Eagles

Roob's 10 Observations: Crazily underrated Eagles LB, Matthews' future and more

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Roob's 10 Observations: Crazily underrated Eagles LB, Matthews' future and more

Comparing the Eagles' 2004 and 2017 Super Bowl offensive lines, a drastically underrated Eagles linebacker, Jordan Matthews' future and more in the neverending parade of Nick Foles stats!

Somebody must have ordered Roob's 10 Random Eagles Observations! 

1. One of the biggest differences between the 2004 Super Bowl and the 2017 Super Bowl was the performance of the Eagles' offensive line. The Eagles' line in Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville got brutalized. The interior of the line in particular — guards Jermane Mayberry and Artis Hicks and center Hank Fraley — was destroyed by Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel, who hit Donovan McNabb repeatedly, forced him to rush throws, sacked him four times, recorded eight tackles for loss and limited the Eagles to 2.6 yards per rush.

Compare that to the performance of Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks, the interior of the 2017 O-line this time around against the Patriots. The line was monstrous, controlling the line of scrimmage, keeping Foles clean (no sacks on 44 pass attempts) and paving the way for the Eagles to average 6.1 yards per carry. That 2004 O-line was a pretty good one, with three Pro Bowlers (Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan, Mayberry), but they just got destroyed in Jacksonville.

The 2017 group? Their play was superhuman despite losing a Hall of Fame left tackle. Lane Johnson, Brooks and Kelce all showed they're as good as anyone in the game. And Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Wisniewski, two guys that didn't even start the season in the starting lineup, were beasts down the stretch and in the playoffs. It's a group that's smart, physical and athletic and plays so well together. Best of all? They're all back. The team that brought you Ben Tamburello, Mike Schad, Steve Everitt, Ron Solt, Ian Beckles, Max Jean-Gilles, Jeff Dellenbach, Lonnie Palelei and a freaking 26-year-old rookie who wanted to ride around tooting the horn on a firetruck has the best O-line in football, and they're not going away any time soon.

2. I know Doug Pederson said Jay Ajayi will be the Eagles' lead back this year, but I still don't expect him to get more than 200 carries. The Eagles have been clear about their concern with his chronic knee issues, and with the talent they have at running back there's no reason to give Ajayi 20 carries a game. But, man, he can make a huge impact — and stay healthy — with 13 or 14 carries and two or three catches.

3. William Thomas was so underrated. Maybe it's because he was drafted in 1991, as the whole Reggie / Clyde / Seth / Jerome / Wes / Andre defense was unraveling. But Willie T. had 27 interceptions and 37 sacks in his career, and only five others in NFL history had 25 sacks and 25 INTs — including Dawk, Ray Lewis and Rodney Harrison. In fact, Willie T. and Lewis are the only linebackers ever with 25 and 25.  

4. I know everybody disagrees, but I still think Jordan Matthews is pretty good, and I expect him to have a solid season in New England.

5. Another reason to love Doug Pederson: The Eagles' 29 fourth-down attempts last year are the most on record (the NFL began tracking fourth-down attempts in 1991). The Eagles were an insane 20-for-29 on fourth down, including some fairly important ones. It was amazing watching Doug evolve last year into such a fearless play-caller. 

6. Nick Foles' stats on third down in the 2017 postseason are so ridiculous I double-checked them three times because I didn't think they could possibly be correct. But they're correct: 27-for-33 for 400 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 156.8 passer rating. Yep, only two more incomplete passes than touchdowns. This is insanity.

7. The more time goes by, the more astonishing Foles' postseason seems to me. 

8. Only three players in Super Bowl history have caught a touchdown pass on fourth down: Irving Fryar when the Patriots were trailing the Bears 44-3 late in the fourth quarter in 1985, Don Beebe when the Bills were trailing the Redskins by 20 late in the fourth quarter in 1991 and Foles just before halftime of a three-point game. Conclusion: Foles is the only player in NFL history to catch a meaningful fourth-down touchdown pass in a Super Bowl.

9. I have no idea what really happened at NRG Stadium after Super Bowl LI. But I find it extremely difficult to believe that in this day and age when every single thing anybody does is caught on videotape, that not one video camera picked up the incident Michael Bennett is alleged to have been involved in. With all the security at major events these days? There was no video camera? At an entrance to the field? After a Super Bowl? Not buying it.

10. We haven't had a Zach Ertz stat in a while, so here ya go: Ertz is the only player in Eagles history with three straight seasons with 70 or more catches and 800 yards. Only two others have had two straight: Fryar and Matthews.

More on the Eagles

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•​ Carson Wentz's odds to win 2018 NFL MVP

•​ The behind-the-scenes story of Eagles’ Super Bowl rings

•​ Is Eagles’ WR trio best group in team history?

