Onus on Doug Pederson, Carson Wentz to balance out Eagles' offense

Onus on Doug Pederson, Carson Wentz to balance out Eagles' offense

PHOENIX — There are going to be a lot of mouths to feed in the Eagles’ offense in 2019.

It’ll be up to Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz to feed them.

After all, the Eagles’ offense seems to be at its best when it stays balanced.

As far as problems go, having a bunch of offensive weapons who catch the ball is a pretty good one to have. But since signing DeSean Jackson, the Eagles do have to find ways to get the ball to five very talented pass-catchers this season, while making sure egos don’t get in the way.

The egos won’t be a problem when things are going well, but if the Eagles’ offense sputters like it did in 2018, it’s a pretty natural reaction for a player who isn’t getting passes thrown his way to think he can help. These are extremely confident professional athletes we’re talking about.

At his annual hour-long media session at the owners meetings in Arizona, I asked Pederson if it puts pressure on him as the play-caller to get everyone involved:

Well, listen, you’ve got one football and a lot of times, defenses dictate where the ball goes. I can sit here and tell you we have a play designed for Alshon (Jeffery) but it ends up going to Nelson Agholor. Or it’s designed for Zach (Ertz) and it ends up going to Dallas (Goedert). It’s hard to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to get X amount of touches, here, here, here, here.’ It just doesn’t work that way. We’re going to scheme and we’re going to plan the way we always have and we teach the quarterbacks the progressions. And Carson gets through his reads and the ball ends up where it ends up.

Without including running backs — because it seems like there is still an addition coming at that position eventually — here’s a look at the Eagles’ top five receiving threats for the upcoming season, along with their stats from last season. The list includes the top four receivers from 2018, plus Jackson. All five will factor heavily into the 2019 offense.

Alshon Jeffery: 65 catches, 843 yards, 6 TDs (13 games)
*DeSean Jackson: 41 catches, 774 yards, 4 TDs (12 games)
Nelson Agholor: 64 catches, 736 yards, 4 TDs
Zach Ertz: 116 catches, 1,163 yards, 8 TDs
Dallas Goedert: 33 catches, 334 yards, 4 TDs

*with Tampa Bay 

If those five players were to duplicate their 2018 stats in 2019, they would combine for 3,850 receiving yards — more than 12 NFL teams had total last season.

There’s more to this issue than just who gets balls thrown their way. Depending on personnel groupings, these guys aren’t going to be on the field together. In 11 personnel, Jeffery, Jackson, Agholor and Ertz will be on the field. In 12 personnel, it’s likely that Jeffery, Jackson, Ertz and Goedert will be on the field together.

So a lot of times this season, the difference between 11 personnel and 12 personnel will be having Agholor or Goedert on the field. The Eagles are paying Agholor $9.4 million this year and they aren’t paying him to sit on the bench. But Goedert is coming off an impressive rookie season, he’s expected to make a jump in Year 2 and the Eagles found a lot of success in their two-tight end grouping last year.

In fact, on Tuesday, Pederson hinted toward adding more wrinkles to their 12 personnel package, which would make sense given the success they had with it in 2018.

Pederson will call the plays, but it certainly seems like it’s going to fall on Wentz to get all of his weapons involved. Remember, there was some grumbling last year that he locked in on Ertz too often.

“I don’t think you have to think of it that way,” Pederson said. “It’s still a progression offense. You just have to get through your progression, get through your reads. If you try to force the ball here, here, here all the time, you don’t allow the whole offense to work for you. So we just continue to teach progressions. The ball’s going to go where the ball’s going to go. That’s why we continue to progress forward and prepare our guys the same way each week.”

On paper, this passing attack seems to have all the pieces needed to be dynamic, but it can only be truly dynamic if everyone gets involved. So as much as Pederson says it’ll happen naturally, he and Wentz would benefit from trying to keep as much balance as possible.

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Eagle Eye Podcast: What to expect from Andy Weidl?

Philadelphia Eagles

Eagle Eye Podcast: What to expect from Andy Weidl?

On this edition of Eagle Eye, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro discuss what Eagles' fans should expect from Andy Weidl taking over for Joe Douglas.

The guys break down their 53-man roster projection.

Also, Dave's international vacation plan.

1:30 - How does Andy Weidl fill Joe Douglas' void?
5:30 - Jeff Lurie's vision.
13:00 - Eagles' stability as a franchise has been a separator.
19:30 - Impact of Joe Douglas taking the Jets job.
29:00 - 53-man roster projection.

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Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at quarterback?

Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at quarterback?

The franchise quarterback returns, while a Philadelphia legend departs. Will the Eagles be better or worse under center in 2019?

Key addition: Clayton Thorson (draft, fifth round) 
Key departure: Nick Foles (free agent, Jaguars)

Why they could be better: Carson Wentz is finally healthy

Wentz’s struggles in 2018 – as much as a 69.6 completion percentage, 7.7 yards per pass attempt and 3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio can be described as struggling – were easy to see coming. He was a third-year quarterback only nine months removed from a torn ACL and spent the majority of the offseason rehabbing rather than working on his timing in the offense and building a rapport with receivers. No doubt he was putting unrealistic pressure on himself, too.

The injury is finally behind Wentz though, as is the broken back bone that shelved him in December. He’s entering his fourth season, so his comfort level in the offense should be nearing its peak, and he has all spring and summer to get on the same page with his numerous weapons. With his health and contract situations resolved, all Wentz needs to worry about now is playing football – which, as you might recall, he’s pretty good at.

Why they could be worse: Unproven backup

The Eagles really like Nate Sudfeld. They promoted him from the practice squad to the 53-man roster during the 2017 season to prevent another team from signing him. They let him serve as the backup quarterback in the Super Bowl. And they tendered him at a second-round level as a restricted free agent this offseason, effectively ensuring his return while paying him over $3 million.

This will be Sudfeld’s third year in the system, so he should know what he’s doing at least. Yet, the fact is he’s attempted just 25 passes in the NFL. There’s simply no telling how good he is. It’s nothing like bringing Nick Foles off the bench. He had won 24 games, threw 66 touchdown passes and went to a Pro Bowl before adding Super Bowl MVP to his resume. Sudfeld has talent and familiarity with the offense, plus a quality supporting cast. He probably wouldn’t be a disaster, but could he save the Eagles’ season if called upon? Impossible to say.

The X-factor: Can Wentz stay healthy for 16-plus games?

People are quick to throw around the injury prone label, often unfairly, but Wentz has been seriously hurt in each of his last four seasons going back to college. He broke a bone in his throwing wrist at North Dakota State, suffered a hairline rib fracture in preseason during his rookie year (though he played all 16 regular season games), then had the ACL and the back. Injury prone or not, that’s an alarming trend.

These are unrelated injuries, so it’s possible Wentz has been unlucky. It’s also very likely the Eagles’ fortunes this season are hinging on this hope. Wentz could help himself by getting rid of the ball quicker on occasion or giving up on a few more plays. Then again, he’s the quarterback. He’s going to get hit sometimes. All anybody can do is wait and see if he keeps getting up.

Are the Eagles’ quarterbacks better or worse?

The overall talent in the room undeniably dips with Foles’ departure. Yet, ideally, Wentz is the only signal caller taking meaningful snaps for the Eagles, and he should take another step forward in 2019 provided he can stay on the field. This is a matter of perspective, but to me, having an MVP-caliber quarterback at 100 percent is far more important than the guys sitting on the bench. 


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