Eagles news and notes for 1/1
Doug Pederson may not have been the Eagles' first choice, but that doesn't mean he won't become a successful head coach.
But is he the right coach for the Eagles? As Carson Wentz is fond of answering when asked a particularly vexing question, "Hard to say." But even though one season isn't likely enough to form a conclusion, it does provide significant information about Pederson's prospects.
He was virtually an unknown. He had never been an NFL head coach; had only been in the league as an assistant for seven years; and had never called plays for a full game, let alone an entire season. Pederson had Andy Reid's playbook, schedule, and stamp of approval, and those seemed to be the Eagles' main reasons for hiring him.
But as the 6-9 Eagles end the season on Sunday, it's safe to make the following claim about Pederson after his first year: He's not Jim Tomsula. That's a pretty low bar, and Pederson easily cleared it, but there was some realistic belief that he would follow the 49ers coach, who was fired after one bumbling season.
The jury is certainly still in deliberation. But Pederson's play-calling, game management, nurturing of Wentz, and handling of the locker room, while far from perfect and with reasons for concern, was sound enough that bringing him back for 2017 should be a no-brainer.
By all indications, owner Jeffrey Lurie will.
The Eagles owner, of course, doesn't want to further enhance the view that he is tempestuous after he fired Chip Kelly following three seasons and a 26-21 record. But Lurie made his bed with Pederson, even if he hired him in a roundabout way, and who knows? Maybe it could ultimately pan out.
It wasn't supposed to end this way, with the Eagles playing their season finale and Dallas resting its regulars on the way to the postseason. This is life in the NFL. Nothing is predictable.
But here the Eagles are, with a game to play. And, whether the standings reflect it or not, the Eagles want this game on Sunday. They want to beat Dallas. They want to pack up their lockers on Monday feeling that taste of victory, even if it doesn't mean a thing to the rest of the world.
"It's Dallas and you always want to beat Dallas," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "We always want to win in the division."
The Eagles' performance within the NFC East is what ultimately changed the team's playoff chances. Losing the first four games in the division made the difference. That's part of what makes Sunday important within the locker room. The Eagles want to win in the NFC East. They beat New York last week. A win on Sunday, against no matter who Dallas has on the field, is the goal for the Eagles.
"It would mean a great deal to us, and I know that a lot of teams around the league are in a similar situation as we are, playing our final game of the season," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We want to win this game. It's against the Cowboys and in our division and a win means we end the season with two straight wins. I don't know how much that carries over into a new year, but I know that we have something special here. We have pieces in place. I'm excited to see it grow and improve in the future. So every time you go out on the field and you win, you are putting building blocks in place."
How the Eagles handle things in the offseason, and the pieces they move, all of that will be discussed in the future. The focus for the locker room is win on the way out and then, individually, attack the offseason.
It's Beat Dallas week, even if the chorus has less oomph right now.
Carson Wentz has one more game before the book closes on his rookie year. He's already among the most accomplished rookie quarterbacks in NFL history, and he has several milestones within reach when the Eagles finish the 2016 season with a New Year's Day game Sunday against the Cowboys at the Linc.
Let's take a look at where Wentz fits in among the top rookie quarterbacks in NFL history and a few other milestones that Eagles players are chasing Sunday:
• Wentz’s 564 pass attempts are already fifth-most in NFL history by a rookie. The record of 627 by Andrew Luck in 2012 is probably out of reach (although you never know with Doug Pederson calling plays), but Wentz can move as high as second with 36 passes.
• Wentz’s 3,537 passing yards are already seventh-most by a rookie. He can realistically move as high as fourth. With 203, he would reach 3,740, which would trail only Luck (4,374), Cam Newton (4,051) and Jameis Winston (4,042) in NFL history.
• Wentz needs only three pass completions to break the NFL rookie record of 354, set in 2010 by former teammate Sam Bradford of the Rams.
• Wentz already holds the franchise record of 352 completions. With eight pass attempts, Wentz will break Donovan McNabb’s franchise record of 571, set in 2008.
• Donovan McNabb’s Eagles record of 3,916 passing yards in a season was set in 2008. It would take 380 yards to break that, which is a longshot, but Wentz would move as high as third in franchise history with 272 yards or fourth with 189.
Heading into the 2017 offseason, which will begin following the team's final game this Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles' top need is cornerback.
How they address that need in the 2017 NFL Draft and free agency, however, depends on what they think about cornerback Jalen Mills, and what role they envision him in next season -- a question that is not easy to answer.
Mills, a seventh-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, has been a favorite of both defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and secondary coach Cory Undlin since his arrival.
His playing time has increased throughout the season, and his 697 snaps this year are second most among all cornerbacks on the team. Although the Eagles have played Mills all over the field, putting him both on the outside and in the slot, his primary position has been outside cornerback.
How successful he has been at that is up for debate.
The top quality Schwartz likes about Mills is his competitiveness, which has been on display this season. Mills does not shy away from covering the top receivers in the game, and has matched up this season against players like Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown, DeSean Jackson and Julio Jones. While each has had some success against Mills, the fact the rookie was able to hang with them all game, and hold his own against each, is a promising sign.
The issue with Mills, however, has been his speed, as the majority of receivers have been able to beat him down the sideline -- which is where the tough decision comes for the Eagles.