Welcome to the 2017 Quarter-Season Eagles Awards show, ladies and gentlemen.
Please take your seats. Silence your cell phones. And, remember, there are refreshments in the lobby.
Before we get to the awards, distributed only for the performance of Philadelphia Eagles through the team’s first four games, let’s take a glimpse back at how the Birds got to 3-1 in our weekly game-by-game notebook:
Week One: Eagles 30, Redskins 17: Year Two of the Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson regime started with the Birds ending a five-game losing streak to the Redskins at FedEx Field, where Jim Schwartz’s front-four rotation led the way. Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan combined for four sacks and two forced fumbles, the second of which was returned 20 yards for a touchdown by Cox, sealing a two-score, fourth-quarter lead. After fellow cornerback Ronald Darby was carted off with an injury, Jalen Mills also aided an Eagles “D” that gave up just 64 rushing yards and three third-down conversions, intercepting Kirk Cousins on a red-zone pass when the ‘Skins trailed by two. With uneven protection and a non-existent running game, Wentz (26-39, 307 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INTs) was the victim of a Ryan Kerrigan pick six but channeled his inner Donovan McNabb on an opening-drive scramble and 58-yard TD heave to Nelson Agholor, then extended plays with tight end Zach Ertz (8 receptions, 93 yards) to set up three Caleb Sturgis field goals and a Gatorade bath for Pederson.
Week Two: Chiefs 27, Eagles 20: Late-game grit and a stout start for Jim Schwartz’s defense weren’t enough for Doug Pederson to best ex-Eagles coach Andy Reid at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs used a 53-yard touchdown run from rookie Kareem Hunt, back-to-back fourth-quarter scores and six sacks of an overburdened Carson Wentz to decide a close one. Big stands from a banged-up Eagles secondary offset a rare Darren Sproles fumble on a punt return inside Birds territory, holding Kansas City to a 6-3 halftime lead, but heavy pressure on the Eagles QB led to a tipped interception and more red-zone chances for Reid’s unit. Still, Wentz (25-46, 333 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) started efficiently (7-of-9), spread 19 first-down throws to Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Zach Ertz and scrambled his way to a team-high 55 rushing yards on another dismal day for the backfield. Down two scores with :14 left, his 9-yard TD pass to Nelson Agholor preceded a perfect onside kick from fill-in Jake Elliott, who made up for an earlier 30-yard field goal miss and set up a game-ending Hail Mary try.
Week Three: Eagles 27, Giants 24: They were without four injured starters on defense, gave up 366 passing yards to Eli Manning and lost a 14-0 lead after 21 unanswered Giants points, but Doug Pederson found — and stuck with — a rushing attack, not to mention a clutch kicker, as the Eagles sent New York to 0-3. LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement battered their way to a combined 160 yards on the ground, the former putting Philadelphia up 7-0 in the first. Clement tied the contest at 21 on a 15-yard fourth-quarter run after back-to-back-to-back TDs from the Giants — two acrobatic grabs by Odell Beckham Jr. and a 77-yarder by Sterling Shepard. But rookie kicker Jake Elliott, in his second game replacing an ailing Caleb Sturgis, was the real Eagles hero, booting a team-record 61-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. Carson Wentz (21-31, 176 yards, 1 TD) again found tight end Zach Ertz for a score, while the Eagles “D” had a goal-line stand and stout play from young cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas, the latter of whom had a pick along with Patrick Robinson.
