Eagles’ offense grounded while Carson Wentz keeps taking punishment – Philadelphia Eagles Blog

PHILADELPHIA — The NFL is a fickle beast, isn’t it?

One season your biggest concern is picking a touchdown celebration, and the next you’re being twisted into knots and getting run over by the wheel instead of looking like the one who invented it.

Welcome to the Philadelphia Eagles‘ 2018 season.

An offense that ranked second in points per game last season at 28.6 is currently 25th at 20.6. The Eagles have failed to hit the 24-point mark through five games — something they did an NFL-high 12 times during their Super Bowl run in 2017.

Unable to get their offensive engine humming, they have fallen to 2-3 on the season and face a critical game Thursday night at the New York Giants (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox). Per ESPN Stats & Information, Philly is the fifth reigning Super Bowl champion since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990 to be under .500 through five games. Only one of the previous four such teams — the 1996 Dallas Cowboys — rebounded to make the playoffs.

Most of the central cast members returned and they are still led by the same aggressive, offense-minded head coach in Doug Pederson. What has changed? How much falls on the shoulders of quarterback Carson Wentz? And is there reason to be hopeful about a turnaround?

Let’s dive in.

Decoding the RPO

Pederson’s mantra heading into the season was “Embrace the Target.” He wanted to drill into his players that they would get the opponent’s best shot, week after week, as defending champs.

It goes for coaching as well.

“Each year you’re going to study the team, whether it’s an offense or defensive structure that had success the year before,” Pederson said. “Everybody wants to see what worked and see if it fits for them. Obviously, studying us and looking at some of the things we did, they’ve had a whole offseason to prepare, a training camp to prepare.”

One key component to the Eagles’ offense is the run-pass option, or RPO. Opponents had few answers for it last year. If the defender they were keying dropped into coverage, the quarterback would hand it off to exploit the numbers advantage on the ground. If he committed to the run, the QB would pull it and throw it behind his ear to the open receiver. All day. Nick Foles rode them through an improbable playoff stretch that ended with him being named Super Bowl MVP.

Though they seem to be less present in the Eagles’ offense this season, Pederson says he is still calling them quite a bit, but most are resulting in runs now due to adjustments defenses have made.

“Teams are just defending it a little bit better,” he said, “and we just continue to evolve a little bit and find answers moving forward.”

There are a few methods that are proving effective in combating the RPO. One is moving cornerbacks tight to receivers at the line of scrimmage. If a defensive back is playing off coverage, it’s much easier to connect on a quick slant or stop route. But if they’re playing press, there’s less of a window. The counter to that would be to hit defenses over the top, but the Eagles are short on vertical threats since Mike Wallace went down because of a fractured leg, compounding the issue.

According to one high-ranking offensive coach, teams are blitzing the gap — often vacated by a pulling guard — to hurry the decision-making process. And coaches are teaching backside defenders to stay home and take away the quick pop pass rather than chasing the run away.

“Don’t give them the open window, because that is what the RPO is designed to do,” former defensive back and ESPN analyst Matt Bowen said. “What you tell them is, we’ll take away one from the run front, we’ll sacrifice that, so we don’t give up the backside pop pass because it’s such an easy throw for quarterbacks.”

The first play of the game last week against Minnesota was an RPO. Alshon Jeffery was blanketed at the line of scrimmage, Wentz had nowhere to go and nearly threw an interception trying to zip it in to Jeffery.

“It’s still something that we’ll always have in every week, it’s just whether we’re calling them so much or not,” Wentz said. “It’s a big part of what we do. It’s just throughout each game, sometimes we use it more if it’s working well, and sometimes we get away from it.”

Wentz and a concerning hit rate

Left tackle Jason Peters made an interesting comment following Sunday’s 23-21 loss to the Vikings, in which Wentz absorbed three sacks and eight quarterbacks hits.

“Right now we’re struggling on the offensive line because we have to block longer,” he said. “We have a quarterback that’s coming off of an injury and he wants to make a play. We just have to block longer in order for him to make a play. We just have to be better in pass protection.”

The eye test and the film backs that up to a degree. There are definitely plays when Wentz holds the ball longer than he should, or goes for extra bases when the right decision is to check down and take the single. Wentz doesn’t dispute any of that.

“It definitely happens. It’s kind of the nature of my game that I think I bring,” he said. “You’re always trying to weigh the pros and cons of doing that, and sometimes it gets you, sometimes it ends up being big plays as well. I would say that’s a fair statement.”

The numbers, though, show that Peters’ theory doesn’t fully hold water. Wentz is right in the middle of the pack when it comes to hanging onto the ball. He is averaging 2.76 seconds to throw this season, according to NextGen stats, which ranks 14th in the NFL. The average time across the league is 2.73 seconds. Wentz’s numbers are up only slightly (2.72) from last year.

