Jordan Matthews

A Q&A with the Eagles' wide receivers coach Carson Walch

A Q&A with the Eagles' wide receivers coach Carson Walch

Every few weeks, as per NFL media rules, the Eagles’ position coaches are made available to the beat writers who cover the team, and Tuesday was our first chance to talk to receivers coach Carson Walch since the Eagles’ position-wide slump began.
The Eagles wide receivers, picked universally as one of the top wideout groups in the NFL coming into the season, have been a disaster since DeSean Jackson first suffered an abdominal injury early in the Week 2 loss to the Falcons.
The entire group has regressed to the point where none of the receivers has more than 353 yards through nine games, no wide receiver has caught a TD pass longer than six yards in the last six games, the entire group is averaging 72 yards combined over the last six weeks and two of the team’s top four wideouts don't have a reception since September.
So without editorial comment, here’s excerpts of our conversation Monday with Walch, the Eagles’ fifth receivers coach in the last five years:

How's Alshon playing?

“He’s playing good football. I think at any point in the season if you say someone’s going to be perfect game in and game out, you’re not going to get that. But he’s prepared every single week. He battles through the weekly injuries like any NFL player does, gets his body right every single week, but mentally he’s in a good spot and we have all the confidence in the world in Alshon, I think everyone can say that about the guy.”

Why has the group failed to perform at a high level?

“I don’t look at statistics, all we talk about is winning football games. That’s A-1 for us, how do we find ways to win football games, and we’ve done that the last two weeks against very good defenses, but at no point will I say in front of anyone that our group is satisfied with where we’re at. Every day we come in with a plan how we’re going to get better, our guys own it, I own it as a coach, and our goal is to win one game this week.”

Have the receivers met your expectations?

“Certain games they have, yeah, certain games we haven’t as a group. Our goal each week is to go out and play a great football game. We know it’s not going to be perfect. It’s football, it’s the NFL, there’s great coaches on each side of the ball, but each week we do have a standard and there’s been certain weeks we haven’t met that standard and we’ve got to get that right.

How much do you miss DeSean?

“We’re not going to go in the tank because one guy can’t play for the weeks to come. I think it’s a challenge for a lot of guys in the room: ‘Hey, it might be my time now to step in and do the job.’ … Does it hurt to lose DeSean Jackson? Absolutely. I think we can all answer that question. He’s a prolific player in our building, he’s a prolific player in the NFL, and he’s done it for a really long time, so of course it’s going to hurt.”

How do you hit deep balls without him?

“I think it’s just a work in progress. I truly believe that. We have hit some deep balls down the field. Have we hit every one? No. Have we hit all the ones we wanted to hit? No. But all we can do is continue to go back to the drawing board each week, continue to rep and get more throws with our guys with the quarterback, and we’ll get it done. It’s DeSean’s forte, we all know that. He’s got more than anyone else in the history of the league. It’s hard to replace that.” 

Why hasn't 2nd-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside made an impact?

“J.J.’s ready. He’s cross-trained now. He knows the X position, he knows the Z position and if it came down to it he could probably play the F position. He’s in a good place right now. He’s positive, he feels good about where he’s at in the offense, so yes, I do anticipate him getting some snaps as we go.”

Why hasn't Mack Hollins caught a pass since Week 4?

“I don’t think there’s a direct reason. I know production is a word that’s getting thrown around a lot. Production as a player to me isn’t just how many catches you have in a given week. Each guy on our team has a role and right now Mack Hollins has done a very good job at his role, and a lot of it is blocking, but he’s running all the routes we’re asking him to run, he’s getting to his depth and when the ball comes to Mack he’ll make a play for us.

How's Nelson Agholor playing?

“He’s doing very well. He works harder than everybody in the room. He’s a great young man, he’s prepared every single week, and he made two great catches last week (3-for-21). Off-target catches. Went down and made a great play on both of them and we’re excited about the rest of the season.”

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With no need to acclimate, Jordan Matthews ready to produce immediately for Eagles

With no need to acclimate, Jordan Matthews ready to produce immediately for Eagles

Jordan Matthews knows the quarterback. He knows the coach. He knows the offense. He knows the building. He knows the city. 

The only difference is that Matthews has a new locker this time. He was happy to get a stall next to his good friend Zach Ertz. 

After officially signing with the Eagles again on Monday morning, the 27-year-old receiver is now in his third stint with the team that drafted him in the second round out of Vanderbilt back in 2014. 

“There’s not much of that process of acclimating,” Matthews said on Monday afternoon. “Every other place that I’ve gone, it feels like there’s a good two to three weeks where you don’t even know where the bathroom is. 

“But I was able to come back here and it’s just like back at home. See everybody, ‘what’s up?’ ‘What’s up?’ Back to work.”

That’s good news for the Eagles because they certainly don’t have time to wait for Matthews to get acclimated. 

They need him to produce. 

And they need him to produce immediately. 

“The guy has made a lot of plays for the Eagles over the years,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “He has excellent football intelligence. He knows our system. He has familiarity there. I think there's great comfort with him in the huddle. There's rapport and chemistry with he and Carson (Wentz), which is important, so certainly nice to get him back.”

On the 53-man roster, Matthews replaced DeSean Jackson, who had one monster game before an abdominal injury derailed his Eagles reunion. Jackson is now on Injured Reserve after having core muscle surgery. 

