Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles-Vikings: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Vikings: Roob's 10 observations

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They lose when they’re supposed to win, they win when they’re supposed to lose, and good luck figuring out the 2016 Eagles because I haven’t.

The Eagles on Sunday won a game they pretty much had to win, considering how rough their schedule is the next month and a half. They toppled the previously unbeaten Vikings 21-10, improving to 4-2 overall and 3-0 at home, with all three wins coming by double digits (see Instant Replay).

This was huge.

The Eagles won it the way we all knew they had to — with a furious defensive performance, a huge play on special teams, and a play here and there from the offense against a big-time Minnesota defense.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a happy 10 Obervations, so enjoy this one. And maybe read it twice!

1. For me, this game was all about whether the Eagles’ defensive line could return to form after dismal performances in Detroit and Washington and once again perform like the elite unit it claims to be. The answer was a resounding, “Aw, hell yeah.” This was a ferocious defensive performance from a group that was embarrassed the last couple weeks. Brandon Graham continued his brilliant play, Connor Barwin re-emerged after a few ineffective games, Beau Allen aquitted himself very well in place of injured Bennie Logan, and the Eagles’ defensive line took command of this game on a day when its offense couldn’t do a whole lot. Sam Bradford came back to Philly with MVP credentials, but with just a couple exceptions the D-line made sure he had no time to set his feet and find his receivers. They pounded him early and often and forced him to move in the pocket, which is where he’s at his least effective. The Eagles took it as a personal affront that the Vikings’ defense was considered the best in the league, and at least for one Sunday, they played like it was a mantle they deserve (see report card).

2. I know how much Jim Schwartz hates blitzing. It’s just not in his nature. He wants the front four to get all the pressure, and the last two weeks, when that wasn’t happening, he didn’t dial up enough blitzes to make Matt Stafford and Kirk Cousins uncomfortable in the pocket. Sunday, he mixed in the perfect number of blitzes, bringing safeties Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins and linebackers Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham, and the blitzes did a terrific job keeping the Vikings’ front off-balance and keeping Bradford on his back.

3. Speaking of McLeod, this was quite a performance by the veteran safety, who forced a fumble, had his first career sack and also had his career-high third interception of the year. You can make a case for McLeod as the Eagles’ defensive MVP so far. He’s been so solid, and this was his best game yet.

4. Here’s what I love about Carson Wentz. Nothing bothers this kid. Nothing affects him. He’s got an uncanny ability to stay calm and poised when all sorts of chaos is happening around him. Ugly game, turnovers, interceptions, dropped snaps, dropped passes, missed blocks … none of it gets to him. None of it bothers him. That is a rare quality for anybody, much less a 23-year-old quarterback making his sixth NFL start. The Eagles had gone 21 straight possessions without an offensive touchdown going into the third quarter Sunday, and Wentz had thrown three interceptions since the Eagles’ last touchdown. But his ability to shrug all that off and drive the Eagles 77 yards in nine plays for what was essentially the clinching third-quarter touchdown shows poise and composure far beyond his years (see full breakdown here). Wentz was 3 for 3 for 60 yards on the drive, including a 19-yard gain to Darren Sproles on a broken play with a botched snap. There’s a lot to like about Wentz. His knack for shaking off adversity — for shutting out the noise and just leading the team — is remarkable for anybody. Much less a young QB just starting his career.

5. I was concerned about Ryan Mathews early in the season, but the last two weeks he’s looked very sharp, and I can only assume that the ankle injury that limited him against the Bears and Steelers was an issue up through the Lions game, even though Mathews wasn’t technically injured. The first four games of the season, Mathews ran 44 times for 146 yards, 3.3 yards per carry.  The last two he’s 23 for 116 (5.0 yards per carry), including 56 yards on 14 tough carries Sunday against the Vikings. He also had a 27-yard catch and run against the Vikings, the Eagles’ longest pass play of the day. He has to stop fumbling, but he does seem to have his power and explosion back.

6. The Eagles were particularly impressive in the red zone defensively, holding the Vikings scoreless on three straight red-zone possessions. On the first, McLeod picked off Bradford, on the second Connor Barwin forced a Bradford fumble and on the third, the Eagles stuffed the Vikings on downs. Good red-zone defense is good team defense, and that’s what the Eagles got back to playing. The last two weeks it seemed like the defense was operating more as a bunch of individuals running around than as a unit. Sunday, they got back to playing tough, aggressive, physical team defense, and it was fun to watch.

7.  Can’t say Halapoulivaati Vaitai played a great game. When your offense scores only 14 points and nets 239 yards of offense, the offensive line isn’t going to be celebrating. But it’s important to note that Vaitai did show progress, and that’s the big thing with him as he tries to hold down right tackle in Lane Johnson’s absence. Vaitai was better Sunday than he was in Washington last week, and as long as he keeps getting better, he’ll keep that job. Big V did commit one penalty, but the Vikings — who led the NFL in sacks per game coming in — had no sacks in this game, so Vaitai was blocking somebody. The Eagles did help him more Sunday than in Washington, but I have a hunch in a few weeks he’ll be giving the Eagles pretty solid football at right tackle.