Nick Foles, meanwhile, averaged 2.98 seconds per throw in relief of Wentz this season, which is fourth highest.

And yet Wentz is getting crushed. He has been sacked 12 times and has taken 27 hits in three games since returning from a serious multiligament knee injury.

So what gives? The line, for one, needs to own its part in this. Regarded as one of the best units in the league, the line’s play has been down across the board. Right tackle Lane Johnson‘s dip in play is a microcosm of what’s ailing this entire team: He was impenetrable last year but has given up strip-sacks in back-to-back games, including one last Sunday that was returned 64 yards by 330-pound defensive lineman Linval Joseph.

Pederson, though, has not been doing Wentz or that offensive front any favors. Wentz is averaging 41 dropbacks per game. The pass/run ratio has been 85-39 (69 percent pass) over the past two weeks.

“Carson is still a young quarterback and he is still developing,” said Seth Joyner, the former standout linebacker for the Eagles and current analyst for NBC Philly. “Doug can do him a world of good by just running the football, establishing the run, and when he does that, it’s going to open up a myriad of things in the playbook for Carson, for his true talents to be realized, and it’s going to help his development.

“There will come a time in his career when you can lay the entire offense on his shoulders and on his arm and say, ‘Go out there and make it happen.’ But I think he’s still developing to that point. Until we realize that we’ve got to use the running game and use the strength of our offensive line, which in my opinion is the running game, to do that, he’s going to have brilliant moments and he’s going to have moments of struggle.”

That’s exactly what it has been for Wentz through three games. He’s completing 67 percent of his throws (up from 60 percent in 2017) with five touchdowns and an interception, and has shown good mobility despite wearing a large knee brace around his surgically repaired left knee. He has also had moments where he has looked rusty, and with defenders coming over the walls, he has been charged with too many negative plays.

Jay Ajayi also wondered why the Eagles aren’t running more after only five run plays in the first half of Sunday’s loss to Minnesota.

“With the offensive line we have on this team, running the ball like that, that doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.

“Super Bowl brain drain,” but reason for hope

When reporting that the Minnesota Vikings were hiring Eagles quarterbacks John DeFilippo to be their offensive coordinator back in February, ESPN’s Adam Schefter wrote, “Super Bowl brain drain underway in Philadelphia.” A few days later, offensive coordinator Frank Reich was hired to be head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

Mike Groh replaced Reich and Press Taylor took over the QB room for DeFilippo. Both are highly thought of around the league, and their arrows are pointing up. But it is fair to wonder whether losing two coaches who were so critical to the operation last season has hurt the 2018 Eagles in the early going.

“You’ve got a guy with great credibility in DeFilippo and a guy who’s lived the game and coached the game at the highest level in Frank Reich. I just don’t believe that those two guys can walk out of that organization without their being some residual effects to losing those guys,” Joyner said. “I think that Frank Reich has always been a voice of reason in the ear of Doug Pederson on game day. Does Mike Groh and Press Taylor really hold that cache in Doug’s ear? Is he listening to what they say? Are they saying the right things? Are they advising along the same lines as John and Frank did last year?”

One of Pederson’s greatest strengths is that he empowers his assistants. Reich and DeFilippo were given responsibilities over different parts of the offense related to situational football. DeFilippo, for instance, had a hand in tailoring their red zone offense.

The Eagles ranked second in red zone efficiency last year (64 percent touchdown rate) and are 18th through five games this year (53 percent). It’s a similar story on third down. They were second in 2017 (45 percent conversion rate) compared to 23rd this season (38 percent). There’s much more to it than a change in a couple of offensive coaches, but it’s probably fair to say there has been an adjustment period.

That goes for the whole team. The Eagles went from underdogs to the hunted in the blink of an eye. They switched quarterbacks three weeks in. Wentz is reacclimating to the game post-op. Defenses are playing them smarter. And the Eagles are fighting to regain the same level of mental focus they sustained through their championship run, even though their bodies and minds had less time to refresh than most.

The Eagles also have suffered several injuries with Ajayi (torn ACL), Wallace and Mack Hollins (groin) being put on injured reserve. Running backs Darren Sproles (hamstring) and Corey Clement (quadriceps) also have been unable to stay on the field, and Jeffery has played in only two games after returning from shoulder surgery.

But the system is not broken, and there’s reason to believe this once high-flying offense will get back on track.

“The scheme is fine. The scheme is the same thing Matt Nagy is running in Chicago. The scheme works. There is no doubt about it,” Bowen said. “Right now you want a coach calling plays who is a part of the Andy Reid coaching tree or the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree based on what I’m seeing on film. Those are the most prolific offenses and the toughest to defend.

“The talent is there. And Carson is fine … You have to give him more clean-pocket throws. If there’s clean-pocket throws, that offense is going to take off with Coach Pederson. It’s not the scheme, it’s a lack of efficiency right now from the players, in my opinion.”

