Philadelphia Eagles

With it finally counting, Nelson Agholor legitimizes offseason reinvention in season opener

With it finally counting, Nelson Agholor legitimizes offseason reinvention in season opener

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LANDOVER, Md. -- It didn't take long until we could all see a different Nelson Agholor.
 
Three minutes and 17 seconds, to be exact.
 
Agholor, the same guy who struggled so badly his first two NFL seasons, showed that his offseason reinvention was legit Sunday when he settled under a Carson Wentz deep ball on a broken play and caught the football naturally and easily, then ran the rest of the way into the end zone for a career-long 58-yard TD just 3:17 into the 2017 season.
 
Agholor finished with career highs of six catches and 86 yards in the Eagles' 30-17 season-opening win over the Redskins at FedEx Field (see breakdown).
 
“I think I did what I had to do for my teammates and this team," Agholor said.
 
"My focus each week is to help this team get a W and that’s my mindset. Think my focus is on this team. I know where I belong on this team and my mindset is I’m here to help this team win football games and every day I practice for that and every game I play for that."
 
To put 86 yards in perspective, Agholor's previous career high was 67 yards. His first two years in the league, the former first-round pick averaged 23 yards per game.
 
Things got so bad last year head coach Doug Pederson benched him for a game after he went public with his confidence issues.
 
It's only one game, but it sure seems like a different Nelson Agholor.
 
"I think going forward, his confidence level — and really I've seen it all spring and all summer — it's right where I expected him to be, and he just carried it over into the game today," Pederson said.
 
"He made some great plays, some good third-down plays today, and kept us on the field. For him, this was a great first step to being the type of receiver that we know he can be and will be for us and the reason why (then-GM Chip Kelly) drafted him so high."
 
Agholor's 58-yard touchdown was longer than any TD catch by any Eagles wide receiver last year.
 
“It’s cool," he said. "But it comes in with a team victory and that’s the most important thing.
 
"My focus is about giving all I can to help us win games and those type of plays put us in position to win games, so we need more of those because the more of those we have the better opportunity this team has to be undefeated and to win games."
 
Interesting that after the ballyhooed signings of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, it was Agholor who had the breakout game Sunday (see 10 observations).
 
You have to give the kid a ton of credit for battling through some very serious — and very public — mental health issues a year ago and coming out on the other side.
 
"I think it's big for him, but honestly going back to the offseason, I just saw a more confident player," Wentz said. "I saw he was working, and we were always talking about what he could do differently, different things.
 
"You just kind of see a new, confident player, and starting the season off the way he did today was huge for him."
 
Maybe the biggest number for Agholor on Sunday was zero. As in drops.
 
Agholor even made a circus catch down near the goal line, lunging for an overthrown pass, batting it in the air, and reeling it in for a five-yard gain and a 1st-and-goal at the 3. Three plays later, they scored.
 
“My focus is on getting better every day," he said. "I’m happy and I’m blessed. My confidence is great because I’m blessed … every day I get the opportunity to play this wonderful game.
 
"Today was a great opportunity to perform on the stage after all the hard work me and my teammates put it since spring. But we’re not finished."
 
What about last year? What about everything he's overcome? Agholor was asked if he feels vindicated and he just shrugged the question off like a gnat.
 
“It is what it is," he said. "I don’t really want to think of any of those things. I just want to focus on being me and focus on being Nelson and enjoy Nelson working hard.
 
"I’m part of a great wide receiver corps that works hard every day and any day it could be somebody’s night, but you've got to give it up for your brothers and make a play when the ball comes to you."
 
Agholor said this is the most fun he's had playing football.
 
“Easily," he said. "I just have fun because winning is fun and I focus on doing everything I can to help us win."

Fantasy football: Tight end replacements, pass-catching RBs, sleeper WRs

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USA Today Images

Fantasy football: Tight end replacements, pass-catching RBs, sleeper WRs

I'm assuming you need a tight end.

Injuries to Greg Olsen, Tyler Eifert, Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed have turned a thin position into a fantasy wasteland two weeks into the season. Olsen is out at least eight weeks, Eifert appears to be out this week and has been brutal the last two, and Gronk and Reed will likely be game-time decisions Sunday.

The somewhat good news if you're in the market for a tight end, though, is that there should be several quality options available on waivers.

Here's a look at the top tight ends (and more importantly, top TE matchups) of Week 3, as well as suggestions at other positions:

Bears TE Zach Miller (vs. Steelers)
The Steelers have allowed just 27 points through two games thanks to a pair of favorable matchups against the hapless Browns and a Case Keenum-led Vikings team in Week 2.

Still, through two weeks they've allowed 10 catches and 107 yards to tight ends. If you average that out to 5-for-50, you're looking at a double-digit fantasy performance in PPR leagues. In standard leagues, 50 yards would still be more than Eifert brought you in two weeks.