•​ Foles is a legend, but Eagles still need Wentz

Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

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Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

In the latest edition of Eagle Eye, Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks discuss Darren Sproles' upcoming retirement. Does it put the Eagles in an awkward position on game days? Why do players care so much about their ratings in Madden? Also, Barrett shares how he decided on his jersey numbers throughout his football career?

1:00 - Derrick is back! What did he do with his time off?
5:30 - Barrett spent time with his grandson ... who ate pancakes with ketchup.
10:00 - Darren Sproles says 2018 will be his final year.
15:00 - Why do players care so much about their Madden ratings?
19:30 - If you can script your career, how would you want to retire?
22:30 - How did Barrett decide on his jersey numbers?

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Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

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Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

One thing Andy Reid was spot on about during his long tenure with the Eagles was the importance of building around both lines. 

Big Red always made the offensive and defensive lines a priority, and during the Eagles’ stretch of deep playoff runs — from 2000 through 2009 — the O-line was anchored by guys like Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Jermane Mayberry and Todd Herremans and the D-line by Corey Simon, Trent Cole, Mike Patterson and Hugh Douglas.

During that 10-year stretch, the Eagles had the most wins in the NFC and the third-most wins in the NFL, and the one constant during that stretch was solid line play. 

Donovan McNabb was very good when healthy most of those seasons, and the Eagles always had good running backs and corners, but the heart of those teams was up front.

Just look at how Big Red drafted. Eight of his 11 first-round picks were linemen. After taking McNabb in 1999, all six of Reid's picks in the first half of the first round were linemen.

They obviously didn’t all work out, but Reid was committed to both lines, and Howie Roseman, then a young, rising personnel executive, was paying attention.

The Eagles have done a lot of things differently in the five years since Reid's final season here, but one thing Doug Pederson and Roseman believe in is building around the lines, and it sure paid off last year.

According to figures on salary cap website Spotrac, the Eagles in 2017 were the only team ranked among the top five in the NFL in both offensive line and defensive line spending.

And the only team that had a parade in February.

And they’re only going to spend more this year.

The Eagles will spend 22.36 percent of their 2018 cap money on the offensive line, fourth most in the league, and 28.84 percent to the defensive line, fifth most.

That’s more than half their 2018 payroll on the big guys up front.

The Jets — sixth in O-line spending, 10th in D-line — are the only other team in the top 10 in both.

Seven of the Eagles’ 10 highest-paid players last year were linemen, as are eight of their 13 projected highest-paid players in 2018.

And five of those guys — Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jason Kelce, Vinny Curry and Jason Peters — are actually holdovers from the Reid era.

Think of them as Reid’s parting gifts to the 2017 championship team.

Creating a Super Bowl roster was a complicated process for Roseman, and to be able to make this sort of financial commitment to the two lines means you just don’t have much money left for everything else. 

The only way to make that work is to build with cheap labor elsewhere. 

And that means younger players on bargain-basement rookie contracts, cheap but productive quarterbacks and low-round picks and undrafted players with cheapo contracts excelling.

It means drafting well and making exceptional free-agent decisions without overspending.

It’s a crazy juggling act, and Roseman juggled all those things magnificentely last year.

In fact, according to Spotrac’s data, the two lines are the Eagles' only positional groups ranked even among the top 15 in the NFL.

The secondary and QB positions rank 16th in cap allocations, tight end 18th, running back 21st, wide receiver 27th, linebacker 31st and special teams 32nd.

These numbers are all based on the 53 highest-paid players currently under contract, so they will change slightly once the final roster is set, but they won’t change much.

The Eagles were very good in a lot of areas last year — really, in every area — but their offensive line was the best in football and the best in Eagles history, and the defensive line was easily one of the two- or three-best in football.

Everything the Eagles did, everything they accomplished, started up front.

Put Peters back on the O-line and add Haloti Ngata and Michael Bennett to the D-line with an increased role for Derek Barnett, and both lines could conceivably be even better this year.

It’s going to get harder for Roseman to keep paying the Eagles’ linemen the way he has. Once Carson Wentz signs his next contract, the Eagles’ entire salary cap balance will change. 

Those $25 million annual cap hits for one guy have a tendency to make roster decisions way more challenging.

So it will be tricky for the Eagles to re-sign Graham. He wants a fortune, and he deserves a fortune. 

But even if Roseman can’t get that done, Barnett has three more years on his rookie deal, and that’s the key to making this whole thing work. 

You can’t re-sign everybody, so if you want to remain elite, you have to draft well so you can replace the people you invariably lose.

You lose Patrick Robinson, you have Sidney Jones waiting. You lose LeGarrette Blount, there’s Corey Clement ready to go. You lose Mychal Kendricks, you hope a Nate Gerry can contribute. Trey Burton leaves, and Dallas Goedert is cheaper and better.

You get what you pay for. And the Eagles right now are paying for the best in the business.

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