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Odell Beckham Jr. doesn’t know if Eli Manning is reason for the New York Giants’ struggling offense

Odell Beckham Jr. and the New York Giants have been searching for answers to their struggling offense entering Sunday’s matchup with the Carolina Panthers. In a wide-ranging interview with ESPN’s Josina Anderson and Lil Wayne earlier this week, Beckham couldn’t rule out quarterback Eli Manning as the problem and admitted he wasn’t fully content with his role.

Manning has been Beckham’s starting quarterback ever since the star wide receiver entered the league in 2014. The two have combined for 38 touchdowns, tied for sixth among active quarterback-receiver duos entering Sunday, but they haven’t connected for a touchdown this year.

“I don’t know,” Beckham said when asked if there was an issue at quarterback. “Like I said, I feel like he’s not going to get out the pocket. He’s not — we know Eli’s not running it. But is it a matter of time issue? Can he still throw it, yeah, but it’s been pretty safe and it’s been, you know … cool catching shallow [routes] and trying to take it to the house. But I’m, you know, I want to go over the top of somebody.”

Manning has completed 3 of 12 passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield this season entering Sunday. He is 2-of-5 on such throws to Beckham, with both completions coming in the opener. Beckham has been targeted twice downfield in the past three weeks.

It has the Pro Bowl wide receiver questioning whether he is being used in a role that maximizes his potential.

“I haven’t been in this situation. I haven’t been in the place where I felt like I could really go out and do everything that I’m capable of doing,” Beckham said. “I don’t get 20 targets like some other receivers, you know.”

Beckham has been targeted 45 times over the first four weeks, tied for eighth in the NFL. He has 31 catches for 331 yards.

“I feel like in the past five years, they found a way to run a Cover 2, keep everything in front, and that’s how they played me,” Beckham said. “And there’s no way to — how do we beat this? I feel like I’m being outschemed, and then I also don’t have a chance to, like, do something where I’ve got to take a slant and go 60. And not to say that’s not fun, but it’s like I want some easy touchdowns too. I watch everybody across the league. All the top receivers get the ball the way that they, you know, should. And if they don’t, they say something about it.”

The Giants (1-3) have failed to reach 20 points in three of their four games. The offense is sputtering in an extension of the previous two years even though it’s a new system under coach Pat Shurmur.

Beckham mentioned needing to see more energy and heart from the Giants. Shurmur had responded to those comments Friday by saying he thought they just needed better execution.

“I think it’s everything at the moment. It’s just everything. It’s just everything,” Beckham said. “And not to say that it’s not going to work at the moment. I feel like I work entirely way too hard.”

Beckham signed a five-year extension that could be worth $95 million with the Giants this offseason. He’s going nowhere.

Still, he couldn’t say for sure whether he is truly happy in New York.

“It’s a tough question,” said Beckham, who makes his offseason home in Los Angeles. “Obviously, I love seeing the sunshine all the time. I love, you know, I love being in L.A. I just like that atmosphere, but this is where I’m at. I remember before games, I used to get that. I used to get butterflies, like good butterflies. I was anxious. And now when I step on the field, it’s something completely different. It’s not butterflies.

“It’s like I want to be here, like I’ve been waiting to get here this whole time. I feel like a caged animal who gets this — it’s my 60 minutes of playtime. You know, I can play with other people. We can play nice, or we don’t have to play nice. But I get to play, and I get to do all this. This is my time to be out of the cage. You know, if somebody’s messing with me during my time to be out of the cage, like, it’s going to be a problem.”

In a season where a record number of points were scored through four weeks, the Giants are near the bottom of the league, averaging 18.3 points per game. It’s hard for Beckham to watch the Giants struggle and not reach the end zone himself.

“Heated,” he said of what it’s like to watch other teams’ offensive success, specifically the Los Angeles Rams. “You know, because I know what I’m capable of. I know what I feel like I bring to the table each and every day. And that’s all I want to do. That’s literally all I want to do. I — I’ve given up — personally sacrificed a lot of things recently. Just giving it up, just because this is all I want to do. … We going to get it right, as long as I’m here, like I just — I don’t see myself losing, and I hate losing. I don’t want to be the one at the end of the career who, ‘Oh, he had a great career, and all this, no — no rings, no none of that.’ Like, that’s not my — that’s not why I came here to play. That’s not my M.O.”

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Immovable Jaguars D braced for Chiefs’ unstoppable offense – Jacksonville Jaguars Blog

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After a day of watching film of the Kansas City Chiefs‘ offense and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone came to the same conclusion as the rest of the country.


Marrone was amazed at what he’s seen from the second-year quarterback, running back Kareem Hunt, receivers Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and De’Anthony Thomas, and tight end Travis Kelce. The speed, improvisation, big plays, variety of formations and motions, disguises and misdirections …

“What you’re seeing is it’s kind of — it’s unbelievable,” Marrone said. “We’ve got our hands full.”