I like Miller for five or six catches this Sunday. He's been targeted 15 times by Mike Glennon through two games. Only Jason Witten and Zach Ertz have seen more targets.

Miller isn't going to win you a week or go for 25 points but he's a steady short-term plug-and-play this week. If it's a PPR league, he'd be my No. 1 target if you're looking for safety over a boom-bust performance.

Ravens TE Ben Watson (vs. Jaguars in London)
The only reason I can't put Watson ahead of Miller is because the Ravens' tight end picture is a bit more crowded.

Whereas Miller has run 35 more pass routes than the Bears' second-string tight end, the pie in Baltimore has been split more evenly.

Watson has run 33 pass routes while Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams have combined to run 34, according to Pro Football Focus.

Watson is by far the most accomplished receiver of those three and he was a prime target of Joe Flacco's this past Sunday, catching all eight targets for 91 yards. 

Watson also has a great matchup against the Jaguars, who have allowed 151 yards (fourth-most) and a TD to tight ends so far.

Watson has more touchdown potential this Sunday than Miller, so if you're in a standard or even half-PPR league, I'd give Watson the slight edge on Miller. In PPR, it's just hard to pass up Miller's 8-to-10-point floor.

Other TEs:
Jack Doyle is probably owned in your league, but if not, he's a better season-long option than both Miller and Watson. He caught 8 of 8 targets for 79 yards in Week 2 from Jacoby Brissett, who starts again this Sunday vs. Cleveland.

• Folks will be intrigued by Evan Engram's 4-49-TD line on Monday Night Football but I'd avoid starting him this week against the Eagles, who are usually very good against opposing tight ends. Travis Kelce was an exception last week but he's one of the top three tight ends in the NFL.

• Keep an eye on the Jordan Reed situation. If he sits, Vernon Davis is a decent option. Last season, Davis had 13 catches for 176 yards and 3 TDs in the first three games Reed missed, having a quiet game in only the last one on Christmas Eve.

• It would be bold to start Antonio Gates against the Chiefs' stingy defense, but Gates always has top-five touchdown likelihood at his position because of his rapport with Philip Rivers. The problem is he also has more 1-catch likelihood than most tight ends.

Running backs
Chris Thompson is available in 68 percent of Yahoo leagues. Whether or not Rob Kelley plays Sunday, Thompson is worth grabbing. If it's a PPR league, he has no business sitting on the waiver wire. He won't scoop up between-the-tackles carries if Kelley misses the game but he's always a factor in the passing game.

• I also like Shane Vereen (22 percent owned) this week against the Eagles. The Giants have a porous offensive line and the Eagles' strength is their pass rush, which should result in plenty of quick passes from Eli Manning.

Wide receivers
• I'd advise picking up Allen Hurns but not starting him Sunday against the Ravens unless you absolutely need to. The Jaguars are always going to be playing garbage time minutes and that's where Hurns shines. He had six receptions for 82 yards and a TD in Week 2 with almost all of that coming in the fourth quarter of a lopsided loss. Hurns is available in 73 percent of leagues.

• I trumpeted Jermaine Kearse in this space last week as a cheap waiver option nobody will use a claim on, and he picked up two TDs Sunday. The Jets, like the Jags, will always be playing from behind. Josh McCown-to-Jermaine Kearse is one of those average QB-average WR pairings that can produce points out of sheer necessity and volume.

• The Packers' Geronimo Allison is a sleeper option this week, if and only if Green Bay is down a receiver or two. Jordy Nelson' prognosis is 50-50 for Sunday, whereas Randall Cobb is expected to play. If both miss, Allison is an intriguing option who could get six-plus targets from a top QB. If Nelson misses, Allison is worth starting only if your next-best option is like Cole Beasley.

Defenses
• The Dolphins are the best defense to stream in Week 3 because the Jets are the Jets.

• The Bucs' defense (26 percent owned) is worth starting in Minnesota if Sam Bradford misses another game.

Eagles Film Review: Exploring the good and bad of run game vs. Chiefs

Eagles Film Review: Exploring the good and bad of run game vs. Chiefs

LeGarrette Blount didn't get a single carry and the Eagles had just 13 designed runs to 56 called passes in Sunday's loss to the Chiefs. 

So much for balance. 

After the game, head coach Doug Pederson said the Eagles needed to fix their running game and repeated himself on Monday. 

"We've got to focus on the run game and we've got to get the run game fixed," he said. 

But as CSNPhilly's Reuben Frank pointed out in his column that same day, there wasn't really anything wrong with the run game other than the fact that the Eagles didn't run the ball (see story)

Darren Sproles had a good game, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. And while two of Wendell Smallwood's runs went for negative yards, he did have a nice eight-yarder in the second half. 

