Eagles Believe They are Close to Being an Elite Team, but Face Challenges in 2015

 

LeSean McCoy  is open to have his contracted to keep him on the Eagles..  Photo by Webster Riddick.

LeSean McCoy is open to have his contract restructured to keep him on the Eagles.. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Despite having a 10-6 record that would have easily won a weak NFC South, the Eagles missed the playoffs and are left with the feeling of what could have been if they could have only gotten out of the way of themselves.

“We’re right there,” said running back Darren Sproles. “When you get to December, you have to win in December. Even with the turnovers we were right there.”

On offense, the Eagles committed a league-leading 36 turnovers-including a combined 27 by both Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez. Those self-imposed mistakes are among the reasons the Birds are home for the postsesason.

“Coming off last year, we knew we had a good team, we started off 9-3 and to lose the way we did at the end of the season is very uncharacteristic of us,” said tight end Zach Ertz. “Usually, we get stronger as the season progresses, but we can’t put any of the onus on anybody but on ourselves.”

While cleaning out their lockers Monday, several Eagles players said despite missing the playoffs in 2014, they are close to being one of the elite teams in the NFL.

“It’s encouraging because we got 10 wins and we really beat ourselves all year,” said safety Malcolm Jenkins. “But the thing yet to be corrected for next year is can we stop beating ourselves. …That’s one thing we’ve got to stop this offseason. Once we learn two things-If we can keep the ball in front of us on defense and not turn the ball over that much on offense, we can go from a 10-win team to an elite team.”

On the defensive end, you could make the argument that the Eagles front-seven had a pretty goodseason. The Birds were tied for second in the NFL in sacks with Connor Barwin leading the way with 14.5 sacks.

The downside to that was the Eagles were next to last in the league in passing yardage yielded. Opposing teams passed for 4,238 yards against a suspect secondary. In the three-game losing streak that took the Birds out of the playoff, they gave up too many big plays in the passing game.

“There were no breakdowns, it’s just matchups and not winning those matchups,” Jenkins said. “You’ve got receivers that are at the top of their game and at an elite level. It’s hard to win those matchups on every down. A lot of those times we’ve had help over the top. We can’t double team every play and so when they had those opportunities they took advantage of it and we didn’t win.”

The weakness in the Eagles defense was their secondary. In that critical three-game losing streak, the difference in the game came down to giving up big plays in the passing game.

Cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who gave up plays of 25 yards or more in losses to Washington and Dallas, will be a free agent and so will safety Nate Allen. Don’t look for the Eagles to go out of their way to bring those guys back.

On offense, it has been widely speculated the Eagles aren’t necessarily happy with Foles has a franchise quarterback even though he’s 14-4 as a starter under head coach Chip Kelly. Foles critics point to his 10 interceptions and his struggles during the eight games he played in before he broke his left collarbone.

There has also been talk the Eagles might draft another quarterback or somehow move up to get Oregon’s Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston.

As far as Foles is concerned, he said he’s the Eagles starting quarterback until Kelly or the organization tells him otherwise. Neither Kelly nor owner Jeffrey Lurie would say whether they were committed to him as the starter for next year.

“I expect to be the guy to lead them and win games,” Foles said. “It’s tough sitting on the sideline when you want to be out there. …It’s coming from my heart. That’s where I really expect to be and I’m going to work as hard as I can to be the best Nick Foles possible.”

The Eagles are also looking re-sign free agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin,who had the best year of his career in 2014. He caught 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdown passes.

The Birds also have to figure out a way to keep running back LeSean McCoy, who is due to make $9.75 million. The team could save $7.55 million under the salary cap if they release McCoy, who said he was open to restructuring his contract.

Meanwhile, Kelly said he wants to keep both Maclin and McCoy because they are important to his offense, but he also knows that he has to take the business of the game into consideration.

“Yeah, I’m in charge of the roster in terms of who our 53 are so I have to weigh in on that,” Kelly said. “But I also know there are other factors, salary cap money and the numbers and all those other things.”

Game Changer: Darren Sproles Comes up Big for Birds in Season Opener

 

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Sproles 49-yard dash in the third quarter of Sunday's game against Jacksonville eventually sparked the Eagles to a victory over the Jaguars. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Sproles 49-yard dash in the third quarter of Sunday’s game against Jacksonville eventually sparked the Eagles to a victory over the Jaguars. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Going back to his college days at Kansas State and in his pro career with the New Orleans and San Diego Chargers, Darren Sproles has always been capable of coming up with the big game-changing play to help his team win.

“That’s the advantage of having (Sproles) on your team,” said Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who played with him Sproles in New Orleans. “At any point in time, he can be that guy to spark and blow the game open. When we needed a play, he gives us an explosive run. We need another thing, he gives a good return.”

After a mistake-filled first half in which the Eagles found themselves in a 17-0 hole in the season-opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sproles electrifying 49-yard touchdown run on a fourth and one play on the Birds first possession of the second half was the jump start the Birds needed to get back in the game.

