Comparing last year’s defense to this year’s, searching for continuity on offense, pondering Wendell Smallwood’s ceiling and lots more in this week’s edition of Roob’s 10 random Eagles observations!
1. Really interesting and revealing to compare the Eagles’ 2017 defense after five games with this year’s defense after five games. Let’s take a look:
The Eagles were 4-1 at this point last year and 2-3 now, but the defensive numbers are almost identical. The defense can certainly play better, especially on the road, but in just about every category the numbers are right in line with last year’s performance after five games.
What’s the point of this? Just that the perception that the defense stinks isn’t quite accurate. They’ve had some really bad stretches, mainly the first half against Tampa and the second half and overtime against the Titans, but they’ve also shown signs of being a very good defense, holding the Falcons to 12 points, the Colts to 16 and the Vikings to 16 and doing it despite being middle- or back-of-the-pack in takeaways and sacks.
The defense is No. 7 in points allowed, No. 4 on third down, No. 6 in the red zone, No. 2 against the run and No. 5 in first downs allowed. My hunch is that by the middle of the season this will be one of the best defenses in the league.
2. I don’t think you can underestimate how much the lack of continuity has affected the offense. Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz are the only skill players who’ve played on offense in every game so far, and they’re the only guys on the team with more than 12 catches. It’s really been chaos, with backs and receivers getting hurt seemingly every week, getting released and re-signed, promoted from the practice squad, returning from injuries, rejoining the team, etc., and then a quarterback switch in the middle of all that. You would hope that as things solidify and Alshon Jeffery settles in and Dallas Goedert continues working in and Corey Clement gets healthy the offense will get more balanced and more consistent and more productive. But it’s just tough to build up a head of steam when you lose a guy every time you get a guy back.
3. I’m intrigued by what I’m seeing from Smallwood. He’s always been fairly productive, but he could never stay healthy. Sometimes the biggest thing athletes learn isn’t how to get better but just how to stay healthy. Smallwood told me back in August that he spent the offseason really learning how to take better care of himself, and it’s paying off (see story). He knew he had no chance to make the roster if he kept getting hurt, and the kid’s been healthy throughout the preseason and the regular season. And productive. The last three games he’s averaging 6.8 yards on 18 carries and 10.4 yards on nine catches. He’s got 214 yards in those three games on just 27 touches. Smallwood is only 24. He’s talented. I understand he needs to get better in blitz pickup, and I’m confident he will. I’m not sure what his ceiling is, but based on what I’ve seen the last few weeks I’m curious to find out.
4. Ertz is averaging 8.2 catches per game. He needs to average 6.4 catches per game the rest of the year to break Jason Witten’s single-season record of 110 catches by a tight end.
5. It blows my mind that people actually are blaming Carson Wentz for the last couple of losses. Considering that he didn’t have a preseason, that he didn’t have a training camp, that he didn’t play football for almost 10 months, that he’s coming off a very serious injury, he’s played at an extraordinary level. Yeah, you’d like to see better ball security, sure. But you’d also like to see him get some help from the O-line. Of all the people on this team, how on Earth can you single out Wentz? In his three starts, he’s completed 67 percent of his passes, averaged 305 yards and has five TDs and just one interception. Factor in the drops, the poor protection and not enough running plays and it’s hard to find fault in Wentz’s performance. He’s gotten better each week and he’s going to continue to get better, and if you don’t see it, I just can’t help you.
6. The Eagles were 4-4 in 2015 after that win in Dallas and Sam Bradford’s 41-yard TD in overtime to Jordan Matthews. Since then, Chip Kelly-coached teams are 4-24. That’s 2-5 in his last seven games with the Eagles, 2-14 in his one year with the 49ers and 0-5 this year at UCLA.
7. This is nuts: Kirk Cousins has now had five straight games at the Linc with a passer rating of at least 100 and a completion percentage of at least 60 percent. No Eagles quarterback has ever done that at the Linc.
8. The Eagles have scored seven first-quarter points this year. After five games last year, they had 41 first-quarter points.
9. More Shelton Gibson, please? I don’t get why he hasn’t played more. After such an impressive training camp and preseason? With a receiving corps that hasn’t exactly been consistent or productive? We barely see any Gibson, then he plays nine snaps Sunday and gets targeted once and reels in a 48-yard catch. For whatever reason, Nelson Agholor hasn’t been the same Nelson Agholor as last year. In the Vikings game, Agholor played 52 snaps and had 45 yards. Gibson played nine snaps and had 48 yards. Maybe Gibson can help an offense that we all agree needs some punch, a downfield threat. Can’t hurt to try.
10. Ertz had two games with 10 catches for 100 or more yards in the span of eight days. Jeremy Maclin and John Spagnola are the only other Eagles with two such games in their entire career.
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