Eagles

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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Eagles 2019 training camp battles: Replacing Jordan Hicks at linebacker

Eagles 2019 training camp battles: Replacing Jordan Hicks at linebacker

As we near the start of the Eagles’ 2019 training camp, we’re taking a closer look at some key position battles to watch this summer. We already looked at cornerback and running back.            

Up today: Linebacker 

Names to know 

Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Zach Brown, Nate Gerry, L.J. Fort, Paul Worrilow, T.J. Edwards, Alex Singleton, Joey Alfieri 

What to watch 

While he struggled to stay healthy over his four years in Philadelphia, Jordan Hicks was an effective player when he was on the field. After Hicks bolted in free agency, taking a big deal from the Arizona Cardinals, the Eagles will need to replace him. 

That starts with Bradham, who will be the linebacker who never leaves the field in 2019. He’ll be out there in the Eagles’ base defense, nickel defense and dime defense. It’s a role he took over in Hicks’ absence anyway. Bradham is recovering from injury, but he expects to be ready for training camp. 

The front-runners to be the other two starting linebackers should be Grugier-Hill and free-agent pickup Brown. Grugier-Hill started the first 10 games of his career last season and did a nice job. I think there’s probably even more untapped potential. Brown, meanwhile, is a former Pro Bowler and spent the last two years in Washington. He’s a seven-year vet with 74 starts under his belt. He fell out of favor in Washington some and was released this offseason, a move that saved Washington a bunch of cap money. Brown has been a good player, but KGH is probably better in coverage. 

We’ll see which of those two stays on the field more. One of them will be a part-time player in the team’s base package. While there are technically three starting linebackers in their base package, the Eagles spend around 75 percent of their time in nickel. 

After those three, it’s a competition to make the roster. Gerry seems to be an often-forgotten player, but he knows the defense (he’s been here since 2017) and is the type of hybrid player the Eagles like in this NFL. Fort was brought in as a special teamer with upside; he’ll be on the roster for teams and likely as a backup. 

Worrilow came back from an ACL tear, but missed some time this spring. Edwards and Alfieri are two talented UDFAs and Singleton was a star in the CFL. One of those rookies could be a practice squad fit. 

One of the players from the paragraph above could make the team, but it depends on how many linebackers the Eagles keep. They kept five on their initial 53-man last year, but Bradham didn’t count because he was suspended. They kept six to start 2017 and kept just four after 2016’s training camp. 

Prediction 

Bradham doesn’t leave the field this year; that’s not much of a shocker. But I think Grugier-Hill ends up playing more than Brown. I think he’s better suited for playing nickel downs. The Eagles will keep five or six linebackers: Bradham, KGH, Brown, Fort, Gerry and maybe either Worrilow or Edwards. 

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Popular former Eagles special teams player Chris Maragos announces his retirement

Popular former Eagles special teams player Chris Maragos announces his retirement

After missing all of last season and recently undergoing a third surgery for a significant knee injury suffered in 2017, former Eagles special teams captain Chris Maragos officially announced his retirement on Tuesday afternoon.

Maragos, 32, suffered a torn PCL on Oct. 12, 2017, and hasn’t played since. The Eagles officially released him in February.

Here is the announcement from Maragos:

Unfortunately, his time in the NFL was cut short by the injury against the Panthers in Week 6 of 2017. But he had a pretty good and improbable career.

After a couple years at Western Michigan, Maragos transferred to Wisconsin to continue his college career as a wide receiver. But in 2008, Badgers then-head coach Bret Bielema watched a play in which Maragos tracked down a defensive back after an interception and moved him to defense immediately and it stuck. Maragos played defensive back for his final two college seasons.

After going undrafted in 2010, Maragos played three games with the 49ers before carving out a role with the Seahawks for three seasons, from 2011-13. He joined the Eagles in 2014 and almost immediately became a difference maker on special teams and eventually became a special teams captain. For part of his time in Philly, he even had a significant role on defense, but he’ll be remembered for his contributions on special teams.

During his NFL career, Maragos played in 99 games (53 with the Eagles) with three starts. He was a part of two Super Bowl winners. Even though he was on the shelf with his knee injury by the time the Eagles played in Super Bowl LII, he was an important part of that team. He was one of the leaders of the injured group that included Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks and Darren Sproles.

Even last season, Maragos was still around the team, offering a veteran voice for some younger players.

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