8. Josh Huff. I’ve been tough on Huff, and through five games he really hadn’t made an impact this year. But his kick return TD, which came at a point where the Eagles couldn’t do anything on offense, was probably the play of the day (see Standout Plays). With his explosive first step and decisiveness, Huff has a real knack for kickoff returns, and he’s now one of only five Eagles in history with more than one kick return TD in his career. Huff also led the Eagles with four catches for 39 yards on a day when the passing game never really got going. These sort of days have been rare for Huff, but every once in a while he shows these flashes that make you think there’s something special there.

9. In addition to McLeod, can’t forget Hicks and Graham, who were both beast-like Sunday. Hicks, who really seemed to struggle to get off blocks the last couple weeks, was very effective, with 10 tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry and two pass defenses. Graham had his fourth sack in six games, plus four quarterback hurries, numerous hits on Bradford and a forced fumble. Game balls to both those guys.

10. Finally, I don’t want to hear anybody talk about how this was an ugly game. The Eagles righted the ship and won a must-win game against an undefeated team, and that’s not an easy thing to do. I look up at the scoreboard and see Eagles 21, Vikings 10, and I look in the standings and see 4-2, and there’s nothing ugly about those numbers.

Doug Pederson still undecided on Eagles' starter at left guard

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USA Today Images/AP Images

Doug Pederson still undecided on Eagles' starter at left guard

As expected, Chance Warmack got the start at left guard for the Eagles on Sunday. The surprising part was Stefen Wisniewski wound up playing the majority of the snaps.

Warmack wound up being on the field for 32 plays against the Giants, compared to 44 for Wisniewski. It’s not as if Warmack exited the game with an injury or was benched for poor play, either. The two of them alternated throughout the contest.

After the game, Eagles coach Doug Pederson acknowledged the plan was to rotate Warmack and Wisnewski all along.

“We wanted to give both of those guys an opportunity [Sunday], and it just so happened that Wis ended up taking the bulk of the reps,” Pederson said. “But we had them both ready.”

Pederson added the rotation was based on in-game performance. The next day, however, he wasn’t ready to settle on a permanent starter at left guard.

“There was some positives with both players,” Pederson said Monday. “Chance had a couple of missed opportunities early in the game, but bounced back and, in the run, game was effective. At the same time, Wis getting an opportunity — Wis is that veteran player you know when you put him in that he's going to execute and do some nice things for you.

“It's something we'll evaluate this week again going forward, and by Sunday, we'll have the best five out there.”

That means Warmack and Wisniewski could continue auditioning for the job in Week 4 when the Eagles travel to Los Angeles to face the Chargers.

“If someone at that position just steps up, we definitely could go into a game with seven guys,” Pederson said.

Despite shuffling different players in and out, the offensive line turned in its best performance of the season so far. Eagles running backs rushed 33 times for 171 yards — a 5.2 average — and two touchdowns, while quarterback Carson Wentz was hit on only 4 of 37 dropbacks.

While continuity is essential to quality offensive line play, Pederson has repeatedly downplayed that notion, likening changes up front to substitutions at other positions.

“These guys are all prepared the same, so we shouldn't miss a beat one way or the other just by rotating at that position,” Pederson said.

“The way our guys practice, and the way (Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland) prepares these guys, it's seamless. It's flawless, and that's the way it should be. As backup role players, you're expected to know what a starter does. Same as a backup quarterback, you should be expected to do the same thing.”

Several of the Eagles’ veteran linemen didn’t disagree.

“Both of those guys — I played beside before, so it’s not a big deal,” said left tackle Jason Peters, adding he did not know beforehand who would be lining up to his right.

“The thing is, they’ve had numerous reps,” said right tackle Lane Johnson. “That’s what are OTAs are for. You get numerous reps, so when you’re number is called, you’re not caught off guard.”

Of course, that’s easy for everybody else to say. Warmack and Wisniewski are almost certainly trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

Warmack was unavailable for comment postgame, but Wisnewski admitted there are some challenges involved with subbing in and out.

“It’s definitely easier for anybody to be in there and feel the flow of the game, whether you’re a running back, an offensive lineman, whoever,” Wisniewski said. “But we made it work today.

“We’re all pros. Mentally, all you can do is be ready when they call your number and try to stay warm on the sideline.”

The situation at left guard came about because second-year pro Isaac Seumalo struggled in his first two starts. Pederson stresses the club hasn’t lost faith in Seumalo, and “he’s still in the mix.” But for the time being, at least, the Eagles appear determined to go in a different direction at that spot.

Thus, the ongoing competition — while unorthodox — probably is not as unique or atypical as it sounds.

“I actually talked to (former Eagles offensive lineman) Allen Barbre last night,” Johnson said. “They’re doing the same thing with him in Denver. It’s not out of the ordinary. They have two guys, want to see what they can do and see who the better man is.”

In this case, the Eagles have two players with vastly different skill sets, so it makes sense to see which meshes better with their teammates.

“Wis is more of a technician,” Peters said. “He’s almost like a center at guard, which he really is. He knows the offense, he’s giving calls, more of a communicator. And Chance is more of an aggressor. He wants to get into the linebackers.”

Wisniewski could not personally remember an occasion where he was rotating in and out of the lineup during a game. Regardless, the Eagles picked up a victory over the NFC East rival Giants, so for one week anyway, it was all good.

“The guys around us, (Eagles center Jason Kelce) and JP did well rolling with it,” Wisniewski said. “It worked out well. Got a win, ran the ball well and protected well as a whole.”

Long-term, it would behoove the Eagles to settle on a permanent starter sooner rather than later.

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."