Eagles

Top-ranked Vikings D? 'In this house, we're the No. 1 defense'

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USA Today Images

Top-ranked Vikings D? 'In this house, we're the No. 1 defense'

They may not have the best defense in the NFL from a statistical standpoint, but the Eagles had the No. 1 defense where it mattered most: at Lincoln Financial Field in the NFC Championship Game.

The Vikings showed up with the league's top-ranked defense both in terms of total yards and scoring, and all of the hoopla that comes with the distinction. They left town having snapped a streak of four straight seasons with a No. 1 defense advancing to the Super Bowl after being upstaged by the Eagles, 38-7.

"All week, we just kept hearing everybody say (the Vikings) were the No. 1 defense, but I guess everybody forgot they were coming to Philadelphia," Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said postgame. "I know one thing: In this house, we're the No. 1 defense, and it's going to stay that way."

The Eagles are no slouches defensively, finishing the regular season fourth in total yards and scoring. The difference is that they actually looked the part on Sunday.

In fact, the Eagles' D has only been getting stingier down the stretch, limiting their last four opponents to a paltry 8.25 points per game going back to Week 16. Yet, the words "No. 1" kept coming up in reference to the Vikings, and the idea they were the superior unit — though technically accurate — clearly did not sit well with this group.

"From the front to the back end, we're loaded," Bradham said. "If nobody is going to respect us, we're going to find a way to take it."

The Eagles continue to be fueled by this idea they're underdogs or underappreciated, riding the rallying cry all the way to the big game.

"To me, it's a great defense," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of his own group. "One of the best, if not the top defenses in the league. They proved it again tonight.

"Sometimes they don't get enough credit, but you know what? Those guys in that dressing room, they know. They understand. We know as coaches."

Not convinced? Just ask Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, who played arguably his worst game of the season with the conference championship on the line.

"The Eagles are really good," Keenum said. "One of the best fronts we've faced all year, for sure, and they were solid in the back end. They played awesome. They played absolutely unbelievable today."

Keenum led the Vikings straight down the field on the game's opening possession, a nine-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by an easy 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph. For 4 minutes and 46 seconds, the Eagles missed tackles, blew assignments and generally looked overmatched.

It was difficult to imagine at the time the Vikings being held scoreless for the final 55-plus minutes.

"When they went up seven, we were like, 'Hey, they gave us their best shot,'" defensive end Brandon Graham said. "'We just have to make the plays and stay focused,' and that's all we did."

The Vikings committed a turnover or went three-and-out on their next four possessions, while Keenum finished with a season-low 63.8 passer rating.

"People didn't give us a chance," Graham said. "It's mind-boggling to me."

Many spectators have been critical of the Eagles' Super Bowl hopes since Carson Wentz was lost for the season. Talk about No. 1's — despite being the top playoff seed in the NFC, the Eagles were installed as underdogs in both matchups, and quite a few pundits and fans were expecting an early exit for this team.

But those folks either forgot or overlooked this Eagles defense, which has been great all season and firing on all cylinders for the last month. Let this win over the Vikings be a reminder.

"A lot has been said about this team, about what people's perception of us is and how far they think we can go," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "This was definitely one of those games where we wanted to keep our foot on the pedal for as long as we could do it and send everybody a message of who we are."

The question is, will the Eagles' message be heard this time around?

Malcolm Jenkins didn’t like Eagles’ demeanor during blowout loss

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Malcolm Jenkins didn’t like Eagles’ demeanor during blowout loss

In the wake of the Eagles’ 48-7 butt-kicking on national television in New Orleans on Sunday, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said as bad as things got, his team continued to fight. He seemed proud of that. 

When asked if he ever questioned their effort, Pederson said, “Never. Never once.” 

Malcolm Jenkins apparently saw things a little differently. Jenkins, on Tuesday, was asked about why he was so frustrated after the blowout. His answer was not just telling, but a departure from the message the head coach delivered.

It was just embarrassing, quite frankly. It was one of those things that I didn’t feel like, as a team, we had a lot of fight. I would rather get thrown out of a game than just lay down and take it. There’s a ton of frustration. One being, me going back to New Orleans. It’s a game that meant a lot to me. 

But just the demeanor of the team really bothered me. And then just the frustration of having guys that you work hard with and spend a lot of time with get injured, it’s just a rough day overall. At this point in time, we need to figure out some things about ourselves.

When pressed on what he meant by saying he was bothered by the demeanor of the team, Jenkins was asked if he thought there was “uninspired” play. 

“I wouldn’t say uninspired,” Jenkins said. “I think when a team jumps on you like the Saints did and things get rolling, you find out a lot about yourself. You’re going to get blown out regardless. You’re going to get blown out swinging or you’re going to get blown out laying down. I think you had a little bit of both.”

