Is Nate Allen good now, part of the Eagles’ future beyond this season?

Is Nate Allen good now, part of the Eagles’ future beyond this season?

One of the more incredible developments this season has been the emergence of the Eagles’ bend-don’t-break defense, which has now made it eight straight games holding opponents to 21 points or less. It’s quite the reversal from a year ago, when the Birds’ D did not allow fewer than 21 over their final 11.

What’s maybe most amazing of all—besides the fact that this is taking place in the first season of a transition from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4—is it’s a lot of the same personnel. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has done an amazing job making what he was told were square pegs in Trent Cole and DeMeco Ryans fit into round holes, while the development of several second-year players has been top notch.

Cole and Ryans are football players though, we really shouldn’t be surprised to see them excel regardless of scheme or position, and young players are supposed to improve. Davis’ most impressive work to date might be turning Nate Allen into a competent safety when it appeared all hope was lost.

The consensus opinion on Allen entering this season was that of a well-established second-round bust, but the Eagles didn’t really have any choice but to give him one last look. He was under contract, and after all, there are only so many holes a 4-12 team can plug in one offseason.

Safety wasn’t one of the priorities. The front office signed low-level free agents Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips and used a fifth-round pick on Earl Wolff. Allen emerged from training camp as one of the starters by default, the last remaining link to a secondary that surrendered 11 passing plays over 40 yards and a 99.6 opponents’ passer rating in 2012.

Truth be told, Allen’s 2013 didn’t get off to a much better start when he was exposed in Week 2 by the San Diego Chargers. The fourth-year veteran was directly on the hook for two of Philip Rivers’ three touchdown passes, as he was picked on throughout the quarterback’s 419-yard performance. The Birds lost by a field goal in the closing seconds when the defense couldn’t put together a stop on the final three drives.

Allen rebounded from that nauseating experience though. In a matter of months, the former 37th-overall pick has transformed from complete liability to solid hand. He’s become one of the most efficient tacklers at safety in the NFL this season—ranked fourth by Pro Football Focus—and you don’t see the Eagles’ defense getting beat over the top for big passing plays too often, so he must be playing a good centerfield.

Philadelphia was finally rewarded for its patience on Sunday when Allen undercut Cardinals receiver Michael Floyd to intercept an errant Carson Palmer pass, which he then got up and returned for 43 yards. It was the 26-year-old’s first pick since 2011.

So is Nate Allen supposed to be good now? He certainly hasn’t been bad, and at the very least is playing at an above-average level over the past couple months. No. 29 was everywhere against Arizona, often the first man on to the scene anytime a receiver caught the ball in the Birds’ secondary.

Allen finished the game with eight tackles, giving him 71 on the year—two shy of his career high. He also has six pass breakups, a sack and a forced fumble this season.

Why such drastic and sudden improvement? It may be as simple as Allen has been put in a better position to succeed. Back in the offseason, Davis discussed how the previous regime's scheme put a lot on the safeties' plates. They were had serious responsibility in run defense due to the Wide-9 front, yet somehow were simultaneously asked to serve as the last line of defense.

"It's a completely different scheme with some of the same players," Davis said. "We're trying to maximize the part of what they do best. In the secondary, any time you ask the secondary to be primary B or A-gap run defenders, you're asking for trouble on play-action and deep balls.

Whatever the reason, the bigger question is becoming what happens to Allen after this season when he’ll be a free agent? Wolff has played well and appears to be the immediate future at one of the safety spots, but that still leaves a hole to fill if Allen departs. Chung has been downright awful in relief of the injured Wolff, and the coaching staff won’t replace him with Kurt Coleman or Colt Anderson—also free agents—which tells you all you need to know right there.

The Eagles can probably test the market for themselves. It could be a deep free-agent class with Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd and Cleveland’s T.J. Ward among the top names who could be available. The front office will no doubt look to the draft for another body as well, although that doesn’t necessarily mean a prospect in the first round.

Then there’s Allen, who knows the scheme and is undeniably improving right now. If nothing else, he’s certainly putting himself in the mix for consideration. Who would’ve imagined that at the beginning of the year?

Phillies likely to carry rookie backup catcher in 2017

Phillies likely to carry rookie backup catcher in 2017

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The likelihood of the Phillies going with a rookie backup catcher in 2017 increased dramatically when the Miami Marlins signed free agent A.J. Ellis on Wednesday.

Ellis spent the final month of the 2016 season with the Phillies after coming over from the Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade. Ellis, 35, got high marks for his work with the Phillies’ young pitching staff and the Phils had some interest in bringing him back. The interest, however, was complicated by a tight 40-man roster, which already includes three catchers — starter Cameron Rupp and minor-league prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp.

With Ellis out of the picture, the Phillies will likely use either Alfaro or Knapp as the backup catcher in 2017. Knapp spent a full year at Triple A in 2016 and could end up being the guy as Alfaro moves to Triple A for another year of seasoning.

General manager Matt Klentak spoke earlier this week of the possibility of going with a rookie at backup catcher.

“Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A,” Klentak said. “He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

It’s not all that surprising that Ellis ended up with the Marlins on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. He played for Marlins manager Don Mattingly during the latter’s time as manager of the Dodgers.

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

He’s already lost more games as an NFL quarterback than as a college quarterback, and Carson Wentz says he’ll never get used to all the losing.
 
Wentz, who went 20-3 as a college starter, is 5-7 a dozen games into his rookie year.
 
The Eagles have lost five of their last six games and are 2-7 in their last nine.
 
From Seattle through Cincinnati, Wentz lost as many games in a 15-day span as he lost in his entire career as a starter at North Dakota State.
 
“It’s frustrating,” Wentz said Wednesday. “No one likes losing, especially in this business as a quarterback. 
 
“I’m wired to be a winner. I hate losing. But at the same time it doesn’t affect us going forward. I know it doesn’t affect me and I can probably say the same thing for the guys in that locker room. 
 
“We’re going to come in and prepare and be the same win or lose, because I think that’s what it takes to be great and you can’t waver. You can’t change how you approach things. You can’t change how you go about your business, win, lose or draw. 
 
“But at the same time, yeah, without a doubt. We don’t like losing around here.”
 
The Eagles have the third-worst record in the NFL since Week 4, ahead of only the hapless Browns and 49ers. 

They haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention yet, but it sure seems like only a matter of time.
 
Since building a 3-0 record, the Eagles’ only wins have come on Oct. 23 over the Viking and Nov. 13 over the Falcons, both at the Linc.
 
No NFL quarterback has lost more games than Wentz since Week 4. Wentz and Blake Bortles are both 2-7 during that stretch and Sam Bradford is 3-6.
 
North Dakota State went 71-5 with five national championships during Wentz’s five years in Bismarck, North Dakota. As a starter, he was 15-1 as a junior, including the postseason, then went 5-2 during an injury-marred senior year, although for a second straight year he led the Bison to the FCS national title.
 
So he’s not used to losing. Not at all. Not like this.
 
“You get in the locker room and it’s kind of a down feeling,” he said. “A lot of you guys are in the locker room after the game. They’re tough. You don’t like losing, no one does. Especially on the road having to get on the plane or the bus or whatever and come back home. 
 
“But you get over it. You turn on the tape and you learn from it. But right after you watch that tape, it’s on to the next. That’s kind of the nature of this league and that’s how you have to approach it.”

Fortunately, the Eagles have an expert on just this subject in the NovaCare Complex. 
 
Doug Pederson pointed out Wednesday he was a part of some really bad teams, and he said that gives him an ability to relate to Wentz on how to endure all the losing.
 
“In Cleveland we were 3-and-13 (in 2000), and then Philadelphia, my first year, being 5-and-11,” said Pederson, who was also an assistant coach on a 4-12 Eagles team in 2012. 
 
“Just kind of leaning back on those experiences and how we fought through. How we fought through adversity. How people try to divide the team or say negative things about players or whatever. We just kind of kept that thing nice and tight. 
 
“So those are things that I can lean back, when you talk about the experience factor. I lean back on those experiences to relay to Carson how we went about our business during those following weeks to come and kept that team together. 
 
“We had great leadership on the team, like we do now. With him, it's just a matter of keeping him grounded, keeping him level headed. He's a leader of this football team, and he doesn't have to do it all himself. That's the beauty of it. There are 10 other guys on offense, and 11 on defense, and special teams that have a big part in this whole process.”
 
Wentz has been going non-stop for almost a year now. From the FCS title game to combine prep to draft prep to OTAs and minicamps to training camp and now heading into Week 14 of the regular season.
 
But he said he doesn’t feel any signs of burn-out or fatigue. Although his numbers have dipped over the past couple months, he said he feels fresh and upbeat going into the final quarter of the season, which begins with the Redskins at the Linc on Sunday.
 
“I feel good,” he said. “I think it comes down to: Do you love it enough? I think if you love the game and you’re around it, you enjoy the grind. You attack it and it’s part of the process. 
 
“For me, there’s no more school to go to during the day. It’s just football all day every day and I love that. It’s been a lot of fun and by no means is it wearing on me in a negative way.”
 
What about his numbers? The stats are not pretty. 
 
Games 1 through 4: 67 percent completion, 7 TDs, 1 INT, 103.5 passer rating, 3-1 record.
 
Games 5 through 8: 61 percent completion, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 72.4 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Games 9 through 12: 61 percent completion, 3 TDs, 6 INTs, 68.3 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Wentz shrugs it all off. 
 
“We’re all a work in progress. every quarterback in this league I think would say that,” Wentz said.
 
“You’re never a finished product, myself included. So you’re always analyzing different things you can do, from pocket movement to footwork. You’re always analyzing those things. So we talk about those things but we don’t harp on it. 
 
“Myself and really just everybody, we’ve just got to be better disciplined to things. Whether that’s alignment or pre-snap things, from recognition, from reads, you name it. We just all have to be disciplined. Really just execute better. It starts with me. Control our mistakes and that goes for everybody, myself first and foremost.
 
“We now what we’re capable of, I think everyone in the building does. We just have to get over the hump a little bit here.”