The Chiefs (4-0) lead the NFL in scoring (36.3 points per game) and pass plays of 25 or more yards (15). In addition to having a league-high 14 TD passes and no interceptions, Mahomes has a big arm and a knack for extending plays and making tough throws while scrambling. Hill is one of the NFL’s fastest players and a dangerous open-field runner.

No team has yet been able to contain the Chiefs’ offense, but if there is a defense that can it’s the Jaguars. They have the corners to match up with the Chiefs’ receivers. They have a safety who’s already proved he can handle an elite tight end. They have speed at linebacker to deal with the backs. And they have a defensive line that brings pressure off the edge and penetration up the middle.

Four 2017 All-Pros (two first-teamers). Eight players who have been voted to at least one Pro Bowl. Playmakers at every level.

And they’re certainly up for the challenge.

“If I’m a betting man, I’m taking this defense, no matter who we’re playing against, no matter who’s at quarterback,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “We’ve shown that no matter who’s on offense, we’ve got the guys over here to do it. This is something that we’re built for. We’re built on speed, we’re built on toughness, and we’re built on just that fire and passion.

“I guess we’re going to have a good outing come Sunday. It’s going to be an exciting opportunity.”

Expect Gipson to be matched up with Kelce a fair amount. He drew a similar assignment when the Jaguars played New England and helped limit Rob Gronkowski to just two catches for 15 yards in Jacksonville’s 31-20 victory.

Gipson had help over the top from safety Barry Church, but at times also had to deal with the 268-pound Gronkowski himself. Kelce (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) is a different kind of challenge. He’s more athletic than Gronkowski and even better after the catch — since the 2016 season began his 2,470 yards after the catch leads all tight ends.

He’s also caught a pass in 67 consecutive games dating to the beginning of the 2014 season.

“I think that this is a matchup that I definitely got excited about,” Gipson said. “I looked at the schedule this year [and] I circled the games where tight ends that I felt that I knew that I was going to be really amped up about it — not to take anything away from the guys who aren’t the marquee names. If you feel like you’re the best, if you feel like you want to put it out there that you’re the best, you’ve got to go against the best.”

Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, both of whom made the Pro Bowl last season, are regarded as the best cornerback duo in the NFL. It’s likely Ramsey, a first-team All Pro in 2017, will shadow Hill, who is one of the league’s fastest players. Hill already has six catches of 25 or more yards and has seven catches of 50 or more yards (six for TDs) since he entered the league in 2016.

That means Bouye will get Watkins, who is battling a hamstring injury, and/or Robinson. The Jaguars will be without starting nickelback D.J. Hayden because of a toe injury, so Tyler Patmon will fill his role.

Linebackers Myles Jack and Telvin Smith can really run, and that’s an advantage when it comes to dealing with Hunt and a scrambling Mahomes. They have the speed to get to the edge and cover Hunt and the other backs, and they can close quickly on Mahomes if he gets outside the pocket. Jack already has a defensive touchdown and Smith has more solo tackles than any other player in the NFL since he entered the league in 2014.

The Jaguars’ pass rush hasn’t recorded a lot of sacks (10), but end Calais Campbell has 3.0 after setting the single-season franchise record with 14.5 last season. Yannick Ngakoue, who got his first sack last week, has 21 in 36 career games.

The goal is to keep Mahomes in the pocket because he’s so dangerous on the outside. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Mahomes threw for 192 yards outside the pocket against Denver on Monday night — the highest total for any quarterback in the past 10 seasons. That falls to Campbell, Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr.

Defensive tackle Malik Jackson and nose tackle Marcell Dareus have played well so far this season, giving the Jaguars a good interior rush. Dareus has 17 tackles, putting him on pace for the second-highest total of his career (68), and he’s been the anchor in the middle of the Jaguars’ run defense.

That combination has the Jaguars atop the NFL rankings in points per game (14.0), total yards per game allowed (259.3) and pass defense (164.3).

“We pride ourselves on being a really good defense, so this is a great challenge for us,” Campbell said. “We know they’ve got firepower everywhere. Everywhere. I’m looking forward to the challenge. This defense, we believe in ourselves, so this is an opportunity for us to go and see what happens.”

It’s a bigger challenge than they might think. According to Elias, teams with the top-scoring offense have matched up against teams with the top-scoring defense in Week 5 or later seven times in the past 20 seasons. The teams with the top-scoring offense are 5-2 in those games, and the top scoring offenses have averaged 30.1 points per game in the seven games.

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Records smashed: NFL offense at historic levels through four games – NFL Nation

Passing and offensive numbers are at an all-time high. Total NFL marks for completions (2,999), completion percentage (65.4), passing yards (32,215), passing touchdowns (228), points scored (3,030) and touchdowns (344) are the highest in NFL history through the first four games of a season.