Week Four: Eagles 26, Chargers 24: With Eagles fans turning Los Angeles’ StubHub Center into an unofficial home game, Doug Pederson kept the pedal to the metal, pushing Philadelphia atop the NFC East with a run-first approach sans an injured Darren Sproles. LeGarrette Blount (16 carries, 136 yards) led the way with a 68-yard Marshawn Lynch-esque gallop on a fourth-quarter drive that prefaced a diving Wendell Smallwood (79 total yards) touchdown and helped the Eagles dominate time of possession. Corey Clement also got five third-down carries for an offense that didn’t turn the ball over and set up four field goals, including a 53-yarder, from Jake Elliott. The Chargers kept it close as Philip Rivers (347 yards) extended drives with Keenan Allen, found Tyrell Williams for a 75-yard score and pulled L.A. within two with 6:48 to go shortly after a 35-yard TD run by an untouched Austin Ekeler. But the Eagles defense set the tone with an opening-series takeaway, a Chris Long strip sack, and helped establish an early 7-0 lead on a throw from Carson Wentz (17-31, 242 yards, 1 TD) to Alshon Jeffery.
Now, the main event. The Quarter-Season Eagles Awards, presented with complete and utter knowledge that the Postseason Eagles Awards are in no way determined by our premature celebrations at this time.
MVP: QB Carson Wentz
This isn’t a byproduct of our collective adoration for Wentz as the Eagles’ long-term starter as much as it is an acknowledgement that, without his poise in the pocket and his early step forward from 2016, the team would not be where it is today. Has he been perfect? No. Are his numbers out of this world? No, especially since the Eagles have started running the ball. But he’s the glue that holds all the parts together. When there has been no running game, he’s scrambled himself. When he’s been overburdened through the air, he’s compiled a 6:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, a rock-solid start for a second-year signal-caller.
Coach of the Quarter-Season: Doug Pederson
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz should get credit for helping alleviate pressure on the team’s most obvious weakness, the corner spot, and his emphasis on building the “D” from the trenches is paying off in big ways. Secondary coach Cory Undlin also deserves a nod for getting the most out of a young group. But for all the criticism Pederson gets (sometimes rightfully so), what a turnaround he’s had simply from Week Two — you can see it in his firm embrace of the running game and, subsequently, the Eagles’ great third-down conversion rates and time-of-possession domination. Also, Doug still seems like he’s got a handle on when to go for it on fourth downs. And, most of all, this team sure seems like it’s playing for him.
Offensive Player of the Quarter-Season: TE Zach Ertz
LeGarrette Blount quickly put himself in the conversation after two weeks of toting the rock more often, but no one has been more reliable for this offense than Ertz. His Week Three fumble was ugly, but outside of that, he’s been the definition of a top-tier tight end. His 26 catches and 326 yards are both top-five marks across the NFL, and his every-series chemistry with Wentz is apparent. He is the safety valve of Pederson’s “O.”
Defensive Player of the Quarter-Season: DE Brandon Graham
The defense has benefited not from a singular star making plays but rather Schwartz’s entire defensive front wreaking havoc at the line, so guys like Tim Jernigan and even Chris Long could be in the mix. Malcolm Jenkins is an ever-steady hand at safety, too, but Graham has been the most productive, at least on splash plays. He’s on pace for 10 sacks and also has a forced fumble to his credit, not to mention plenty of backfield presence on run downs.
Rookie of the Quarter-Season: K Jake Elliott
Rasul Douglas has done reasonably well for a shorthanded cornerback corps, and Derek Barnett recovered a fumble in Week Four. But Elliott, signed off the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad to relieve an injured Caleb Sturgis, has been a revelation. After missing a 30-yard field goal in Kansas City, Elliott has done nothing but convert an onside kick, hit a franchise-record 61-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired and gone four-for-four in a separate game.
Comeback Player of the Quarter-Season: CB Patrick Robinson
Wideout Nelson Agholor deserves a long look-see here, especially considering he’s almost halfway to eclipsing his numbers from a full 2016. But Robinson was the epitome of a Howie Roseman “Band-Aid” as a short-term fill-in at corner, a journeyman who was banged up with the Indianapolis Colts a year ago. And yet, even though his stats aren’t eye-popping, he’s been quiet in the best sense of the word in the nickel spot. If the Eagles get the quarter-season Robinson for the rest of the year, what a gem they unearthed.