Eagles-Cowboys: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Cowboys: Roob's 10 observations

BOX SCORE

ARLINGTON, Texas — This game had Josh Huff throwing the longest pass of the night by an Eagle, it had the refs calling a holding penalty on Chase Daniel, it had Caleb Sturgis becoming the most accurate kicker in Eagles history and it had the Eagles going overtime at AT&T Stadium for the second time in 11½ months.

And in the end, it had the Cowboys beating the Eagles 29-23 in overtime in a battle for first place in the NFC East (see Instant Replay).

Some good, some bad. Some very bad.

So if you’re still awake ... here’s tonight’s (this morning’s) 10 Instant Observations:

1. It’s astonishing to me what Carson Wentz is able to do without an impact wide receiver, without an effective tight end of late, with a patchwork offensive line and with a running back who turns 34 next summer. Imagine if Wentz had Dak Prescott’s weapons? Wentz is so ridiculously good he transcends the mediocrity around him. After seeing Prescott in person, I don’t think there’s any question who the better rookie is. It’s not even close. Wentz can do so much more with so much less. He completed 74 percent of his passes Sunday night (32 for 43) for 202 yards, a TD and no interceptions. And at least five of the nine incompletions were drops. Imagine if Wentz had just average wide receivers? The kid is special, and once the Eagles surround him with some talent, he’s going to be unstoppable.  

2. The Eagles’ desperate need for a playmaker has never been so glaring as it was Sunday night in Dallas. Wentz can throw the ball down the field, he just has nobody who can get open. And when they do get open, they drop the ball. I’m not big on giving up a draft pick for a guy who might help you for half a dozen games by the time he gets here and learns the playbook, but the Eagles have to consider everything at this point. A trade, Bryce Treggs, re-signing T.O. ... everything. You just can’t play an entire season without throwing the ball down the field.

3. The Eagles had plenty of chances to put this game away, but their play-calling and execution on 2nd-and-short and 3rd-and-short was bad (see Standout Plays). Those are plays you just have to convert, and the Eagles didn’t have the juice to get it done on the handful of key plays that they needed to put Dallas away. This wasn’t Doug Pederson’s finest day as a play-caller. Too much horizontal, not enough vertical. This was a winnable game, but too many mistakes once they took that 10-point lead caught up with them in the second half and overtime. They had chances. A 3rd-and-2 early in the third quarter where they lost two yards. A 3rd-and-2 late in the fourth quarter where they lost two yards. A 3rd-and-4 where they dropped a pass. You can’t give the Cowboys that many chances, especially here, and the Cowboys showed why they haven’t lost since opening day. They took advantage of the opportunity the Eagles gave them and it got them to 6-1.

4. Caleb Sturgis was not a good kicker in Miami. Made 77.5 percent of his field goals in 2013 and 2014 with the Dolphins, which ranked him 31st of 34 kickers in the NFL who attempted at least 25 field goals during that two-year span. He was also 6-for-13 from 50-plus yards. So Cody Parkey gets hurt early last year, there’s nobody else on the street, and the Eagles sign Sturgis. He misses a 33-yarder on opening day, Chip Kelly decides to keep him around another week, and he goes 4-for-4 the next week against the Saints and winds up 18-for-22. He beats out Parkey this summer and all he’s done this year — after once again missing his first attempt of the season — is go 17-for-17 with three straight 50-yard makes, including Sunday's clutch 55-yarder to give the Eagles the lead just before halftime. Sturgis made 78 percent of his kicks with the Dolphins but is at 87.5 percent with the Eagles, including 5-for-7 from 50 yards and out. Chip could have easily cut Sturgis after that terrible 33-yard miss. But he kept him around, and Sturgis right now is absolute money. Sometimes you just never know.

5. Darren Sproles was nothing less than brilliant Sunday as the surprise lead ball carrier. His 86 rushing yards on 15 carries were the fourth-most in his career and his most in five years, since he had 88 as a Saint against the Colts on Oct. 23, 2011. With fumble-prone Ryan Mathews in mothballs most of the night (4-for-10), Sproles had his second-most carries as an Eagle and fourth-most in his 10-year career. Here’s the thing: I still think 14 carries every week is too much for Sproles. Sproles at 33 is still faster than most backs 10 years younger. He’s such a great Eagle. Just this little guy with so much heart. I just hope the Eagles don’t over use him. The reality is the Eagles don’t have a running back right now under 33 years old that they trust, and that’s not good.

6. I really believe Jordan Hicks is right on the brink of becoming a Pro Bowl-caliber middle linebacker. The ball just seems to find him. Now, you can say his interception was just a terrible pass by Prescott, but he makes the plays when they’re there and that’s all you can ask. Hicks has now jammed three interceptions, four pass knockdowns, four fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, five tackles for loss and a sack into 15 career games. The Eagles haven’t had a big-time middle linebacker since Trott, and Hicks is there right now.

7. I don’t care how many catches Huff does or doesn’t have, he has become such a weapon returning kicks that it doesn’t even matter. Huff followed his huge kickoff return TD last week that jumpstarted the Eagles when the offense was doing nothing against the Vikings with an electrifying 63-yarder against the Cowboys Sunday night. He now has his average up to 28.4 yards per kick return, which is eighth-highest in NFL history among returners with 40 or more career returns. This offense has so little firepower that a kick returner who can gobble up so many yards is huge.

8. Ezekiel Elliott’s final numbers were 22-for-96 (with a 72-yard run called back because of holding), so he didn’t get his fifth consecutive 130-yard game, but against this defense, that was a monumental game for him. I thought the Eagles to a great extent slowed him down, tackled well, were gap-sound, and he still ran for 96 yards. He’s a special player the Eagles are going to have to contend with him for a long, long time.

9. This was the third time in their last four games the Eagles didn’t have an offensive play of 30 yards or more. Their only offensive play longer than 30 yards since Sproles' 73-yard TD catch against the Steelers is Jordan Matthews’ 53-yard catch in the Redskins game. That’s almost impossible to do. The Eagles’ lack of firepower is shocking. They have one play of 30 yards or more in their last 242 offensive snaps. Think about that for a moment. That’s impossible to do. Tough to win when you can’t make a play down the field.

10. How about some props for Halapoulivaati Vaitai? Big V has gotten better in each of his three starts and really hung in there pretty well Sunday night in Dallas. It’s encouraging that he’s progressed each week from that disastrous start in Washington to a functional game against the Vikings and some more good stuff Sunday night. Seven more games for Lane Johnson, and let’s be clear — Vaitai is nowhere close to where Lane was when his suspension finally came down. But Big V has been solid, and he deserves credit for the steady improvement he’s made.

Bonus observation. Prescott’s numbers were ugly, but I was impressed. He was under siege most of the night but rallied the Cowboys back from 10 points down in the fourth quarter and made some big throws in overtime. Prescott was 14-for-34 for 231 yards in regulation but 5-for-5 for 56 yards and the TD to Jason Witten in overtime. He also ran for 38 yards. I’ll take Wentz any day of the week. But Prescott is impressive.

On verge of Super Bowl, Eric Rowe responds to Eagles, Roseman

On verge of Super Bowl, Eric Rowe responds to Eagles, Roseman

The Eagles' season ended a few weeks ago with a 7-9 record. 

In a couple weeks, Eric Rowe might be playing in the Super Bowl. 

Rowe, of course was the Eagles second-round pick in 2015 and went on to have a promising rookie season. But in 2016, the change of head coaches brought a new defensive coordinator and a new scheme, which Rowe apparently didn't fit. So a few days before the season began, he was dealt to the New England, where he has become a big part of their defense. 

In his after-the-season press conference on Jan. 4, Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman was asked about the trade and gave a somewhat curious answer. He said the team made the move because the front office had already determined they were not going to give Rowe an extension, even though he wouldn't have been eligible for two more seasons. 

If that sounded weird to Eagles fans, they weren't alone. It sounded weird to Rowe too, when the Wilmington News Journal's Martin Frank caught up with him this week. 

“That’s a long time away," Rowe said. "If that’s the reason, that’s really, really weird. You know, it’s whatever. If he thinks that, then I guess that’s what it was. They’re thinking way down the line.” 

Rowe, 24, ended up starting seven games during this regular season for New England, but played just 43 percent of the Patriots' defensive snaps. If Rowe played 50 percent of defensive snaps in 2016 or if he does it in 2017, the fourth-round pick the Eagles get back in the trade will turn into a third-rounder, so there's still a chance next year. 

While a third-round pick wouldn't be bad, the Eagles gave up on a young, talented corner just a year after drafting him because he didn't fit what they wanted to do. 

Shortly after the trade, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz called Rowe a good cover corner but cited the development of Jalen Mills as a reason why Rowe became expendable. Schwartz said he appreciated Rowe, but the personnel staff "decided to use him as an asset, and as coaches, we just deal with that and keep playing." 

It was pretty clear during training camp that Rowe had fallen out of favor with the Eagles. He was buried behind Mills and others on the depth chart, so maybe the trade was the best thing for him. 

"That was frustrating, just kind of like thinking, 'What am I doing wrong?'" Rowe said to the Wilmington News Journal. "Yeah, I made mistakes, but everybody makes mistakes. I'm not making bad mistakes. I'm making plays. Why am I sliding down? That was frustrating times. I would just go home and my girlfriend's there, and I'm telling her all this stuff. I'd tell my parents, and they're like, 'Just keep your head up, just keep working because you never know. Then boom, the trade comes up." 

And now he might get a chance to play in the Super Bowl, while the Eagles desperately need to fix their cornerback position before next season. 

Eagles Stay or Go Part 5: Brandon Graham to Aaron Grymes

Eagles Stay or Go Part 5: Brandon Graham to Aaron Grymes

In the fifth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 5 is Graham to Grymes.