And it doesn’t stop there. Here’s a rundown of records, milestones and other notable numbers from the season’s first quarter:

  • 88: Combined points for Saints vs. Buccaneers, the most ever in a season opener.

  • 42: Michael Thomas‘s receptions this season, the most through four team games of a season in NFL history.

  • 12: Record number of 400-yard passing games

  • 11: Quarterbacks with 1,200 passing yards (7) through four weeks.

  • 10: QBs on pace to set their franchise’s single-season pass yards record.

  • 7: QBs with 10 passing touchdowns

  • 6: Patrick Mahomes became the youngest (22 years, 364 days) QB with six passing TDs in a game.

  • 5: Individual 400-yard passing games in Week 4, the most in NFL history.

  • 4: QBs on pace to break Peyton Manning’s single-season pass yards record (5,477 in 2013). Those QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, and Derek Carr.

  • 3: Number of consecutive 400-yard passing games from Ryan Fitzpatrick, a first in NFL history.

  • 1: Goff became the first player in NFL history with 350 passing yards and a 75.0 completion percentage in three straight games.

Games have also been closer this season. The average margin of victory has been 9.90 points per game, a mark that would be the lowest in a full season in 86 years, since the NFL record was set in 1932 (9.13). In addition, 38 games have been decided by eight points or fewer, the most in league history through Week 4.

All data are from ESPN Stats & Information

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Time to overreact to NFL 2018 Week 4 — Is the Chicago Bears offense for real?

CHICAGO — Hey, if the football fans in the Windy City want to overreact, who’s going to tell them to cut it out? It has been quite a while since the Chicago Bears were fun, and even with the Chicago Cubs back in the playoffs this town is fired up about a 3-1 first-place football team that just put 48 points on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on its way into the bye. Mitchell Trubisky just quadrupled his season touchdown pass total in one delirious afternoon, and if you’re not allowed to overreact to that, what’s the point of being a fan?

So let’s start with the game I got to see in person as part of my Sunday NFL Countdown duties — a game that was 38-3 at the half and ended 48-10 as Trubisky buried the Bucs’ weeklong QB controversy with six touchdown passes of his own against a Tampa Bay team that couldn’t do a thing right no matter who was taking the snaps.

The Bears’ offense is now as good as their defense

If you’re a Bears fan who has been waiting to see the vaunted Matt Nagy offense that lit the league on fire last year in Kansas City, Sunday was your day. Nagy was scheming dudes open and leaning on mismatches with speedsters Tarik Cohen and Taylor Gabriel, and the Tampa Bay defense had no answers. Gabriel scored two touchdowns, including one on a nifty jet-action shovel pass at the goal line. He and Cohen each had seven catches and more than 100 receiving yards as Nagy went away from between-the-tackles running back Jordan Howard and leaned instead on the super-fast dudes he knew the Bucs’ defenders couldn’t catch. For the first time, Trubisky looked like a quarterback worthy of the 2017 No. 2 overall pick.

Graziano’s verdict: OVERREACTION. Fun, without a doubt. But the Bucs came into the game 27th in defensive DVOA, are banged up in the secondary and are averaging 34.75 points per game allowed. It’s important to understand context. Bears players to whom I spoke about this game said they saw something good coming with Trubisky — that they believe he has been developing the way they’d hoped he would. But no one here is assuming this is the way it’s going to look every week. It takes awhile to master the Andy Reid offense Nagy brought from K.C. Alex Smith wasn’t driving a league-leading passing attack until Year 5. One day of mastery doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory. What Bears fans should take from this is excitement and hope that this can be what it looks like, eventually. But the defense — which, by the way, had another monster game with Khalil Mack wreaking havoc in the backfield — is what will drive the Bears’ NFC North title aspirations for this year at least. “It’s like the LeBron effect,” Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara told me of the Bears’ preseason addition of Mack to an already-strong defense. “He just makes everybody better. When you see greatness like that up close, it just makes everyone else want to be great that much more.”



Ryan Clark discusses how Earl Thomas’ injury impacts his desire for a bigger contract while serving as an example why Le’Veon Bell is holding out.

Earl Thomas is right to be angry at the Seahawks

Thomas was playing even though he didn’t want to be there — sitting out practices in protest of the team’s refusal to extend his contract or trade him to a team that would. So as he was carted off the field with a broken leg Sunday, he appeared to direct an obscene gesture to the Seattle sideline.

Graziano’s verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. The next time you hop on Twitter and holler that a guy has a contract and should play, remember Thomas, who could have a very hard time finding a contract that meshes with his hopes at this point. Seattle played hardball with a franchise icon. He should have continued playing hardball with them and held out until they gave him what he wanted. If this is what you get for doing the right thing and showing up to play, why would the next Seahawks player in the same situation do it?

