With 1st sack out of the way, Josh Sweat ready for more

With 1st sack out of the way, Josh Sweat ready for more

Josh Sweat didn’t have a celebration planned and it showed. 

After the Eagles’ second-year defensive end ran through Jets QB Luke Falk last week for his first-career NFL sack, he extended his arms and ran down the field with his 84-inch wingspan like a real jet. Then he pumped his fists. Then he caught teammates who jumped into him with hugs. 

The whole thing was all just a little disjointed. 

Really, though, it was a release of pure emotion after Sweat picked up his first NFL sack, one that had been eluding him for too long. 

“For a while, I thought I was cursed, honestly,” Sweat said this week. “Because I was hitting [quarterbacks], but they were just getting rid of it. I felt like I should have had that a couple weeks ago. 

“But I was obviously excited. I didn’t even know how to celebrate.”

Sweat might want to practice those celebrations. Because he’s hoping the sacks start rolling in now. 

With the absences of Malik Jackson and Tim Jernigan from the middle of the Eagles’ defensive line, Jim Schwartz has been using Brandon Graham more frequently inside on third downs. That means extended reps for Sweat. Even though he didn’t pick up his first sack until Sunday, he’s been playing well. 

A fourth-round pick out of Florida State last season, Sweat played just 68 defensive snaps snaps in nine games during his rookie year. Through five games this season, Sweat has played 95 defensive snaps and has played more than Vinny Curry in three of five games.  

Now that Sweat has his first sack out of the way, Graham thinks there will be more to follow. 

“Once you get one, man, that’s when the hunger starts,” Graham said. “You want some more and you want some more and you want to figure out how can I get it? With [Sweat] having that mindset and him wanting to keep having that same feeling of sacking the quarterback, he knows he has to keep working on his technique and stay technically sound. When his name is called, win his 1-on-1.” 

On Sunday, Sweat thought he was going to get a sack earlier in the game, but Falk got rid of the football on a play Sweat thought should have been grounding. So Sweat didn’t pick up his sack until the fourth quarter. 

“I saw everyone getting sacks and I was like, ‘I can’t be the only one not getting one,’” Sweat said. “I said, double team or not, I set him up to make it look like I was going upfield and just came right underneath him. I just ran. I literally ran to the other side to go get him. I was not going to be denied.” 

Back in August, when I asked a bunch of Eagles veterans which player they most wanted to see in game action, Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks said Sweat’s name without hesitation. See, Sweat came to training camp about 20 pounds heavier than he was last season, but hadn’t lost his quickness. 

A bunch of his teammates, especially the guys who had to block him this summer, still expect big things from Sweat. And at 6-5, 265 and with his length, Sweat certainly looks the part even more now with the added weight than he did coming out of college. 

There was palpable buzz around Sweat this spring and summer. Even though his role is still limited, the Eagles would certainly love to get consistent production from Sweat the rest of this season. 

“To a lot of people, he’s long and lanky,” offensive lineman Matt Pryor said. “But he’s strong as s---, too.”

Pryor said the area where Sweat has improved most is against the run. And Schwartz said he thought Sweat’s best play against the Jets was one where he sprinted from the other side of the formation to tackle Le’Veon Bell. 

Stopping the run is important. But sacks are game-changing plays. Sweat is hoping they’ll come in bunches. 

“I think they’re about to start rolling in now,” Sweat said. “They’re about to start rolling in.”

He better work on his celebrations then. 

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Eagles need to find out exactly what they have in JJ Arcega-Whiteside

Eagles need to find out exactly what they have in JJ Arcega-Whiteside

For most teams, it wouldn’t have been a huge deal. Guy makes a catch. Big whoop.

For this team? It was monumental.

For any wide receiver on the post-DeSean Jackson 2019 Eagles to record a 29-yard reception, that’s a rarity.

For a rookie who we’re all waiting to see something positive from, it was virtually historic.

Rookie second-round pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who had just two catches for 14 yards to show for his first nine NFL games, had a big 29-yarder in the fourth quarter of the Eagles-Patriots game Sunday at the Linc.

To put that into context, it was the fourth-longest reception by an Eagles wide receiver in the post-Jackson Era (since Week 2).

“The game, everything kind of slowed down, definitely, knowing the plays and getting a little more experience here and there,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “But every day you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. I definitely did some good things, but I’m sure there’s some mistakes in there, too.”

Arcega-Whiteside has been one of the biggest mysteries on the team this year.

Why was a rookie who had such a promising preseason unable to get on the field while the rest of the Eagles’ wide receivers sputtered and struggled?

He played 128 snaps against the Falcons and Lions, when Alshon Jeffery was hurt, then got just 43 snaps — with no catches — over the next six weeks.

With Jeffery sidelined again, Arcega-Whiteside got 19 snaps Sunday, his most since Week 3.

He had a nine-yard catch in the first quarter that was wiped out by a penalty, then early in the fourth quarter made a nice grab for 29 yards on a 1st-and-10 from the Eagles’ 6-yard-line, getting the Eagles out of the soup.

Believe it or not, that was the 4th-longest catch this year against the Patriots, the longest by a rookie.

