10 observations from Eagles-Saints

usa-byron-maxwell-fletcher-cox-eagles.jpg

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.

Fletcher Cox among Eagles not at OTAs; Doug Pederson updates position battles

Fletcher Cox among Eagles not at OTAs; Doug Pederson updates position battles

The Eagles had near-perfect attendance as they kicked off their Organized Team Activities (OTAs) on Tuesday morning, but there were a few notable absences.

Fletcher Cox, Jason Peters and Donnie Jones are not with the team.

"Obviously as you guys know too, it's a voluntary offseason program," head coach Doug Pederson said. "I've been in touch with all three of those guys, so we've communicated for the reasons for them not being here. But no worries with them going forward."

This is the second year in a row that Cox has missed the start of OTAs. Last year, he was waiting on his big contract, which came after the minicamp in June.

Cox, who signed a mega contract less than a year ago, send out an Instagram story on Monday in Philipsburg, Netherlands Antilles.

"The reason is satisfactory, but again it's a voluntary program," Pederson said. "I would love for everybody to be here. That's just me personally, I would love everybody to be here. But I know it's not always going to work out that way.

"Fletcher is one of the leaders on the football team and guys like that, you do expect to be here, but I get the rules, we abide by the rules and he's one of the guys too, at the end of the day, I'm gonna hang my hat on and go to war with."

As far as the guys who are with the Eagles this week, Pederson revealed some of the starters at positions in question (see OTA storylines).

Second-year guard Isaac Seumalo will begin OTAs as the team's starting left guard, taking Allen Barbre's place. Pederson did say Barbre is getting over a calf injury.

"This gives [Seumalo] an opportunity to work in there so we can get Allen," the head coach said. "Allen's a guy, as you guys know, one of those versatile offensive linemen who can play guard and tackle, so when we get Allen back we want to work him not just at guard but also at tackle."

Jason Kelce, who has been the center of plenty of rumors and whispers this offseason, is still going to take first-team reps at center, while Stefen Wisniewski and Seumalo will also get some reps at center.

And second-year player Jalen Mills and free agent pickup Patrick Robinson will start the camp running with the ones at corner (see players to watch at OTAs).

This first round of OTAs runs three days: May 23-25.

5 Eagles to watch on offense and defense at OTAs

5 Eagles to watch on offense and defense at OTAs

Tuesday is a big day in the progression of the 2017 Eagles

The team is finally all together as OTAs kick off at the NovaCare Complex. We've already looked at the biggest storylines of the week (see story), but how about the individual players? 

Well, let's look at five offensive and five defensive players to watch this week, leaving out Carson Wentz. Yeah, we're going to watch the QB. 

Offense

Alshon Jeffery
Jeffery won't be hard to spot. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound receiver was brought in on a one-year deal this offseason. He's been in Philly working out, but this will be his first time at a real practice with his new team. Maybe we'll quickly get a sense of his chemistry with Wentz. 

Torrey Smith
At his introductory press conference in March, Smith was asked about his speed and responded by jokingly challenging a reporter to a race. While that never happened, it's fair to wonder what the Eagles are getting in Smith. He wasn't the same player in San Francisco, so we'll get to see if he has some gas left in the tank. 

Donnel Pumphrey
We already got a glimpse of Pumphrey during rookie camp, but didn't get a long time to watch practice. At OTAs, we'll see everything. The biggest thing that stood out about Pumphrey a couple weeks ago was his size — or lack of size. How will Doug Pederson use his new weapon? We might get some hints this week. 

LeGarrette Blount
Pumphrey and Blount technically play the same position, yet Blount is 74 pounds heavier. To put that in perspective, 74 pounds is about the weight of an average 10-year-old. Blount has been in the league for nearly a decade, but he's in a new offense in Philly (without a true fullback), so we'll see where he is in a short time with the team.  

Taylor Hart
Normally we wouldn't put an offensive lineman on a list of guys to watch in shorts, but Hart is transitioning from defensive tackle to offensive tackle and this is the first chance to see him on offense. Worth watching. He was pretty excited about the switch in January (see story).

Defense

Timmy Jernigan
Honestly, it's harder to evaluate defensive players during OTAs because there's no hitting, and it's even harder to evaluate linemen. Jernigan, though, is worth watching because he's replacing Bennie Logan. 

Rasul Douglas
We've already seen Douglas at rookie camp, but he was really looking forward to lining up against some veterans like Jeffery. Douglas was a third-rounder, but he might be more important to the team in 2017 than any other rookie simply because of his position. 

Patrick Robinson
Speaking of the cornerback position, this week is the first of seeing Robinson, who signed a one-year deal that's mostly gone forgotten. The 29-year-old former first-round pick is coming off a rough yearlong stint with the Colts, but he was much better in 2015 with the Chargers. He's on a prove-it deal, so who knows if he'll be the Eagles' best option. 

Ron Brooks
One of the biggest losses the Eagles suffered during the 2016 season occurred when Brooks went down with a bad leg injury. No, Brooks wasn't great before the injury, but he was the team's slot corner, which kept Malcolm Jenkins at safety. Not sure where Brooks is in his recovery, but don't forget about him. Jim Schwartz clearly likes Brooks. 

Joe Walker
Walker is recovering from an ACL tear from last preseason. He was lining up to be the team's backup middle linebacker before the injury, and the 2016 seventh-round pick will probably have the inside track to win that job this year ... as long as he regains his form from before the injury.