Roob's 10 observations: Fletcher Cox's standing, Donovan McNabb's finest day, Darren Sproles' impact

Roob's 10 observations: Fletcher Cox's standing, Donovan McNabb's finest day, Darren Sproles' impact

Fletcher Cox’s unique place in Eagles history, Donovan McNabb’s finest day in an Eagles uniform, Darren Sproles’ impact and tons more in a playoff weekend edition of Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Observations!

1. If you asked me about the Eagles’ defensive line a month and a half ago, I would have told you it was a liability. I would have told you that it looked like an aging, inconsistent, over-priced, under-achieving unit that desperately needed an infusion of young talent this offseason. Here we are going into the playoffs and that very same defensive line may be the Eagles’ best hope Sunday in Chicago. Michael Bennett suddenly found himself and has been a monster off the edge. Cox has raised his level from dominating to unstoppable. Haloti Ngata is finally healthy and playing tough. Tim Jernigan is back and contributing. Brandon Graham is finally starting to look like himself. Chris Long is playing like last year. Even a guy like Treyvon Hester has been giving the Eagles productive snaps. The main reason I’m picking the Eagles to beat the Bears is the way the D-line has been playing. Mitchell Trubisky is a talented young quarterback, but I expect Cox, Bennett and Co. to make him extremely uncomfortable and harass him into mistakes. They’ve been very good lately, and the Eagles need more of that to get out of Soldier Field with a win. 

2. I think that 2001 playoff game against the Bears is the best game McNabb ever played. That was a 13-3 Bears team, No. 2 seed, No. 1 defense in the NFL, at home, rested coming off a bye and No. 5 played so tough that day, leading the Eagles to a 33-19 win on a bitterly cold day at Soldier Field. His stats weren’t anything special — 26 for 40, 262 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT and a rushing TD — but he stood tall against a tremendous pass rush, he absorbed hit after ferocious hit and he led the Eagles to two TDs and two FGs on their last five drives after the Bears had taken a 14-13 lead in the third quarter. McNabb has had better statistical performances, but considering everything, I consider that his finest day in an Eagles uniform.

3. One guy who deserves a ton of credit is secondary coach Corey Undlin, and it’s comical to me that people were blasting the guy coming out of New Orleans. He was coaching guys who weren’t even in the NFL a week or two earlier. But despite an almost complete secondary overhaul — safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Corey Graham are the only members of the secondary who played on opening day and will play Sunday in Chicago — the Eagles have been very good in the back end. Over the last six games — post-Saints — they’ve allowed the sixth-fewest TD passes in the NFL, they have the 10th-most INTs and they’re 11th in passer rating. And that’s without Ronald Darby, Rodney McLeod, Jalen Mills and Sidney Jones. The Eagles have used 15 defensive backs this year and 10 cornerbacks, eight of them 24 and under. Every week, Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas and Cre’von LeBlanc get better. Every week, this unit gets better. Coaching is teaching, and Undlin has done a lot of that this year. And look where the Eagles are.

4. Cox finished with a career-high 10 1/2 sacks and tied with Chris Jones of the Chiefs for the most sacks in the NFL over the last six weeks of the regular season. A run-stuffing force with double-digit sacks? We always hear about J.J. Watt, Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald, but as far as I’m concerned, Cox is the best defensive lineman in the NFL. And over the last month and a half, he’s played his best football ever. At this point, there’s only one guy on the Eagles all-time defensive line list ahead of Cox. And he wore No. 92.

5. I’ve never seen a player make as much of an impact on a game with fewer touches than Darren Sproles. Think about how much he’s added to the offense these last five weeks. He only had 35 touches in those five games! Hard to believe this will be his first postseason since he ruined the Eagles’ 2013 postseason!

6. One of the craziest stats from this year is that Eagles QBs completed at least 66 percent of their passes in 14 out of 16 games. Carson Wentz and Nick Foles (and Nate Sudfeld and Nelson Agholor) combined to complete 70.5 percent of their passes this year, fourth-highest in NFL history.

