'I have to make the play' — JJ Arcega-Whiteside discusses dropped 4th-down pass

'I have to make the play' — JJ Arcega-Whiteside discusses dropped 4th-down pass

When the Eagles selected JJ Arcega-Whiteside in the second round of the NFL draft, the attribute that stood out was his penchant for making contested catches.

But when it came time to do exactly that on Sunday, the ball slipped through Arcega-Whiteside’s fingers — along with the game.

“It’s the moment you ask for and dream about,” Arcega-Whiteside. “I’ve gotta make that play.”

Arcega-Whiteside is hardly to blame for the Eagles’ 27-24 Week 3 loss to the Lions at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday (see observations). He was far from the only receiver to drop a pass, nor did he commit a costly penalty or turnover like several of his offensive teammates.

Still, it was Arcega-Whiteside who found himself in one-on-one coverage on 4th-and-15 with 45 seconds to play, and it was Arcega-Whiteside who went airborne over Lions defensive back Rashaan Melvin for about as clean a look at a game-winning Hail Mary as the Eagles could hope.

“There’s no other assessment other than I’ve gotta go get it,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “Tight coverage, I was gonna elevate expecting contact. There really was no contact and the ball just kind of ended up right there.

“I have to make the play.”

Melvin was certainly in the play. At the very least, his hands were in the receiver’s face, and Arcega-Whiteside didn’t have the size advantage he would enjoy over a lot of defensive backs, as both list 6-foot-2.

“I saw 10 other guys doing their job on the football field and I didn’t want to be the 11th one not doing his job,” Melvin said.

Even forgiving a desperation, jump ball scenario in the closing moments, Arcega-Whiteside wasn’t much of a factor the other 59. The rookie was targeted three times total, finishing with one reception for 10 yards.

With Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson both missing the game because of injury, and tight end Dallas Goedert limited as well, the Eagles could’ve used more from the 22-year-old.

“The whole game you’re thinking, ‘Stay locked in, stay focused, you never know when it’s gonna come,’ and for me, it came on the very last play,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “I’m not saying I wasn’t focused or ready for it, but same time, you’ve gotta go out there and beef it up, and I didn’t.”

To his credit, Arcega-Whiteside took ownership of the situation, standing in front of a full media throng at his locker immediately after the game and answering tough questions.

“If you ask me personally if I did enough, I don’t want to hold myself to any standard that’s lower than what I believe I’m capable of doing,” Arcega-Whiteside said. "I’ve got great wide receivers in that meeting room that I want to play like and hold myself to their standards.

“It’s not good enough, but the beauty of it is it always gets better and that’s going to be the mentality for this week.”

Chosen 57th overall, Arcega-Whiteside wasn’t necessarily expected to be thrust into a huge role this early, and he wouldn’t be the first wideout to struggle in that spot.

At the same time, some will argue the ball that came his way in the fourth quarter is a catch any player needs to make, regardless of experience level or knowledge of the offense.

“That’s why we’re here, to make contested catches,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “You gotta go out there and do it.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles

How Eagles' Nate Gerry is moving on from costly blown tackle vs. Patriots

How Eagles' Nate Gerry is moving on from costly blown tackle vs. Patriots

Nate Gerry actually played well Sunday.

Except one play.

That play.

Gerry had a game-high 10 tackles, a tackle for loss, a QB hurry and a sack in the Eagles’ 17-10 loss to the Patriots Sunday.

And a blown tackle.

A really, really, really ugly one.

That whiff was responsible for the game’s pivotal play, Rex Burkhead’s 30-yard catch and run that set up the Patriots’ only touchdown, the game-winner.

Gerry was in perfect position to bring Burkhead down for no gain, maybe a yard, but Burkhead broke free and raced down the left sideline before Avonte Maddox finally brought him down at the Eagles’ 30-yard-line.

Six plays later, Julian Edelman’s TD pass to Phillip Dorsett gave the Patriots their only touchdown.


I tried to use my left hand to wrap him up and I grabbed a lot of his towel and not much of his leg, so I didn’t really have much support to anchor down, and he got out of it,” Gerry said. “I just couldn’t finish the play is all it was. … I should have shot higher instead of trying to shoot low. A lot more thinking in tackling nowadays, I feel like. I’ve just got to play fast. I was a little hesitant.

With Kamu Grugier-Hill missing three games and Nigel Bradham four, Gerry has played a lot this year, and it hasn’t been all bad.

He’s played a career-high 391 defensive snaps and played a career-high 73 on Sunday.

He leads the Eagles with two interceptions and also has two sacks, including one of Tom Brady Sunday.

Gerry is one of only five players in the NFL with two sacks and two interceptions and only the third Eagles linebacker since Jeremiah Trotter in 2001 with two sacks and two INTs in the same season. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks both did in 2013.

But ask anybody who watched Eagles-Patriots about Gerry and they'll only remember one play.

Which is understandable.

It’s a tackle he has to make.