The Titans are going to the Super Bowl

For the third week in a row, Tennessee won a miracle game — this time in overtime against the defending Super Bowl champs. And while Weeks 2 and 3 were mishmash games with their offense not at full strength, this was a 26-point, 397-yard, fourth-down-converting answer to all the Mariota doubters out there.

Graziano’s verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. Hey, the AFC isn’t all that great. The Patriots and Steelers have looked wobbly. The Chiefs can’t keep up what they’re doing. The Jaguars can’t beat the Titans. Why not this bunch? They just won two straight games against 2017 playoff teams and they have only two more of those left — home against the Patriots in November and at Jacksonville in December. The hard part of the 2018 season for the Titans may already be over, and they’re 3-1.



Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter says that everyone should be fired after the Bucs’ 48-10 loss to the Bears, starting with him.

Dirk Koetter is right: He should be fired

The Bucs’ coach said in his postgame media conference that, based on Sunday’s performance, the Bucs should fire everyone including him. It may not have been Jim Mora Sr.’s “Playoffs!?” or Dennis Green’s “We let ’em off the hook!” but it was a pretty startling media conference.

Graziano’s verdict: OVERREACTION. Koetter’s seat is among the hottest in the league, and a losing season may well cost him his job. But a team that was expected to be 1-3 or 0-4 at this point is 2-2 and has, for most of the season, looked very good on offense, which is Koetter’s side of the ball. It’s too soon to pull the plug. At least give him the rest of the year with Jameis Winston under center.

The Eagles will miss the playoffs

The defending champs are 2-2 and have given up almost as many points (81) as they’ve scored (82). Their wins were against the 1-3 Falcons and the 1-3 Colts, by six and four points, respectively. They couldn’t keep Carson Wentz upright Sunday. They have not looked like themselves.

Graziano’s verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. The Eagles absolutely could make the playoffs, and they should. They didn’t forget how to play, and Doug Pederson didn’t forget how to coach. But it’s not an overreaction to be worried here. Washington looks better than expected. The Cowboys may be getting right. The NFC East hasn’t had a repeat champion since 2003-04, and it’s tough to see that division putting two teams in the playoffs this year. The Eagles have had terrible injury luck so far and need to look a lot better if we’re to believe they can repeat.

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Cowboys not planning major changes on offense

FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys have scored 41 points in three games, the fewest to start a season since 1990, but coach Jason Garrett said he will not make significant changes in personnel or in the playcalling operation with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

“I think it would be false for me to say this is about playcalling,” Garrett said. “This is about everything we’re doing offensively, we have to do better. We have to coach better. We have to play better. We have to run it better. We have to throw it better. We have to protect better. We have to do all the things good offenses do and we have to do all of those things better.”

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Atlanta Falcons’ offense needs to carry the weight again and again – Atlanta Falcons Blog

ATLANTA — Ryan Schraeder probably said it best in defeat.

As he moped by his locker following Sunday’s 43-37 overtime loss to the rival New Orleans Saints, the Atlanta Falcons right tackle pondered what needs to be the next step for a team rocked by injuries, particularly on defense.

“Anytime you score 30 points, you give yourself a good shot to win,” Schraeder said. “Our defense is a little banged up. We’ve got to pull the extra weight. We have to step up in certain spots.”

One would think the Falcons would have come out victorious after having put up 407 total yards; seeing quarterback Matt Ryan pass for a career-high five touchdowns without an interception; witnessing first-round pick Calvin Ridley enjoy a breakout performance with a rookie-record three touchdown receptions and 146 receiving yards; and going 4-for-4 in the red zone.

But when Drew Brees guides his team to 534 total yards, connects with running back Alvin Kamara on 15 of 20 targets and finishes you off with two touchdowns of his own — rushing touchdowns, no less — there’s only so much you can do.

What the 1-2 Falcons, who are last in the NFC South standings, can do in the immediate future is revert to their old offensive ways from 2016, when they led the league in scoring at 33.8 points per game and rode that high-scoring attack all the way to Super Bowl LI. Not every opponent remaining on the schedule is going to be as potent offensively as Brees and the 2-1 Saints were — and certainly will be on Thanksgiving in New Orleans.

Scoring at such a high clip could help offset the Falcons’ defensive issues. Remember, they entered Week 3 without arguably their two best defenders, as Pro Bowl strong safety Keanu Neal suffered a season-ending ACL tear and Pro Bowl middle linebacker Deion Jones was placed on injured reserved following foot surgery. The earliest Jones can return is the Nov. 18 game against the Dallas Cowboys.

To top it off, free safety Ricardo Allen, one of the designated “chiefs” as a team leader, went down Sunday with what appeared to be a significant leg injury. Allen missing significant time would leave the Falcons without maybe their smartest defender, as well as without their hardest hitter in Neal and arguably the league’s best coverage linebacker in Jones.

