Eagles

Jordan Howard on Bills: 'They really didn't want to tackle us'

Jordan Howard on Bills: 'They really didn't want to tackle us'

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The more they did it, the better it worked.

So they just kept doing it.

The Eagles haven’t been a great running team this year. At times pretty good. Other times pretty bad.

“Splotchy,” is how Lane Johnson put it. “There’ve been times where we’re hitting it and times we haven’t.”

On Sunday, on a cold, windy, blustery day that made passing the ball difficult, Doug Pederson leaned heavily on the running game, and the line and the backs responded in a huge way.

The Eagles ran early and often in their 31-13 win at New Era Stadium, pounding the Bills for 218 yards, the most ever under Pederson and their most since they had 256 yards against the Cowboys back in 2014.

Whenever we kind of start half-assed we can’t kind of do what we want on offense,” Johnson said. “Those are situations you don’t want to be in. … We knew we wanted to run it today. Miles started it all with that big gash and momentum got going. Conditions weren’t ideal for throwing it, but we stuck to it and we went gash for gash. Better day than we had in a long time.

In the second half, the Eagles ran 26 times and threw seven times and controlled the clock for 18 1/2 minutes.

That's unheard of around here.

“We were able to wear the defense down,” Jordan Howard said. “You could tell at the end of the game they really didn’t want to tackle us.”

Howard ran 23 times for 96 yards, Miles Sanders added a 65-yard TD and 74 rushing yards on just three carries before leaving with a shoulder injury that he said isn’t serious, and Carson Wentz scrambled for 35 yards, his most since a game against the Redskins two years ago.

This was only the second game this year the Eagles have run for 130 yards. The other one was the win in Green Bay.

Similar games. Tough opponent. Road game. And the running game was there in a big way.

Kept grinding, man,” Sanders said. “We come to work every day and get better. Be patient with it. It’s a long season so eventually, it’s going to start working for us. We leaned on the running game today. We had high winds and tough weather so we knew it was going to be a run-the-ball type of game.

So often this year, the Eagles have fallen behind early, and Pederson has had to scrap his gameplan.

That didn't happen Sunday, and it allowed Pederson and the offense to really dictate to the Bills instead of the other way around.

“We feel like we can do that vs. anybody,” Brandon Brooks said. “The key was that guys executed across the board. we weren’t shooting ourselves in the foot, and we started off a little bit faster than we usually do.”

The Bills came in 5-1 and were allowing just 91 rushing yards per game.

The Eagles ran OK early — 15-for-62 before halftime. In the second half, they ran 26 times for 156 yards.

It all came together on a massive drive to open the fourth quarter. With the Eagles up 24-13, they drove 83 yards in 14 plays, with 11 runs and just three passes.

“It’s great because we knew we had them at that point,” Howard said. “They couldn’t get us off the field.”

Wentz had a couple of third-down scramble conversions on that drive, and Howard capped it with his seventh touchdown in eight games.

That’s the type of drive we want to have and seal the deal,” Wentz said. “The big guys up front that we have, that’s one of their biggest strengths, establishing the line of scrimmage. And I think everything else that we do from the play actions, from the bootlegs, the nakeds, all of that stems from those guys controlling the line of scrimmage. So to be able to come in here and control it the way we did was huge for us.

It’s been a while since the Eagles ran the ball like this.

Last time they ran for this many yards their tailback was LeSean McCoy.

You could just see yard by yard, chunk by chunk,” Johnson said. “That’s more demoralizing than a big play because they know it’s coming and they still can’t stop it.

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Eagles waive DT Bruce Hector and DB Prince Smith

Eagles waive DT Bruce Hector and DB Prince Smith

The Eagles on Friday released two players, including a defensive tackle who played in 11 games over the last two years and a Philadelphia native trying to make the team as an undrafted rookie.

The moves, along with the additions of Vinny Curry and Marcus Green, leave the roster right at the 80-man training camp limit.

The team released defensive tackle Bruce Hector and cornerback Prince Smith, an undrafted rookie who played at New Hampshire.

Hector originally made the Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent out of South Florida in 2018. He bounced up and down between the active roster and the practice squad three times and played in eight games, with 82 defensive snaps and 19 more on special teams. 

Hector, 25, was with the team in last year’s preseason but was traded on Aug. 22 to the Cards in exchange for safety Rudy Ford. But when the Cards released him nine days later, he rejoined the Eagles on Sept. 1 on the practice squad. 

