OTA Observations: Eagles kick into higher gear

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OTA Observations: Eagles kick into higher gear

Offensively, the Eagles were the NFL’s fastest team to snap the ball last year in Chip Kelly’s first season as head coach.

It appears that Kelly has a new race car to unveil for Year 2.

To the naked eye, Monday’s OTA seemed to run at its fastest pace of all the open practices, especially in 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s. From the first string down to the reserves, the Eagles moved at a pace well ahead of last year’s spring camps.

Kelly has said his offense could go faster this year. Nick Foles agreed.

“We always want to go faster,” he said. “We always want to be more efficient and and get plays going. Sometimes, situationally in a game you don’t want to do that. Sometimes there’s a different blitz look or thing we have to recognize … I think the big thing is not necessarily the speed, but we want to be efficient. The speed is part of it, but let’s be under control.”

Last year, Kelly had to tone down the pace of his practices when he realized that his roster, going through his system for the first year, needed some catch-up time. Rookies and veterans were in the same boat, learning a new playbook in the fly.

With so many starters returning from last year’s 10-win NFC East championship team, including the entire offensive line, the offense is much more familiar with Kelly’s system and more able to run the offense without interruption.

“I know we’re going fast right now because there was a lot more learning going on on the field (last year), whereas our offense right now we were able to carry on from last season,” Foles said. “We definitely installed a lot of new stuff, so there’s definitely a learning curve and we do have younger guys, but I feel like guys understood how we need to practice and just the culture change. The young guys are doing a really good job following the guys that are here, and the guys that were here last year are doing a really good job stepping it up.”

Other observations:

• Kelly is really making his rookies climb the ladder, as opposed to last year, when first-round pick Lane Johnson was promoted to first-team right tackle early in OTAs and when fifth-round safety Earl Wolff logged some first-defense reps in place of Nate Allen.

First-round outside linebacker Marcus Smith is still running with the third team, as is third-round wideout Josh Huff. Free-agent outside linebacker Bryan Braman is still running with the second team with Brandon Graham and veterans Brad Smith and Arrelious Benn are still higher on the totem pole right now than Huff.

• In the same vein, Kelly did a lot more personnel mix-ups last season as he opened competition at every spot. It wasn’t uncommon to see the first-team front seven come out with the third-team secondary. He’s still subbing here and there but there haven’t been any odd personnel packages or crazy tinkerings that really stand out when the teams come onto the field.

• The defensive line looks different depending on the playcall and package. Joe Kruger, a 2012 seventh-round pick who spent his first season on IR, is logging snaps all over the place, including some first-team reps at defensive end. Rookie fifth-round pick Taylor Hart and last year’s practice squadder, Brandon Bair, are also swapping in and out on the second team.

• Wide receiver Jeff Maehl practiced for the first time after missing the other open sessions with an undisclosed injury. He ran mainly on the second string. Dennis Kelly, who missed an OTA last week, also practiced.

• Mark Sanchez, who continues to be the second string quarterback, threw a bad pick in 11-on-11s. Nolan Carroll came up with the interception. ... The practice’s best pass came from fourth-string quarterback G.J. Kinne, who tossed a touchdown bomb to James Casey down the left sideline past linebacker Jake Knott. The pass hit Casey in stride to his outside shoulder. … Foles looked extremely sharp, although one of his red-zone passes was intercepted by DeMeco Ryans at the goal line. But Foles also threw red-zone TDs to Brent Celek and Damaris Johnson.

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

It’s a pattern that keeps repeating itself. And it’s not a winning pattern.

Week after week, the Eagles are digging themselves a first-quarter hole. And week after week, they’re too far behind to catch up.

They trailed the Lions 14-0 in the first quarter. They trailed the Redskins 14-0 a minute into the second quarter. They fell behind the Cowboys 10-3 early in the second. The Giants jumped up on them 14-0 just six minutes in. And on Sunday, the Bengals led 10-0 before the first quarter was over.

If football games began at the start of the second quarter? This would be a different season. The Eagles would be 7-4-1.

The Eagles has actually outscored their opponents in the second, third and fourth quarters.

But the first quarter has been fatal.

The Eagles have been outscored by 32 points in the first quarter – 65 to 33. That’s their fourth-worst first-quarter scoring margin in the last 25 years, behind only three other nightmarish seasons – 1998 (minus-52), 2005 (minus-51) and 2012 (minus-75).

It’s also fourth-worst of any NFL team this year, ahead of only the Jets (minus-36), Broncos (minus-37) and Dolphins (minus-56).

