Eagles

Roob's 25 Random Points: Zach Ertz, kicking trends, and remembering Tom Petty

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Roob's 25 Random Points: Zach Ertz, kicking trends, and remembering Tom Petty

As the Eagles return home to face the Cardinals, we take a look at how Arizona's offense has struggled to run the football and how it won't get any easier Sunday. 

Also in today's 25 Random Points, we go after the hipper-than-thou showgoers, take a look at how Brent Celek has passed the torch to Zach Ertz, pick out NFL kicking trends and, of course, remember Tom Petty.

Here we go!

1. I've read posts on Twitter or in Facebook story comments from Eagles fans in the past week that Nick Foles sucks, Zach Ertz sucks and Wendell Smallwood sucks, and I'm done trying to answer these things individually and trying to reason with people. I just find it incredibly sad there are some real Eagles fans out there who have so much hate and contempt in their hearts for players whose only fault is that they're not perfect. Foles? I don't know what his future holds, but other than a few bad games for a terrible Rams team in 2015, he's had a pretty consistent career. One record-setting year, another decent half season and some effective relief work for the Chiefs last year. He's got one of the 20-highest passer ratings in NFL history. Do you want to compare his first 20 career games with Carson Wentz's? Eleven more touchdowns, nine fewer interceptions, a bit more accurate, 1½ more yards per attempt, passer rating 20 points higher. Same 10-10 record. That's not to say he's better than Wentz or should be playing now. Just some context. What exactly has he done to inspire such vitriol? Ertz? The same fans who loved Chad Lewis now hate Zach Ertz because he doesn't drag 11 defenders 100 yards into the end zone every time he touches the football. Like every other tight end, right? Who exactly are these tight ends who are breaking all these tackles? Ertz isn't Gronk, but you know what? Since opening day 2015, he has more catches than Gronk. And every other tight end in the NFL. What exactly has he done to inspire such vitriol? He doesn't stomp on a linebacker's head every play? And Smallwood of all people? Really? A second-year, fifth-round tailback who's produced every chance he's gotten? Smallwood has had four games in his career where he's gotten double-digit carries, and he's averaged 4.6 yards per carry in those games. What exactly has he done to inspire such vitriol? He's not Brian Westbrook? Listen. Every player in the NFL — on this team and every other team — has faults and limitations. It's just sad that some fans are so angry and mean-spirited they can't appreciate the positives that most players actually offer. Everybody isn't Reggie or Dawk or Shady. 

2. Interesting conversation the other day with Ertz, who talked about how Celek embraced him back in 2013 when Ertz was a rookie second-round pick and Celek was the established starter. Consider Celek's position at the time: He averaged 59 catches for 744 yards from 2009 through 2012, numbers only four tight ends surpassed during that four-year span. At 27, he was in the prime of his career. Yet his team went out and used a second-round pick to essentially replace him. How did he respond? Let Ertz pick up the story: "You hear horror stories when you come into the league about guys that treat their rookies, high draft picks, terribly. Nothing could have been further from the truth with Brent. From the moment I got here, he was extremely helpful. James Casey, when I got here reached out immediately. Those guys were extremely helpful early in my career." Even as Ertz emerged as a big-time threat in the passing game, Celek remained the starter through 2015 because of his blocking ability. Ertz said it wasn't really until last year that he felt comfortable in a leadership position because of that. He just felt like he should defer to Celek. "Early in my clear, it was kind of unclear who was the No. 1 tight end, and I never wanted to overstep my bounds because he had been here for so long. So (it wasn't until) the last year, maybe a little bit toward the end of last year, where I really felt like I was the tight end. I never wanted to overstep my bounds stepping on the veteran's toes."

3. One other Celek note. As Ertz has become more and more of a weapon in the passing game, Celek's production obviously has dropped, and after a career-low 155 yards last year he has just one catch for 11 yards the first month of this season. Celek, quite likely in his final year with the Eagles, has 4,879 receiving yards, and I, for one, would really like to see him get the 121 yards he needs to reach 5,000. Only seven players in franchise history have reached 5,000 yards: Harold Carmichael (8,978 yards), Pete Retzlaff (7,412), Mike Quick (6,464), DeSean Jackson (6,117), Pete Pihos (5,619), Tommy McDonald (5,499) and Bobby Walston (5,363). It's a great benchmark. Celek fell 29 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season back in 2009. I'd hate to see a guy who has stood for nothing but hard work and unselfish team play for so long fall agonizingly short of another career milestone before he takes off that Eagles jersey for the final time. (Celek does have 5,130 receiving yards including the playoffs).