Even if the Falcons were bold enough to pull off a trade for a player such as Seattle’s Earl Thomas or bring in a player who has caught grief for kneeling in protest in Eric Reid, such a move wouldn’t automatically guarantee a defensive resurgence. Being more sure with tackling and more successful with pressuring opposing quarterbacks has to be a part of the defensive equation, as well.

Especially the tackling. Nickelback Brian Poole allowed Brees to break loose for a 7-yard touchdown run to help send the game into overtime. Poole’s bad angle and inability to wrap up knocked teammate Robert Alford out of the play as well.

“And I thought coming into the half that was one of things that we talked about that we’ve got to improve for us,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of the tackling. “Certainly had some errors and technique things that I know are correctable, but it doesn’t take the sting away from owning it. Some of the men have been in this system long enough to totally nail it, and we missed that mark on some plays today.”

But in terms of the offense, the Falcons know they have everything it takes to score and score often, with the Cincinnati Bengals coming up next and a road trip to the Pittsburgh Steelers sandwiched between their next NFC South game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6.

In 2016, the Falcons were 12-1 when they scored 30 or more points, including the playoffs.

“You never know how games are going to shake out, but your mentality offensively or as a quarterback has to be whatever we have to do,” Ryan said. “If it’s going to be like today, we’ve got to go out there and make the plays and score the points when we need to. And we had chances offensively to finish the ball game today, and we didn’t do that.”

Most of the Falcons’ offensive players said they were disappointed with the inability to establish the run game against the Saints, which will be an emphasis moving forward to help keep the defense off the field. But there’s no denying the red zone plays being called by offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, as the Falcons are 8-for-8 in the red zone over the past two games.

And yes, Ridley is the real deal. A 75-yard touchdown reception on which he coasted into the end zone showed just how difficult a matchup he is for opposing defenses and how much easier he makes things for top target Julio Jones.

“Yeah, I thought Calvin did a great job for us today, played extremely well, took advantage of the one-on-one opportunities when he got them and made them pay for keeping him isolated,” Ryan said.

We’ll see if the Falcons continue to make opposing defenses pay with so many weapons at Ryan’s disposal.

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Trick play ‘Philly Philly’ sparks Philadelphia Eagles’ offense vs. Atlanta Falcons

PHILADELPHIA — With his offense struggling, Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson dusted off a variation of the most iconic playcall in franchise history. This one, known as “Philly Philly,” provided the spark he was looking for in an 18-12 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Nick Foles was not his Super Bowl self in the first half Thursday night, averaging just 3.6 yards per pass attempt, and the offense was outgained by Falcons receiver Julio Jones 89-68 over the first two quarters.

Needing to inject some life into the unit, Pederson dialed up a play similar to the “Philly Special” that came to define the Eagles’ Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots. In fact, “Philly Philly” is a play the Patriots ran in the Super Bowl against the Eagles, but the pass to quarterback Tom Brady fell incomplete in that game.

“I mean, it’s a good play,” Foles said. “This league, there’s a lot of great plays, there’s a lot of great minds, so when you see something like that, that’s unique and it works well, you try to execute it like they do.”

Or in this case, better.



Doug Pederson describes why the Eagles called “Philly Philly” and where they got it from.

Facing a third-and-5 from the Falcons’ 41-yard line midway through the third quarter, Nelson Agholor, playing the role of Trey Burton, came around on a reverse and lofted a throw to a streaking Foles for a 15-yard gain — the longest of the night for Philadelphia to that point. Jay Ajayi scored the Eagles’ first touchdown of the 2018 season five plays later.

Foles said they had run that play only once in practice. Agholor was a backup quarterback in high school but doesn’t have much in-game throwing experience. He said the last pass he threw was during the spring game at USC.

The result of that pass?

“Interception,” Agholor deadpanned.

During the Super Bowl, Foles famously went to the sideline on fourth-and-goal and suggested the trick play to Pederson, who casually responded, “Yeah, let’s do it.” This time they were on the exact same page.

“I went over there and talked to him and said, ‘This might be a good time.’ He pointed to the call sheet, and I was like, ‘That’s what I was coming over here for,'” Foles said. “So yeah, it worked again.”

Pederson dialed up “Philly Special” on fourth-and-goal against the Patriots, to great success. That play is so celebrated in this town, a statue of the sequence right before it — Foles and Pederson discussing running it on the sideline — was just erected outside Lincoln Financial Field.

This offseason, Pederson said he would probably put that play call on ice, but broke out a successful variation at an opportune time to the delight of the crowd.

“It was a great time to call it. Injected some juice into the crowd, into the offense,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “Gutsy call. And once again, gave our fans something to cheer about.”

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Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears rookie wide receiver, predicts big season for team’s offense

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears open the regular season Sunday night in Green Bay with questions about how the offense will perform with a new playcaller, a new scheme and a second-year quarterback with only 12 NFL starts.

