Eagles receivers' drops kept Carson Wentz from another standout statistical game

Eagles receivers' drops kept Carson Wentz from another standout statistical game

CHICAGO — It might have been Carson Wentz’s finest pass yet, a breathtaking spiral from 35 yards out that led Jordan Matthews perfectly into the near left corner end zone.

The ball appeared to float magically right into Matthews’ waiting arms, and then it sailed through them, falling to the ground and bouncing away.

One of those plays where the more you watch the replay, the more you just don’t believe he didn’t catch it.

“Great pass by Carson,” Matthews said at his locker. “It’s one that we work on and it’s a play I have to go make. But the thing for me is that I’d much rather learn from a mistake with a win rather than a loss.”

Drops were a problem for Matthews last year, and he’s already got three in two games this year, although the one Monday night in Chicago was the first one that was really damaging.

The Eagles trailed 7-6 with 19 seconds left in the first half and had a 2nd-and-10 on the Bears’ 35-yard line when Matthews was unable to make the play.

The Eagles settled for a field goal, and although they eventually won 29-14 to get to 2-0, it was the kind of play that against a better team could come back to haunt them.

Nelson Agholor also had a drop on a deep ball down the right sideline early in the third quarter. And although his wasn’t as egregious — it was an underthrown ball and Bears corner Jacoby Glenn probably interfered with him — it’s a ball a great receiver catches.

“Dropping the football is going to happen,” Agholor said. “The quarterback is going to give you opportunities. You've got to learn from it.

“The cause of drops could be mental. It could be a strength thing. You've got to squeeze it. At the end of the day, you learn from it and hopefully you don't repeat those mistakes."

Wentz still finished 21 for 34 for 190 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. But if the Eagles connect on the two drops, his numbers would have been close to last week’s stats against the Browns.

“I didn’t really see the highlight of it or anything, but if there were plays like that out here, I've got all the confidence in the world in those guys,” Wentz said.

“They’re hard on themselves, too. They’re just like me. We’re all hard on ourselves. It’s really all about just being positive and going forward with the next play.”

Matthews is off to a fine start statistically. He’s 12th in the NFL with 185 receiving yards and seventh with 13 catches.

But he knows that to be considered more than just another wide receiver, he has to make that play.

“I guess for me, it’s like, I can go out there and make all the plays and be a good receiver now,” he said. “But making those plays, that’s what pushes you into an elite category, that’s where people understand, this guy is a great receiver.

“I’m harder on myself than anybody else is so I want to make those plays. But at the same time, much rather learn it from a win than it costs us a game and we lose.”

Agholor, last year’s first-round pick, has made a few more plays so far this year than last year. He’s got eight catches for 99 yards in two games after registering just 105 yards in his first five games last year.

Small steps.

“It’s just always positive,” Wentz said. “You know, you’re never going to say anything negative because you know we’re all our own worst critics. We all want to be great so there’s really not a big emphasis you need to put on it. It’s all about going forward and they know that I have confidence in them, and I do.

“It’s going to come right back to them so they have to be ready for the next play.”

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Brandon Graham stays ready in boxing ring, takes 'important step' for Eagles' 2018 opener

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Brandon Graham stays ready in boxing ring, takes 'important step' for Eagles' 2018 opener

In February, Brandon Graham won a ring. In the six months since he’s gotten in one.

Graham said Monday he’s been doing some sparring as he rehabs from postseason ankle surgery.

Graham, who had a career-high 9½ sacks last year, returned to practice Monday after spending the last three weeks on the Eagles' physically unable to play reserve list (see story).

“Boxing is real good, especially with using my hands,” he said. “I always do that during the offseason. Always focus on my hands, because as a D-lineman that’s our goal, you’ve got to use your hands in everything.

“So while I’ve been hurt I’ve just been trying to work on my coordination and make sure everything stays tight.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Graham will be limited for a while here as he works off the rust.

"There are steps he's got to take along the way,” Schwartz said. “This is an important step getting back on to practice with his teammates. Probably be limited to just some individual stuff and we'll sort of work him along. But it is great to have him back.”

Graham won’t play against the Browns Thursday night and almost certainly won’t play against the Jets in the preseason finale a week later.

All he’s got on his mind is the Falcons on Sept. 6.

“All I can say is when I do start hitting people, I’m going to be so sore, but then you’ve got to work through that soreness like we always do and eventually that starts to become your armor and you build on that,” he said.

