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.

Even with Jordan Matthews' return, Paul Turner still in Eagles' plans

Even with Jordan Matthews' return, Paul Turner still in Eagles' plans

There were just two things on Paul Turner’s mind as he sprinted across the field early during the third quarter on Sunday, anticipating his first career NFL catch. 

Turner relayed them on Wednesday: 

1. “Make sure you get in [Carson Wentz’s] vision.” 

2. “You better catch this ball.” 

He did both. 

Turner, the 23-year-old undrafted receiver from Louisiana Tech, who has become a fan favorite since his stellar training camp and preseason, caught his first NFL pass during Sunday’s loss to the Bengals and it went for a big gain of 41 yards. 

On his first catch, the Eagles used the play-action to tilt the defense and Wentz threw a dart into a small window to hit Turner on an over route. Then, the rookie turned upfield with a ton of space in front of him. 

By the end of the afternoon, he caught six balls for 80 yards. It was the best receiving day for an Eagles rookie since Jordan Matthews in 2014 and was a better day than last year’s first-round pick, Nelson Agholor, has ever had. 

“It's always good to catch a few balls,” said Turner, who has been on the 53-man roster and active for just the past two games. “It gets your motor going and gets your confidence going. It just gets you more into the game and gets you excited. I think it does a lot for a person's confidence.”

Turner played 41 snaps against the Bengals in large part because Matthews was out with an ankle injury. Matthews predominantly plays in the slot, which is where head coach Doug Pederson and his coaching staff like Turner. 

“Honestly, that wasn't really my mindset going into the game,” Turner said when asked if he knew how much opportunity he’d have with Matthews out. “My mindset was to go in there and if my number was called, just go out there and make a play. Even if my number was called, just take care of my assignment and take care of the little details and I knew everything else would just take care of itself. I knew that if I got the ball, I'd be excited. But even if I didn't, just to go out there and just block, and give up myself for my teammates. That was my goal coming into the game and just try to stay focused on that.” 

It appears as though Turner has done enough to warrant keeping his playing time. As Matthews returned to practice on Wednesday — as a limited participant — Pederson said there will still be opportunities for Turner. 

“There are, there are,” Pederson said. “And these are things we talked about the last couple of days as a staff — getting Paul in there, even with Jordan coming back. I think it can be a benefit to the offense to have both of those guys ready to go.”

The Eagles still haven’t had more than four receivers active for any game this season. During the last two weeks when Turner has played, either Agholor or Matthews were out. 

“It means a lot that the coaching staff has confidence in me,” Turner said. “My biggest thing is just to come in here and just work each and every day in practice and just prepare in practice so I'm prepared when I go out there in the game.” 

Eagles players react to Doug Pederson's effort comments

Eagles players react to Doug Pederson's effort comments

Two days after Eagles coach Doug Pederson agreed "not everybody" on his team played hard in a 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday, players were still trying to interpret exactly what those comments meant.

"I think Doug is saying we can all do better," Eagles tight end Brent Celek said on Wednesday. "We can give more effort, we can hustle a little bit harder to the ball, after the ball is thrown on offense, after a ball is ran or caught on defense.

"It's just a team thing. We're just trying to get better."

Now in his 10th NFL season, Celek was one of the few Eagles players we spoke to who agreed with Pederson's premise.

"I think guys are giving effort, but I think we could take it to another level," Celek said. "There's levels to that. You can go hard every single play. I think that's just what he's trying to say is, 'Listen, we can do better.'"

Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham sided with Pederson, as well, although largely for different reasons. The fifth-year veteran didn't believe effort was an issue, but if the head coach says it is, then it must be.

"It was shocking to me," Bradham said. "It's one of those things where, that's the way he felt, so if we weren't playing hard, we have to play harder."

Yet even as Bradham was attempting to back Pederson, he sounded like somebody who was unclear about the message.

"From what I've seen defensively and watching film, I feel like everybody was running to the ball," Bradham said. "I don't think that was the point he was trying to get across. I think he was trying to say we weren't paying attention to details as far as the effort part. I don't think he was saying work ethic.

"I think it kind of got worded wrong."

