eagles’ lineup on Sunday in LA after missing the previous three games and the Eagles started him at his third different position this season. That’s pretty incredible. 

After the game, Fletcher Cox praised Maddox after the game, saying the rookie is small but has the heart of a giant. On Tuesday, it was Schwartz’s turn to praise the talented and versatile rookie defensive back. 

“I don't know if we win that game without Avonte, though,” Schwartz said. “Not just making the interception but played really good in the pass game. That tackle he made in the two-minute drive at the end, that's a big-time play — the plays that you'll see from him, if you're watching highlights of the game or the last play of the game, his interception, but that tackle had every bit as much to do with us winning that game and it's really encouraging to see.”

When asked what Maddox’s best position is, Schwartz joked linebacker and then joked that Maddox could probably use his natural leverage to rush the passer. 

Schwartz is absolutely right to praise Maddox and I’m not sure where his best position is either. His body type (5-foot-9) makes me think he’s a nickel corner, but he’s already shown me he can play outside and at safety. The good news for the Eagles is that next year they can figure out where to play everyone else, then plug him in. 

Stopping Nuk 
The Eagles have faced plenty of good receivers this season, but there’s an argument to be made that DeAndre Hopkins might be the best receiver in the league. He has 94 catches for 1,321 yards and 11 touchdowns, but the most impressive thing about Nuk is his penchant for spectacular catches. Schwartz said the biggest thing that stands out about Hopkins is that ability to come down with contested catches. 

“He has some rebounder-type skills in him,” Schwartz said. “Charles Barkley would lead the NBA in rebounds when he’s 6-3. Those guys that just have a knack for high point and a knack for knowing — but I think that sort of stands out the most.”

I used to cover the Texans when Hopkins was just entering the league and he has the best hands of any player I have ever covered. The dude just catches everything. It’s like his hands are made out of Velcro. 

So what’s the coaching point against a guy like that? 

“Be strong on defense,” Schwartz said, kind of shrugging. “It's like when I used to have Calvin Johnson, what do you tell the guy, get taller? Hey, jump higher.”
 
More from the blitz 
The Eagles blitzed a little more on Sunday than they have in recent weeks. But I do like that Schwartz is able to joke about how infrequently he uses the blitz. 

“We blitz more than a couple of those games where we blitzed zero or one — I don't think seven really makes the radar as far as blitzing a lot.”

He mentioned that the front four did a good job of getting to the passer on Sunday, which allowed them to be selective with the blitz. He said it helped them blitz “on our terms” and not out of necessity. That’s a good way to look at it.

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Eagles still following Andy Reid's philosophy on offensive linemen

Eagles still following Andy Reid's philosophy on offensive linemen

The day Andy Reid was introduced as the Eagles’ new head coach — Jan. 11, 1999 — he made it clear that building a strong offensive line was going to be one of his biggest priorities.

Maybe the biggest.

Who’s going to play quarterback? He answered by saying the important thing is that he'd be protected.

That’s how Andy Reid thinks. He played offensive line at BYU, coached offensive line in college and the NFL, always had an affinity for offensive linemen. Still does.

“The offensive linemen are the smartest guys on any football team,” Big Red said the day he was hired here, more than 20 years ago. “I’ve got to look out for my guys.”

The Eagles had allowed 56 sacks in 1998, 4th-most in the NFL, and over the previous five years they had allowed the second-most in the NFL – 253. 

From 1982, when sacks became an official stat, until 1998, the year before Reid arrived, the Eagles allowed a staggering 935 sacks — 93 more than any other NFL team.

When Reid arrived, the Eagles had gone 20 years without a decent offensive line and hadn’t had a lineman make a Pro Bowl since Jerry Sisemore in 1981.

Names like Antone Davis, Ron Solt, Reggie Singletary, Mike Zandofsky, Bruce Collie, Ben Tamburello and Matt Darwin became punchlines around here.

And — not coincidentally — the Eagles hadn't been very good, either. They won just two wild-card games in the 20 years before Reid took over.

When did the Eagles start winning? When they finally had decent offensive lines.

When we look back at Reid’s legacy in Philadelphia, the most important thing he did was introduce a new emphasis on building around the two lines, an emphasis that continues more than two decades after he first arrived here. 