Some teams – like the Broncos and Dolphins – have enough firepower to fight from behind.

The Eagles don’t.

They’re 4-0 when leading after the first quarter, 1-1 when tied after the first quarter and 0-6 when trailing after the first quarter.

At 0-6, they share the second-worst record in the NFL when trailing after 15 minutes with the Jaguars and 49ers. The Browns are 0-8 when trailing after the first quarter.

Last time the Eagles didn’t win a game all year when trailing after the first quarter was 1998. Before that 1977.

“It’s tough, especially in this league, to dig yourself a hole,” Carson Wentz said. “Whether the defense is struggling or the offense giving them points with turnovers and different things, it’s been a variation of a lot of those things. 

“It’s tough to dig yourself a hole against anybody, especially against good teams. So we’ve got to avoid that and we’ve got to come out swinging a little better early in games.”

The last time the Eagles won after trailing following the first quarter was the Dallas game last year, when they trailed 7-0 and won 33-27 in overtime.

What does it say about a team when it’s allowed twice as many points as it’s scored in the first quarter?

It sure seems like the Eagles several times this year simply haven’t been ready to play.

“The start to games, it's a mindset,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It's truly a mindset. It's one of those things where as a team you want to come out and you want to kind of make the first punch, so to speak, or swing first. 

“We did it against Green Bay. We went down and scored, we matched touchdown for touchdown there. And we've done it throughout the course of the season. We've got to be a little more consistent offensively, too. That can also help. And then defensively it's just a matter of working to get off the field.

“It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the game if you can do that early in a football game.”

The Eagles have scored just three first-quarter touchdowns all year (only the Broncos have fewer) and haven’t scored more than seven points in any of their 12 first quarters.

They’ve allowed nine first-quarter touchdowns, and only one team has allowed more – the Dolphins with 10.

Wentz has completed 67 percent of his first-quarter passes but with just one TD pass and four interceptions.

Incredibly, the Eagles have only five plays all year of more than 20 yards in the first quarter – just one in the last four games. Only the Saints, Jaguars and Broncos have fewer.

Why are the Eagles so bad early in games?

“There is no other answer than to execute one play at a time,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “There's no magic formula. I think we've had good energy at practice. I like the way we practice. I feel like we are putting together good plans.

“We're showing flashes of being a good football team. We need to be more consistent. We need to make more big plays. It's hard to sustain 14-play drives. We've missed a few plays here and there. We just all – coaches, players together – need to make it work one play at a time.”

The only teams to outscore the Eagles in the second half are the Cowboys (13-10), Seahawks (10-8) and Packers (13-3).

When a team has outscored its opponents by 61 points in the second, third and fourth quarters combined and it’s 5-7, the focus has to be on the first quarter.

That means preparation. That means being mentally and physically ready. 

“Yeah, I do look at all of that, and that's part of my job is the (pregame) schedule and all,” Pederson said. “But these guys are in a great frame of mind on game day. They're loose; they're energetic; they're ready to go. They're focused. 

“You see it in pregame. It's been unfortunate, but it's something we've got to focus in on a little bit more … and try to strike first.”

The Eagles will try to end their three-game losing streak at 1 p.m. Sunday when they face the Redskins at the Linc.

The Redskins, 6-5-1 but with a two-game losing streak, beat the Eagles 27-20 in Landover, Md., in October.

“I think it just comes down to being focus and locking in,” Wentz said. “You’ve seen us. There’ve been games where we’ve come out and we’re rolling right away.

"We just have to find a way to maintain that and be consistent with that. The goal is to come out swinging right away.”

Eagles Injury Update: Jordan Matthews back at practice again

Eagles Injury Update: Jordan Matthews back at practice again

Jordan Matthews, the Eagles' best receiver, was back at practice again on Thursday. 

Matthews was a full participant on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday, which is a very good sign for the Eagles. Last week, he returned on Thursday, but then had to sit out Friday and missed Sunday's game. 

It was the first game Matthews had ever missed in his career. Even with the missed game, Matthews still leads the Eagles in receptions (57), receiving yards (686) and receiving touchdowns (3). 

Fellow receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (abdomen) was on the practice field early but left as the Eagles began to stretch. He did not practice for the second straight day. 

Without Green-Beckham and with Matthews hobbled, the Eagles are light at receiver, with just Nelson Agholor, Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner. Head coach Doug Pederson said the Eagles want to keep Turner involved in the game plan even with the return of Matthews. 

Ryan Mathews (knee) was on the practice field again on Thursday, while Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) is still out. It looks like Vaitai will miss his third straight game this weekend.