7. Myth: Nick Foles can throw deep. Carson Wentz can’t. Truth: Over the last two years, Wentz has hit 10 passes of 50 yards, or one every 84 attempts. Foles has hit on four passes of 50 yards or more, one every 100 attempts. They’re actually both pretty good at throwing deep. Since the start of last year, Wentz has the fourth-highest percentage of 50-yard passes in the league, behind only Patrick Mahomes (one every 68 passes), Aaron Rodgers (one every 70) and Alex Smith (78).

8. Here’s what the Eagles are up against Sunday: They’ve only won four of 11 road postseason games since 1950 — at New Orleans in 1992, in Chicago in 2001 and then in Minneapolis and at the Giants in 2008. That’s it. That .364 winning percentage is actually higher than the league average. Since 1990, road playoff teams are 90-190 (.321). Going back to 1960, it’s about the same — 149-312 (.323). Tough task for the Eagles.

9. How good is the Bears’ run defense? Some 17 backs had 10 or more carries against the Bears this year, and 12 of them averaged 3.6 or worse. The only exceptions were Frank Gore (6.7), Saquon Barkley (5.2), LeGarrette Blount (4.6), Jamaal Williams (4.6) and Kenyan Drake (4.4).

10. Cameron Johnston’s consistency this year was astonishing. In his first NFL season, Johnston punted 61 times and finished fourth in the NFL at 48.2 yards per punt, a franchise record, as was his 42.7 net. Incredibly, nearly half of his punts — 28 of 61 — went at least 50 yards. What a find!

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Top pending free agents from NFC East

Top pending free agents from NFC East

By now, you know which Eagles are set to become free agents on March 13 (see story), but do you know how they stack up against the other pending free agents in the division? 

The Eagles are set to lose some pretty significant pieces compared to the rest of the division. 

With less than a month until the start of free agency, here’s a look at the top 10 free agents from the NFC East: 

1. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Cowboys 

Lawrence isn’t just the top pending free agent in the NFC East, he might be the top free agent in the NFL. It’s either him or Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney. Lawrence won’t turn 27 until April 28 and he’s already turned into a perennial Pro Bowler. His career got off to a relatively slow start, but his last two seasons have been great. In the last two years, Lawrence has had 25 sacks. Just three players in the NFL (Aaron Donald, Chandler Jones, Ryan Kerrigan) have had more in that span. Lawrence has also been very good against the run and has had 29 TFLs in the last two years. The Cowboys can’t afford to let him go. 

2. Nick Foles, QB, Eagles 

After the Eagles picked up his option year and then Foles immediately told the Eagles he’d pay back $2 million to buy his freedom, the former Super Bowl MVP is set to become an unrestricted free agent. The Eagles could prevent that by slapping a franchise tag on him, but if they don’t, he’ll be free to choose his next team when he becomes a free agent on March 13. (The tagging window is from Feb. 19 through March 5.) There probably aren’t a ton of landing spots left for Foles, but a couple of them might be in the division. Jacksonville and Miami make some sense too. 

3. Landon Collins, S, Giants 

Collins just finished out his rookie contract as a second-round pick and has been a Pro Bowler his last three years. He hasn’t stayed at his All-Pro level from 2016, when he was on the short list to be the Defensive Player of the Year, but he’s still been pretty damn good. The Giants probably can’t afford to let him walk, so if they can’t get a long-term deal, they’ll probably have to slap a tag on him. 

4. Brandon Graham, DE, Eagles 

BG is 30 now and is coming off a season where he had just four sacks, but he’ll still be a highly sought-after free agent. The former first-round pick has played all nine of his NFL seasons in Philly, but will likely get to test the free agent waters. Graham isn’t the top DE in this free agent market, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get a big deal. 

5. Preston Smith, LB, Redskins 

The former second-round pick hasn’t lived up to his potential with 24 1/2 sacks in four seasons, but he’s just 26 and has been a pretty big part of Washington’s defense. Washington probably still has some hope that Smith has room to grow. 