“Yeah, we started slow, but I think that was the turning point.” Sproles said. “That got us going. We knew they were getting tired, so we tried to hurry up on them. They were not even set and left a big hole in the middle of the field. ”

Energized by Sproles’ big run, the Eagles owned the second half and came away with a 34-17 win over Jacksonville in front of a packed house of 69, 596 fans at Lincoln Financial Field on a hot Sunday afternoon.

“We got down 17 and we felt like we had to go for it on fourth down,” said head coach Chip Kelly. “You don’t think you’re going to get a touchdown out of that. You’re hoping to just convert, keep the chains moving, we’re trying to get some momentum to jump back on our side. …That was a huge jump start for us.”

Sproles game-changing play was also a by-product of the Eagles fast-pace no-huddle offense which caught a visibly-tired Jaguars defense off-guard without the right personnel package. The Birds took advantage to get back in the game and eventually win it.

“It absolutely caught them off guard,” said Eagles center Jason Kelce. “They didn’t have a safety back there. Once we broke through the hole, it was smooth sailing.”

After the Eagles forced Jacksonville to punt on its possession after the Birds first touchdown, Sproles made another big play when he returned Bryan Anger’s punt from the Eagles 38 to the Jacksonville 40 for a 22-yard return.

Eagles running back Darren Sproles had 147 all-purpose yards in the Eagles win over Jacksonville. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles running back Darren Sproles had 147 all-purpose yards in the Eagles win over Jacksonville. Photo by Webster Riddick.

For the game, Sproles had 147 all-purpose yards—71 rushing on 11 carries, four receptions for 14 yards and 62 yards on punt returns. Eagles’ offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said what Sproles did on offense and special teams is the reason why the Eagles signed him as a free-agent last spring.

“Those are the things he’s done for years and years,” Shurmur said. “His presence was felt in the kicking game and as a running back. We’ve said all year that he’s a running back and we’re going to play him at running back. He was running the very same plays that LeSean (McCoy) would run if he was in there. We saw the impact that he had on the game.”

Five plays after Sproles return, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles hit tight end Zach Ertz to bring the Birds to within 17-14 with 7:19 left in the third quarter.

Sproles’ big plays also pumped up an Eagles defense that gave up a couple of big plays in the passing game—a pair of touchdown passes from Chad Henne to wide receiver Allen Hurns. After allowing 17 points in the first half, the Eagles defense shutout Jacksonville in the second half.

“Once they got it going, everybody’s gotta feeling that we’re going in for the kill,” Jenkins said. “Now we’re starting to play our style of team play and that’s a good feeling.”

In the fourth quarter, the Birds tied the game on a 51-yard field goal by Cody Parkey and took the lead on a 68-yard touchdown pass from Foles to Jeremy Maclin. The Birds added another Parkey field goal and got a 17-yard touchdown return of a recovered fumble by defensive end Fletcher Cox.

Champs Again: Eagles Should Win a Weak NFC East

Order of predicted finish: 1. Eagles 2. Washington 3. New York Giants 4. Dallas Cowboys.

Note: Because the nickname of the Washington NFL franchise is considered to be an offensive racial slur to Native Americans, The Chris Murray Report will no longer use that name in its editorial content.

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—After all the OTAs, off-season acquisitions and sitting through preseason games, we are finally into the regular season. The Eagles will open the 2014 season against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday (1:00 p.m. CBS).

LeSean McCoy says the Eagles offense will be even in better in 2014.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

LeSean McCoy says the Eagles offense will be even in better in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Birds will come into the 2014 season as the defending NFC East champions and there’s no reason to think they will not be in that same position when the regular-season ends in January even with a tougher schedule and the loss of speedy wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

I don’t know if Nick Foles (27 touchdown passes, two interceptions) and LeSean McCoy (314 carries, 1607 yards) will put up the numbers they did last season, but they have a year under head coach Chip Kelly’s fast-paced, no-huddle read-option offense and they are expecting to be even better.

With additions like speedy veteran running back Darren Sproles on the team, McCoy said he’s expecting the Eagles offense to be even better in 2014 whether he touches the ball more than 300 times or not.

“I think with the mix of Sproles doing different things, sometimes a 65-yard carry can be the same as a 65-yard (pass) route with Sproles,” McCoy said. “I’m learning that it doesn’t take a lot of reps or a lot of touches to be more productive and get what you want done. You could do it with less.

“I know I’m going to be the key guy they’re watching … but the guys up front with the way they’re blocking and the guys around me, especially with Sproles in there mixing it up with screens and runs and passes. With Maclin getting back and healthy, we have a guy that can stretch the field and do things across the middle. We definitely have weapons.”

Eagles’ fans are no doubt wondering if Jeremy Maclin, who hasn’t played in a regular season game since the end of the 2012 season, can be the deep receiver that can stretch the defense in the way that Jackson did last season.

The question for the Eagles is whether or not the defense can improve upon their performance late last season in 2014? The Birds ranked fourth in the NFL in the takeaway-giveaway category last season, but was 32nd against the pass.

But the big concern for the Eagles is whether they can generate a pass-rush, something that hurt them in the loss to the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs last season. During the preseason, the first team didn’t get a sack.