None of it matters to rookie wide receiver Anthony Miller, who predicted on Thursday that Chicago’s offense is poised to embark on something special.

“I think there are a lot of people sleeping on us right now,” Miller, a second-round pick, told reporters. “We’re that new team. We’ve got a couple of new guys, but the history of this team hasn’t been what we wanted it to be, so we’re about to rewrite it. This is the beginning of something new, a new era in Chicago.”

Changing Chicago’s narrative on offense would be welcomed.

The Bears have historically struggled on the offensive side of the ball. Last season, Chicago ranked near or at the bottom of the league in passing yards (32nd), total yards (30th) and points scored (29th).

Sensing a lack of growth, Bears general manager Ryan Pace systematically overhauled the offense in the offseason by first installing 40-year old Matt Nagy as head coach/offensive playcaller.

Nagy, who called plays in five games for the Chiefs in 2017, brought with him to Chicago a version of the successful Andy Reid offense that has been used in, among other places, Philadelphia and Kansas City.

Nagy’s system, however, is a radical departure from what Bears second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky ran last season. The second overall pick of last year’s draft, Trubisky passed for 2,193 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions (77.5 passer rating).

“I have a really good idea of what this offense looks like and where we’re at and how we need to go about our business and execute our plays,” Trubisky said.

Making big plays was Miller’s specialty at the University of Memphis, where he recorded 238 receptions for 3,590 yards and 37 touchdowns. Miller, who is slated to play in the slot, is part of the Bears’ revamped group of skill position players, which also includes Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton.

The Bears also return a strong running game led by Jordan Howard and all-purpose back/wide receiver Tarik Cohen.

“I think about making big plays [against the Packers], and not just myself but my teammates,” Miller said. “I know we’re all going to eat in this offense and I just can’t wait to see everybody’s faces when we’re doing the things we talked about.”

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Nick Foles, first-team Eagles offense finish preseason in a funk – Philadelphia Eagles Blog

Nick Foles has learned not to be too hard on himself when his play ebbs, noting that “if you’re too hard on yourself all the time, you’re going to crumble.”

He’s gained plenty of perspective over his roller-coaster of a six-year career, and has his Super Bowl MVP performance right in his rearview mirror if he ever needs another dose of it.

But this preseason has not gone as hoped.

Foles followed up a rocky debut against the New England Patriots with an even rockier outing against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night. He threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and was touched down for a safety after tripping in the end zone in a 5-0 loss. He finishes exhibition play 16-of-26 for 171 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions and two fumbles lost while being sacked six times.

“I’m just making mistakes,” Foles said. “I have to go look at the film. For me, it is just getting back in rhythm, playing ball. We had an opportunity to win [Thursday], that’s on me. I made too many mistakes at critical times that hurts us as a team. I clean that up we win this game.”

Foles has made some uncharacteristic miscues, including in the red zone late in the second quarter when his throw in the direction of tight end Zach Ertz was easily picked by an awaiting Jamie Collins.

Coach Doug Pederson chalked some of that up to Foles potentially putting a little too much pressure on himself to make a play to get a struggling offense going. He also pointed out that they are still keeping it vanilla schematically and aren’t utilizing the run-pass option plays that Foles thrives at. Pederson made it clear that his frustration is not with Foles alone.

“First of all, I’m disappointed in the offense, not one player,” he said. “So don’t put this all on Nick. I’m disappointed in the offense. It’s not what you want, obviously, in the third preseason week.

“When you don’t score and you play the way you played on offense, being an offensive guy, I’m not very jovial in [the locker room]. I’m not patting guys on the back.”

While Foles is rightly drawing the most attention, the offense as a whole has been lackluster all preseason. In three games, the first unit failed to score a single point. That group will not see action again until the regular-season opener on Sept. 6.

Granted, the personnel could look much different by then. Plenty of veterans have been held out because of injury or for rest, including running backs Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles and Corey Clement, receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor and left tackle Jason Peters. (Peters’ replacement, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, has really struggled.) The bulk of that group is likely to return for the opener and will provide a shot in the arm. If there’s a concern, it’s that it could take some time for this unit to establish a rhythm given how much time key players have missed this summer.

Then there’s Carson Wentz. He looked very good in a pre-game warm-up Thursday night and continues to aim for a Week 1 return. He has still not been cleared for contact by the medical staff, however, and the sand is nearly through the hourglass. This time next week, the team will kick preparations for the Falcons into overdrive and will want to know definitively which QB will be under center.

Foles is widely considered the best backup in the league, and could be called on early to get the Eagles’ title defense off on the right foot. He’ll need to snap out of this funk to do so.

“Obviously, I haven’t been myself. And I expect a lot of myself,” he said. “I’ve got to keep looking at it, keep learning. I’ve played this game a long time, so I know how to address this and keep moving forward, keeping that positive outlook.”

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