4. I've been doing this Eagles thing a long time. A long time. And I have never experienced anything remotely like what I experienced Sunday at StubHub Center in Carson, California. The Eagles played a Monday night game in Miami in 2003 — the Correll Buckhalter flying backward and upside touchdown game — where the stadium was maybe 30 to 35 percent Eagles fans at Joe Robbie, and that was incredible. But this? This was off the charts. I knew there'd be a lot of Eagles fans there, but that stadium was legitimately 85 to 90 percent Eagles fans. I walked the perimeter of the stadium on the concourse about an hour before kickoff and it was this ocean of Eagles Dawkins, Westbrook and Wentz jerseys. You had to really search to find a Chargers jersey. But it wasn't just the sheer volume of Eagles fans that was mind-blowing, it was just how into it they all were! The few Chargers fans I saw had no idea how to handle these loud, roving packs of Eagles fans chanting, "Eagles home game … Eagles home game," or doing E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles chants. The NFL definitely messed up big time putting this franchise in a soccer stadium on a college campus in the suburbs of a city that doesn't want them. But for one Sunday afternoon, the NFL's gaffe was the Eagles' gain. It was an amazing day.

5. Check out Carson Wentz's improvement on third down from last year to this year: 2016: 98 for 175, 1,067 yards, 56 percent, 4 TD, 6 INT, 67.5 rating. So far in 2017: 26 for 40, 349 yards, 65 percent, 3 TD, 1 INT, 107.2 rating. Last year, Wentz threw for 70 first downs on 175 attempts, or exactly 40 percent. This year, he's converted 21 of 40 chances, for 53 percent. (All third-down numbers courtesy of the Pro Football Reference database.)

6. I don't get why when I type in, for example, "drug store" in my GPS search window, it gives me a Walgreens 578 miles away. Isn't it supposed to find the closest one? There's a Rite-Aid, CVS or Walgreen's on every freaking corner in every freaking town in the area. Yet my GPS wants to send me to a Rite-Aid in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Drives me nuts. I just need deodorant!

7. If the Eagles win Sunday, it will be only their seventh start of 4-1 or better in the last 35 years. Since 1992, they've been 4-1 in 1992, 1993, 1994, 2006 and 2014 and 5-0 in 2004. Of the 16 times the Eagles have been 4-1 or better, they've only made the playoffs eight times — in 1949, 1960, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1992, 2004, 2006. They failed to reach postseason play in 1944, 1950, 1954, 1959, 1961, 1993, 1994 and 2014. Of course, the first five times they opened 4-1 and didn't reach the postseason, there were no playoffs, only an NFL Championship Game. In the post-merger era, a 4-1 start has meant playoffs for the Eagles six out of eight times. League-wide, a 4-1 start since the merger has given a team a 77 percent chance of reaching the playoffs (265 of 343 teams).

8. Trick of the Tail > Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

9. I'll be shocked if the Cards can run the ball at all Sunday. They're one of only 18 teams in NFL history that goes into Week 5 with a per-carry average of 2.7 or worse and an average of 57 or fewer yards per game. They're one of three teams that doesn't have a run from scrimmage of 15 yards or more this year. Their highest yards-per-carry this year was 3.3 against the Colts. They have 13 rushing first downs all year. The Eagles had 13 just against the Giants. Think they miss David Johnson a little?

10. I love that all of Tommy Roe's hits in the 1960s had drum breaks. Nobody else did that.

11. The Eagles have allowed 25 pass plays of 60 yards or more since 2009, second-most in the NFL during that eight-plus-year span behind only the Cards, who've allowed 26. During Jim Johnson's 10-year tenure here, the Eagles allowed only 12 60-yard pass plays, fourth-fewest in the NFL during that span. That said, I'd still rather have young, hungry cornerbacks who are finding their way than all the old, disinterested, recycled veteran free agents the Eagles slogged through here the last seven or eight years.

12. The Eagles from 2009 through 2016 are the only team in NFL history to allow 25 or more touchdown passes eight years in a row. They've allowed seven in four games this year so unless they hold their final 12 opponents to 18 or fewer passing TDs, they'll extend their NFL record to nine straight years. Only four other teams have allowed 25 or more TD passes in more than four straight years!