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said he’s confident in his defense because his players are more familiar with the team’s 3-4 scheme. He won’t know how better his defense is until the lights come on against Jacksonville.

“Every year is a new year, so you don’t know until the final whistle goes off in the Jacksonville game, really what our starting point is,” Davis said. “But we are more confident because we know them better.”

Both Davis and Kelly said they are expecting big things from backup defense end Vinny Curry and inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks. The Birds added a pair of free agents in veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins and former Miami Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll to bolster the secondary.

The Eagles will win the NFC East because quite frankly the rest of the division isn’t that good. Look for them to finish 10-6. Actually, 9-7 might be enough to put the Birds over the top.

Washington (Predicted finish: 8-8)

Robert Griffin III is expected to make more plays from the pocket in 2014 under new head coach Jay Gruden's offense. RGIII struggled during the preseason.

Robert Griffin III is expected to make more plays from the pocket in 2014 under new head coach Jay Gruden’s offense. RGIII struggled during the preseason.

Among the teams other than the Eagles that could win the NFC East, the Washington squad could be that team.

With defensive coordinator Jim Haslett running the defense and veterans like linebacker Brian Orakbo, defensive lineman Ryan Kerrigan and linebacker Trent Murphy, along with newcomer defensive end Jason Hatcher, who had 11 sacks for the Dallas Cowboys last season, Washington will be decent on defense.

The Redskins will have a veteran secondary with players like safety Ryan Clark and cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

The question is whether Washington’s offense with Robert Griffin III at quarterback can be consistent. The team has the weapons on offense with running back Alfred Morris and wide receivers like DeSean Jackson, Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon.

RGIII struggled in preseason so badly that former Washington quarterback and TV analyst Joe Theismann said the team should start Kirk Cousins instead of Griffin. The former Michigan State star did a better job of moving the team during the exhibition season—albeit against second and third string competition.

In Griffin’s defense, Washington’s first team offensive line didn’t do a good job of protecting the quarterback during the preseason. The same could be said for last season as Washington quarterbacks were sacked 43 times.

One of the things Washington did to get better for 2014 was cut center Will Montgomery, who reportedly made incorrect line calls that probably caused some of the sacks of Griffin and Cousins. This season, Kory Lichtensteiger was moved from guard to center and they also signed six-foot-3, 315-pound guard Shawn Lauvao, who played with the Cleveland Browns.

The offensive line will be the key to protecting Griffin and making holes for Morris.
New head coach Jay Gruden is sticking with RGIII as Washington’s starter for now. If Griffin struggles in the early going will Gruden pull the plug and go with Cousins?

Under Gruden’s system, Griffin won’t be running the read option. He has to make plays from the pocket and not take off and run when his first option is not open. That may be an adjustment for Griffin, but he’s also smart enough to discipline his game to do it.

If RGIII can get off to a good start and can be consistent with the weapons he has on offense, Washington can make this a competitive race and perhaps win it if a few things break their way.

New York Giants (Predicted finish: 7-9)

Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions and got sacked 39 times in 2013 behind patch-work offensive line.

Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions and got sacked 39 times in 2013 behind patch-work offensive line.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning had the worst season of his career in 2013. He threw 27 interceptions. Coming into this season, New York hired former Green Bay Packers quarterback Ben McAdoo as the new offensive coordinator who will install a West Coast-style offense.

With the sudden retirement of running back David Wilson due to a neck injury, the Giants running game will feature former Oakland Raiders ball carrier Rashad Jennings and former Boston College star Andre Williams, who gained 2,177 yards as a senior and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

At the wideout position, Victor Cruz should be the beneficiary of the Giants new West Coast system. New York also has rookie wide receiver and former LSU star Odell Beckham, who has been slowed down by a hamstring injury. The G-men will also return Reuben Randle who has shown flashes of brilliance at times.

The key to Giants on offense will be their offensive line, which was the main culprit of the Giants woes last season. New York will have a revamped offensive line with left tackle Will Beatty (6-6, 319 pounds) as its most experienced player.

The Giants will need to develop some chemistry along that offensive line to make sure McAdoo’s schemes can work.

On defense, the Giants are hoping that defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul can have the kind of season he had in 2011 when he had 16.5 sacks. The Giants also have veterans Mathias Kiwanuka and Cullen Jenkins. Key free-agent acquisitions include corner back Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain.

The Giants are average at best and don’t necessarily scare anybody on defense. But then again no one in the NFC East does.

Dallas Cowboys (Predicted finish: 7-9)

Much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo maybe the Cowboys only hope to be a winner in 2014 for a team with a bad defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo maybe the Cowboys only hope to be a winner in 2014 for a team with a bad defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Speaking of defenses that don’t scare anybody, the Cowboys were awful on defense last season even with DeMarcus Ware and they will be awful without him this season. They lost former Penn State star Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury during OTAs.

The Boys will be without injured cornerback Orlando Scandrick and cornerback Morris Claiborne didn’t play during the preseason. Throughout the preseason, the Cowboys got pushed up and down the field.

Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will have to figure out a way to make chicken soup out of chicken bleep or lemonade out of lemons. However you want to look at it, Marinelli has to make something out of a defense that is destined to give up a whole bunch of points and a lot of yards this season.

The good news for the Cowboys is that they are stacked offensively.

Everybody’s favorite whippin’ boy, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is not only coming off of back surgery, he’s also coming off a season in which he threw 31 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.

In week 16, his last game before his surgery, Romo rallied the Cowboys from a nine-point deficit in the last five minutes to beat Washington to keep their playoffs hopes alive to that point in the season.
With receivers like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, the Cowboys are going to put points on the board.

They also have a solid running game with DeMarco Murray, who gained 1,121 yards and scored nine touchdowns last season. If you have Bryant, Witten and Murray on your fantasy team, you will no doubt score points.

It is also no doubt in my mind that Dallas’s defense will also give up just as many points as Romo and the Cowboys will score. Dallas will win games by scores like 38-31 or 51-48 and they will lose games like that as well. When you’re playing from behind or having to score on every possession, mistakes are going to be made.

Romo will throw a few “Hell-no’s” along the way which means you’ll be hearing a lot from his critics.

Happy Warrior: Graham Hopes to Hang on With the Eagles

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham is fighting for a spot on the team.

Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham is fighting for a spot on the team.

PHILADELPHIA –As a sports writer, it is a cardinal rule that you’re not supposed to cheer in the press box or openly cheer for your favorite athlete. It’s something us old sportswriters tell younger aspirants entering our profession.

But every now and then we are reminded that we scribes of sports are actually human. There are times we, like fans, often run into players that you wind up cheering for and wishing him all the best.

That’s the case with Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham who is still hanging on with the team by a thread and is not guaranteed to make the final roster. During his time with the Eagles, Graham has been a good guy even through some difficult times with injuries.

Throughout the offseason, Graham has been the subject of trade rumors. Even in the midst of what could be his impending demise here with the Eagles, Graham came into this first set of offseason workouts with a smile and brimming with confidence. That’s why you find yourself rooting for a guy like that.

“I feel like they want me here, I’m still here … I feel like if this is something they wanted to do, I would have been gone,” Graham said of the rumors. “I came in at the right weight 265 (pounds). I’m controlling what I can. Whatever the rumors were, I really didn’t pay attention to it because I got a role to play and that’s to do my part to win games for this year.”

During his sojourn with the Eagles through devastating injuries and coaching changes, Graham has often faced adversity with a smile and a determination to be a contributor any way he can while he’s still with the team. He said the trade rumors have only strengthened his resolve.

“Well you know that chip has always been on my shoulder ever since I hurt my knee, so it never way, but it definitely put a chip on my shoulder,” Graham said.

Playing at the linebacker position in the pro for the first time in his career, Graham had 21 tackles (14 solo) coming off the bench playing behind Trent Cole and Conner Barwin. With a year under his belt, the former University of Michigan star said he has a better grasp of defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ 3-4 defense.

“This year I’m more fast-paced because I know the defense … with a year under my belt, I can take it to another level,” Graham said. “I just want to show them guys that I really want to be here because I love Philadelphia I’ve made it my home and I would be sad if I have to go.”

Complicating Graham’s chances to make this year’s team is that the team drafted pass-rushing linebacker Marcus Smith out of Louisville in the first round. If the rookie has an impressive camp, Graham, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, could be expendable.

“I think it’s just an added guy that’s going to help us win,” Graham said. “It’s all about competition. You can bring in all the competition you want. We’re going to make each better. If it’s here or elsewhere, I’m not shying away from competition.”

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said Graham has done a good job when he was in games last season, but he also acknowledged that it might be a numbers’ game with the depth at linebacker position.

“Yeah, I think he obviously has the skill set to rush the passer and set the edge. And when he’s been in there, he’s been productive. The issue is that the other guy’s really productive, too,” Kelly said. “How many times can you get them all on the field together? If you put Brandon in, do you take Trent [Cole] out; if you put Brandon in, do you take Connor [Barwin] out? It’s really the pecking order.”

With the numbers the Eagles have at the linebacker position, Graham said he’s confident that he’s going to make the 2014 Birds roster and let the chips fall where they may.

“I feel like I have the opportunity. Any person’s dream is to start,” Graham said. “As long as I’m playing that’s all that matters to me. At the end of the day, I want to get out there and show what I can do. If we’re winning that’s all that matters.”

Garrett Holding Out Hope for Romo, Orton Says He Ready to Go Just in Case

by Chris Murray 

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Kyle Orton has been getting first team reps for the Cowboys with Romo trying to get relief from a herniated  disc in his back.

Kyle Orton has been getting first team reps for the Cowboys with Romo trying to get relief from a herniated disc in his back.

PHILADELPHIA–With all the reports saying that Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback Tony Romo will probably miss Sunday night’s game for the NFC East crown against the Eagles, head coach Jason Garrett still is not ruling his starting quarterback out just yet.

Romo has not practiced all week and, according to the Dallas Morning News, hasn’t attended meetings this week as well. Garrett said there are some players who can step in play without practice. If Romo, who has a herniated disc in his back, is feeling better by Sunday evening, he could play.

