10 observations from Eagles-Saints

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10 observations from Eagles-Saints

BOX SCORE

Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan. Sam Bradford in the first half, Sam Bradford in the second half. Josh Huff. Jason Peters and Lane Johnson. Even DeMarco Murray makes his way into our instant analysis in a positive way.

Plenty to be encouraged by in the Eagles’ 39-17 win over the Saints Sunday at the Linc, their first home win since last Nov. 23, their first win over an NFC opponent this year and the first win in Philly for Bradford (see Instant Replay).

For the first time in a while, you guys can read 10 observations and not want to puke!

1. I’m going to start with Cox because I feel like this football team desperately needed somebody to take command Sunday, and Cox did just that (see story). Once again, it was a sluggish start. Once again, nothing was going well early. Once again, we were all starting to hear boos raining down through the Linc as the offense sputtered through turnovers, dropped passes and fourth-down plays that had no chance. The Eagles went into the second quarter trailing Drew Brees and the Saints 7-0, and they were staring 1-4 right smack in the face. And Cox simply took over. A defensive lineman can’t play better than he did against the Saints Sunday. Cox is just a relentless force both against the run and rushing the passer. The Eagles sacked Brees 13 times in his first seven games against the Eagles, but Cox had a career-high three by himself Sunday. His strip-sack-recovery of Brees in the third quarter that set up the Eagles’ third touchdown was really the biggest play of the game. It was a farce Cox didn’t make the Pro Bowl last year. If he doesn’t this year, it will be a crime. This was a game the Eagles had to win, and when they needed somebody to step up and simply take over, Cox was the one that did it. He’s playing at a truly elite level right now.

2. Seems like we’re all ready to bench Bradford every week at halftime, and there’s a good reason for that. He’s been terrible this year in the first half. Here are Bradford’s five-game first-half numbers: 56 percent completions, 524 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 64.8. And his second-half numbers: 67 percent completions, 721 yards with six TDs and three interceptions — a passer rating of 104.7. The disparity is insane. On the one hand, yeah, you need your quarterback to be consistent and play a complete game. But Bradford has shown some resilience in his ability to shake off bad starts — like his two end-zone interceptions Sunday — and finish games strong. Now, he should be past this. He can’t be this bad in the first half. Agreed. But those second-half numbers are pretty darn good. Sunday, he was 13 of 15 for 118 yards with a touchdown and no INTs. If Bradford can find a way to come out strong early and avoid the mistakes he’s been making, the Eagles will have themselves a decent quarterback (see story on Bradford's leadership).

3. We’ve all been waiting for this kind of performance from Huff for two years. Sometimes I think he’s got the most pure skill of any receiver on the Eagles. He’s big, tough, strong, runs good routes. He’s just never been able to put it all together. Whether it’s injuries, drops, fumbles, it’s always something with him. Sunday, we finally saw a consistent performance from Huff, and it was impressive. He was fast and tough after the catch and finished with a career-high 78 yards on four catches, including the Eagles’ first touchdown. I can do without the somersault. But the effort and production were huge.

4. And props also to Bennie Logan, Cox’s defensive linemate. He’s been a stud all year and seems to play better every week. He’s just so solid and sound. Goes hard every play. The defensive line is the only area on the team that you just don’t ever worry about. The heart of this football team.

5. Maybe all the stuff about how Chip Kelly can't coach will quiet down for a week. Let's be honest. He's an exceptional offensive football coach whose team just played awful the first month of the season. The Eagles netted 519 yards of offense Sunday, 16th-most in Eagles history and 11th-most ever against the Saints. Yes, this is a terrible Saints defense, but I have a hunch what we saw Sunday was closer to the real Eagles' offense than what we saw the first month of the season (more on Kelly here).

6. How about Caleb Sturgis? Yeah, he missed a PAT, but he was 4 for 4 on field goals, including a 41-yarder in the fourth quarter. Honestly, I’m not sure you can find anybody better out there. We’re just going to have to accept that he’s not David Akers and he’s not Cody Parkey, and we’re all going to have to hold our breath when he lines up. But 4 for 4 is encouraging.

7. I know what Chip was thinking going for it on 4th-and-7 and 4th-and-9 in the first half, but I don’t like it. I understand he’s desperate for a spark for his team but it’s just not fair to your defense to put them in that position against a Hall of Fame quarterback. If you trust your defense that much, play field position. I’m big on field position. It can really swing a game’s momentum. Donnie Jones is a wizard at punting it down inside the 10-yard line. Fourth-and-7 is about a 29 percent play. I just don’t like those odds.

8. I love how Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, who are both pretty banged up, simply refused to miss this game. These guys are flat-out warriors. They knew what was at stake. They knew how bad the offensive line has been. They knew the Eagles had to win this game, and there was a good chance that wasn’t going to happen with Dennis Kelly and Josh Andrews in there. Beastly stuff from the two offensive tackles who both played every offensive snap (more on O-line here).

9. We mentioned Cox and Logan earlier, but overall really a very impressive performance by the Eagles’ defense. This is what happens when you don’t have to play 40 minutes. They had a chance. The Saints aren’t what they used to be on offense, but that’s still a Hall of Fame quarterback out there with some potent weapons. The Eagles’ defense gave up too many big plays and too many yards, but ultimately it didn’t matter because it forced four turnovers, recorded five sacks and gave up just two touchdowns. Think about this: The defense has allowed only 10 touchdowns in five games. I’ve said all along if they don’t have to play an extra 10 minutes every Sunday they can be a great defense, and this game showed us all exactly how good they can be. If they have a chance.