Is there still work to be done in the run game? Absolutely. 

But when asked about the team's rushing attack on Tuesday, offensive coordinator Frank Reich took a much different stance than Pederson. 

"There was some good things in the run game," Reich said. "We had a few nice runs. Darren's Darren. I mean, Darren made some plays and the offensive line did a good job at times. So, yeah, there were some good flashes."

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past two days, you're probably already sick of the word "balance." Should Pederson have run the ball more? Should Blount have gotten at least a few carries? Will Pederson ever actually commit to the run? You're probably sick of it. 

So we're not going to keep rehashing it. Instead, we'll look at a few run plays from Sunday — good and bad — to get a sense of where the run game is ... you know, when the Eagles actually do run the ball. 

If you wanted some proof that the Eagles at least put some thought into their run game heading into Kansas City, it came pretty early. Check out how the Eagles were lined up on their second offensive play from scrimmage. 

You'll notice that Jason Peters and Lane Johnson are both lined up to the left side of the line of scrimmage. Here was the line from right to left: Zach Ertz, Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo, Johnson, Peters. Carson Wentz is in the shotgun, with Sproles to his right. 

"It was just a little change-up that you throw in there," Reich said. "Typically, you have a couple play packages off there. It was something we saw that we thought we could specifically use to attack their defensive front and their scheme."

Here you'll see each of the offensive linemen's assignments as Sproles is ready to take the handoff and run behind the powerful left side. While the difference in this formation was at left tackle, Kelce is the key. He'll need to get in front on the linebacker. 

The hole is starting to open up and Sproles sees it. Still, if Kelce can't hold his block (circled), it won't matter. 

Not only does Kelce hold his block, but he finishes it too. He ends up driving his man completely out of the play and throws him to the ground. Sproles goes off for a 12-yard gain on 1st-and-10. It was the biggest gain of a designed run on the day. 

Give credit to Pederson for running this next one. Just three plays after that first run, the Eagles are faced with a 2nd-and-13 and Pederson dials up a run to Sproles that picks up six yards and puts them in a manageable third down (that they'll convert). 

Nothing fancy. Peters does a good job in front of holding down his man for just long enough for Sproles to get to the corner and pick up a nice gain. Also, give Kelce credit for getting out and blocking safety Daniel Sorensen. We all seem to notice when Kelce gets blown up at the line of scrimmage, but getting out front on these types of blocks is what he does best. 

The Eagles' next drive is where they start to find some trouble in the run game. Two of their three runs on their second drive of the game went for negative yards and Pederson called just seven run plays after this drive. Perhaps the failure on this sequence drove him away from the ground game for the rest of the afternoon. 

This is a rare time the Eagles actually run the ball from under center. It doesn't work. 

At the handoff point, this play seems doomed. The left A gap is clogged by veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson but it's supposed to be a counter play. Lane Johnson (circled) is left blocking no one, while Brent Celek ends up with two guys. 

Celek takes out the linebacker, but that leaves Allen Bailey all alone with Smallwood, who doesn't have enough time or space to get around him. Meanwhile, Johnson is still blocking air, which very well could have been a miscommunication or a missed assignment. Either way, something didn't go right on this one. 

A few plays later, the Eagles are facing a 2nd-and-15. Like they did earlier in the game, the Eagles are going to use the run to try and set up a more manageable third down. This time, it doesn't work. 

It's a somewhat similar play to the one that picked up six on 2nd-and-long in the first quarter, but this time the Eagles use the bigger side of the field instead of going short field to the right. 

The problem here is that Peters has trouble holding his block on Pro Bowler Justin Houston, who is an underrated run-stuffer because of his pass-rush ability. If Peters is able to keep Houston outside, Seumalo is nailing his assignment and Sproles has a huge hole inside.  

Sproles realizes that Peters has been beaten but it's too late. He tries to bounce it outside but is dropped for a three-yard loss. Peters looked pretty frustrated after this play. 

Instead of setting up a manageable third down, the Eagles end up with a 3rd-and-18. They can't convert. 

After that second-quarter series when the Eagles had two negative plays, they didn't run the ball much, but they didn't completely abandon it either. This play came with 5:41 left in the third. 

Seumalo pulls on the play and does a nice job to get just enough of his man to create a hole (circled). And Trey Burton is fast to the hole, acting almost like a lead blocker. 

From there, Smallwood shows his burst to gain eight yards. Sproles carried the ball on the next play for a gain of three to pick up a first down. It was the only time all game the Eagles ran the ball back-to-back times.

So, no. The Eagles' run game wasn't great on Sunday against the Chiefs. There are still a lot of things to fix. 

But it wasn't that bad either. So while Pederson kept talking about fixing the run game, Reich had it right; there is plenty good about the run game right now. The Eagles just have to stick with it. Even though, if we're being honest, they probably won't.