6. Golden Tate, WR, Eagles 

He came over from Detroit halfway through the season and the Eagles struggled to get him involved. Eventually, Tate did make a game-winning catch in the playoff game against Chicago, but is that enough for the Eagles to want to re-sign him? A YAC master, Tate will be 31 by the start of next season and had gone over 1,000 yards in three of his four previous seasons before 2018. 

7. Ronald Darby, CB, Eagles 

Darby tore his ACL against the Cowboys in November and is still recovering, which might delay his signing. In two seasons with the Eagles, he’s had two pretty significant injuries; the dislocated ankle in 2017 and the ACL tear in 2018. But when he’s been on the field, he’s been pretty good. The problem might be that the Eagles now seem to have some depth at corner. Maybe they still try to bring him back. 

8. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Redskins

Washington traded a fourth-round pick to the Packers at the deadline to bring in Clinton-Dix, who then played nine games with the Skins. He was a Pro Bowler in 2016, but has had an up and down career overall. But after releasing D.J. Swearinger, it might be important for Washington to keep Clinton-Dix. 

9. Jordan Hicks, LB, Eagles 

Because of his injury history, Hicks is one of the hardest free agents to figure out. When he’s on the field, he’s been a really productive player, but he has also missed 21 games over his first four years because of injury and that doesn’t include missing the Super Bowl run in 2017 after tearing his Achilles. 

10. Cole Beasley, WR, Cowboys 

It’s hard to believe, but Beasley just finished his seventh NFL season. He’s been unhappy with his usage in Dallas, which could mean he’ll be ready to get out of town. In 2018, he had 65 catches for 672 yards and three touchdowns. His best season came in 2016, when he caught 75 passes for 833 yards and five touchdowns. 

Notable mentions: David Irving, DT, Cowboys; Jamison Crowder, WR, Redskins; Jay Ajayi, RB, Eagles; Russell Shepard, WR, Giants

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Malcolm Jenkins reacts to settlement in Colin Kaepernick collusion case

USA Today Images

Malcolm Jenkins reacts to settlement in Colin Kaepernick collusion case

In the wake of news that the NFL had settled collusion cases brought forth by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, fellow activist and Eagle Malcolm Jenkins has weighed in. 

Despite some disagreements between the men in the past, Jenkins has always maintained that Kaepernick and Reid belonged in the league and thought NFL owners colluded to keep Kaepernick and Reid out of the NFL. 

Reid is now employed by the Carolina Panthers, but Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016. 

You’ll remember in October, Jenkins and Reid got into a heated exchange before the Eagles-Panthers game at the Linc. And after the game, Reid called Jenkins a sellout and a coward (see story).  

That day, Jenkins refused to get into a war of words. 

"I would never get up here and say anything bad about somebody who I know [their] intentions were about helping their communities, especially another black man," Jenkins said on Oct. 21, after the game. "I'll leave it at that."

The exchange between Jenkins and Reid that day stemmed from lingering animosity about the way the Players Coalition — led by Jenkins — brokered a $90 million deal with the NFL to help with projects dealing with racial inequality. 

On Friday afternoon, the NFL released the following statement: 

"For the past several months, counsel for Mr. Kaepernick and Mr. Reid have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the NFL. As a result of those discussions, the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances. The resolution of this matter is subject to a confidentiality agreement so there will be no further comment by any party."

Because of the confidentiality agreement, we don’t know how much this settlement is worth, but it’s likely to be very significant. It’s also unclear if the NFL admitted any wrongdoing in the settlement. 

The grievances began when Kaepernick and Reid claimed they had been blacklisted by the NFL for demonstrating during the national anthem. Kaepernick began those protests by sitting and then later taking a knee. 

Jenkins raised his fist during the anthem but stopped once his Players Coalition brokered that deal in 2017. Jenkins raised his fist in the Eagles’ preseason opener in 2018, but did not during the 2018 season. Jenkins has said many times he wants the focus to be on work in the community and not the demonstrations. 

A tweet earlier on Friday falls in line with that. 

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