13. It always cracks me up how people at rock shows like to wear what they think is the hippest band T-shirt they can find to prove their indie rock cred. Pick a show and there's the obligatory Ministry T-shirt. Definitely a couple Sonic Youth T-shirts. Cocteau Twins. Mogwai. Sebadoh. Primal Scream. Brainiac. Stereolab. It's hilarious. "I'm cooler than anybody at this War on Drugs gig because I'm wearing a Einstürzende Neubauten T-shirt!" So here's my plan. I'm going to start showing up at shows wearing a Creed T-shirt. Or a Nickelback T-shirt. Maybe Maroon 5. Just one person's way of fighting back against hipper-than-thou T-shirts!

14. Jake Elliott may not have topped his 61-yard field goal Sunday in L.A., but by making four field goals of 40 yards or more he did make a little more history. Elliott is only the second kicker in Eagles history to make four field goals from 40 or out in the same game. David Akers did it on Oct. 3, 2004, in Chicago — 40, 42, 42, 50. But Akers also missed from 39 and 45 yards that day. So Elliott became the first Eagles kicker ever to attempt four or more 40-yarders and make them all. 

15. It's only four games, but Lane Johnson is playing lights out. He's really fun to watch these days. A lot of people questioned whether Johnson would be able to maintain his strength and health without the help of the supplements he's sworn off, the supplements that got him into so much trouble last year. But so far, so good. Johnson is a beast out there right now.

16. Tony Romo is already my favorite NFL analyst ever.

17. Did you know league-wide NFL kickers are 15 for 19 this year on attempts from 53 yards and out? That's insane. As recently as 2006, there were only 15 field goals made all year from 53 yards and out. 

18. And get this: Akers made two field goals of 53 yards or more in his first 145 games in an Eagles uniform. Elliott made two field goals of 53 yards or more in his first three games in an Eagles uniform.

19. The Eagles are about to face their third straight quarterback who's thrown for 45,000 yards. Eli Manning is close to 50,000 yards, Philip Rivers is just under 47,000 yards and Carson Palmer went over 45,000 yards earlier this year. There are only 10 other quarterbacks in NFL history who've thrown for 45,000 yards, only three of them active — Drew Brees (third with 67,246), Tom Brady (fourth at 63,284) and Ben Roethlisberger (ninth at 47,771). It would take hours to look up, but I highly doubt any team in NFL history has ever faced three straight QBs who've thrown for 45,000 yards. And I'm pretty sure no team has ever done it with cornerbacks who are 22 and 23. And the Eagles have a very good chance to go 3-0 in those games.

20. More Mychal Kendricks, please.

21. My five favorite views of the Philly skyline: 1. From the very top row of the upper deck in the east end of Franklin Field, 2. From the grassy area just below the Skyline Stage at the Mann Music Center, 3. When you first get on the Vine Street Expressway from I-95 heading westbound, 4. From atop the steps at the Art Museum, 5. From the Schuylkill heading westbound just before the 30th Street exit.

22. The Browns are 38-110 since opening day of 2008. Think about that for a moment. That's a .257 winning percentage. Their average season over the last decade is 4-12. They're currently 0-4 for the fourth time during that span. Their last postseason win came so long ago that the team that won that game is now the Ravens. Their only winning quarterback during that 10-year span is Brian Hoyer (10-6). The rest are a combined 28-104. Included in that group is Brandon Weeden (5-15), Colt McCoy (6-15), Jason Campbell (1-7), Josh McCown (1-10) and Seneca Wallace (1-6). The Browns haven't won back-to-back games since 2014! They haven't drafted a Pro Bowler since tight end Jordan Cameron in 2011. No matter how bad things get, you can always take solace that you're not a Browns fan!

23. Why on earth is Warren Moon in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? He was a .500 career quarterback (102-101), he was never an All-Pro, he won three playoff games in 17 seasons, he never reached an AFC Championship Game, he led the NFL in interceptions twice and he's got a worse touchdown percentage than Steve Beuerlein and a worse interception percentage than Bubby Brister. Absolute mockery. And don't tell me about his CFL stats. If you want to include CFL stats, then put Gizmo Williams in.

24. I never get tired of watching DeSean Jackson make big plays. His 41-yard catch and run against the Patriots Thursday night was his 61st catch of 40 yards or more since he came into the league with the Eagles in 2008. No other receiver is within 20 of that figure (Calvin Johnson is second with 41) during that span.