He had two more stints on the practice squad and two on the active roster last year, playing 53 defensive snaps and 20 special teams snaps in three games. He was active for the Seattle playoff game and got five defensive snaps and seven on special teams.

After cutting ties with Hector, the Eagles have six defensive tackles remaining on the roster - Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway and Anthony Rush, who were all with the team last year, Steelers free agent Javon Hargrave and undrafted rookie Raequan Williams.

Smith grew up in Philadelphia and played high school football at Imhotep Institute Charter in West Oak Lane. He signed with the Eagles on April 30, just after the draft.

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How does Zach Ertz rank himself compared to Kittle and Kelce?

How does Zach Ertz rank himself compared to Kittle and Kelce?

His Madden rating dropped. His ranking among the top 100 NFL players plunged. He didn’t make all-pro. He caught 28 fewer passes than a year before.
 
Zach Ertz, who has more catches than any tight end in NFL history after seven seasons, is largely seen as No. 3 in the league these days behind George Kittle and Travis Kelce. 
 
Ertz laughs about all of it, and if there’s a sense he’s declining as a player, he sure doesn’t share it. Neither do the numbers.
 
“I do consider myself in that upper echelon of guys, in that same tier with all those guys,” he said on a Zoom call Friday. “I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think a lot of guys in this building feel the same way about me. I’m never in the business of comparing people. I think all three of us are at the top of our games, and I think we’re all perfect in the offense that we play in, honestly. I think we all have unique skill sets. We’re all very different, with some similarities. But overall I don’t think my game is any less than any of their games.”
 
Kelce is an incredible down-field threat. Kittle is a remarkable blocker. But Ertz just keeps putting together Pro Bowl season after Pro Bowl season.
 
And in the two years that Kelce, Ertz and Kittle have all been regular starting tight ends, Ertz has more catches than either of them.
 
You can argue that Kittle or Kelce is the best tight end in football, but you can’t argue with Ertz’s seven-year body of work.

It's unprecedented.
 
It includes the biggest 4th-down conversion in Super Bowl history, a 4th-quarter game-winning catch in the Super Bowl, an NFL-record 116 catches in 2018. 
 
He’s one of only four tight ends with six straight 700-yard seasons and one of only three with five straight 70-catch seasons.
 
He’s not even 30 yet, but he’s already 13th in NFL history among tight ends with 525 catches.
 
Just 68 catches out of 8th.
 
“The goal when I was a rookie was to (be) in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “I sat with my trainer growing up training for the combine and he said, ‘What are your goals when you get into the NFL?’ And I said, ‘I want to be a 1st-round draft pick and I want to go to the Hall of Fame.’ Unfortunately, I was not a 1st-round draft pick - three picks later - but I came to the best situation for me here in Philly. But the Hall of Fame goal is always something that I’ve strived for.”
 
Every eligible tight end that’s caught 600 passes is in the Hall of Fame. 
 
Ertz is 75 short, and he’s 29.
 
Four more seasons averaging 75 catches puts him behind only Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez. Pending what Kelce does.
 
“You talk about accomplishments, you talk about progress, it’s never something in my opinion you look at as you’re playing,” Ertz said. “It’s always the next season. How can you become a better football  player, how can I become a better teammate? Even when we won the Super Bowl, that next offseason my mentality didn’t change and I broke the record for catches. My mentality didn’t change. It’s always, ‘How can I be better this year than I was last year?’"
 
“I feel the best I ever have going into Year 8. I don’t think I’m slowing down by any means. Doug and my tight ends coach (Jason Peelle) said last year was my best year as a pro that they’ve seen. So overall I’m excited with where I’m at. The end goal will never change. I’m just fortunate and blessed to even have my name in those conversations this early in my career.”
 
What about his contract?
 
Ertz has two years left at $6.6 million this year and $8.25 million next year. What if the Eagles get into cap trouble? What if Dallas Goedert continues to establish himself as an NFL top-10 tight end? What if Kittle’s forthcoming deal redefines tight end salaries?
 
Who knows what the future holds, but Ertz is clear about one thing.
 
“From the moment I got here as a rookie … my goal was to be like Kobe Bryant or Jason Witten, play for one organization their entire careers,” he said. “I’ve made that known. I’ll let my agent and Howie (Roseman) handle the rest, but I know for sure I want to be here the rest of my career.”

Is he Kittle? Nope.

Is he Kelce? Nah.

But he's Zach Ertz, and that should be good enough for every Eagles fan.

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