“We don’t have any hard and fast rules that if he doesn’t practice by this day, he can’t play,” Garrett said during a conference call with the Philadelphia media.  “We don’t believe in treating everybody the exact same way in that regard. Certainly a more experienced player is more comfortable and you give him more of an opportunity if he hasn’t practice. Tony would certainly fall into that category.”

That leaves open the possibility that Romo might give fans at Cowboys Stadium a Willis Reed-like moment circa the 1970 NBA Finals. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, back-up quarterback Kyle Orton, who has started 69 games as a pro with 35 wins, said he’s confident because he has weapons like running back DeMarco Murray, wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten to help him out.

“You just ease your way into the game a little bit and get the ball to the guys that can do great things,” Orton said. “We’ve got plenty of those guys. I’ve been here for a couple of years and so timing is not too big of an issue, so we went out and had a good practice today.”

Though he’s only thrown 15 passes in a Cowboy uniform, Orton told the Dallas media Thursday that he’s no spring chicken and has worked extensively with the starters during minicamp and organized team activities back in May and June while Romo was rehabbing from another injury.

“I’ve been here for a couple of years it wasn’t like I was just walking through the door,” Orton said. “I’ve had plenty of experience with these guys and like I said these guys are great players and they get open.”

With the memory of getting picked apart by a Minnesota Vikings squad playing with a back-up quarterback still fresh in his mind, Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said the Birds are not taking the Cowboys lightly.

“We saw what happened to us the last time we faced a back up,” Barwin said. “There’s nobody taking anybody lightly this week.  … I think (Orton) is hard to get to because he gets the ball off fast. He doesn’t mess around back there. It’s important for us to get our hands up and in get in the way of those.”

On Thursday linebacker Sean Lee was ruled out and Dez Bryant left practice early because of a sore back. With all the injuries cropping up in Cowboys camp these days, it’s easy to say that Dallas has an uphill climb to win on Sunday night against resurgent Eagles squad. Witten said his team doesn’t have time to dwell on their injury woes.

“Obviously, it’s been tough, but now is not the time to feel sorry for yourself,” Witten said. “We’re going out there and so we’re going out there and preparing because we have a tough opponent in the Eagles.”

It would be also easy to say the Cowboys are even more fired up for this game after missing the playoffs in the last two years because they lost in week 17. Witten said the team can’t get too caught up in the emotion of the last two years.

“There’s no question that being in this situation and experiencing what we did the last two years and obviously we came up short, it sits deep in your gut and you feel that,” Witten said. “I really think you have to take the emotion out of it because it’s a new year, a new team.

“What our focus has to be on and needs to continue to be on is what’s going to allow us to execute in a game against a tough opponent?”

That’s a question both teams will know the answer to come Sunday.

The Quarterback Hunter: Trent Cole Comes up for Big Eagles in Win Over Chicago

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

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Trent Cole (58) sacked Jay Cutler three times in the Eagles win over the Bears. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Trent Cole (58) sacked Jay Cutler three times in the Eagles win over the Bears. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—One of Trent Cole’s favorite pastimes, whether it’s on or off the field is hunting.  Off the field, it’s usually a deer running through the woods within the periscope of Cole’s shotgun.

On the field, Cole has always had a passion for hunting down quarterbacks and putting them to the turf.  In the Eagles 54-11 blowout of the Chicago Bears at Lincoln Financial Field, Coles hounded Bears quarterback Jay Cutler as if he were a Lion stalking its prey.

“He doesn’t know what he means to this team,” said Eagles inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks. “He just goes out there and he just plays his heart out. I don’t think he realizes the type of energy and the type  of charge he gives the offense when he makes those big time plays on third down.

“When we see him make a play, here’s a guy still doing what he’s doing, raising the bar on every play. He just goes, man. …He’s a big part of this team.”

Cole had three of the Eagles five sacks on including one on the game’s third play that forced an early Bears punt. After the game, Cole’s teammates said he set the tone for the defense with his aggressiveness.

“Trent was lights out tonight and that’s what Trent is capable of doing,” said Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “He’s capable of taking over games, dominating the offensive tackles, getting to the quarterback. That’s what he’s capable of doing.

“We just had to put him into situations where he is able to rush the passer and showcase his talents.”

Cole said he likes to be the catalyst of the defense and to make things happen to get the team going.

“As a team player, I want to go out there and make an impact and do whatever I have to make an impact on this team,” said Cole after Sunday’s game.

With the new coaching staff and the Eagles 3-4 defense, Cole had to make the difficult transition from being a defensive end in a three-point stance to a stand-up outside linebacker, something that wasn’t all that easy for him.

“I kept a great attitude about it. That transition from eight years as a defensive end and now transitioning into a linebacker in my ninth year is kind of hard, you got to suck it up,” Cole said. “I told myself that I was going to be great at this position. I kept a good attitude about it and listened to the coaches and talked to some of my teammates about how to play outside linebacker.

“Things are going good for me, I’m just going to keep improving and doing what I can.”