25. There's not much I can add about Tom Petty that hasn't been said. Damn the Torpedoes is the one that won me over. "Here Comes my Girl," in particular. The great records just kept coming — Wildflowers in particular I thought was fantastic — and at some point, you just realize, hey, this guy is an all-timer. I saw Petty at the Mann in 1989 with the Replacements opening and again at the Wells Fargo Center this past June, and he was always fantastic live. In fact they were better live this year than in 1989. And seeing Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell up there on stage at the Wells Fargo Center with Tom gave me chills. Those three guys had been together since 1975 (and for a few years before that in Mudcrutch). I always loved how deferential Petty was to his musicians. It may have been his name on the marquee, but he always let you know this was a band, not a solo act, and the chemistry among the whole group of them was magical. But what I'll remember most about Petty is just how genuine he was and how true to his artistic vision he remained, no matter how many records he sold or didn't sell. He was such a rare artist in his refusal to change the music he was making depending on what was popular or hip at the time or what was being played on the radio. So he continued to put out fantastic records with virtually no airplay, other than what Classic Rock radio continued to program from his early days. Petty didn't have a top-60 hit after 1994, but every album he put out since 1999 made the top-10. Really interesting dynamic. He was still making terrific music right up to the end. Petty was so true to himself and his band. I heard an interview with him recently where he was asked why he would reunite with his old Mudcrutch buddies and play small venues when he could easily sell out arenas with the Heartbreakers. His answer was simple and speaks volumes about Tom Petty the artist: "Because I can." He'll be missed immeasurably.

After forgettable performance, Wendell Smallwood somehow doesn’t lose ground

After forgettable performance, Wendell Smallwood somehow doesn’t lose ground

FOXBORO, Mass. — Wendell Smallwood had eye-popping stats on Thursday night. 

Not the good kind. 

Four carries, one yard. One catch, five yards. And that came on 30 snaps. Did we mention he also failed to punch in a touchdown from the 1-yard line?

Yuck. 

Smallwood, 24, had an excellent opportunity to push for a roster spot on Thursday night, but left Gillette Stadium after a forgettable performance. 

It just speaks to the quality of the competition that he didn’t lose ground because of it. 

Smallwood didn’t lose ground because as bad as he was, Matt Jones was arguably worse (see story). The veteran running back dropped three passes and one led to an interception. Jones failed to flash even late in the game against the Patriots’ deep reserves. Smallwood’s other competition — Donnel Pumphrey and Josh Adams — watched the game because of injuries. 

So it’s possible four carries for one yard was actually the best performance from that quartet of running backs on Thursday night. 

“You want to make plays, but at the same time, the coaches want to see what you can do without the ball,” Smallwood said. “Are you doing your job when you're not (carrying) it? Does it mean anything to you when your buddy’s getting the ball and do you care about it?

“Just being out there and doing that and getting my job done when I’m not getting the ball means more than when I do get the ball. You gotta be a force either way. The reps matter. They count whether you’re getting the ball or not.”

Sure, the Eagles are watching every snap. It’s not just about what the running backs do when they have the ball. But it had to kill Smallwood that he wasn’t able to capitalize on a huge opportunity against the Patriots. 

The Eagles have to trim their roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Sept. 1. We all know Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles and Corey Clement are on the team. We’re also expecting one of these four — Smallwood, Jones, Pumphrey or Adams — to make the roster as well. It’s possible the Eagles might keep just three, but that seems unlikely after they kept five on their initial roster last season. 

In a race it seems like nobody wants to win, Smallwood’s biggest advantage might just be that he’s been here the longest. A fifth-round pick in 2016, Smallwood has the most experience in Doug Pederson’s offense. 

“It puts me in a good position,” Smallwood admitted. “But you still gotta go out there and play whether you’ve been here three years or three months. You gotta go out there and make plays and give them reason to trust me.”

Amazingly, the other biggest advantage Smallwood has is that he’s been healthy. That’s amazing because injuries have hampered Smallwood during his first two years in the league, but he’s the only running back of the four who hasn’t suffered an injury all spring and summer. 

Some of that is luck. Some of that is Smallwood’s better understanding of how to protect himself and being “in tune” with his body. While the other running backs have to show the Eagles their ability, Smallwood has to show them his ability to stay healthy. So far, so good. 