The Eagles have always had great defensive lines, but developing a quality o-line was critical for Reid and Tom Modrak, who built those early playoff teams under Reid.

Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson both learned under Big Red and share his philosophy and have continued to make the o-line a priority.

The last 20 years, the Eagles have the No. 5 offense in the NFL and they’ve had an incredible 10 offensive linemen go to a total of 26 Pro Bowls, most in the NFL.

In the last 20 years, Eagles offensive linemen have been picked to more Pro Bowl teams than in the previous 54 years combined in which there was a Pro Bowl or NFL all-star game.

Who’s the left tackle on the all-time Eagles team? Jason Peters.

Who’s the center? Jason Kelce.

Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks are on their way there.

There are seven offensive linemen in franchise history who've made at least three Pro Bowls and all but Hall of Famers Jim Ringo and Bob Brown played for either Andy Reid or Doug Pederson. Roseman had his hand in acquiring four of them.

The Eagles have the 5th-best record in the NFL since 2000. Only the Colts and Packers have reached the playoffs more. 

They’ve been one of the most successful franchise in the league for two decades, and they’ve won football games a lot of different ways, but the hallmark of this franchise since the day Reid first set foot in Philadelphia has been strong offensive lines.

A lot of this has to do with Juan Castillo and Jeff Stoutland, who've coached the Eagles' offensive line for all but two of the last 23 years. They’re two of the best in the business. 

But ultimately it’s come down to talent. 

And a franchise that’s been hit or miss at a lot of other positions has been able to consistently build elite offensive lines during this entire stretch, despite a couple notable misfires.

If you’re looking for one thing that ties together all the good Eagles teams of the last generation it’s gifted offensive linemen.

Thomas. Peters. Kelce. Brooks. Johnson. Runyan.

Now, Peters is gone, Kelce is 32, Johnson and Brooks are 30. 

Isaac Seumalo looks solid and we’ll see about Andre Dillard.

It’s up to Roseman to keep the pipeline going, a pipeline that’s helped guide the Eagles to two decades of success and a Super Bowl championship. A pipeline started 20 years ago by Andy Reid.

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The top 10 most spectacular plays of Carson Wentz’s career

The top 10 most spectacular plays of Carson Wentz’s career

Carson Wentz makes “wow” plays. 

Sure, he’s struggled to stay on the field and, yeah, he needs to be more consistent before we name him as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. But there’s no questioning the flashes of pure brilliance we’ve seen from him. 

In his first four seasons in the NFL, Wentz has made so many of those “wow” plays. The Eagles’ 27-year-old franchise quarterback has a rare blend of size, athleticism and strength that allows him to pull off spectacular moments. 

Here’s how I’d rank the top 10 spectacular plays of his career so far: 

10. The Magician 

Date: Oct. 23, 2017
Opponent: vs. Washington 

During what should have been Wentz’s MVP season, this was the play where I realized we might be watching something special. It was as impressive from the press box that day as it was on the TV broadcast. 

At the time of this play, the Eagles had a touchdown lead over the Redskins in the 4th quarter and they were facing a 3rd-and-8. Washington brought a blitz and it looked like they were going to sack Wentz for a big loss and force a punt with a chance to get back in the game. Nope. Somehow, he escaped and led the Eagles on a touchdown drive to put the game out of reach. 

9. You missed me

Date: Dec. 22, 2016
Opponent: vs. Giants 

In his rookie season, Wentz was actually out of this game with an injury for a few plays on the previous series and Chase Daniel came in the game. But on his third play back in the game, Wentz somehow changed direction, avoided a sack and sprinted for a first down. Eventually, the Eagles added a field goal on this drive to extend their lead in the eventual win. 

8. Coaches throw up their hands

Date: Dec. 29, 2019 
Opponent: at Giants 

This play happened in the regular season finale of the 2019 season. The Eagles needed a win against the Giants and the score was tied 3-3 late in the 2nd quarter when Wentz made a play that no coach in their right mind would ever advise. Wentz rolled right and threw all the way across the field to hit Josh Perkins in stride for a touchdown. Incredible arm strength and confidence to even attempt this throw. 

