Eagles news and links for 10/5
Malcolm Jenkins has a whiteboard that hangs on the left side of his locker stall. There are color-coded messages written on the panel - notes the Eagles safety uses as reminders for areas in which he wants to improve.
Jenkins will sometimes make daily changes to the board, but mostly he goes week to week. There may be a leftover or two, but this week, for instance, as the Eagles prepare to face the Detroit Lions on Sunday, he has the following listed:
Open field tackling
Playing with balance
Keeping pad level down
Eyes in the right spot in man-to-man
"Each week I'm trying to get better at particular things, whatever shows up the week before that I might have messed up on," Jenkins said, "or something where I want to take my game to."
Jenkins seemingly has as little to improve as he has ever had. Last season was a breakout one, but this season he's off to a start that could augment his standing around the NFL. Jenkins earned his first Pro Bowl invitation in 2015, but only after other safeties backed out and made room for the alternate.
He was stung by the initial snub but understood that there was competition. But when Jenkins learned that he was the seventh alternate, it further chipped away at a grudge he has held since the Saints allowed him to walk away in free agency three years ago.
18 – The number of touchdowns the Lions have allowed to opposing tight ends in their last 20 games (hat tip @AdamLevitan).
This statistic seems especially relevant with the expected return of Eagles starter Zach Ertz. Ertz has been targeted 55 times in his last five games for 41 receptions, 508 yards, and one score.
Ertz isn’t the only tight end Detroit will have to worry about. For the first time this season, the Eagles have all three tight ends healthy. Veteran Brent Celek and secret weapon Trey Burton are bound to be involved in the game plan as well.
Covering tight ends hasn’t been the only weakness of the Lions’ defense this year. The unit as a whole has really struggled. Detroit is allowing 6.3 yards per play, which is the second worst mark in the league.
Another key area where the Eagles could benefit from Detroit’s deficiencies is on third down. The Lions are allowing their opponents to convert on 47.06%. Only one NFL team (Washington) has been worse. That’s good news for an Eagles offense that’s struggled to move the chains at times. Philadelphia’s offense has only converted 30% of their third down attempts, which ranks 29th.
1) Carson Wentz against yet another inexperienced pass rush
In Week 1 against the Browns, Wentz faced a defensive front seven that had 22 combined career sacks. In Week 2, he faced a Bears' defensive front seven that had 54.5 combined career sacks. Those are extremely low numbers. In Week 3, the Steelers were similarly inexperienced, but not to the degree of the Browns and Bears. The Steelers' starting front seven had a combined 85 career sacks.
To put that in perspective, there are 10 active individual players with more than 85 sacks, on their own, including Trent Cole, for example, who has 87.5.
So far this season, the Eagles have allowed just four sacks, which was tied for fourth-best in the NFL prior to Week 4. The Eagles' offensive line has given Wentz time to throw, and he has responded with outstanding quarterback play.
Against the Lions, with stud pass rusher Ziggy Ansah out, the Eagles will be beneficiaries of yet another defensive front seven without proven pass rushers
55.7 percent of the Lions' career sacks from their defensive front seven starters are coming from Haloti Ngata, who is now 32 and has never had more than 5.5 sacks in any one season, although previously unknown DE Kerry Hyder actually leads the league with 5 sacks.
Still, even with Lane Johnson potentially out, the Eagles should be able to protect Wentz once again.
The Eagles don’t play their fourth game until Sunday at Detroit, but it’s hard to find more than a handful of eternal optimists who thought this team would be 3-0.
It’s not just that the Birds traded their projected starting quarterback eight days before the first game. It’s that they weren’t predicted to be that good even with Sam Bradford as the quarterback.
For a rookie head coach in Doug Pederson to win his first three games with a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz (more on him later) running the show is The only other rookie coach/quarterback tandem to start the season at 3-0 were Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez in 2009.
The Eagles have the stingiest defense in the league as far as yielding points and have not committed a turnover. They lead the league in point differential at plus-65.
Other teams off to surprisingly quick starts are the Oakland Raiders (3-1); the Dallas Cowboys (3-1) with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott filling in for the injured Tony Romo; and the Los Angeles Rams (3-1).
The idea is this: If the Eagles use Ertz, Brent Celek and Trey Burton together, defenses have the choice of going big and staying in base personnel, or going smaller with a third cornerback on the field replacing a linebacker. If a defense stays with three linebackers, the Eagles can spread the field and force the defense to use linebackers in coverage against the Eagles' tight ends, or match up a bigger tight end on a smaller cornerback in space. If a defense takes a linebacker off the field and goes "small," then the Eagles may have an advantage and can play power football and employ the running game using that personnel package.
"There are a lot of possibilities and we can be more versatile with three tight ends out there as part of our look," wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. "I think it's going to be a lot of fun. The more looks we can give defenses, the more off-balance we can make them and that's to our advantage."
We've already seen the offensive coaching staff use to its advantage every corner of the roster. They've used four running backs in all three games (more on that below). They've used defensive tackle Beau Allen as a fullback. All of the wide receivers are getting touches. Lineman Matt Tobin has filled in as the third tight end with Ertz missing two games because of a misplaced rib.
Interesting stuff. And only going to get better with a full group healthy and excited to get a piece of the action.
"That's the thing," Ertz said. "We all feel part of it. It's fun out there. Everyone is playing his part and we're getting better and better. I think the sky is the limit."