10. And how about a running game for the first time this year? DeMarco Murray carried 20 times for 83 yards, and Ryan Mathews had 73 yards on just eight carries. Including 5 for 27 from Darren Sproles and a Bradford scramble, the Eagles had 183 rushing yards Sunday. That’s their most in their last nine games. That’s more than 2½ times their season average of 70 yards per game the first month of the year. Of all the positives that came out of Sunday (see story), discovering a running game may have been the biggest.

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

The Eagles need cornerbacks. Plural. 

It's not a secret that the team's biggest weakness heading into next week's draft is at the cornerback position. So it would stand to reason that their best bet might be to simply take the best one off the board when they're on the clock at 14.

But NFL Network's Mike Mayock, on his annual pre-draft conference call marathon extravaganza Friday, said he thinks they should take a different approach. 

Looking at the top corners in the draft, Mayock is convinced Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore will be off the board well before the Eagles are on the clock at 14. His next rated corner is Gareon Conley. After that, Mayock has Marlon Humphrey but pointed out his major flaw of struggling to find the football in the air. 

So if Conley makes it to 14, the Eagles should pick him, right? 

Not so fast. 

"So I look at it this way, if Conley's on the board at 14, you have to compare him to the best playmaker on offense on your board," Mayock said. "Because I'm not convinced the Eagles should go defense, to be honest with you. 

"If Conley's not there, I think you want to go get your corner in the second or third round and I think they need two corners. But my perspective is, you drafted Carson Wentz. You better support him. You signed two wideouts in free agency (Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith) who are both effectively one-year contracts. Your slot receiver, (Jordan) Matthews is in the final year of his deal. (Brent) Celek, the tight end, is 32 years old. 

"So you might sit there and go, 'This year looks OK,' but get a running back. Get a (Christian) McCaffrey or a Dalvin Cook. Get a tight end, O.J. Howard. Get weapons. Get one of those wideouts you like. So I would be comparing Conley to the highest playmaker you have on the board offensively. And I might be leaning towards offense if it was me." 

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. Cam Newton and Greg Olsen. 

When Zach Ertz looks at the recent history of great quarterback-tight end duos in the NFL, he can't help but notice one thing stands out. 

"Those guys have been together for a long time," Ertz said Thursday afternoon. 

Brady and Gronk have been together for seven seasons. Cam and Olsen have been together for six. And Brees and Graham were together for five. 

"And I think just having that, where you're on the same page regardless of the coverage," Ertz continued. "If they give you this coverage, you know exactly what you're going to do. If they give you that coverage, he knows exactly what I'm going to do. When to expect the ball vs. certain coverages, it might be a little earlier, it might be a little later. So it's just that constant camaraderie where we're able to know what the other person is thinking without thinking about it."

Ertz hopes that's the kind of relationship he can forge with Carson Wentz, who will enter his second NFL season in 2017. 

Ertz and Wentz spend a lot of time together in the facility and away from it. A group of Eagles went to Ertz's wedding earlier this offseason, and of course, Wentz was present. If it seems like Ertz is going to great lengths to build a rapport with his quarterback, he is. 

After going through Mike Vick and Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford, the Eagles' starting tight end finally has a quarterback that isn't going anywhere for a while.  

"It's going to be huge," Ertz said about playing with Wentz for a second straight year. "I think when Carson was drafted, from the receivers and tight ends, that was the one thing we were really excited about. That we knew for the next five, 10, 20 years, hopefully, in Philadelphia, we knew who our quarterback was going to be."

Since he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Stanford, Ertz has been an extremely productive player. But that has set up huge expectations as fans wait for a "breakout year." Zach Ertz might never be Rob Gronkowski, but the numbers are hard to argue. 

In the first four years of his career, Ertz has 247 catches for 2,840 yards and 13 touchdowns. Since 2013, here's the list of tight ends who have more catches and yards than Ertz: Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Delanie Walker, Antonio Gates. 

Ertz and Jeremy Maclin are the only two players in Eagles history to put up those numbers in their first four seasons. 

The argument often heard about Ertz's numbers is that they come in garbage time. Ertz has historically been an absolute beast in December. In the last few years, that hasn't meant much to a struggling Eagles franchise, but if they're in the playoff hunt in upcoming years, they'll probably want that trend to continue. 

The one statistic that doesn't seem to match the others: touchdowns. While Ertz has been among top tight ends in the league in receptions and yards, his 13 touchdowns rank 17th among tight ends since 2013. (It's not a stat, but for what it's worth, Ertz would likely be among the league leaders in touchdowns called back for penalties in the last few years.)

"I want to be the guy in the red zone, believe me," Ertz said. "For the first four years in my career, I think the most touchdowns I had in a year was four. So this year, we didn't have a lot of red zone touchdowns and that falls on us as players to get it down when we get down there, make plays when the ball's in the air. That's something I do pride myself on, making those tough and contested catches, whether it be in the red zone or third down. I want to be more of a go-to guy in the red zone, but I've got to earn that this spring and summer, earn that trust of the quarterback as well as Doug (Pederson). It's going to be a process, but when you look at the great tight ends in the league, the first thing that stands out is touchdowns."