Eagles-Cowboys: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Cowboys: Roob's 10 observations

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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.

Eagles wise to bring Jason Peters back, even with full salary

Eagles wise to bring Jason Peters back, even with full salary

This isn't a big surprise, but Jason Peters will be back with the Eagles -- big salary and all -- for the 2017 season.

While the Eagles approached the veteran left tackle about his contract in January, Peters has not restructured his deal, according to a league source. 

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport on Thursday morning reported that Peters will be back next season on his normal contract. 

Yes, Peters is expensive in 2017. His base salary after hitting another Pro Bowl escalator written into his contract is up to $10.45 million for next season (plus a $250K workout bonus), which comes with a big cap hit of $11.7 million. That cap hit is the highest on the team, but not outlandish for a high-caliber left tackle. 

The Eagles could have very well cut Peters and moved on. It would have saved them significant cap space to use elsewhere. They just wouldn't have found any player more valuable to pay with that money. 

Peters, 35, is still their best option to protect Carson Wentz's blind side. He made his ninth Pro Bowl in 2016 after playing all 16 games. The team hasn't been shy about wanting him back and Peters toward the end of the season said he wanted to return for another year. 

"We certainly want to have him back," Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said of Peters in early January.

“I love him. I want him on the team,” head coach Doug Pederson said with two games remaining this past season. “I don’t want him to go anywhere."

With Peters back, it means Lane Johnson's eventual trip to left tackle will be held off for another year. Eventually, he'll take over that spot … just not right now. 

During the season, Peters opened up about his future, saying he hopes Wentz can be the guy who finally gets him a Super Bowl ring (see story).

Eagles Mailbag: Restructuring Barwin, Allen Barbre, Jason Kelce's importance

Eagles Mailbag: Restructuring Barwin, Allen Barbre, Jason Kelce's importance

We answered half of your questions in the first mailbag this week (see story)

But there are plenty more to go. 

With free agency just around the corner, let's not waste any time jumping into today's questions: 

I don't think so. 

Yeah, moving on from Connor Barwin is going to be tough. He's a great guy and has been a tremendous asset in the community. His foundation is amazing. But on the field, his production dropped while his price tag soared. That's a problem. 

Barwin has said publicly that he'd be willing to take a pay cut to stay in Philly. He's a smart guy and knew there's no way the Eagles are going to keep him around with an $8.35 million cap hit, especially when they can save $7.75 million of that if they cut him. ... So maybe they would keep him at a reduced rate. There's logic in that, but it's time to move on. I don't think Barwin would really want to stay for the pay cut it would probably take. 

Right now, Barwin is blocking Vinny Curry from seeing significant playing time. And while Curry didn't have a good year in 2016, he's getting paid a lot, so it's time to see if he can live up to that contract. 

And for Barwin, while he loves Philly and has made this his home, he deserves to be in a defense that fits him better.

I'm a little surprised more haven't come already. To me, this likely means the Eagles are trying to exhaust any trade options first. Why cut a guy if you can get some kind of return, even a late-round or conditional pick? 

There's no real harm in waiting right now, and maybe the team will find a trade partner for one of their players on the chopping block. 

I always like these hypotheticals from Drew. Basically, I'd keep the youngest and most-talented players:

Carson Wentz, Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Jordan Hicks, Malcolm Jenkins. 

Wentz, Cox and Johnson were pretty easy. Then I really struggled. Jenkins is the oldest guy on the list, but he's so important to the team. I left off Brandon Graham and Zach Ertz and Brandon Brooks and Jordan Matthews, which I'm not so sure about. This was harder than I anticipated. 

I guess you're talking about Allen Barbre's hamstring injury. Yeah, barring something I don't know about, he should be completely healed and ready to go. 

Here's something to think about, though: Barbre will be 33 when the 2017 season starts and I wouldn't put him down in pen as the starter at left guard next year. If Jason Kelce is still on the team, he'll be the center, but why not let Isaac Seumalo battle for the left guard job? 

If Seumalo wins the spot, then Barbre is still a relatively inexpensive and really good backup option. 

I honestly think Jason Kelce is better than most fans in this city think. People see him get blown up a few times in a year — really blown up — and think he's an awful player. He's not. No, he can't go 1-on-1 with nose tackles, but he's still great at getting downfield and into the second level. 

And then there's the importance of the center. I don't know exactly how important he is in terms of calling the shots on the line, but he didn't miss a single snap in 2016. I know cutting or trading Kelce would save significant cap space, but I wouldn't do it. The Eagles have shown they'll do whatever it takes to develop Wentz; I think keeping his veteran center for a second year would help.