“I’m excited. Just excited to be back out there with the boys. It’s been hard standing back because you don’t want to feel behind. I don’t feel like I’m behind but they got a lot more reps than I got, so I’m just trying to catch up.

“Everybody knows when it’s time to go it’s going to be time to go. I’m just excited. We’re all excited because it’s the first step.”

Graham, who had the legendary strip-sack of Tom Brady in the closing minutes of the Super Bowl, said his ankle is fine, it’s just a matter of conditioning at this point.

Week 1?

“I’m not going to make any promises, but I’m working my butt off every day,” he said. “Putting money in the bank every day.”

Graham has missed only one game since opening day of 2012, and that was the meaningless season-ender last year against the Cowboys.

Only four defensive ends — Jerry Hughes, Cameron Jordan, Julius Peppers and Ndamukong Suh — have played more games (96, obviously) over the last five seasons.

“I’m really just focused on Week 1 right now and focus on today and how everything goes,” said Graham, now 30.

“I feel like I can get myself ready for Week 1, for sure, because I’m already doing two-a-days and sometimes two-a-days. It’s on me to make sure I continue to get my shape up and that’s just running and doing drills and pushing and pulling on people.

“I think as I continue to feel better, I’m going to continue to go harder. I’m just excited because now I can start counting down the days. I’ve got 17 days to get right.”

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Tackling new helmet rule a challenge for Jim Schwartz, Eagles

Tackling new helmet rule a challenge for Jim Schwartz, Eagles

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is concerned enough about the NFL's new rule banning tacklers from lowering their head to initiate contact that he held a defensive meeting Monday specifically so his guys could study film of exactly how the league is calling the new rule.

Through two preseason weekends, the Eagles have been cited a league-high five times for personal fouls for lowering the head.

“The instructions we’ve given guys is, try not to lower your head and try to take your head out of it, and I think our guys are trying to do that,” Schwartz said.

“I can confidently say we don’t have any guys that are trying to play outside the bounds. We don’t have any guys that are head hunting, that are being selfish. They’re trying to play within the rules.

“I think you can see Nigel [Bradham’s] play, he’s trying to get his head out. I think even Rodney [McLeod’s] play, he’s trying to get his head across and get it out. The problem is they’re dealing with world-class athletes who are moving targets. A little bit easier said than done. 

“And those fouls have hurt us in those first couple preseason games and we’ve got to get to a point where they don’t hurt us in the regular season.”

Cornerback Sidney Jones was called for a lowering-the-head penalty on Steelers receiver Damoun Patterson in the preseason opener, and tight end Richard Rodgers was also cited in the opener for an illegal hit on Justin Thomas on a punt return.

Last Thursday night, McLeod was called for a hit on running back James White, Bradham was cited for a hit on receiver Julian Edelman and safety Jeremy Reaves was penalized for a hit on running back Mike Gillislee.

“It’s going to be very important work over the next couple weeks, not just learning from our own mistakes but learning from other teams,” Schwartz said.

“There’s some other good feedback. We get clips from the league that show not just penalties that were called but penalties that should have been called. So there is a learning process.”

Eagles veteran defensive end Brandon Graham said it’s going to be tough to eliminate these penalties simply because the game moves so fast, and even if your intention is to use perfect form tackling, it doesn’t always end up that way.

“It’s tough because sometimes the runner’s ducking his head just as much as you’re ducking,” he said. “But they just don’t want to see the crown of your head hitting his crown or hitting his facemask.

“Just really try to keep your eyes up. You’re going to get ran over sometimes. Hey, you’re going to get ran over. But some people do like to use the crown of their head and it’s just to protect them because you don’t want to be paralyzed from hitting someone the wrong way. 

"So I try to keep my face up and hit with my facemask and this will force people to start doing stuff like that.”

One challenge Schwartz noted is getting his guys to play hard, fast and aggressive without thinking about how they’re tackling.

“You want to play fast,” he said. “You want to play confidently on the field. But any time there’s something new, there is going to be an adjustment. 

“It’s a difficult thing. We're trying our best to work through it, but it does add a layer of difficulty to what we're trying to do.”

According to penalty stats on NFLgsis, an official league statistical web site, there have been 48 lowering-the-head penalties called in 32 preseason games or 1½ per game.

Eight of the 32 teams haven’t been cited at all. The Eagles and Titans have been called a league-high five times each.

“It’s real sensitive right now, but as professionals, we’re going to adjust,” Graham said.

“They want to make it an emphasis in preseason, and I’m happy it didn’t cost us a real game. We’ve just got to continue to keep our head out of things and I think we’ll make that adjustment."

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