Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles-Falcons: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Falcons: Roob's 10 observations

BOX SCORE

Good luck trying to figure this team out. The Eagles are now 4-0 at home, 1-4 on the road with four straight road losses, but 5-4 overall after an excruciatingly tense but ultimately impressive 24-15 win over the Falcons and their world-class offense at the Linc (see Instant Replay).

There's an awful lot to like off this one. The defense was phenomenal. Carson Wentz was efficient (see breakdown). The running game dominated. 

Yes, for only the second time since the bye week, we have a happy Roob's 10 Observations.  

1. This was one awfully impressive win, and it was sure encouraging to see the Eagles win a close game for the first time all year, come back in the fourth quarter for the first time all year, run the ball consistently for the first time all year and, more than anything, shut down the high-flying Falcons, who brought one of the highest-scoring offenses in NFL history into the Linc. Team win. Wentz was outstanding. The offensive line dominated. The defensive line wore down the Falcons. The defensive backs hung in there under the Julio Jones onslaught. And special teams contributed as always, with a bunch of long kick returns by Kenjon Barner and an enormous clutch 48-yard fourth-quarter field goal by Caleb Sturgis. To me, this was the Eagles’ best win this year because they when they were challenged, when they faced adversity, they fought back. After the Falcons took the lead, the Eagles held them to just 43 net yards on four drives. If the Eagles could just take some of this home magic and make it work on the road, they would be a very dangerous football team.

2. Remember back when people criticized Wentz because he had never rallied the Eagles back in the fourth quarter? As ridiculous as that complaint was, Wentz on Sunday made sure it’s obsolete as well. Wentz was masterful Sunday, and he managed the offense beautifully during a 76-yard fourth-quarter drive that turned a 15-13 deficit into a 21-15 lead. Really, Wentz was brilliant all day and didn’t get much help from his receivers. He finished 25 for 36 for 231 yards and gets credit for his first fourth-quarter rally.

3. You sure can’t ask anything more from the Eagles’ defense, especially considering it played most of the game without its only proven cornerback, Nolan Carroll. The defensive front shut down the run, got tremendous pressure most of the game and was physical with Matt Ryan. The secondary gave up a bunch of yards to Jones, but at the end of the game, they got stops when they had to. The Falcons were 2 for 11 on third down (and 0 for 1 on fourth down) and managed a season-low 11 first downs. The Eagles held the Falcons — who are on pace for the 16th-most points in NFL history — to one touchdown and just 15 points — fewer than half their average. Great game plan by Jim Schwartz, superb execution. This defense has taken some hits these last five games, but this was one heck of a performance.

4. I never write about officiating, but the non-call on Falcons safety Keanu Neal’s helmet-to-helmet hit on Jordan Matthews in the fourth quarter was just preposterous. The NFL makes a big deal talking all the time about protecting players, and then they let that go? Not to mention it would have given the Eagles a 1st-and-10 inside the Falcons’ 25-yard line down two points. That’s just unconscionable. How do you miss that? If you’re an official, how on earth do you miss a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit that leaves the Eagles’ only serviceable wide receiver lying motionless on the field and bleeding from his face? Forget the game. I’m sure the NFL will fine Neal, but these refs simply can’t miss those.

5. Man, I loved the way Ryan Mathews ran Sunday. He’s a guy that has to get double digit carries to get into a groove, and we saw it against the Falcons. He ran tough, he ran physical, he ran hungry. Mathews became the first Eagles' back since LeSean McCoy in 2013 with 100 rushing yards and two rushing TDs in the same game. Been a tough year for Mathews. Cost the Eagles a win in Detroit with that late fumble. Saw his playing time curtailed. Bounced back in a big way.

6. As much as I love Darren Sproles and the way he plays and what he means to this team, I just think the Eagles are a much stronger team when Mathews and Wendell Smallwood (and Barner) are the primary ball carriers and Sproles is a change-of-pace guy. Since Sproles is always going to be on a pitch count, you never really get to establish a commanding running game when he’s the lead ball carrier. I think Pederson finally realized that this week, and the Eagles finally got rolling in the running game and controlled the game with Mathews and Smallwood, two guys who you don’t have to worry about getting too many carries. This was the first time the Eagles have come close to running the ball with authority all year. The final numbers are overwhelming — Mathews came out of cobwebs to run 19 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Smallwood ran 13 times for 70 yards. Overall, the Eagles ran for 208 yards, their biggest rushing performance since late in the 2014 season. Pederson's been talking about balance all year. Was good to see him finally run the ball instead of just talking about it.