Burkhead, who preceeded Gerry by four years at Nebraska, is 5-10, 215 and not exactly a big-time playmaker. That was only his second career reception of 30 yards or more in seven NFL seasons.

Gerry took the loss particularly hard.

If he simply makes a routine tackle, the Patriots would have had 2nd-and-10 on their own 40-yard-line in a 10-10 game. And who knows.

The 30-yarder was the Patriots’ longest offensive play of the game by eight yards.

It’s hard,” Gerry said. “That drive turned into the only touchdown for them. Obviously, it hurts. You don’t ever want to say one play wins or loses you a game, but sometimes it does come down to that and that may have been one of those times. Obviously, it hurts me deep down to see how many yards I gave up. But I just have to learn from it and move on.

You know watching film with the other linebackers Tuesday wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience.

You have to watch the good and the bad,” he said. “Don’t try to be too hard on yourself sometimes, but at the end of the day it’s hard not to be.

At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Gerry really should be a situational linebacker playing primarily in clear passing situations. He’s had to play too many snaps out of necessity.

He’s 7th on the defense is snaps but 4th in tackles. But he knows it’s the one tackle he didn’t make that everybody will remember.

Until he gives them a reason not to.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles

Eagles film review: A better idea of how Eagles are using Genard Avery

USA Today Images

Eagles film review: A better idea of how Eagles are using Genard Avery

Genard Avery played 10 defensive snaps for the Eagles on Sunday against the Patriots, which might not sound like a lot. 

But coming into the Patriots game, he had played just eight snaps all season. 

The Eagles traded a fourth-round pick to Cleveland for Avery on Oct. 28 and now three weeks and two games into his time in Philly, we’re getting a better sense of how the Eagles plan on using him. 

He's a bit of a hybrid player, and when we got him, we needed to have a specific plan for the way we were going to use him,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. 

“First week we used him just a little bit, used him a little bit more as a defensive end in this last game, but we've used him as a hybrid linebacker in there, also. He's done a nice job working really hard to make the most of his opportunities when he's been out there.

Avery was thought to be a third-down pass rusher for the Eagles, but that’s what’s interesting about his snaps on Sunday. Four of them were on third down, but three came on first downs and three came on second downs. 

And while most of his snaps came as a stand-up edge rusher, the Eagles also used him as a hybrid/blitzing linebacker as Schwartz alluded to. 

Let’s take a closer look: 


This play came on a 3rd-and-10 in the second quarter. Avery (No. 58) is lined up on the left side of the defensive line as a stand-up rusher in the uneven front. He loops around Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox to bring pressure up the gut. Center Ted Karras doubles Cox off the snap and since Avery shoots through the gap like a bullet, Karras barely slows him down. 

The Patriots ended up converting here thanks to a DPI, but Avery forced Tom Brady into an early throw off his back foot. 

If you think that play looked familiar, you’re right. It looked a lot like this play from the Bears game two weeks ago:


This time, Avery was lined on the right side of the Eagles’ uneven defensive front. But again, he loops around two linemen to come up the gut. The center shades toward Cox here again, which the Eagles can use either way because it’s still going to leave space for Avery to come through an A gap. 

It’s his quickness that makes Avery so impressive. It’s hard for a rusher to loop that far and still get to the quarterback that quickly. 

Back to the Patriots game, this play came on a 2nd-and-3 and Avery is lined up as a stand-up edge on the left side of the line. The Patriots chip block him with a tight end and then Brady dumps it off to that same tight end. But it looks like Avery, while speed rushing, was able to get a fingertip on the ball and slightly change its trajectory. 

And then there are the plays where Avery is being used as a hybrid linebacker. Avery doesn’t spend any time in the linebackers room, so he’s strictly acting like a linebacker in these situations -- at least for now. 

You’ll notice that on this play, Avery is a stand-up interior rusher. He’ll get blocked by the left guard, but it looks like there will be future opportunities for stunts from this type of formation. On the other side, we see Graham take the same loop Avery took earlier in the game. Remember, Avery is kind of built like a slightly smaller scale Graham. 

On this last play, Avery looks like a ‘backer but blitzes (slightly delayed) off the snap along with Gerry, who draws the center. Good pickup by the tight end on this play to stop Avery on his rush. 


It was a little curious when the Eagles shipped a fourth-round draft pick to the Browns for a guy we all understood would be a situational pass rusher, especially because they’ve used fourth-round picks in each of the last two years on defensive ends Josh Sweat and Shareef Miller. 

But Avery had a 4 1/2-sack rookie season with the Browns and is a pretty good player with two years on his rookie contract after this season. The scheme change is why he couldn't get on the field in Cleveland. Now, it’s really up to Schwartz to figure out how to use him, something the defensive coordinator said he doesn’t find stressful. 

“Every game is a little bit different, every game plan is a little bit different,” Schwartz said. “But guys that can run, guys that play with a high level of intensity and enthusiasm and guys that are smart and prepare well and guys that can either cover or rush the passer, man, we can find spots for all these guys.”

We’re starting to see how Avery fits.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles