Goooooood morning, Eagles Nation. We are just 13 days away from the season opener against the Washington Football Team. The Eagles held their second controlled live scrimmage of training camp Sunday, this one at Lincoln Financial Field. A good time was had by all, except for rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor, who suffered a small shoulder tear in the scrimmage and will miss the Washington game.
Carson Wentz sat out the scrimmage with what the team called a minor soft-tissue issue. He is listed as day-to-day. The team’s two backup quarterbacks, Nate Sudfeld and rookie Jalen Hurts, divvied up the scrimmage reps. Both of them looked very good.
Sunday was the last day of full media access at practice. All NFL teams must get down to 53 players by Saturday at 4 p.m. This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential for outbreaks, the NFL has expanded the size of practice squads to 16 players.
Four of those 16 can be protected on a weekly basis, which essentially means teams will have 57-man rosters rather than 53. One other practice-squad change: You can have up to six veterans with an unlimited number of accrued seasons. In the past, players with more than three accrued seasons were ineligible for the practice squad.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie spoke to the media for nearly an hour Sunday afternoon. You can find out what he had to say in EJ Smith’s excellent story.
— Paul Domowitch (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Eagles made the playoffs by the hair on their chinny-chin-chin last season. They were 5-7 and on life support a week into December, but finished with four straight wins, all against NFC East opponents, and won the division title.
But that’s a tough way to make a living. They need to do some things much better this season if they hope to make a Super Bowl run. Here are nine numbers that need to change for that to happen:
The number of touchdown catches by Eagles wide receivers last season. That’s seven fewer than they caught in 2017 when the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Injuries wreaked havoc on the position last year. Their top three wideouts missed a combined 24 games. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and rookie running back Miles Sanders were Wentz’s go-to guys. Slot receiver Greg Ward became a key contributor down the stretch after he was signed off the practice squad, but the Eagles need more production from the position in 2020.
The Eagles’ total number of takeaways last season. They finished 21st in total takeaways and 23rd in interceptions with 11. That’s a far cry from the 31 takeaways and 19 interceptions they had during their Super Bowl season. Jim Schwartz has downplayed the takeaway total, but he knows it has to be better, knows his unit needs to help give the offense better field position. The addition of cornerback Darius Slay, who had a league-best eight interceptions in 2017, could help, along with an improved pass rush.
The number of pass plays of 30 or more yards by the Eagles last year, the fifth fewest in the NFL. Their lack of explosive plays resulted in a lot of long drives. Nearly a third of the Eagles’ touchdown drives were 10 plays or more. That’s not conducive to success in the NFL. The more plays you need to score, the better the odds are that you’re going to make a mistake or get stopped and have to settle for a field goal. Their inability to produce big pass plays was exacerbated by poor field position. They finished 17th in average drive start (28.2).
The Eagles’ average gain on first down, 15th in the league. They finished 21st in first-down rush average (3.9 yards). Wentz’s first-down passer rating was 89.3, his lowest since his rookie year. Five of his seven interceptions came on first down. The Eagles’ ineffectiveness on first down contributed to their league-high 229 third-down attempts. They had the league’s fourth-best third-down success rate (45.4), but they need to reduce the number of third-down situations. And that starts with better production on first down.
Wentz’s fumble total last year. His 16 were the second most in the NFL. Only Giants quarterback Daniel Jones had more — 18. Wentz lost only seven of those 16 fumbles, but that total tied him with Gardner Minshew and Kyle Allen for the second most in the league behind Jones’ 11. Wentz needs to improve his pocket awareness, needs to be able to “feel” rushers and use his mobility to extend plays or just throw the ball away. But giving up on a play isn’t his strong suit.
The Eagles’ punt-return average last season, the eighth poorest in the league and the lowest in Dave Fipp’s seven seasons as the team’s special-teams coordinator. The main reason, of course, was Darren Sproles. Sproles, one of the top punt returners in NFL history, played in just six games and had only 11 returns. Ward took over the punt-return duties late in the season after being signed off the practice squad, but his primary focus was on catching the ball and not taking chances. He had 12 fair catches on 19 punts and averaged just 3.4 yards per return. Either Ward, who is better than his 2019 return average, or Reagor will be the Eagles’ primary punt returner this season, with DeSean Jackson probably available only in game-on-the-line emergencies. Reagor averaged 20.8 yards per return last year at TCU, with two touchdowns.
Fletcher Cox’s sack total in 2019, the second lowest of his career. That figure tied the 2018 first-team All-Pro for 23rd among interior defensive linemen. His 10 quarterback hits were 14 fewer than he had in 2018. His 56 total pressures were 39 fewer than the year before. There were reasons. He was coming off a toe injury, and the guy the Eagles got to line up next to him, Malik Jackson, played just 32 snaps before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Tim Jernigan missed six games and played only 280 snaps. Hassan Ridgeway played in just seven games before he was put on injured reserve. That left the journeyman likes of Akeem Spence, Anthony Rush, Bruce Hector and Albert Huggins, which basically allowed opposing interior offensive lines to focus on Cox. With Jackson and Ridgeway back and the addition of Javon Hargrave, the Eagles hope Cox will return to being a dominant force inside this season.
The number of points the Eagles scored in the first half last season, 18th most in the league. They were outscored in the first half, 201-172. Their minus-29 first-half scoring differential was the lowest of any team that qualified for the playoffs last season. In 2017, when they won the Super Bowl, the Eagles finished third in first-quarter scoring (106) and third in first-half scoring (224).
The Eagles defense’s red-zone touchdown percentage (24-for-43). They finished tied for 14th. They held opponents to a 44.6 red-zone TD percentage in ’18. Their opponent rush average inside the red zone increased by nearly a half a yard from ’18 to ’19. The defense had just two sacks and two interceptions in the red zone.
Interested in what you think of the Jalen Hurts pick. Specifically why the pick was made and what you think he will be for us come 2022 — Jay Brown (@jdaineWB) on Twitter
Jay, I’ve made it clear since the moment they pulled the trigger on the pick that I felt it was a good move. As the Eagles proved in 2017, having a backup quarterback who can do more than hand the ball off is important.