7. Sturgis did miss a 44-yarder earlier, but that 48-yard field goal he made with 1:57 left in the game to make this a two-possession game was flat-out money. I was terrified Pederson was actually going to go for it on 4th-and-2, but you have to trust your kicker there, and Sturgis has been very good all year. That is such a pressure kick. Those are the kinds of kicks you always knew David Akers was going to make, even if he had missed a kick earlier. Great stuff from Sturgis.

8. Then there’s Nelson Agholor. He had two catches for seven yards Sunday and it would have been one catch for three yards if not for a successful Eagles' challenge. Let’s look at his first nine games this year: He’s averaged 29 yards per game with two catches over 20 yards (the 35-yard TD on opening day vs. the Browns and a 23-yarder last week against the Giants) and just six catches over 12 yards. This is a first-round pick. Of 48 receivers who are full-time starters, only Torrey Smith of the 49ers has worst numbers (217 yards going into Sunday). Going back to last year, Agholor has 544 yards in 21 games, or about 26 yards per game. He has three career receptions over 21 yards. I think the kid wants to succeed, I see him putting in the work, I think he’s determined. It’s just not happening for him and we’re now well into his second NFL season. I just don’t see this changing. Since opening day of last year, no NFL receiver who’s been a full-time starter has fewer yards. What else is there to say about Agholor? The Eagles need to start thinking about trying someone else. Whether that means increased reps for Bryce Treggs or getting Paul Turner going or signing the top guy your pro personnel guys have identified on another team’s practice squad, I don’t know. But it’s getting to the point where the Eagles have to do something. You can’t go through an entire season with one wide receiver.

9. What makes Wentz’s season more remarkable is that he’s doing it with virtually one wide receiver. Matthews had six catches for 73 yards Sunday and the other wideouts combined had seven yards. This is two weeks in a row with zero contribution from Dorial Green-Beckham, and speedy Treggs didn’t play much of a role Sunday in a game where the Eagles focused on short pass plays and the running attack. Imagine if Wentz had Dak Prescott’s weapons?

10. Let me touch on Jalen Mills real quick, too. I know people are going to criticize him for giving up a couple big plays to Jones, but I’m telling you this kid is going to be a solid cornerback in this league. He’s tough, physical, aggressive and he never loses his confidence after giving up a big play. And you see that late in games. He makes plays. This is a rookie seventh-round pick forced into a ton of playing time probably before it’s ideal. But he just goes out there and battles. He’s been matched up against some of the NFL’s best wide receivers this year, and he’s going to give up some catches, but I think he’s going to settle into a very good career for this team before all is said and done.

NFL Notes: Aaron Hernandez had severe CTE; daughter sues NFL, Patriots

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NFL Notes: Aaron Hernandez had severe CTE; daughter sues NFL, Patriots

BOSTON -- Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez had a severe case of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, his lawyer said on Thursday in announcing a lawsuit against the NFL and the team for hiding the true dangers of the sport.

Dr. Ann McKee, the director of the CTE Center at Boston University, said Hernandez had Stage 3 (out of 4) of the disease, which can cause violent mood swings, depression and other cognitive disorders.

"We're told it was the most severe case they had ever seen for someone of Aaron's age," attorney Jose Baez said.

Hernandez killed himself in April in the prison cell where he was serving a life-without-parole sentence for murder. Baez said Hernandez had shown signs of memory loss, impulsivity and aggression that could be attributed to CTE (see full story).

Jets: Williams limited with bone bruise in wrist
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams was limited at practice with a wrist injury that he says is a bone bruise.

Williams was originally injured during the preseason, and says Thursday that his wrist is bothering him at times. It doesn't appear that the injury will keep him out of the Jets' home opener Sunday against Miami, but Williams might have to play through it.

Defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson sat out practice for the second straight day with a sore shoulder. He said Wednesday that it wasn't a big deal, and coach Todd Bowles says the Jets will see how it feels as the week goes along.

Starting right guard Brian Winters (abdomen) and tight ends Jordan Leggett (knee) and Eric Tomlinson (elbow) also didn't practice. Fourth-year backup Dakota Dozier would start if Winters is unable to play (see full story).

Packers: Perry latest key player to go down with injury
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The banged-up Green Bay Packers have lost another key player to injury with outside linebacker Nick Perry scheduled to have hand surgery.