Jenkins said they can deal with guys getting beat or making mistakes, but they can't live with guys who aren't giving it everything they've got. 

Brandon Graham, who served as a captain last season, partially agreed with Jenkins. He said the “spirit” of the team wasn’t as high once they started getting blown out. But he didn’t think his teammates were laying down. Zach Ertz also told reporters he thought the team fought until the end of the game. 

Graham characterized the lack of spirit as simply disappointment in a game where the scoreboard became really lopsided. He even pointed at a late red zone stand when the game was already a blowout as some evidence the team didn’t completely quit. 

“I just felt like in that moment people were disappointed,” Graham said. “I don’t think nobody quit. At the end of the day, we all gotta watch the tape. I hope nobody looked like they quit. I don’t think nobody is no quitter on the team.”

The Eagles have six games left this season. If there are quitters in that locker room, they’ll be easy to spot. 

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Doug Pederson almost went for 4th-and-1 on Eagles' 1st drive

Doug Pederson almost went for 4th-and-1 on Eagles' 1st drive

Just a few minutes into the game Sunday, every Eagles fan was probably wondering what Doug Pederson would do.

After a pass to Josh Adams on 3rd-and-11 picked up 10 yards and left the Eagles with a 4th-and-1 on their own 24-yard line just 87 seconds into the game, Pederson faced his first huge decision of the day.

Do you risk going for it, knowing that if you fail the Saints will probably score in just a couple plays but understanding that if you convert you could really set a positive, aggressive tone for the day?

Or do you punt, flip field position and take the conservative way out?

As we now know, the Eagles punted, the Saints took a 3-0 lead eight plays later, led 17-0 by early in the second quarter and rolled to a 48-7 win.

Pederson admitted on Monday he seriously considered going for it on that 4th-and-1.

Would the ending have been different? Probably not. Even if the Eagles converted there’s no guarantee they would have gone down and scored. But it was impossible to watch that sequence and wonder if 2017 Pederson would have gone for it and if the game would have played out differently from that point.

“I was real close,” Pederson said. “I know we were way back on the 30-yard line or 25-yard line, somewhere in there. But that was one that possibly, you get that, and you stay on the field and you see what happens. But that's one I look at that maybe you do something different right there.”

Under Pederson, the last three years, the Eagles have converted 81 percent on 4th-and-1 (25 for 31), including 5 of 7 this year. That’s fourth highest in the NFL since 2016.

When they run, they’re 17 for 21 during that span. When they throw, they’re 8 for 10.

League-wide, 4th-and-1 is a 66 percent play since 2016 and a 73 percent play this year.

When Wentz keeps it on 4th-and-1, he’s 10 for 10.

Here’s a breakdown of the Eagles’ 4th-and-1 attempts under Pederson (with all these stats coming from Pro Football Reference):

Running

Carson Wentz: 10 for 10
Nick Foles: 2 for 2
Corey Clement: 2 for 2
LeGarrette Blount: 1 for 2
Ryan Mathews: 1 for 2
Jay Ajayi: 1 for 1
Darren Sproles: 0 for 1
Josh Adams: 0 for 1

Passing

Carson Wentz: 5 for 7
Nick Foles: 2 for 2
Trey Burton: 1 for 1

Sam Bradford was 1 for 1 in 2015, and actually the last time the Eagles failed to get a first down on a 4th-and-1 quarterback keeper was Dec. 29, 2013, when Foles was stopped for no gain in the third quarter of the Eagles’ 24-22 win over the Cowboys.

Obviously going for it on 4th-and-1 inside your own 25-yard line is a rarity. The Eagles have tried it only once in the last 25 years, and that was trailing the Vikings, 24-9, in 2013, and LeSean McCoy was stopped for no gain.

League-wide, there have been 24 tries on 4th-and-1 from inside the 25 the last 10 years, with offenses converting 67 percent of the time.

What about in the first quarter of a scoreless game?

That’s happened only twice in the last 25 years and both were fake punts — by the Packers with Tim Masthay in 2011 (he ran six yards for a first down against the Bucs) and by Kevin Huber of the Bengals against the Steelers in 2013 (he lost a yard and fumbled).

The only recent first-quarter 4th-and-1 attempt that wasn’t a fake from inside a team’s own 25-yard line came in 2016, when RG3 — then with the Browns — converted from the Browns’ 21-yard line with Cleveland already trailing the Bengals, 13-0.

The Eagles needed about half a yard for the first down, although there was no measurement.

Wentz can fall down and get half a yard.

“I think it just sends a message to the team that we're going to maintain that aggressiveness that we have established here,” Pederson said.

So why not go for it?

“Early in the game, it was the first drive,” he said. “Just punted the ball right there.”

And got killed.

The Eagles won a Super Bowl last year by defying the norm, and it’s impossible not to wonder if things would have been different if Pederson did it again in the first quarter Sunday.

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