So far this season, Cole has eight sacks from the linebacker spot, not bad for a guy who hasn’t played the linebacker position during his professional career.

“It’s a tough transition when you ask a guy who has been rushing for 10 years to drop back and cover zones and things like that. That’s a big chance,” Ryans said. “That’s a big change. He’s an unselfish player and he does whatever we need him to do for our team to win.”

Eagles Defense Shuts the Door on Washington’s Comeback Hopes

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Brandon Boykin's four-quarter interception of Robert Griffith III preserves the Eagles 24-16 win over Washington. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Brandon Boykin’s four-quarter interception of Robert Griffith III preserves the Eagles 24-16 win over Washington. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—The Eagles 24-16 win over the Washington Redskins Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field was more of a stark contrast to where this team was last season going into a bye-week.

Back in 2012, the last game the Eagles played before their bye-week was a heartbreaking loss to the Detroit Lions who came back from a 10-point deficit in the last five minutes in regulation to win the game in overtime.

After the Eagles jumped out to a 24-0 lead in the third quarter on a one-yard run by LeSean McCoy, the Redskins made things interesting in the fourth period on a couple of Robert Griffin III touchdown passes and a pair of two-point conversions. With the offense unable to move the football in the final stanza, the Eagles defense needed to come up with one final stand to hold off the surging Redskins.

Brandon Boykin's interception in the end zone was the exclamation point to a huge win for the Birds. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Brandon Boykin’s interception in the end zone was the exclamation point to a huge win for the Birds. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Washington drove from its own four-yard line down to the Eagles 18 with 40 seconds left. It looked like it was going to be another example of the Birds defense blowing a big lead in the fourth quarter.

But Eagles nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin saved the day with a drive-killing interception in the end zone that helped to preserve the win for the 6-5 Birds, who will head into the bye-week in sole possession of first-place in the NFC East. It was the Birds first win at home since Sept. 30, 2012 when they beat New York Giants on a late field goal.

“Everybody knew that someone had to step up and make it,” said middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “There was no sense that we were going to let them get into the end zone. Everybody had that type of attitude that we were going to make a stop.”

In all honesty, the Eagles win over the Redskins was the type of game they would have lost last season.  To their credit, they found a way to pull off a huge victory when it looked like they were about to fall apart.

“Really, how are you going to react when things don’t go exactly the way you planned?” asked Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “That’s what I think I’m most proud of today, is how they reacted when it didn’t go our way, when they faced a bit of adversity, to kind of dig down deep and make a play when we had to make a play. That was a big sign for this team.”

Boykin, who remembers all too well how the Eagles defense had trouble closing out games last season, said the coaching staff under current defensive coordinator Billy Davis has done a good job of preparing them for late-game situations.

“It’s no panic, it’s not anything new to us. We practice this, so when you’re in a game situation, you treat it like practice,” Boykin said.

The Eagles also played well on defense in the other three quarters as well. For the sixth straight week, the Eagles have not allowed a team to score more than 21 points in a game.  The Birds sacked RGIII four times including his fumble in the red zone after a hard hit by linebacker Connor Barwin.  Linebacker Trent Cole also had a pair of sacks for the Eagles as well.

“They did a good job coming out in the beginning of the game and shutting down a lot of stuff that we were trying to do,” Griffin III said. “They were there where they needed to be; they were taking away the routes we were trying to run. That’s disheartening, but we have to make sure we come up with something to counteract that.”

Davis said his defense has progressed well since the first game of the season and especially since the loss to the Denver Broncos on Sept. 29.

“We know at the end when it gets all pressure-packed that you have to back to your fundamentals and your technique and your training,” Davis said. “This is what separates you.”

The Eagles scored their points on offense on a pair touchdown runs by LeSean McCoy and a four-yard run by quarterback Nick Foles. Alex Henery had a 24-yard field goal in the second quarter.

Eagles Are Getting Better on Defense

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans has been the anchor of an improving defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans has been the anchor of an improving defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles’ linebacker Mychal Kendricks was a rookie when the Eagles struggled through last year’s 4-12 season in which the defense blew games late in the fourth quarter or just got outright blown off the field. Quarterbacks like Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Washington’s Robert Griffin III had field days carving up the Birds defense.

Through it all, Kendricks said the veterans kept telling him this wasn’t always going to be the case and that better days had to be around the corner.

“Some of the veterans told me ‘this is not the league, we’re supposed to be winning and having fun,” Kendrick recalled. “You’re supposed to win something. I just felt that morale was at an all-time low …This year I think this is what the league is supposed to be about.”

That’s because the Eagles defense has been a much better place than it was last year. Since a 52-20 loss to the Denver Broncos, the Eagles defense has not allowed a team to score more than 21 points. While they are not going to remind anyone just yet of the 1985 Chicago Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, they have been a team that seems to get better with each game and they’re a lot better off than they were last season.

“Everybody is comfortable with what they’re doing,” said Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans.”Everybody knows their role; everybody knows where they’re supposed to be and when they’re supposed to be doing it. Guys are flying around and having fun playing the game. That’s the difference.”