That was Arcega-Whiteside's only catch in the Eagles' 17-10 loss, but it was definitely an encouraging step.

The Eagles are desperate for anything from their wide receivers. Any positive sign is huge.

Just with that one 29-yard catch, Arcega-Whiteside had more yards than Nelson Agholor in five of Agholor's last seven games and more catches than Mack Hollins has in his last six games.

Small steps.

“There were some times where I got open, there were some times I didn’t get open and I’ve got to look at it and learn from it and see how I can get better,” he said. “No matter how big or small the play is you’ve just got to build off each play and learn from the ones that don’t go your way, because the second you get complacent, bad things happen.”

Arcega-Whiteside’s catch was the longest by an Eagles rookie wide receiver since Hollins had a 64-yarder against the Redskins in 2017.

“Making plays feels good,” he said. “They feel better when you win, but every day just stack it, build off of this and keep it going. Just build off every success, learn from every failure and get better.”

You would think Arcega-Whitside has earned some more playing time. How do you not play this kid?

He’s got the size, he’s got the hands, he's got the ball control, and he’s getting more and more comfortable in the offense.

The Eagles need to find out exactly what they have in Arcega-Whiteside. Because there's a decent chance it's more than we're seeing from anybody else.

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Hey Eagles fans, the sky isn't falling

Hey Eagles fans, the sky isn't falling

The sky isn’t falling. 

I know, I know, that’s exactly what you want to hear less than 48 hours after a frustrating 17-10 loss to the New England Patriots. It’s the truth, though. 

Don’t get me wrong. The Eagles were up 10-0 at home on Sunday and they should have won that game. It was right there for them and they came up short. And because of common opponents between the Eagles and Cowboys, the Patriots game was actually more important than the one upcoming against the Seahawks.  

There were certainly things in that 17-10 loss that were concerning, mostly on the offensive side of the ball. 

But they were things we already knew coming into Sunday; the receivers stink, there are no big plays, injuries hurt. We also learned the Eagles’ defense might be legit. 

So, believe it or not, the Eagles still have a good shot at making it into the playoffs. 

Now, we have to remember that the outlook on the entire season has changed quite a bit. Coming into the year, we were talking about the Eagles’ being one of the top teams in the league. That ship sailed a long time ago. The new bar is just trying to make it into the playoffs and Sunday hurt, but it didn’t really hurt that much. 

According to FiveThirtyEight, after beating the Lions on Sunday, the Cowboys have a 58 percent chance to win the division and the Eagles have a 42 percent chance. 

This coming week, the Eagles are home against the Seahawks (8-2), while the Cowboys have to go on the road to face the Patriots (9-1). 

Using FiveThirtyEight’s playoff predictor, here’s how next Sunday’s outcomes will affect each team’s chances to win the division, which is still their clearest way to a playoff spot: 

Eagles and Cowboys lose
Cowboys: 64 percent 
Eagles: 36 percent

Eagles and Cowboys win 
Cowboys: 66 percent
Eagles: 34 percent

Eagles win, Cowboys lose
Eagles: 58 percent
Cowboys: 42 percent

Eagles lose, Cowboys win
Cowboys: 83 percent
Eagles: 17 percent 

But here’s the part where I remind you that after next weekend, the Eagles’ remaining schedule is easier than the Cowboys’ remaining schedule. From Week 13 on, Eagles’ opponents have a winning percentage of .351, while Cowboys’ opponents have a winning percentage of .460. The Cowboys aren’t playing world-beaters, but I like the Eagles’ chances of beating the Giants, Redskins and Dolphins more than the Cowboys’ chances of beating the Bills, Bears and Rams. 

Even if the Eagles lose to the Seahawks, they’d be 5-6 and still likely just one game behind the Cowboys, assuming they lose on the road to the Patriots and are 6-5. If that happens, the Eagles will have made life tough on themselves, but winning out is clearly a possibility. The big game will still be that Week 16 matchup at the Linc against the Cowboys. That might still decide the NFC East. 

A quick reminder of division tiebreakers if it gets to that point: 

1. Head to head 
2. Division record 
3. Common opponents
4. Conference record 

If the Eagles beat the Cowboys in Week 16, they’d be 1-1 against each other. From there, it seems like both teams could be 5-1 in the division. That means it would come down to common opponents, which is where the Eagles took a hit in Week 11. But they still have the Packers and Jets on the Cowboys, who now have the Lions on the Eagles. 

The Eagles’ offense has to find a way to be better and we know that. But we’re now in Week 12, so it’s unlikely they just flip a switch. They’re not going to be explosive, but if Carson Wentz can be more consistent, if they get a little more production from their weapons and if the Eagles’ defense keeps it up, they should be able to keep themselves in the mix. 

Remember, this isn’t what any of us thought we’d be talking about in Week 12. This is the time of year when many thought we’d be talking about the Eagles’ push to lock up the division and potentially earn a top seed in the NFC. 

On a macro level, this team and the way it was put together is a problem. The Eagles were supposed to build a dynasty and they built a slightly above average team that has to try to claw its way into the playoffs. But on a micro level, the Eagles still have a pretty decent chance to do just that … claw into the playoffs. 

So the ceiling might be low, but the sky isn’t falling. 

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