Kelly, Eagles better be right on DeSean decision

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Kelly, Eagles better be right on DeSean decision

They better know what they’re doing here.

The Eagles just got rid of one of the NFL’s most electrifying players in the prime of his career without getting anything in return, apparently for the crime of choosing his friends incorrectly.

DeSean Jackson has never been arrested for anything more serious than marijuana possession and driving with tinted windows, according to the NJ.com report, and those charges came five years ago and were eventually dropped. He’s never tested positive for a banned substance. What’s the worst thing he’s done in six years with the Eagles? He was suspended for one game in 2011 for missing a team meeting.

What he has done is make big plays more often than anybody in the 81-year history of the franchise. Game after game, year after year.

Jackson grew up in a section of Los Angeles where he was surrounded every day by gangs and crime. He rose up above all that to become a three-time Pro Bowl receiver with a charity foundation that raises money to fight pancreatic cancer, which claimed his dad.

And so far, the worst thing I’ve learned about Jackson is that he has close friends who are active gang members. Which really means that he’s still friends with the people he grew up with in L.A.

Jackson is a young African-American man from Compton who grew up around other young African-American men from Compton, and last time I checked, that’s not a crime.

Anybody care to take a guess what percentage of professional athletes have friends or associates who have gang ties? It’s not an insignificant number. Guilt by association isn’t a reason to cut somebody.

Now, obviously there could be a lot more out there that we haven’t heard. Stuff the Eagles know that they haven’t shared. Things Chip Kelly saw that the rest of us didn’t see. Charges or allegations that haven’t been revealed yet by authorities.

But if Jackson was such a distraction, he distracted his team last year all the way to a 10-6 season, an NFC East title and a playoff berth, and he distracted himself all the way to 82 catches, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns.

Distracted himself to a career year.

Jackson is such a bad influence on his teammates that in four of the five seasons he’s played at least 12 games, the Eagles have reached the playoffs.

So Kelly will move on without his top playmaker, and that leaves the Eagles awfully thin at wide receiver.

There’s Riley Cooper, who had a couple big games in the middle of last season, but averaged 18.6 yards the first five games of the year, 49.7 receiving yards the last seven games of the year and had 11 games with 53 or fewer yards.

There’s Jeremy Maclin, who’s been a steady contributor when healthy but doesn’t have nearly the game-breaking ability that Jackson has.

Jackson has 18 career touchdowns of 50 yards or more. Maclin has four.

And there’s … Ifeanyi Momah, B.J. Cunningham, Brad Smith, Will Murphy, Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson and Jeff Maehl.

In other words, there’s Maclin and Cooper.

And if you want to include hybrid running back Darren Sproles in the equation, feel free. But keep in mind that Sproles averaged 8.5 yards per catch last year, and Jackson averaged nearly twice that.

The Eagles have reminded us all offseason that this is a historic wide receiver draft, so apparently that’s where they plan to replace Jackson.

So maybe you get a stud and maybe you don’t. Maybe you get Freddie Mitchell or maybe you get Reggie Wayne. Maybe you get A.J. Jenkins or maybe you get Kendall Wright. Maybe you get Dwayne Bowe or maybe you get Craig Davis.

You don’t know. You never do. The draft is funny that way. You might think you know, but you really don’t. Not with wide receivers.

DeSean Jackson, we all know what the Eagles had. It wasn’t a projection. It wasn’t guesswork. It was documented and it was electrifying and it was a blast to watch every Sunday for six years.

Derrick Ward, who spent eight seasons in the NFL as a running back with the Giants, Buccaneers and Texans, put some perspective on all this via Twitter Friday afternoon:

“I'm born and raised in South Central LA. I have uncles who are still gang bangin’, cousins who still gang bang. But what does that have to do with someone playing football and ballin’ out for your team?”

Nothing.

Still, the Eagles had every right to do what they did, and Kelly’s credentials certainly can’t be questioned after taking a lost franchise and going 10-6 with a division title in his first year in the NFL.

Maybe this really is a case of addition by subtraction, and cutting ties with Jackson help the Eagles turn into an elite NFL team and Super Bowl contender.

But they better be right. Because outright releasing a 27-year-old three-time Pro Bowler coming off his finest NFL season just might unprecedented in NFL history.

The Eagles have had two Pro Bowl wide receivers in the last 15 years, and they’ve released both of them in their prime.

Andy Reid ultimately did the right thing with T.O., although the Eagles have won just three playoff games in nine years since he left.

Kelly better be right about this one.

Worst to first? Eagles' years of nightmares in secondary appear over

Worst to first? Eagles' years of nightmares in secondary appear over

A year ago, Rodney McLeod was a St. Louis Ram, Ron Brooks was a Buffalo Bill, Jalen Mills was an LSU Tiger, and Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll were part of a secondary that allowed the seventh-most touchdown passes in NFL history.

Now look at them.

This disparate group of holdovers, free agents and one late-round draft pick has come together to become the hottest secondary in the NFL.

The Eagles are 3-0, and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has garnered most of the attention for the quick and unexpected start, but the defense has been astonishing, and the secondary has been a remarkable surprise.

Through three games, the Eagles have not allowed a touchdown pass, have allowed only 13 completions of 15 yards or more and have yet to allow more than 85 net passing yards in the second half of any game.