Many players offered their own unique takes on Pederson's statements, which might be the bigger story here than what was actually said. Nobody seemed to be especially offended — more like confused as to how anybody who went back and put on the tape could draw such a conclusion.

And honestly, they might have a point.

The Eagles got their butts whipped in Cincinnati. The Bengals could do no wrong on either side of the football, and the game turned into a bloodbath. Anybody could see the outcome was likely decided early into the second half, yet the defense forced fumbles and created turnovers with hustle plays even when almost all hope was lost.

"You look at the end, we had opportunities to lay down, to just say, 'This game's out of reach, we're not going to win this game,' but that's not what we did," Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "Guys came out.

"You look at the fumble forced by [Bennie Logan] — huge play in the game, and really one of those types of plays that is a momentum shift because then, now you look at it, we're getting off the field again. It's those types of plays that give you that type of momentum. You've got Nigel who comes in, they throw it to the big guy and he knows immediately to go for the ball.

"We had chances to not show effort, but nobody on that film does. I said it after the game, I was proud of the way we finished."

Pederson didn't necessarily imply Hicks, Logan or Bradham were among the "not everybody" who supposedly gave less than 100 percent. There are some high-profile examples of specific plays or individuals under heavy scrutiny this week, which are what was being alluded to when the coach was pressed on his team's effort.

Regardless, another detail most players agreed upon is Pederson never intended to single anybody out. At least that was the sentiment after he had a chance to address the locker room.

"I think it's more of a group comment that he made, and he addressed it," Hicks said. "He told everybody.

"There's plays we all can make if we all just give a little bit more. It's that challenge, that mentality that no matter what, we're going to continue to do what we do, and at the end of the day, every man has to look themselves in the mirror."

"I'm guessing he feels like as a team we probably need to play harder," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins added, "but I know the intent of the guys that I practice with and play with every day, and I didn't see effort being the issue from my standpoint.

"The guys, they love this game and lay it on the line, so I don't have to coach anybody up on energy or showing up."

Another accusation that was put forth is the Eagles didn't necessarily lack effort. It was a matter of heart, intensity or energy — any of which was also disputed.

"I think I know the difference between the two," Hicks said. "It's tough to have that energy when you're down and you're fighting from such a deep hole. You try, but with energy, you have to make the plays first. When you're not making plays to give you that juice, that momentum, the things that switch the game on to your side, it's tough to have that energy."

"It's hard to have energy when you're down three scores," Jenkins said. "I think guys still played hard, but from just being a human being, it's hard to celebrate a play when you're trying to fight out of a hole.

"Everybody always talks about going out and having fun. Well, you're only having fun when you're winning, and so we have to find a way to get some of the momentum on our side, find a way to get some of the plays and things to swing in our favor, then we can have some fun as a team."

Jenkins also made it clear that questions about effort and energy have nothing to with the job Pederson has done as head coach of the Eagles.

"Me personally, although I love Doug, Doug is not the reason I get up and play and go to work every day," Jenkins said.

"I don't think our effort or how we perform is a direct reflection of Doug. It is his job obviously to lead us and get us prepared to play, but a lot of that onus is on us as players. We're the ones that have to go perform, we have to make the plays, we have to show up, we have to get our bodies ready, get our minds ready, and there's only so much a coach can do.

"Whatever is put on on that tape is going to be a direct reflection of the guys on the field."

That's really all the Eagles can do at this point if they want to dispel any and every notion that there is a single individual giving less than their all. The team's leadership seems to understand what it's going to take to quiet critics and skeptics.

"We just have to keep grinding," Celek said. "It's not easy, life's not easy. If you make a mistake, people are going to try to expose it any way that they can.

"They pay us a lot of money to do this. We all have to pick it up. We all have to do a little bit better, focus on our jobs and get a win. We just need a win."

With that, Celek may have hit the nail on the head, a point that Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox stated much more succinctly.

It's not a matter of effort right now. What would really quiet the noise about effort is performing on the field and earning a good old fashioned W.

"If we're winning, I don't think anybody is saying that," Cox said. "We just have to be better as a team."