Eagles

Eagles' defense up for challenge of slowing Chiefs' high-octane offense

Eagles' defense up for challenge of slowing Chiefs' high-octane offense

Not all that long ago, Andy Reid presided over an explosive offense featuring running back LeSean McCoy, receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and a guy who back then was a big-play tight end in Brent Celek.

Today, Reid's offense comes at teams with tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and running back Kareem Hunt.

Fast, young, explosive. All that's different is the uniform.

The Eagles' defense, coming off an impressive debut in Washington last weekend, will have its hands full this weekend with a star-studded Chiefs offense (see 5 matchups to watch).

"You want games like this," Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said. "That's why we play this game.

"We're both coming off somewhat big wins. For us, a division opponent. For them, the Super Bowl champs. It's going to be a good matchup. They have great skill players, but we have skill players on our side of the ball that they have to worry about, too."

Reid has always had an eye for skill players, and in Kelce, Hill and Hunt — along with QB Alex Smith — the Chiefs have a nucleus that could bring Kansas City its first top-10 offense since Dick Vermeil was head coach.

"Obviously they have a lot of speed on the field, a lot of formation shifts, motions, some things we'll have to prepare for," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said.

"Guys who are well-established in this league who have made plays and obviously, you've got some rookies that are playing well. Really good quarterback, really good coach. They're very, very impressive."

The Chiefs opened the season with a 42-27 win over the Super Bowl champion Patriots a week ago Thursday, so not only are they explosive, they'll be well-rested going into their intriguing matchup with the Eagles at 1 p.m. Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

In Foxboro, Hunt put together the greatest debut by a rookie running back in NFL history, with 246 yards from scrimmage (148 rushing, 98 receiving, three TDs). Hill, who had 860 scrimmage yards last year as a rookie, added seven catches for 133 yards. Kelce had 5 for 40 but was over 1,100 yards last year.

"They do a lot of things to get your eyes going one way to create miscommunication within the defense to get somebody open," McLeod said.

"You see a lot of that. That's a big part of their scheme, so our biggest thing is communication is going to be key, discipline is going to be another, trusting that everybody's going to do their job and has that responsibility and not to do another person's job.

"We [have to] do that early and show that we can stop those plays that they scheme up. Because it seems like every team they play they have a set number of plays that they direct just for that specific team, so I think that's going to be the game plan early. Stop that and they'll get back into their regular offense."

With the 23-year-old Hill and the 22-year-old Hunt, this is only the fourth time in NFL history teammates 23 and under both surpassed 130 scrimmage yards on opening day.

In 1966, Dan Reeves and Bob Hayes of the Cowboys did it. In 1973, it was Jim Bertelsen and Lawrence McCutcheon of the Rams, and just last year it was achieved by Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks of the Saints.

Probably the only way Hunt and Hill won't be making plays for the Chiefs for the next five or six years is if Chip Kelly replaces Reid again and trades them.

"They are both talented guys and I think what stands out about it is if you pay too much attention to any one guy, that another guy can make you pay," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said.

"That 87 (Kelce) demands a lot of attention, also. They have a lot of talent across the board and the quarterback can get the ball to all of them.

"If you want to spend too much attention on Tyreek than Kelce, then the running backs, all those guys can make plays. You have to play good, sound defense. You have to be good across the board. It's not just about taking one guy out of this offense. If you try to do that, I think there's a lot of other guys that can [hurt you]. We can't overplay one person at the expense of the other guys."

The Eagles' defense opened the season by limiting the Redskins to just 10 points and 264 net yards of offense.

But the Chiefs have a much higher-octane offense than the post-DeSean Redskins.

"There's not really that many teams that have one guy that you can stop and feel good about," Jenkins said.

"This league is too filled with talent. We know for a fact that there's going to be matchups that each guy is going to have to win. Whether it's on their receivers or the speed they've got in the backfield, or it's their tight end or it's their quarterback getting rid of the ball.

"Everybody's going to have to match up to win and we're going to need everyone to win those 1-on-1s. That's the beauty of having a team sport. Everybody's going to have to contribute. So we're looking forward to that. We're not trying to take away just one or two guys. We're going to see if we can match up."

10 reasons the Eagles will repeat as Super Bowl champs

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10 reasons the Eagles will repeat as Super Bowl champs

Over the next couple months, you’re going to hear virtually every NFL expert explain why the Eagles can’t win Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta in February.

You’ll hear how nobody has won back-to-backs since the Patriots in 2003 and 2004. How no NFC team has won consecutive championships since the Cowboys in 1992 and 1993. How no NFC East team has even won consecutive division titles since the 2003 and 2004 Eagles.

You’ll hear about the short offseason. You’ll hear how Super Bowl champions grow complacent and lazy after a few months on the banquet circuit. You’ll hear how the Eagles’ quarterback situation will be a distraction. 

You’ll hear every reason on Earth why they can’t. But I think they can. I think they will.