Brandon Graham
Cap hit: $7.5M

Roob: Interesting year for Graham, who got consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback and graded out as one of the most effective pass rushers in the league but managed only 5½ sacks. Hard to believe Graham is now entering his eighth season with the Eagles. He still has never had more than 6½ sacks in a season, but the pressure is there. I love his effort but would still like to see him finish when he gets a hand on the quarterback. He'll be here. The question is whether he can take his game to the next level and turn those hurries into sacks. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s hard to believe this is the same player who was once labeled a bust and completely written off by fans. Graham ended up having the best season of his career in Jim Schwartz’s defense and looked much more at home as a 4-3 defensive end. No, his sack numbers weren’t very high this year, but sacks don’t tell the whole story and that was the case with Graham. He was extremely disruptive and was the Eagles’ best defensive end. No-brainer. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dwayne Gratz

Roob: Back in 2013, Gratz was a third-round pick and a pretty good cornerback prospect for the Jaguars. He started 25 games over three years for the Jags before bouncing from the Jags to the Rams and Eagles last year. Considering the Eagles’ situation at corner, the Eagles have to give him a long look this offseason to see if there’s anything there. He didn’t get into a game after joining the Eagles late last year, but without even seeing him play, I’m prepared to call him the Eagles’ best cornerback. (That's kind of a joke, but not really.) The Eagles have so many needs and need so many receivers, corners and running backs that they can’t get them all through the draft and free agency. So I’m going off a hunch and saying Gratz makes the team next year. Just because somebody has to play cornerback and it can’t be the guys who were here last year. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Gratz was added late in the year and never played. But he’s a former third-round pick and we’ll have to see what he can offer. He’ll likely be with the team in training camp and will have a shot, but probably not a great one. Honestly, it’s probably too early to call this one. 

Verdict: GOES

Dorial Green-Beckham
Cap hit: $944K

Roob: One of the Eagles’ bigger disappointments this past year, DGB took a big step backwards after a promising rookie year with the Titans. Now, the question is, how much was because he arrived late in the preseason, how much was because the since-departed Greg Lewis was his position coach, how much was his lack of familiarity with Carson Wentz? The Eagles are desperate for playmakers at wide receiver, and you can’t draft or sign an entirely new group. Considering DGB’s salary and cap figure — both are just $944,418 — I figure the Eagles will keep him around one more year just to see if there’s anything there. Maybe with a new coach and another year in this offense, he can help. I kind of doubt he'll ever become more than just a guy, but there's no reason for the Eagles not to keep him around another year to find out. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It didn’t take too long into this season to see why the Titans were fine with giving up DGB for reserve offensive tackle Dennis Kelly. I know many people have said they’ve seen all they need to see of Green-Beckham to know he can’t play. I’m not sold yet. I’m just not ready to give up on a 23-year-old receiver who is 6-5, 237. I know he doesn’t play well with his size, but I want to see him have a full offseason here and I want to see him work with a new receivers coach. 

Verdict: STAYS

Darrell Greene

Roob: Greene spent the year on the Eagles’ practice squad after a solid career at San Diego State. He’s got some size at 6-3, 320, and the Eagles are definitely uncertain at guard. But is Greene the direction they’re going to go for offensive line depth moving forward? Probably not. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Greene was on the practice squad, then off the practice squad, then on the practice squad, etc., in the beginning of the season when the Eagles had their practice squad revolving door. But they liked Greene enough to keep him around, although he never made his way to the 53-man roster. 

Verdict: GOES

Kamu Grugier-Hill
Cap hit: $540K

Roob: While longtime special teams stalwarts like Bryan Braman and Najee Goode may be expendable because of their high minimum salaries and diminishing effectiveness, a young kid like Grugier-Hill stays because he comes much cheaper and can still run around on special teams and make plays. For the most part, special teams is a young man's game. Grugier-Hill is also a young linebacker at a position in which the Eagles have very little youth outside of Jordan Hicks. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He’s pretty far down the list of linebackers on the depth chart but proved to be a good special teams player. Maybe he’ll never be any more than that, but for now, that’s good enough. He can make an impact as a teamer. 

Verdict: STAYS

Aaron Grymes

Roob: Honestly, I wouldn’t rule out anybody who plays cornerback. Grymes is a guy who had three good years in Canada and even played for the Grey Cup-champion Edmonton Eskimos in 2015. How much of that translates to the U.S. game, I don’t know, but other than seventh-round pick Jalen Mills, undrafted C.J. Smith and possibly journeyman Gratz (see above), there really aren’t any young corners on the roster, so a guy like Grymes will get every chance to make the team. None of us have seen enough of Grymes to know whether he can help, but I figure he’ll get a long look in training camp, but ultimately not survive final cuts. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Grymes impressed last training camp and probably would have had a good shot at making the initial roster had he not injured his shoulder. The Eagles are going to take a look at him again this spring and summer, but they’re probably going to completely revamp that entire position if they can. 

Verdict: GOES