Of course, no one is expecting Matthews to come in and all of a sudden replace the best deep threat in the NFL. That’s not realistic. That’s not his game. But Matthews has been a productive receiver in the NFL before and he’s been a productive receiver in Philadelphia. The Eagles are just hoping he can give a small boost to a position group that has struggled mightily in 2019 without Jackson. 

Step in and produce? 

Matthews says that’s no problem. 

“I feel like it’s been that way every single time,” he said. “I feel like when I got drafted here, that was one thing I heard: that we need production from the receiver position. Came in, worked hard and played. And then even last year, I was here a year ago at this time. … That was the same thing. It was like, ‘we need you to come in and immediately produce’ and that’s just what I do. When opportunities are there, I just try to work hard and make plays. The moment’s not too big for me. I just go out and play.”

In 14 games (three starts) with the Eagles last season, Matthews caught 20 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught a 37-yard touchdown in the Saints playoff game. 

But after the playoff loss, Matthews signed with the 49ers, who cut him, brought him back and cut him again in late October. Aside from the Eagles, Matthews has now spent time with the Bills, Patriots and 49ers, but he feels like Philly is his NFL home. He was thrilled when the Eagles brought him back again. 

“It was so crazy. I felt like it was kind of unprecedented,” he said. “I heard of guys going back to a team that drafted them once. But twice? It was just crazy. I was just texting all the guys, like, ‘guys, it’s happening!’ It was like a kid in a candy store, man. It was like getting drafted all over again. I was just so happy. I can’t even explain. Picked up my son, ran around like he was Simba. It was a good feeling, man.”

Groh said the Eagles will probably use Matthews as an outside and a slot receiver. It would certainly make sense for Matthews to take some playing time away from Mack Hollins, who has gone five straight games without a catch. 

Even if Matthews can just give the Eagles a slight boost, bringing him back will be worth it. And maybe everyone else will be as happy about the move as he was. 

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Imagine if Carson Wentz had real wide receivers?

Imagine if Carson Wentz had real wide receivers?

There’s ageless Larry Fitzgerald making a ridiculous one-handed catch on a 4th-and-5 against the Bucs. There’s Golden Tate taking a short pass from Daniel Jones and running 61 yards through traffic for a touchdown against the Jets. There’s Amari Cooper in the third quarter against the Vikings catching a pass five yards out of bounds while somehow dragging his feet in bounds … then doing it again in the end zone a few minutes later.

It was impossible to watch football Sunday without watching incredible catch after incredible catch and wondering what it would be like if just one of those guys was an Eagle.

Eagles wideouts can’t make the routine catches. Other teams have guys who make impossible ones.

Watching other teams play football during the bye week really reinforced what we already knew: The Eagles’ wideouts are the worst in the league.

They don’t make plays.

And it really makes you appreciate what Carson Wentz has been able to do despite being hamstrung by this horribly underachieving group.

It wasn’t a coincidence that Donovan McNabb had — by far — his best NFL year in his one full season with T.O. 

Wentz had one game with DeSean Jackson and chucked two 50-yard TDs, completed 72 percent of his passes and passed for 313 yards.

For Wentz to be playing at the level he is — 15 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 63 percent completion percentage — is remarkable considering that since Week 2, the Eagles have been trotting out a group of wide receivers that includes a one-time Pro Bowler who suddenly looks old and slow and is struggling terribly to catch the most routine passes, a $9.4 million former first-round pick who keeps whiffing on deep balls and has been a non-factor for two months, a third wideout who hasn’t had a catch since September and a second-round pick who hasn’t had a catch since earlier in September.

Imagine trying to play quarterback in the NFL without wide receivers?

Imagine what Wentz’s numbers would look like if Nelly had caught a couple of those easy deep balls, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside brought in that potential game-winner against the Lions and Alshon Jeffery had just caught half the balls he's dropped?

The Eagles would likely be 7-2 and he’d have Pro Bowl numbers.

Now just imagine if he had Amari Cooper or Larry Fitz or even Tate. Or any legit NFL receiver. Or a couple of them. 

He has none of them.

Wentz has made the passing game work to some extent with a Pro Bowl tight end, a rapidly improving rookie running back and a capable second tight end as his main weapons.

But the most impressive thing he’s done is play within himself, not get frustrated — at least not outwardly — and stay positive throughout this nightmarish stretch by his wide receivers.

That’s leadership, and anybody who’s watched the Eagles play football this year knows that Wentz is doing absolutely the best he can with what he has.

You never see him shaking his head or slamming his helmet down on the sideline after a bad drop. You never see him barking at one of his receivers after another hapless third down when nobody's open. You never see him lose his cool when a perfect deep ball flies through someone's hands.

The Eagles are 5-4 coming out of the bye week with a wide receiver crew that, since Jackson went down with what turned out to be a season-ending injury, has averaged — as a group — 89 yards per game. Over the last six weeks, that number is down to 72.

That’s all of them combined.

Eagles wide receivers don’t have a touchdown catch longer than six yards over the last six games. They don't have any catches of 40 yards since Week 2.

Through it all, Wentz remains efficient, positive and confident.

People always joke about how bad James Thrash and Todd Pinkston were. Thrash averaged 55 catches, 675 yards and 5 TDs in three seasons as an Eagle. Pinkston from 2001 through 2004 had 19 catches of at least 40 yards — third-most in the NFL behind T.O. and Randy Moss.

Wentz is essentially out there playing with a wide receiving crew that’s significantly worse than Thrash and Pinkston, and he has the Eagles in a virtual tie for first place in the NFC, and that tells you everything you need to know about the season Carson Wentz is having.

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