Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles-Steelers: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Steelers: Roob's 10 observations

BOX SCORE

We could probably fill 100 points tonight after this wipeout of the Steelers.

Fifty of them might just be: Wow.

The Eagles on Sunday handed the Steelers' their worst loss in 27 years, walloping everybody's AFC favorite 34-3 and extending their streak to a game and a half without allowing a touchdown (see Instant Replay).

New coach, new quarterback, but you could make an argument the Eagles are the best team in the NFL.

Three games in, the Eagles have won three blowouts. Sunday's was the most impressive (see photo gallery).

1. What Carson Wentz is doing simply defies belief. He isn’t playing at an insanely high level for a rookie, he’s playing at an insanely high level for a quarterback. It’s not about him being a rookie anymore. There’s nothing rookie about him. Wentz has managed to put together one of the finest three-game stretches in Eagles history, not just by a rookie but by any quarterback. And this after missing all of training camp and getting promoted to the starting spot exactly one month ago? It’s scary how good this kid is playing. His ability to recognize and diagnose what a defense is doing is off the charts, and he’s so accurate that as soon as he realizes who’s going to be open, the ball is on the way. He can fire it, he can float it, and he can do it all in mistake-free fashion. That’s what’s most impressive about all of this. Zero turnovers playing in his NFL debut, on a Monday night at Soldier Field and against a hot pick to win the AFC.

2. We all knew this defensive line was talented. But this? This group has played out of its mind so far. In all three games the opposing quarterback really had no chance by the second half. They are simply wearing people out, getting stronger and stronger as the game goes on and taking over in the second half. The Eagles still haven’t allowed a second-half touchdown this year. Look at net passing yards against the Eagles this year:

                                 1H                  2H

Browns                    118                  50

Bears                       145                  75

Steelers                   138                  84

They’ve been OK in the first half, but they are just destroying people in the second half. They have yet to allow 100 net passing yards in a second half. And that’s when teams that are trailing by double digits generally pad their passing stats. Ben Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl winner, and by the second half, the Eagles’ defensive line was just teeing off on him, giving him very little opportunity to get the ball down the field. This has been an astonishing stretch from the entire defense, but the defensive line in particular has been playing at a breathtaking level.

3. There was no announcement in the press box about Ryan Mathews, but we’re assuming his sore ankle, originally injured on opening day, was bothering him. Mathews had minus-five yards on two early carries, then didn’t play the rest of the game. In his place, we saw a real emergence from the Eagles’ two young backs. Rookie Wendell Smallwood ran 17 times for 79 yards and Kenjon Barner was 8 for 42, both career highs. Mathews has looked sluggish running the ball all year, and Darren Sproles – as electrifying as he is in all other facets of the game – really isn’t a runner anymore. Smallwood and Barner both hit the hole decisively and have wheels once they get into open space. Sunday, they combined for 25 carries for 121 yards. Very promising start for both backs.

4. One thing the Eagles did throughout this game was tackle exceptionally well, something that’s been a problem around here for a while. The Steelers, unable to run the ball, and with Roethlisberger under tremendous pressure, tried snap after snap to get the short passing game going, trying to get 1-on-1 matchups and then break tackles for big gains. But time after time, the Eagles swarmed the receiver as soon as he caught the ball, quickly limiting the damage. Fourteen of Roethlisberger’s 24 completions went for six yards or less, and this is a quarterback who is as good as anybody getting the ball down the field.

5. Malcolm Jenkins in particular was exceptional Sunday, both in coverage, stopping the run and tackling in the open field. Jenkins has been playing at such a high level since he got here in 2014 it’s easy to take him for granted. But he’s playing as well right now as any safety we’ve seen here. This is Brian Dawkins-level stuff right now.

6. A few words about Brandon Graham. This guy was so vilified early in his career for not being Earl Thomas, and all he’s done for seven years is work hard in practice, play as hard as he can on gameday, and hope to finally get an opportunity to show that he can play. Graham hasn’t been bad. He had 23½ sacks coming into this year, including 12 the last two years. But he’s been playing his best football ever this year, not just pressuring the quarterback, getting sacks and being around the ball — he’s got a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to go with three sacks this year — but also playing very stout against the run. Graham has played under three head coaches and five defensive coordinators, and he’s finally in a scheme that really suits his strengths. Graham has perservered, he’s overcome a lot, and you might notice nobody ever talks about Earl Thomas around here anymore.

7. As impressive as the offense and defense have been, Doug Pederson has been just dazzling so far. His ability to call a game, to keep defenses off-balance, to establish the pass early and then start pounding the run … all of this is remarkable for a first-time head coach who’s never called plays before. Pederson has guided this team masterfully through a difficult few months, with the starting quarterback disappearing and then getting traded, two players in legal trouble, another player likely to get suspended and several players protesting during the national anthem. And here they are 3-0. Pederson has been astounding.

8. And how about the Eagles’ rush defense. The Steelers managed just 29 yards on 10 carries, and that includes a seven-yard Roethlisberger scramble. Their backs had just 22 yards. Nobody’s been able to run on the Eagles yet, and that makes this defense even scarier.

9. Seeing Cody Parkey miss two field goals for the Browns in their overtime loss to the Dolphins Sunday, including a 31-yarder as time ran out in the fourth quarter, and seeing Caleb Sturgis continue to boot all his attempts through the uprights is a good reminder of how a difficult roster decision has really paid dividends for the Eagles. Maybe it didn’t seem like a tough decision, since Sturgis outplayed Parkey throughout the preseason, but getting rid of a Pro Bowl kicker, who two years ago broke the NFL rookie scoring record, can’t be easy. Sturgis has been solid, making both his field goal attempts Sunday and seven of eight so far this year.

