Eagles news and notes for 12/28
One of the biggest differences in Carson Wentz in recent weeks has been his willingness to extend plays and run with the football.
In last week’s 24-19 win over the Giants, the rookie had several impressive-looking scrambles when his protection broke down before he could find a receiver. He also had four runs for 27 yards.
“It’s definitely part of his development and evolution,’’ Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Tuesday. “There was a game about a month ago. I can’t remember exactly which one. But he rolled out to his left and was being chased by a big defensive lineman, a nose guard who no way was going to be able to catch him.
“He got over to the sideline, felt him coming and threw it out of bounds. When we were watching the film the next day, I said, ‘You couldn’t have swung back around and bought a little more time?’ I was kind of kidding around with him when I said it. But he looked at me and said, ‘Is that free game?’ I said, ‘Yeah, it’s free game if you can make the play.’ He said, ‘OK, now I know.’ ’’
In the Eagles’ first 10 games, Wentz rushed for just 48 yards on 28 carries (1.7 yards per carry). Had only seven rushing first downs, which, at the time, was fewer than 17 other starting quarterbacks in the league, including a number of guys who don’t have anywhere close to the athleticism Wentz has.
In the last five games, he’s been more willing to run when he’s been pressured. He’s rushed for 89 yards and five first downs on 17 carries (5.2 yards per carry) in those five games.
Kendricks is the third linebacker in the Eagles' pecking order, behind Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham, who have both played far more snaps so far this season.
Kendricks is not worth the $6,600,000 he'll count against the cap in 2017, however, the Eagles would only save $1,800,000 of that if they cut or traded him. While Kendricks has been brutally bad at times, he has flashed his athletic ability at other times. Unfortunately for Kendricks, Jim Schwartz has been unable to find creative ways to use Kendricks to the best of his abilities. For example, in my view, Kendricks' best trait as a linebacker is his blitzing ability, and he has rushed the passer a grand total of nine times this season, according to ProFootballFocus.
The $1,800,000 savings the Eagles would receive would not be worth cutting him, but if some team out there were intrigued by Kendricks' potential, a mid- to late-round pick might convince the Eagles to trade him.
Malcolm Jenkins turned 29 last Tuesday. Because the Eagles had a Thursday game in a truncated week and Jenkins is a devoted film studier, Jenkins treated his birthday like a school night. The test came two days later, and he played his finest game of the season in last week's 24-19 win over the New York Giants.
Jenkins finished with six tackles, three pass break-ups, two interceptions, and one touchdown. He helped devise the coverage used for the Eagles' game-clinching interception. He played multiple positions and was on the field more than any other player on the team, totaling 89 defensive snaps and nine special-teams snaps.
"He sacrifices not only himself but his position sometimes, that safety position, to do whatever it takes for the football team," coach Doug Pederson said. "Just time after time he keeps making play after play and gets those guys lined up and has really put together a good season."
The best seasons of Jenkins' career have come since joining the Eagles in 2014. He has played more than any other player on the roster, earned his first Pro Bowl appearance last season, and is again an alternate this year. But it will also be another season without making the playoffs. After being in the postseason in four of his first five NFL seasons, Jenkins said the outcome of the last three seasons is "something I'm not trying to get used to." Each year without the postseason is wasting a productive season from the Eagles' best safety since Brian Dawkins.
This is not to say that Jenkins hasn't had his share of forgettable plays this season. By his own admission last week, he was better in 2015 than in 2016. But he also said that before Thursday's win, when Jenkins helped lead the Eagles.
*A good amount of the Doug Pederson criticism is overblown, but one thing I still can’t wrap my head around is having your franchise quarterback serve as a lead blocker. Carson Wentz didn’t get hurt on the end-around reverse to Nelson Agholor, but it’s a completely unnecessary risk to take. (Ironically, the only person to not get hurt on his block was Wentz as both Eli Apple and Jason Peters exited the game with injuries.) It’s not that Wentz is likely to get blown up, considering he weighs at least 50 pounds more than many cornerbacks in the NFL, but when defensive backs see bigger blockers coming around the edge, they’ll sometimes cut the guy. It’s probably not the greatest idea to give defenders free shots at your franchise quarterback’s knees.
*However, one critique I disagree with is questioning Pederson about going for it on fourth-and-goal from the Giants’ 1-yard-line late in the third quarter. Even in the notoriously conservative — to a fault — NFL, teams typically go for the touchdown in that situation. According to Pro Football Reference, head coaches have kicked the field goal just 31 percent of the time in the last five seasons when presented with that decision. But the more important stat is this: teams score a touchdown more often than not (54.6 percent) in that situation; plus, runs are much more successful (56.5 percent) than passes (43.5). With the Giants’ top run-stuffer — Damon “Snacks” Harrison — getting injured on the previous play, it made complete sense to try to get a yard up the middle.
Nelson Agholor did something last Thursday that he hadn’t done since early September. He caught a touchdown pass.
It was a big one too. A 40-yard bomb in the second quarter off the hand of Carson Wentz in the win over the Giants. It was the second-longest catch of his career and one of the longest touchdowns of the year for the Eagles.
It was a big play. It just wasn’t a breakthrough, according to offensive coordinator Frank Reich. Not yet.
“You know, obviously it was a nice play. Shows his speed. He did a good job,” Reich said on Tuesday. “I think the only way to get breakthroughs is to do something over and over again consistently. This league’s too tough to be just a flash here or there. I think we all know that, Nelson knows that, every player knows that.
“You have to do it week-in and week-out, play-in and play-out. But you take every positive step that comes along and that was certainly a good one.”
This season and throughout his short career, Agholor hasn’t been able to play well week-in and week-out.
Not one for reflection, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is putting his focus on Dallas and Sunday's season finale, hopeful that the Eagles can go out on a high note in 2016.
"Maybe there will be a time we can get together. I don't want to assess anything during the season," Schwartz said on Tuesday at his weekly press conference at the NovaCare Complex. "We only get 16 opportunities and anything that you get ahead of yourself before, when you still have games to play, doesn't do enough respect to this game.
"I sort of envy the NBA, the way they can sit guys for a game and even Major League Baseball. You look up and your name is not in the lineup that day because it's a day game after a night game or something. Football is not that way. We've got to give each game the respect that it deserves. That's the only thing our attention is on. I'm sure it will be something we can do at the end."
Dallas comes to town on Sunday and there is no offense in the league playing with more precision than the very-balanced Cowboys, who feature rookie sensation Dak Prescott at quarterback and MVP candidate Ezekiel Elliott at running back. The Cowboys have it all on offense, starting with a dominating line, so Schwartz has much to concentrate on this week.
How much the Cowboys play their starters remains to be seen, but the Eagles are preparing for the full complement of front-line players. And they can't help but think back to the first meeting between the teams when the Eagles battled Dallas, mixing blitzes and four-man rushes, keeping Elliott under control, intercepting a pass in the end zone and leading by 10 points late in the fourth quarter. Then the Cowboys drove 90 yards for a touchdown to tie the game and send it into overtime. A first-possession Cowboys touchdown, covering 75 yards, ended the game, and a chance for the Eagles to make the kind of statement they wanted in the NFC East.