7. Find the new guy 

Date: Dec. 3, 2018 
Opponent: vs. Washington 

In Golden Tate’s fourth outing with the Eagles, he had his best game in an Eagles uniform. This play was the first score in a game the Eagles eventually won 28-13. Sure, Wentz’s arm on this play was strong enough to get the ball to Tate through the outstretched arms of a defender, but Wentz’s field awareness on this play is what made it special. 

Wentz was able to navigate the pocket, stepping up, setting up a block from Lane Johnson and then had the awareness to not cross the line of scrimmage before delivering the touchdown throw. 

6. Stand in and deliver

Date: Oct. 23, 2017
Opponent: vs. Washington 

This is the second time the Monday Night Football game against the Redskins shows up on this list. But I couldn’t leave this one out. The Eagles were up a touchdown in the 3rd quarter when Wentz ducked pressure and, while getting hit, threw a perfect touch pass to Corey Clement in the end zone. 

5. No, no, no, YES!!

Date: Oct. 11, 2018 
Opponent: vs. Giants 

This one sort of looks like the play Wentz made against the Giants in the 2019 regular season finale but this one had an even higher degree of difficulty. Unlike No. 8 on this list, this play wasn’t a designed rollout. It happened when the play broke down and Wentz escaped the pocket. His entire momentum was going toward the right boundary when he threw across his body, through traffic to Alshon Jeffery in the end zone for a touchdown. 

4. On a rope 

Date: Oct. 28, 2018
Opponent: at Jaguars 

This play happened in Wembley Stadium, so another country got a chance to see one of these in person. The score was still scoreless in the 1st quarter when Wentz stepped up in the pocket and it looked like he’s going to take off running. But before he can, and while being taken down, he threw and absolute rocket through several Jaguars defenders to a streaking Jordan Matthews for a pickup of 31 yards. 

The arm strength here while being taken down is incredible. 

3. The Donovan 

Date: Sept. 10, 2017
Opponent: at Washington 

This was the opening game of the Super Bowl season and the Eagles got off to a fast start with this 1st-quarter touchdown that came on their first drive of the afternoon at FedEx Field. The Eagles were facing a 3rd-and-12 before Wentz was able to buy a ton of time and deliver a 58-yard touchdown throw to Nelson Agholor, who then did the rest. 

Wentz bought around 9-10 seconds on this play and it sort of reminded me of a mini version of that Donovan McNabb scramble against the Cowboys in 2004. On this play, Wentz scrambled but then didn’t get a chance to set his feet before heaving the ball deep to Agholor. 

2. The Seattle Sling

Date: Dec. 3, 2017
Opponent: at Seattle 

This one will get overlooked by many people because the Eagles suffered their worst loss of the 2017 season in Seattle on Sunday Night Football. And by the time this play happened, the score was already 17-3 to start the 4th quarter. But Wentz’s ability to deliver this football was astounding. 

Wentz was getting tackled while rolling and still threw the ball 45 yards in the air, over a defender, to Agholor for a big gain. There aren’t many players on the planet capable of doing that. 

1. The rocket to Miles 

Date: Dec. 15, 2019
Opponent: at Washington

I’m a little embarrassed about how many times I watched this play last season. In the Eagles’ 37-27 win over the Redskins, Wentz hit Miles Sanders for this 15-yard touchdown. Once the play breaks down, Wentz fakes rolling to his left and goes right, to his strong side. He scans the field and realizes his best play is to threat the needle through two defenders to the rookie in the very back of the end zone. 

While Sanders makes a great grab, the throw is a thing of beauty. The other angle shows just how spectacular it really is. 

Honorable mentions: There were three notable plays I left on the cutting room floor.  

• Wentz threw an absolute bomb to Mack Hollins on Oct. 23, 2017 on Monday Night Football against the Redskins. He had time to plant his back foot but launched the ball 60 yards in the air to Hollins in stride for a touchdown. 

• In his third-career game, against the Steelers on Sept. 25, 2016, Wentz maneuvered around in the pocket and stepped up to hit Darren Sproles wheeling out of the backfield for a 73-yard touchdown pass. Sproles made some people miss on the back end. 

• In the 2019 season, Wentz stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure and as he was being tackled, threw a laser to Hollins for a first down against the Falcons on Sept. 15, 2019. 

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