The Eagles, who allowed a staggering 36 touchdown passes last year — most in franchise history and seventh-most in NFL history — are the first team since the 2009 Broncos to not allow a passing touchdown the first three games of the season. (The Seahawks haven’t either.)

They’ve allowed just one pass play over 20 yards in the second half of their three games and only five pass plays longer than 13 yards after halftime.

They’re also one of only 10 teams since 1978 — nearly 40 years — to record three or more interceptions while allowing no touchdown passes through three games.

The three starting quarterbacks the Eagles have faced — Robert Griffin III, Jay Cutler and Ben Roethlisberger, all Pro Bowlers at some point in their lives — are a combined 16-for-41 for 193 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions in the second half. That’s a 33.9 passer rating.

Don't forget, from 2009 through last year, the Eagles became the only team in NFL history to allow 25 touchdown passes in seven straight years.

Now they’re at zero.

How can a secondary that just formed this spring be playing at such an astounding level?

Obviously, they benefit greatly from the best defensive line in football. When there’s that much pressure on the quarterback, it makes life simple for the back end.

But this goes way beyond that.

Credit goes to Howie Roseman for putting this group together, holdover secondary coach Cory Undlin for giving them their swagger, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for finding the best ways to use them, and to the players themselves for making up for their lack of experience together with tireless work on the practice field and film room.

The Eagles may have just gone from the worst secondary in football to the best.

“It’s just guys out there trusting other guys and having confidence in each and every guy in the secondary and knowing that the guy next to you is just going to line up and do his job,” Mills said.

“We over-emphasize communication at practice because we know when we get into the Linc it’s going to be crazy loud, the fans are going to be on their feet yelling and screaming and giving us all their energy, so we know our communication has to be on point.  

“Our preparation also comes off the field. Extra film study as a group. Going out and eating together. Having more than just football time. Just learning guys and getting close to guys.”

The Eagles have allowed just 27 passing first downs, fewest (on a percentage basis) in the NFL. Opposing QBs have a 66.1 passer rating, third-lowest in the league (behind the Cards and Chiefs). And the Eagles have allowed the eighth-fewest passing yards, which is nuts considering the Eagles have had early double-digit leads in all three games, forcing teams to throw.

“I still think we have a lot of room to grow,” Carroll said. “We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. It’s three games, but I feel like every single week we keep improving, keep fixing our mistakes.

“We really play with a different type of attitude. I think we need to continue to do that every single week and just focus on one game at a time and it’s going to help us down the road.”

We are seeing cornerbacks playing aggressive and tight to the ball, which has resulted in a few pass interference calls but also has dramatically limited big plays. We’re seeing exceptional tackling, which has tremendously reduced yards after the catch. And the safety play has been outrageous. McLeod has playing at a Pro Bowl level, and Jenkins has been off the charts.

Consider this: Roethlisberger has the eighth-highest yards-per-attempt of any quarterback in NFL history at 7.9.

On Sunday, he averaged 5.8 yards per attempt, and in the second half he averaged 4.2.

The Eagles are off this weekend before playing four of their next five games on the road.

They’ll face a huge challenge a week from Sunday from Lions quarterback Matt Stafford, one of two quarterbacks who threw five touchdowns against the Eagles last year.

Then it’s Washington and Kirk Cousins, undefeated Sam Bradford at the Linc, record-setting Dak Prescott in Dallas and two-time Super Bowl-winner Eli Manning at the Meadowlands.

So things sure don’t get easier. It will be fascinating to see how this group, which should get corner Leodis McKelvin back for Detroit, responds to the challenge.

“I don’t think we have a ceiling,” Mills said. “As long as we stay focused and keep grinding every day, I don’t think we have a ceiling.”

Can this defensive backfield go from worst to first in one year? Remains to be seen. There’s a lot of football left to be played.

But it sure seems like years of secondary nightmares — from Nnamdi to Cary Williams to Byron Maxwell — are over.

“I can’t speak for anyone else or on anything else that happened before,” Brooks said. “But we are just playing ball, having fun, and kicking ass while doing it.”

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Another award: Carson Wentz named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month

Another award: Carson Wentz named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month

Three games into his NFL career, Carson Wentz might need a bigger trophy case.

The 23-year-old, who picked up his first NFC Offensive Player of the Week award for his performance against Pittsburgh, has been named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September.

Yes, Wentz's first NFL month was a special one.

The No. 2 pick from North Dakota State has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's the first rookie in NFL history to put up those numbers in the first three games of a career. And his 102 straight passing attempts without an interception is also a rookie record.

It's hard to believe that a little over a week before the season began, Wentz was scheduled to be the Eagles' third-string quarterback and have a redshirt year. That all changed when de facto GM Howie Roseman traded away starter Sam Bradford and the team decided to start the rookie.

While many thought the decision to start Wentz was the beginning of a long rebuilding year, the rookie has the Eagles off to a fast 3-0 start. Wentz has played very well, but has also been aided by a stout defense, led by NFC Defensive Player of the Month Fletcher Cox.

This week, Wentz is spending some time hunting while the Eagles are on their bye week. He bagged another trophy on Thursday.

The team will be back in action on Oct. 9 in Detroit to face the Lions.

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