10. A couple quick stats to put this all in perspective:

• The last time the Steelers lost a game by 31 or more points, their quarterback was Bubby Brister. It was 1989 and a 41-10 loss to Boomer Esiason and the Bengals at Riverfront Stadium.

•  Wentz’s 102 pass attempts are the most in NFL history by any quarterback in his first three games. Dak Prescott is at 75 going into the Cowboys’ game Sunday night. (Update: Prescott is now at 99 after the Cowboys' victory over the Bears.)

• Wentz is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 30 or more passes with no interceptions in each of his first three games. Only three others had done it twice.

• The Eagles are the 23rd team in NFL history to open a season with three straight wins by 15 or more points. Of the first 22, 18 went to the playoffs.

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Doug Pederson on Beckham's celebrations: 'Our players see it, our fans see it'

Doug Pederson on Beckham's celebrations: 'Our players see it, our fans see it'

Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. scored two huge touchdowns in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game at the Linc. 

After the first, he mimicked a dog by getting on all fours before lifting his leg and fake urinating on the field. That drew a flag. On the next touchdown, Beckham raised a fist in the air and stood at attention. 

On Monday, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said he wasn't going to comment on it. Then he commented on it. 

"Our players see it, our fans see it," Pederson said. "It's one of those things I think you just kind of file away in the back of your mind. And you just remember those things and move on. It's unfortunate. I have to control our guys obviously and every other coach has to control their players. It's something that you don't want to see it in the game. It takes away from a great play that he just made."

Beckham was vague about the meaning behind the fist-raising celebration after the game. But Malcolm Jenkins has been raising his fist during the national anthem for about a year. 

When asked if the celebrations could have led to Jenkins' being a little more aggressive on a pass interference penalty later in the game — Jenkins clotheslined Beckham — Pederson said he thought it was "possible." But he also said it was just a play Jenkins made to prevent Beckham from possibly scoring a touchdown. 

Beckham, for his part, didn't see anything dirty on the play. 

"He made a smart play," Beckham said. "I'm running down the field. I'm gonna make a play and so he stops that. It's football. He made a play to stop me from making a play." 

After the game, Beckham didn't apologize for his celebrations. He understood that the penalty after the "urination celebration" led to his team kicking off from the 20. 

"But when I get in the end zone, I'm going to do what I'm going to do," he said. "I'm going to try to spark this team."

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz grateful Jake Elliott 'saved my butt'

usa-zach-ertz-eagles-giants.jpg
USA Today Images

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz grateful Jake Elliott 'saved my butt'

Zach Ertz was sitting in the locker next to Brent Celek after the game and at one point he leaned over to his teammate and said simply, "Thank God we won that game."

Because if the Eagles lost Sunday, Ertz would have been the goat.

Ertz had one of the tougher games of his career Sunday, with a costly fourth-quarter fumble that led to a game-tying Giants touchdown and also a dropped touchdown when he was wide open, although he did make up for that by catching a TD one play later.

"It sucks," Ertz said. "If we lost that game, I would have been in the dumpster."

Ertz, covered all day by Landon Collins, one of the NFL's best safeties, did catch eight passes for 55 yards and his first touchdown of the year in the Eagles' wild 27-24 win over the Giants at the Linc (see observations).

The fumble was only the third of his five-year career. That's three fumbles out of 268 receptions.

"The guy made a great play," Ertz said. "I was trying to gain some more yards after the catch, and he kind of just reached around and pulled my arm down and I fumbled. 

"I've got to work on ball security, something I'm going to emphasize this week. I've had (three) fumbles in my career, so I'm not going to over-think it, but at the end of the day, I've got to do better."

Ertz's last fumble came in a loss to the Redskins in December of 2015, forced by Bashaud Breeland and recovered by Dashon Goldson. That was Chip Kelly's final game as Eagles head coach.

His only other fumble came in a loss to the 49ers in San Francisco in 2014.

"I've never seen Darren Sproles fumble, and he fumbled last week, so it's going to happen if you play long enough in the NFL," Ertz said. "All you can do is work on it. Luckily, Jake (Elliott) saved my butt."

The end zone drop came with the Eagles up 7-0 in the third quarter. Wentz could have taken a little steam off the football, but it was still a ball Ertz should catch.

"I couldn't get my hands up fast enough," he said. "The linebacker flashed before me and the ball just kind of snuck up on me, kind of like what happened against the Redskins last year. 

"Luckily, came back the next play and I was able to make a much tougher catch."

Even on a bad day, Ertz still caught eight passes, and he's now second in the NFL with 21 receptions, five behind Antonio Brown. He's also 10th with 245 yards. Both numbers lead all NFL tight ends.

“With a guy like Zach, we know who he is," Wentz said. "Those mistakes don’t happen often. 

"That first ball I definitely threw it harder than it needed to be, and it kind of surprised him a little bit. We came right back to him, and that was huge. 

"I know with a guy like that, confidence is never going to go anywhere, and my confidence in him never is either. The fumble is one of those things you brush off and come right back to him. The guy made some great plays for us today.”

Ertz's 21 receptions are fourth-most in Eagles history after three games and seventh-most ever by any NFL tight end after three games.

Ertz has now played the equivalent of four full seasons in his career, and his 268 catches are seventh-most ever by a tight end after 64 games.

Most importantly, his five catches, 55 yards and touchdown against the Giants Sunday helped the Eagles knock off a division opponent and find their way to 2-1. 

“Last year we didn’t have a lot of wins (in) adverse situations like we faced today," Ertz said. "We weren’t perfect today, anybody in our division is not going to be perfect. But I think it showed a lot about our resilience today and overcoming adverse situations."