If the Eagles are going to go on a run following their blowout win against the Giants, they are going to have to continue to improve in certain areas.
By Al Thompson
If the Eagles are going to go on a run following their 34–13 blowout win against the New York Giants, they are going to have to continue to improve in certain areas such as picking up the blitz on offense and playing consistent defense, especially in the secondary.
The Birds’ running backs and tight ends were not picking blitzes the first five games, and their quarterbacks were paying the price.
Nick Foles and Carson Wentz were getting blindsided all too often, and the Eagles’ record reflected it.
Tight end Brent Celek is gone to retirement. For over a decade, Eagles coaches could rely on him to be the sixth offensive lineman.
Veteran running back and blocker Darren Sproles has been out since after the first game this year. Jay Ajayi is out for the year. Both from serious injuries.
Rookie tight end Dallas Goedert is indeed a Zach Ertz clone, which means he’s a great pass catcher, but comes up short on blocking.
So does backup running back Wendell Smallwood. But Eagles coaches were left few options in the early part of the season.
The Birds (3–3) lost two games in a row for the first time since 2016. Week four, the Eagles lost on the road to the Tennessee Titans, 26–23, in overtime.
In that game, Wentz was sacked four times and hit 11 more times. Week five, the Birds lost to the Minnesota Vikings, 23–21, at home. Wentz was sacked three times and hit eight times.
Second-year running back Corey Clement, a solid blocker, did not play in either loss. He was recovering from a quadriceps injury.
Clement did play in the win against the Giants. The pass protection improved, as Wentz was sacked just once, and hit only five times.
On Monday, offensive coordinator Mike Groh acknowledged how important Clement was to the pass protection.
“It’s great to have Corey back in the mix,” Groh said. “He adds a lot to our offense, both as a runner and a receiver and he’s always done a really nice job of being conscientious in protection. Having him back and available certainly is a boost for us offensively.”
Clement will have to continue to help keep Wentz upright, and Groh has to scheme better to keep defenders out of the backfield.
The Carolina Panthers have defensive end Mario Addison, who can bring the heat. He has 3½ sacks so far this season. Rookie cornerback Donte Jackson has been the real deal for the first five games, coming up with three interceptions and five defended passes.
On defense, the Eagles have been inconsistent. They also have lost some players to injury. Veteran starting safety Rodney McLeod has been lost for the season. Defensive end Brandon Graham has had his moments but has not been 100 percent since coming back from a serious foot/ankle injury. Safety Corey Graham is dealing with a hamstring injury and has missed the last two games. Cornerback Sidney Jones left the Giants game, also with a hamstring injury. His status for Carolina is unknown.
The Birds will have to make due with what they’ve got.
Rookie Avonte Maddox is now playing safety. Like any rookie, he is having his ups and downs. He came up an interception to set up a score against Tennessee, then had a blown coverage in the game-winning play for the Titans in overtime
Maddox did have a crucial tackle on Giants rookie sensation Saquon Barkley that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz raved about.
“It saved us four points,” Schwartz said. “They got a field goal out of that drive, right? Yeah, it saved us four points and that’s what a free safety should do, suck up all those runs that escape the front. Like I said, that’s one of the things we liked about him, his range, he’s tough, he’s not the biggest guy in the world but he plays big. He’s a pretty sure tackler and we saw all those things in the last game.”
During the two-game losing streak, third-year cornerback Jalen Mills took a few steps backward. He started to commit back-breaking pass interference penalties in every game. He was getting beat on long balls.
During the Vikings game, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox got in his face for his antics after the few positive plays he was involved in.
Mills seemed to get the message.
His play against the Giants was outstanding, Mills recorded nine total tackles (seven solo) and two defended passes. He came up big in stopping Eli Manning and company inside the red zone several times.
Mills talked about the lift stopping a team in the red zone gives the whole team.
“One-hundred percent,” Mills said. “It’s a game-changer. You see us, we’re celebrating all walking off the field. The offense is greeting us before we get to the sideline, giving us high fives and stuff. Then they go out and put the points on the board.”
Asked about his own overall play this year, Mills did not want to hear about a good outing against a last-place team.
“On a grade scale, I give myself maybe a C-minus,” Mills said. “But it’s a new week, a new opportunity.”
That opportunity will be a tough one against the Panthers (3–2), who play the Eagles Sunday at the Linc (1 p.m., Fox).
Quarterback Cam Newton is a unique talent, He is the best running quarterback in the NFL and he can be just as effective in the air.
On the season, the 6-foot-5, 245 pound, eight-year veteran is 112-of-170 for 1,158 yards, nine touchdown passes and four interceptions. Newton has rushed 45 times for 208 yards and three more touchdowns.
Eagles Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins talks about the challenges the Panthers’ signal-caller brings to the table.
“(With Newton), that’s why they are always at the top of the league in rushing,” Jenkins said. “And also to have the arm to make every throw on the field, to be able to stretch the field and the receiver to do it, it’s a unique challenge.”
Because Newton is such a dual threat, Jenkins said the Birds will have to play with a scheme not normally seen at the pro level.
“It’s more of a collegiate type of playbook. It’s the type of thing guys aren’t used to doing. So this week of preparation will be key for us. We won’t have to prepare for these types of things for the rest of the year.”
Mills said after the Giants game that the team people saw that night is more like the Eagles from 2017. So are the Eagles back?
“One-and-0, that’s all we’re worried about,” Mills said. “As far as that game (Giants) goes, that was us, that was our personality. But as far as this week goes, it’s just beating Carolina and being 1–0 at the end of the week.” ••