Ryans came up big against Green Bay with 11 solo tackles (13 overall), including two for a loss of yardage and he also had an interception. Defensive coordinator Billy Davis said Ryans is doing a good job of quarterbacking the defense.

“DeMeco is the leader of our defense and he’s having an outstanding Pro Bowl year and we couldn’t be happier with everything DeMeco is doing for us,” Davis said. “He gets us in the best defense possible, and as the season has gone on we as a staff have gotten more and more comfortable in his ability to put us in good situations, and he has, and from there he’s done a great job playing the middle linebacker position, between tackle to tackle, he is a force. Whether it’s crossing routes he’s knocking out or his inside run game that he’s tackling.  He had one of the best form tackles I’ve seen in a long time last week.”

In the Eagles 27-13 win over the Green Bay Packers, the defense came up with another big effort. They held the Packers to under 100 yards rushing and they forced two interceptions. The Birds managed to do it despite injuries to Kendricks and safety Earl Wolff. Najee Goode, who nearly had a pick-six and cornerback Roc Carmichael also played well for the Eagles.

The Birds secondary, which got burned for the big play quite often last season, has done a better job of limiting the big play and they’ve done a good job of tackling. Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who leads the team with three interceptions, said the loud music played during practice has helped the secondary do a better job of communicating with each other.

“I think what helps that is the music. That’s huge for us because the defensive backs have to over-communicate so when we get in the game it’s automatic. We’ve been working on that since whenever OTAs starting, so it’s second nature now,” Boykin said. “You have to focus on the play while other stuff is going on around you. When you get in a real environment, it’s easy.”

On the defensive line, the Birds got a solid effort from defensive tackle Vinny Curry, who seems to be getting better every time he’s on the field. Against the Packers, he had three tackles and had the lone Eagles sack in the game. Head coach Chip Kelly said Curry is getting better with each game.

“I think he’s getting better at just overall run defense,” Kelly said. “But in the run game itself, you know, I think Vinny is starting to get better and better.  It was his best game against the run this week.”

The Eagles defense has just 20 sacks in 10 games, but Davis said his squad has done a good job in putting pressure on the quarterback and making them uncomfortable in the pocket.

“Even though the sack numbers aren’t as high as we would like, but there’s pressures, there’s batted balls, there’s errant throws sometimes, just a matter of keeping the quarterback uncomfortable, and that ball that looks ugly was a bad pass had a lot to do with a throwing lane being clogged up or an arm up in the face or not having a clean lane to see in,” Davis said.

Stuck in Reverse: Eagles Offense Dismal in Loss to Giants

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles quarterback Matt Barkley (left) looks up at Giants linebacker Jacquian Williams, who recovered his fumble late in the second quarter. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles quarterback Matt Barkley (left) looks up at Giants linebacker Jacquian Williams, who recovered his fumble late in the second quarter. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—The first half of the Monday night season-opener against the Washington Redskins seems like a distant memory for the Eagles offense.

Chip Kelly’s high-scoring, fast-paced offense that transformed the Oregon Ducks into a national powerhouse at the collegiate level, has simply not worked game in and game out at the pro level.  While it has compiled yardage, it has been inconsistent.

The Eagles 15-7 loss to the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday was another example of an offense that is stuck in a quagmire and going nowhere fast.  The Birds offense has scored just three points in their last eight quarters and could only muster 201 yards against the Giants defense.

The only points came via special teams late in the fourth quarter when Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie sailed the ball over the head of punter Steve Weatherford.  Eagles reserve linebacker Najee Goode recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.

Meanwhile, the Eagles defense had another solid outing while the offense struggled. The Birds did not allow a touchdown and held the Giants (2-6) to five Josh Brown field goals.

For the second straight week, the Eagles offense could not generate points. They lost starting quarterback Michael Vick who re-aggravated his left hamstring and was ineffective when he was on the field.  He was 6-of-9 passing for 31 yards with one interception. Vick left the game for good early in the second quarter.

With backup quarterback Nick Foles recovering from concussion symptoms, rookie Matt Barkley was pressed into service as the Birds quarterback for the rest of the game.  Although he showed flashes of brilliance, Barkley played like a rookie quarterback.  Good on some plays and terrible on others.   He completed 17-of-26 passes for 158 yards with an interception and a fumble. Barkley was sacked three times.

Ironically, it was when Barkley was at his best that he made the most egregious mistake of the game for the Eagles.  The former USC star drove the Birds from their own 20 to the New York two-yard line. On first and goal, Barkley was sacked at the Giants 14 by cornerback Terrell Thomas, who jarred the ball loose.  New York linebacker Jacuian Williams recovered the ball at the Giants 12.

“I saw (DeSean) Jackson first and it looked too close to throw it to him, so I was going through my second progression and was about to throw it away and (Thomas) just got there a second too early,” Barkley said.

That was as close as the Eagles (3-5) would come to scoring an offensive touchdown for the rest of the game.

Barkley’s fumble had folks questioning why Kelly would pass the ball that deep in Giants territory with a rookie quarterback when they have running back LeSean McCoy in the backfield.