Here are 10 reasons why:

1. The roster is better

The Eagles should be better at wide receiver (Mike Wallace for Torrey Smith), defensive line (add Haloti Ngata and Michael Bennett), offensive line (presumably Jason Peters for the entire season) and tight end (Dallas Goedert for Brent Celek). Linebacker may be weaker, but with Jay Ajayi for a full season running back is a push even without LeGarrette Blount, adding Sidney Jones and losing Patrick Robinson is a push and safety and quarterback are pushes. Better roster. The Eagles have 17 starters back from a championship team, and they seem to have the pieces in place to fill those spots seamlessly.

2. They are clearly the class of the NFC East

The Giants were 3-13 last year and have a 37-year-old quarterback who hasn’t won a playoff game in six years. The Redskins were 7-9 last year and have a 34-year-old quarterback who’s 2-5 in the playoffs in his 13-year career. The Cowboys lost Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, and Dak Prescott has to prove to me he’s elite without them. The most recent NFL.com league rankings have the Eagles No. 1, the Cowboys No. 14, the Redskins No. 18 and the Giants No. 26. Sounds about right. Dominate your division and you have a terrific shot at a first-round bye.

3. Doug Pederson is by far the best coach in the division

Pederson is 3-0 as a playoff head coach. Jay Gruden, Jason Garrett and Pat Shurmur are a combined 1-3 as playoff head coaches.  

4. Peerless skill players

This may be the most talented group of skill players the Eagles have ever had. How do you stop an offense with Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Wallace, Goedert, Darren Sproles, Ajayi and Corey Clement?

5. Staying hungry

Pederson won’t let them get complacent. As early as two days after the Eagles won Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, Pederson had already addressed the team about staying hungry, about continuing to work as hard as it did in 2017, about moving on quickly from the Super Bowl and preparing for 2018. We saw last year that Pederson has a remarkable kinship with his players and a unique understanding of when to be tough on them and when to go easy, and that will serve him well as they make a run at another title.

6. Carson Wentz

Before he got hurt, Wentz was playing some of the best football in NFL history. In his last nine games, he had 27 touchdown passes and five interceptions, went 8-1 and fashioned a 107.6 passer rating. Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are the only other NFL quarterbacks who’ve ever had 27 TDs and five or fewer INTs in any nine-game stretch in NFL history. He might be the best quarterback in football this year. 

7. Home-field advantage

They’re the best home team in the NFL at 13-3 over the last two regular seasons, with one of those losses coming against Dallas last year in a game they weren’t trying to win. Including the playoffs and not including that Dallas game, they’re 15-2 at the Linc under Doug Pederson. The last time they went into a fourth quarter at the Linc trailing by more than four points was Chip Kelly’s final game as head coach. They’re capable of going 7-1 or even 8-0 at the Linc. Do that and go 5-3 on the road and you’re home for the playoffs. And that means the road to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta has to go through South Philly. And that means see ya in Atlanta.

8. Doug has done it before

Only two NFC teams in the last 25 years have reached back-to-back Super Bowls, and Pederson was a backup quarterback on one of them — the 1996 and 1997 Packers. He knows what it takes.

9. The Injured Guy Factor

If you can win a Super Bowl without Wentz, Jordan Hicks, Sproles, Peters and Chris Maragos, you can sure win one with them. You never know how these things will go, but the Eagles are optimistic all those guys will be ready either for the start of the season or soon after. And that's a Hall of Famer, two Pro Bowlers, a borderline Pro Bowler and a special teams ace. 

10. Because everybody is going to say they can’t.

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Eagles 2018 training camp battles: Third safety

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Eagles 2018 training camp battles: Third safety

As we get near the start of the Eagles’ 2018 training camp, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the key position battles to watch this summer. 

Today, we’ll look at the third safety. 

Names to know

Tre Sullivan, Chris Maragos, Jeremy Reaves, Corey Graham

What to watch

We know the top two safety spots are claimed already. Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins are going to be on the field. But Jenkins’ versatility makes things trickier. The Eagles used Jenkins as a nickel corner and a linebacker plenty last year, but the only reason they were able to do that is because they felt comfortable leaving the back end with McLeod and Graham. A lot of Jenkins at linebacker was out of necessity without Jordan Hicks, but Jim Schwartz won’t want to lose that versatility. That makes the third safety position so important. 

So who are the players? Well, for now, Sullivan is probably in the lead. The second-year guy from Shepherd University is highly respected in the NovaCare Complex. But is he really ready to go from practice squad to serious contributor? The Eagles should really see what they have but that’s a big jump. 

There’s also Chris Maragos and Jeremy Reaves. One is a veteran special teamer coming off a serious injury. The other is an unproven undrafted — but talented — rookie. It seems unlikely either of them are going to be given this responsibility. Just a few years ago, Maragos was a real player on defense, but he struggled in that role and he’s probably better off making his contributions as a special teamer. He’s really one of the best in the league. 

And, did we mention that Graham is still on the street?

Prediction

I think the Eagles sign Graham to another one-year deal to take back that spot. He was a really underrated free agent pickup a year ago and as long as he still wants to play, the Eagles need to make this work. They need the depth at this position and while it would make sense for some teams to go with younger depth, this guy will play this year and could help them win another championship. 

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