Eagles news and notes for 11/28
READING THE tea leaves, by the end of the week, Eagles coach Doug Pederson seemed to be leaning toward activating five wide receivers Monday night against Green Bay, instead of the usual four.
Pederson gets an obvious opening to do that from Ryan Mathews being out with an MCL injury; Pederson doesn't have another running back on the roster to activate, so he'll have to go with Darren Sproles, rookie Wendell Smallwood, and Kenjon Barner, instead of the four-man group he usually employs.
If the running back situation does indeed lead to five active receivers, that would mean Nelson Agholor would have to be in uniform. It wouldn't mean he would have to play much, or at all. Agholor, who has two catches for 7 yards in 142 snaps over the last two games, wants to play but has said he'll be OK with whatever the coaches decide.
Early in the week, in the direct aftermath of Agholor saying he has to "get out of my own head" after a loss at Seattle - he nullified a 57-yard touchdown by lining up off the line, then dropped a 25-yard pass - Pederson seemed to be leaning toward giving Agholor a week off, to watch and reflect. But he also said he wanted to talk to Agholor and see how practice went before deciding.
Agholor said all the right things, as he usually does, and apparently, the practice week went pretty well.
"My mindset is to prepare for (playing). Obviously, that's my responsibility to this team," Agholor said. He called Pederson "a great man," and "a great leader," and his ordeal "a great chance to grow."
With a prime-time audience watching Wentz, he has a pristine opportunity to display his development as a rookie.
"For me, the experience has been huge," Wentz said. "Every week, there's something new that happens. There's new 'outside things' that happens. Every week is something new to learn. Hard to say if I'm better or worse [since the beginning of the season], but I'm learning a lot. I'm getting valuable experience and I'm playing confident. Mistakes are going to happen. That's football. But I'm playing faster and faster.”
Wentz's statistics have waned since his scorching start to the season. He had a 103.5 passer rating in his first four games, but he has a league-worst 72.4 rating in his last six games. In those first four games, he threw seven touchdown passes and one interception. Since then? Four touchdowns and six interceptions.
It's not all on Wentz. As has been well-documented this season, the rookie could use more help from his wide receivers. But Wentz is the one with the ball in his hands on every play, and the results have not been good enough in recent weeks.
"I think we're close," Wentz said. "We have a lot of young guys, myself included, that's getting all this experience, all these learning opportunities, and we see them all. . . . We just need to fine-tune our details and we'll be all right."
Last week, Pederson noticed instances when Wentz "was a little bit late," "kept his eyes in a spot too long," or "could have gone other places with the ball." Part of that had to do with playing Seattle's defense and playing in a difficult environment, but Pederson said the lesson for Wentz is to understand game situations. Wentz must consider the down and distance, play call, play design, and what the defense presents. This awareness was atop the list when Pederson explained what he wants to see from his quarterback in the final six weeks.
Unfortunately, Sunday didn't go so well for the Eagles.
First, the winless Browns weren't able to pull off an upset win at home against the Giants (8-3) Sunday afternoon, who keep a firm grip on the top wild-card spot with their 27-13 win.
Later in the afternoon, the Buccaneers (6-5) defeated the Seahawks (7-3-1) 14-5, putting them a game ahead of the Eagles in the wild-card race. Even if the Eagles win on Monday night, the Buccaneers will have the tie breaker with just five games remaining.
Things also get tougher for the Giants and Washington in coming weeks. The Giants’ final five games of the season are all against Playoff contenders, while three of Washington’s final five games are on the road, including a Week 14 visit to Philadelphia.
The Buccaneers road isn't quite as tough, but they do face three road games, including a Week 15 visit to Dallas, where Eagles fans will once again be rooting for the Cowboys. The Vikings face the easiest remaining schedule, with four of the next five games against opponents who all have losing records.
Of course, all this is purely academic unless the Eagles defeat the Packers at the Linc Monday night. The Packers are on a four-game losing streak, but despite their down year, Aaron Rodgers remains a dangerous opponent.
Sometimes two or three days before a game, Wendell Smallwood will get a text message from Darren Sproles.
Sproles likes to check in to make sure the rookie is good with assignments and pass protections. A veteran of 12 years, Sproles passes on his knowledge of the game.
“He makes sure I’m good with everything,” Smallwood said.
On Monday, Smallwood will have to be good with shouldering the load. Ryan Mathews has been ruled out with an MCL sprain and Sproles is dealing with a fractured seventh rib.
That means Smallwood, the fifth-round pick, will likely be the Eagles’ lead running back on Monday night against the Packers.
“Yeah, he is (ready),” Sproles said of Smallwood. “He’s getting everything quick. The main thing is the protection and stuff like that, but he picks that up fast, though.”
“I definitely look forward to it,” Smallwood said. “I’m going to embrace it. It’s a great opportunity for me to take advantage of it and show what I can do. To show that I can take on a bigger load.”