Granted, McCoy gained just 48 yards on 15 carries for the game. You would think with a back as good as McCoy the Eagles would be able to get two yards on two carries deep inside the red zone even on a day when he was struggling.

“That was the play I called,” Kelly said. “It didn’t work. So obviously, it didn’t work. But we know in that situation, we’re first and goal and we talked about it.  If we don’t have it, let’s throw it way and we’ll go the next time.”
The only thing Barkley threw away in that sequence was a golden opportunity to put points on the board.

Kelly said inconsistency at the quarterback position, among other things, has been the reason the team has struggled offensively in the last couple of weeks.

“Yeah I think we’ve had some instability at the quarterback position,” Kelly said. “It starts with me. I’m the play caller. I’m the guy calling the plays. In the last two weeks, I haven’t done a very good job of it.  Until we can get that straightened out, the disappointing thing is I think our defense played a really, really good football game again today. They’ve really come along.

“But offensively, we haven’t done what we need to do to win two football games and we need to get that fixed.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Count Down to the Draft: What Will the Eagles Do with the Fourth Pick?

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report/Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Several mock drafts have Central Michigan's  Eric Fisher going fourth to the Eagles.

Several mock drafts have Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher going fourth to the Eagles.

The biggest concern that Eagles fans have coming into this draft other than who they’re going to take with the fourth pick is whether or not this draft as a whole will yield better results.

In the 2010 and 2011 drafts, the Eagles only three players from that group, center Jason Kelce, and safeties Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen, have emerged as starters from that group. Players like wide receiver Riley Cooper and tight end Clay Harbor have been solid backups.

That’s something that even the Eagles front office acknowledges, but this year Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said the team is in a better position to find what they think is the best athlete available rather than drafting to fill a need, especially after filling some holes during  the recent free agent signing period.

“What we learned is that you can’t force your board,” Roseman said. “You can’t have some much urgency in filling a need that you change the evaluation process.   We talked about that a lot it’s something we won’t do it again.

“It was the lure of how close we felt we were close to winning a championship and I think it was the mindset of trying to do whatever takes to win that championship.”

For a team that finished 4-12 last season, the best athlete available in this draft whether it’s the fourth pick or the 140th  will be somebody that the Eagles definitely need for both now and the future.

“I think there are some quality players in this draft, and that’s our job to kind of figure that out,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.  “I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination there is a slam dunk anywhere.”

So let the speculation and the revisions to your mock draft begin.

Even with Michael Vick, Nick Foles and Dennis Dixon competing for the starting job, you get the feeling that Kelly wants a younger player that he can take under his wing and develop for his read-option system.

To that end, the Eagles have had their eyes on former West Virginia star Geno Smith, who threw 44 touchdown passes during his final year; Florida State’s E.J. Manuel (6-foot-5, 240 pounds), who passed for 3,392 yards with 23 touchdown passes 10 interceptions; and Arizona’s Matt Scott, who passed for 3,620 and threw 27 touchdown passes. He also ran for 510 yards and scored six touchdown passes.

Whether the Eagles take a quarterback or any position with the fourth pick might hinge on whether or not Kelly likes what he sees on film during this week’s round of minicamp with the veterans.

“When you get to see them on the field for three straight days, running around doing things, it gives you a better understanding of what your team is and kind of where they are,” Kelly said when asked if this week’s minicamps would influence the draft.

“There are going to be some guys that maybe they were looked at as a guy that wasn’t as highly touted, but really fits into what we do, and maybe some other guys that are highly touted that aren’t exactly the right fit.”

Would Kelly and Roseman really take a quarterback with the fourth pick in a draft where there’s plenty of offensive linemen, especially considering that the Eagles have two offensive linemen in their 30s in Jason Peters and Todd Herremans who are coming off injuries?

The popular choice among some observers is Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher (6-7, 300 pounds) while others are looking at Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel (6-6, 306), the 2012 Outland Trophy winner.  Roseman said he likes the depth at offensive line for next week’s draft.

“There are some really talented offensive linemen in this draft along with some defensive linemen,” Roseman said. “This is a meat and potatoes draft.  Certainly in the first couple of rounds with lineman it’s going to be exciting. It’s hard to find big guys who can move and play with power.”

Given how beat up the Eagles quarterbacks were last season, an offensive lineman is probably where the Birds will go, especially with that fourth pick.

More than likely, the Kansas City Chiefs, who have the first pick will probably go either one of two ways—they will go after Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei or they will take Joeckel, given Andy Reid’s affinity for offensive lineman.

If the Chiefs opt take an offensive lineman Joeckel or Fisher, the Eagles couldn’t go wrong with taking Lotulelei, who has been compared to Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata and Detroit’s Ndamoukong Suh as a guy who can plug up the middle and rush the passer.  If Lotulelei (6-4, 325) is really that good, the Eagles will have a beast in the middle of their defense—whether they go with a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.

Some mock drafts have Philly native Shariff Floyd (6-3, 297) out of Florida going to Jacksonville the team with the second pick, but if he’s available by the time the fourth pick the Eagles might pick him up, especially if you buy into the idea that the Birds are looking for the best athlete available.

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