Smallwood has made an effort this year to really try to stay healthy. He agreed that injuries have really hampered his young career, especially whenever it looks like he’s going to get a bigger role. It happened last year after Darren Sproles went down. Smallwood looked like the new third-down back, but a knee injury helped ruined that. So instead of being a major contributor on the Super Bowl team, Smallwood was inactive for the second half of the season and all three playoff games. 

Now, Smallwood is fighting and clawing to stay in Philadelphia and make the roster. He’s willing to be a big contributor on special teams, which is important, and maybe he showed something when he didn’t have the ball on Thursday night. 

It just seemed like he didn’t do a ton to separate himself. The good news for Smallwood is that the fourth-running back race is more of a crawl. All he has to do is keep inching along. 

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Eagles stock up, stock down from 2nd preseason game

Eagles stock up, stock down from 2nd preseason game

The Eagles are now halfway through their preseason schedule and we’re beginning to see the 53-man roster take form. 

Some players performed well in Foxboro against the Patriots on Thursday night. Some didn’t. 

Here are three “stock up” players and three “stock down” from the second preseason game: 

Stock up

Nate Sudfeld
Suds is the easiest one to pick from this game. He dropped dimes all over the field at Gillette Stadium. He ended up completing 22 of 39 passes for 312 yards, with three touchdowns and just one interception that came after a drop. But those numbers only tell a very small portion of the story. To me, the biggest reason to think Sudfeld can actually play are the individual throws. We’re talking about perfect passes some starters in the league can’t make. You can question the level of competition, but you can’t look at some of these balls and not be impressed. 

I still can’t believe Washington let this kid walk. Did he look like a completely different player down there after they used a draft pick on him? Because the Eagles identified something in him quite early. It’s why they lured him away from Washington to join their practice squad. It’s why they added him to the active roster when the Colts tried to vulture him. And it’s why whenever they talk about their quarterbacks, they don’t stop at Foles and Wentz. They always include Sudfeld. 

Shelton Gibson 
I really can’t believe this is the same kid who couldn’t catch a cold this time last year. What an incredible transformation. I guess that’s what confidence can do for a young player. He caught five passes for 90 yards against the Patriots, and hauled in his second touchdown pass of the preseason. 

Gibson again showed off his ability to be a deep threat, but he showed other levels of his game too. On the touchdown catch, that route is really good. And he also showed off his skills as a kick returner, bringing back four for 121 yards. 

Ronald Darby 
Some people might have looked at Darby’s game and thought “stock down” because he dropped two interceptions. While that’s true and he needs to start making those plays, he was great in coverage against the Pats. He put himself in position to nearly pick off a couple passes. Without Jalen Mills, Darby lined up at left corner back, the position he held before his ankle injury early last season. With how well he played there on Thursday night, I wonder if the Eagles would consider making the switch and putting him back there. 

Stock down

Matt Jones
With a tremendous opportunity to win a roster spot on Thursday night, Jones had a dud of a performance. He carried the ball six times for 19 yards; he caught six passes for 32. But the problem was that he dropped three passes, one of which was then picked off by the Patriots. 

Remember, not that long ago, Jones was thought to be a talented young running back with starter potential down in Washington. Now? He’s fighting to make the Eagles’ roster as a fourth-stringer and can’t even shake off the competition. 

Rashard Davis 
The young receiver from JMU had a pretty good camp as a receiver and even caught a 31-yard touchdown pass. That’s good. 

So why is his stock down? 

Davis had a chance as a punt returner on Thursday night and turned in a really disappointing performance. He returned five punts for just 19 yards. That’s even more amazing because one of his returns went for 15 yards. Two of Davis’ returns went for negative yardage, including a minus-11 that pinned the Eagles back at their own 2-yard line in the third quarter. I know he’s trying to make a play, but that’s terrible awareness. 

Halapoulivaati Vaitai 
We could have very well given this spot to Nick Foles, who had a really off night before leaving with an injury. But instead we’ll give it to the guy who aided that injury. Big V didn’t have a good night at all but his worst play came when he got beat by Adrian Clayborn, who then hit Foles on his throwing arm, knocking Foles out of the game. The play also resulted in a fumble return touchdown for the Patriots. Vaitai was a big part of the Super Bowl team last year, but he thrives on confidence. You wonder about that when you see a play like the one that happened in Foxboro. 

Luckily the Eagles are getting Jason Peters back this year, but Big V might be the tackle of the future. There’s some reason to worry about that. 

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