Eagles-Bears 5 things: How will playing on road affect Carson Wentz?

Eagles-Bears 5 things: How will playing on road affect Carson Wentz?

Eagles (1-0) at Bears (0-1)
8:30 p.m. on ESPN
Eagles +3

Carson Wentz looks to replicate the magnificent performance he turned in for his NFL debut, but the difficulty turns up in a notch in Week 2, as the Eagles head to Chicago to take on the Bears on Monday Night Football.

While the Eagles were impressive in their opener, the Bears began the 2016 season 0-1 with a 23-14 loss to the Houston Texans. Regardless, this opponent is a clear step up from the inferior Browns squad Wentz downed in front of a friendly home crowd eight days ago.

Carson Wentz on the road
No, Wentz has never played a prime time game at Soldier Field, much less a road game of any kind in the NFL. But it's not as if the 23-year-old has never been in a hostile environment before though.

Wentz made eight of his 21 starts at North Dakota State as a member of the visiting team, posting a 6-2 record in away games. Of course, it's a bit of a different animal in college — only one of the opponents was even ranked at the time — particularly at the FCS level, where the attendance in most buildings topped out under 20,000.

If any game could be considered comparable, it might be Wentz's first start, which just happened to come against FBS Iowa State in front of an announced attendance of 54,800. North Dakota State won comfortably by a final of 34-14, as Wentz completed 18 of 28 passes for 204 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.

Of course, Wentz has played in some pretty big games at neutral sites as well, going 2-0 in FCS National Championship games. It still isn't Soldier Field on a Monday night, but he does have some experience on the road nonetheless.

Jim Schwartz vs. Jay Cutler
After 11 seasons in the NFL, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has gained a reputation for a lot of things. For a long time, being a thorn in Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's side was one of them.

Cutler and Schwartz have seen plenty of one another through the years, particularly when the latter spent five seasons as head coach of the NFC North rival Detroit Lions. And for much of that time, Cutler owned Schwartz, amassing an impressive 8-4 record against Schwartz-led defenses

Only here's the kicker. While it certainly looks like Cutler has his number, Schwartz appears to have turned a corner in recent years. In their last three meetings — two as coach of the Lions and one as defensive coordinator for the Bills — Schwartz's side has come away victorious.

It just goes to show that while there is history here, some trends have a way of reversing course. Lately, Schwartz has been getting the better of Cutler, although there's no telling what will happen when the two match wits again on Monday.

Lane Johnson watch
It's Week 2 of the NFL season, but we're approaching week six of the Lane Johnson suspension watch, with absolutely no news to report.

Of course, while we've learned almost nothing new since reports first emerged of a looming 10-game ban on Johnson for a violation of the NFL's performance enhancing drug policy, that means one thing to the casual fan: the Eagles right tackle will continue to play.

At this point, there's no telling how this will eventually work out, but the expectation is a suspension is still on the way. Until then, Johnson's status is worth monitoring. As long as he's allowed to play though, he'll be in the lineup, as the Eagles are obviously better off with the fourth-year starter than without.

Injury report
The Eagles may have Lane Johnson in the lineup, but they will be without at least one key player on both sides of football. Tight end Zach Ertz (rib) and cornerback Leodis McKelvin (hamstring) were both ruled out for the contest, and both positions are areas where the depth chart is looking a little sparse for the contest against the Bears.

At tight end, at least the Eagles have veteran Brent Celek and secret weapon Trey Burton to help fill the void left by Ertz. That being said, there goes one of Wentz's top security blankets, as Ertz was targeted 7 times last week for six catches and 58 yards. It likely also means offensive lineman Matt Tobin will serve as a third tight end of sorts as well.

Meanwhile, the loss of McKelvin in the secondary will result in an extended look for rookie cornerback Jalen Mills. The seventh-round draft pick impressed during training camp and held his own in relief of McKelvin against the Browns, but it remains to be seen how he fares when Pro Bowl Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery is staring him down. With McKelvin out, it appears the Eagles will only carry three corners into the game as well.

Every team has to deal with injuries, but with a rookie quarterback under center, the margin for error will be paper thin for the Eagles most weeks. Monday night against the Bears appears to be no exception.

Bulletin board material?
Among the other things Cutler is known for is crumbling under pressure. This doesn't make him unlike most quarterbacks, but fair or not, there is a perception around the league that the Bears' signal-caller is "soft."

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins seemed to be echoing those sentiments earlier in the week, telling CSN's John Clark that Cutler becomes an "entirely different" player once he gets hit a few times. In other words, if the front four knocks him around early and consistently, Cutler will eventually fold.

That is certainly the book on Cutler, but if you put any stock in the notion of bulletin board material at all, you have to wonder whether Jenkins should've said anything at all. If winning wasn't enough, the Bears should be out to prove that kind of talk is wrong.