Coach Mike McCarthy says he doesn't know how much time Perry will miss. He was off to a good start as the bookend to fellow edge rusher Clay Matthews with 1 sacks.

The Packers' first-round draft pick in 2012, Perry had a breakout 2016 last season with 11 sacks in 14 games.

The loss of Perry places added importance on the return of Ahmad Brooks, who was a full participant in practice on Wednesday after missing the Week 2 loss at Atlanta because of a concussion (see full story).

Broncos: Miller baffled by low hit from Cowboys receiver
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Von Miller says he's baffled by Cowboys wide receiver Noah Brown's low hit on him Sunday.

The Broncos linebacker pushed through Brown's block on the game's second snap and Brown got up and dived at Miller's knees as Denver's star chased down Ezekiel Elliott on a hand-off from Dak Prescott.

Miller shook off the hit to have a monster game in Denver's 42-17 win , but he has dealt with soreness in his left knee this week.

"My stance is as a player I've always tried to take care of my players on my football team and opponents as well, whether it's the quarterbacks, receivers, the running backs. So, when it's the other way around, it's just baffling," Miller said Thursday after returning to practice full-time following a limited practice Wednesday.

"But you can't really spend too much time on it," Miller added. "Everybody's situation in the National Football League is different. Everybody doesn't have the same outlook that I have and some of my comrades in the National Football League (have). Everybody doesn't see it that way. Everybody doesn't play the game like I play the game. You've got to respect that."

Earlier in the week, Broncos coach Vance Joseph declined to criticize the Cowboys wide receiver for his low hit, saying, "I saw it. It wasn't called. I'm OK with it."

Miller shook off the low hit and finished the afternoon with two sacks, five quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup.

Chris Long: Putting 'my money where my mouth is' with donation of game checks

Chris Long: Putting 'my money where my mouth is' with donation of game checks

Whether it was his passionate defense of Colin Kaepernick, his show of support for Malcolm Jenkins' raised fist by draping his arm around his teammate during the national anthem or his strong words about racism and violence in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, Chris Long has been extraordinarily outspoken since he joined the Eagles.

Now he's more than outspoken.

"I had a few people that were like, 'Hey, these gestures are great but why don’t you guys get out there in your communities?'" Long said.

So he is.

Long announced via his Twitter account earlier this week that he plans to donate his first six game checks from this year's salary — more than $350,000 — to create two scholarships for students in Charlottesville.

At his locker on Wednesday, he explained what led to the remarkably generous gesture.

"My wife and I have been investing in scholarships in my hometown for a while," Long said. "I'm interested in education, always have been, and … the best way I can give back to something I love is take it out of my game check, because what I love doing is playing football.

"I could [fund the scholarship] another way, but just taking it out of my game check makes it real easy for me to realize why I’m coming to work every day. It’s been a blessing."

Long, 32, is in his 10th NFL season and first with the Eagles. He's the son of Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long, who graduated from Villanova in 1981.

Chris Long had his first sack as an Eagle Sunday against the Chiefs. He now has 59½ in his career.

"I’ve been lucky," Long said. "I’ve made a lot of money in my career, so it’s not like I’m scrapping check to check. This isn’t a hero thing. It’s nothing like that. It’s honestly just that I want to put my money where my mouth is.

"It’s something we’ve done before, but we’re upping the ante this time."

Long signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Eagles this offseason after winning a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots last year, the first time he's ever played for a team with a winning record.

His 2017 base salary is $1 million, which means each of his 17 game checks equal $58,823. Six game checks equal $352,941.

Long said being able to donate that kind of money makes the game more meaningful for him.

“It for certain does," he said. "It means a lot to go out and play football every Sunday. To be honest, I would play games for free. The thing I wouldn’t do for free is sit in meetings and do practice every day.

"Honestly, it’s a joy no matter what. But just knowing that the game checks are going to that makes it more special for me. You know, 10th year, you don’t know how long you’ll be able to do this, so your platform is really important and meaningful now. You don’t know how meaningful it’ll be in a year or two.”

Long said he's not done yet, either.

His foundation — the Chris Long Foundation — has more charity work in store in the coming weeks.

"My foundation is going to launch another campaign this year that’s going to be similar that’s hopefully going to have some fan involvement," Long said.

"It’s going to be broader reaching than just a couple kids getting scholarships, so I’m excited about that."