Of course, there's a reason that conversation about Cutler exists, and the fact of the matter is when the defense can get to any quarterback, it greatly enhances their odds of winning. So either Cutler is going to be the player he's known for being, or he's going to have to quiet Jenkins and like-minded opponents with his performance on Monday.

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Learning on the fly, Eagles’ interior DL needs to lead defense

Learning on the fly, Eagles’ interior DL needs to lead defense

As we’ve learned over the last four seasons, Jim Schwartz’s entire defense is predicated on getting pass rush from the front four. 

That won’t change in 2020.

Where that pass rush specifically comes from, however, might. 

Because after a year when the Eagles interior defensive line was completely demolished by injuries, the Eagles now boast an impressive group of defensive tackles that might just be the best in the entire league. 

It’s no secret: Those defensive tackles will need to be the engine that powers the defense in 2020. 

With us three healthy, and it being a really good rotation, that it should be really good for this team,” Fletcher Cox said on Wednesday. “… The defensive line, we have to be the group that leads this team. I’m really looking forward to it.

In 2019, the Eagles were forced to sign guys off the street to play next to their perennial Pro Bowler, Cox. But even Cox wasn’t his usual self last year after coming back from offseason toe surgery. 

In 2020? 

Cox is fully healthy and having a full offseason to prepare. Malik Jackson and Hassan Ridgeway both return from injuries that ended their 2019 seasons early. And the Eagles went out and signed Javon Hargrave to a three-year, $39 million contact. This defensive line is legitimately four deep with guys who are starter caliber. 

“I think it’s a really good group,” Cox said. “It’ll be a solid group along with all the other guys that’s in the room that I played with last year. It’s a really solid group and I’m really looking forward to getting back to football with those guys, with Malik and [Javon] coming in. It’ll be a really good rotation, whatever we decide to do. I’m just excited for those guys.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains. Because obviously Cox is still the centerpiece of the defensive line and, really, the entire defense. But he hasn’t played much — or at all — with the three guys who will be playing next to him. 

Take a look: 

Cox and Hargrave: Have never played together 

Cox and Jackson: Have half a game together 

Cox and Ridgeway: Started five games together 

And with Jackson, that half of football came after a training camp where Cox was limited coming off injury. So Cox has the most experience with the defensive tackle who is expected to play the least. Hargrave is expected to be a starter and Jackson will be a rotational player who might play a lot of snaps at defensive end too. 

It’s going to take time for these guys to learn to play with one another. And this offseason is obviously an unusual one thanks to COVID-19. There were no OTAs and there’s an abbreviated training camp with no preseason games. 

“When Timmy (Jernigan) was here, it took a while for us to get on the same page,” Cox said. “You just don’t learn those things over night. I didn’t have a training camp with Malik. We only had like half of a game under our belt. We never really got into that same groove. It’s going to take some time. 

“I think the main thing for [Hargrave] is going out, playing fast, learning the defense, which he’s doing a really good job at, catching onto things that we do. The realest thing is just going out and getting the repetitions with him. It think it’s going to take a lot of repetition for him and me to get on the same page, a lot of communication. So far, so good.”

On paper, this is the best group of defensive tackles ever assembled with Cox. And Hargrave ought to be the best complement next to him we’ve ever seen, surpassing the likes of Jernigan and Bennie Logan. But we’ve got to see it first. 

The Eagles better hope these guys figure out how to play next to each other pretty quickly. The 2020 defense is relying on them. 

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Eagles waive DT Bruce Hector and DB Prince Smith

Eagles waive DT Bruce Hector and DB Prince Smith

The Eagles on Friday released two players, including a defensive tackle who played in 11 games over the last two years and a Philadelphia native trying to make the team as an undrafted rookie.

The moves, along with the additions of Vinny Curry and Marcus Green, leave the roster right at the 80-man training camp limit.

The team released defensive tackle Bruce Hector and cornerback Prince Smith, an undrafted rookie who played at New Hampshire.

Hector originally made the Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent out of South Florida in 2018. He bounced up and down between the active roster and the practice squad three times and played in eight games, with 82 defensive snaps and 19 more on special teams. 

Hector, 25, was with the team in last year’s preseason but was traded on Aug. 22 to the Cards in exchange for safety Rudy Ford. But when the Cards released him nine days later, he rejoined the Eagles on Sept. 1 on the practice squad. 

He had two more stints on the practice squad and two on the active roster last year, playing 53 defensive snaps and 20 special teams snaps in three games. He was active for the Seattle playoff game and got five defensive snaps and seven on special teams.

After cutting ties with Hector, the Eagles have six defensive tackles remaining on the roster - Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway and Anthony Rush, who were all with the team last year, Steelers free agent Javon Hargrave and undrafted rookie Raequan Williams.

Smith grew up in Philadelphia and played high school football at Imhotep Institute Charter in West Oak Lane. He signed with the Eagles on April 30, just after the draft.

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