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For the 0-2-1 Eagles, first place in the NFC East is just a win away | Early Birds

Also, after missing most of training camp and the season opener with injuries, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave is healthy again and ready to earn his money.

Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (right) could be ready for a breakout game against the 49ers.
Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (right) could be ready for a breakout game against the 49ers.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Goooooood morning, EaglesNation. The bad news is that the Eagles are winless after three games (0-2-1) for the first time since 1999. The good news is if they can find a way to beat the 2-1 San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, and Washington loses to Baltimore (a given), and the Cowboys lose to Cleveland, the Eagles will be in first place in the NFC East. Is this a great country or what?

The Eagles began their on-field preparation for the Niners on Wednesday, though they were missing nine players who didn’t practice because of illness or injury. Most of those nine will play Sunday. Cornerback Avonte Maddox (ankle) is one who definitely won’t. He’ll be replaced by Trevor Williams. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (hamstring) also is unlikely to play.

The Niners have a ton of injuries themselves. Their top two defensive linemen, Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas, are out for the season. They’ve got a ton of injuries at cornerback. Running back Raheem Mostert likely will miss his second straight game. And quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could miss his second straight game (ankle sprain). On the plus side, they’ll be getting All-Pro tight end George Kittle back.

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Déjà vu all over again for Eagles' Hargrave

Javon Hargrave is familiar with the 0-2-1 predicament in which the Eagles find themselves.

Two years ago, when the 6-foot-2, 305-pound defensive tackle was playing in Pittsburgh, the Steelers started 1-2-1, then won eight of their next 12 to finish a respectable 9-6-1.

Last year, the Steelers lost their first three games: a 30-point defeat to the Patriots, and 2- and 4-point losses to Seattle and San Francisco. They followed up that horrible start by winning eight of their next 10 games, before fading down the stretch and finishing 8-8.

“Just me being in the league, I done dealt with a lot of adversity,” said Hargrave, who signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Eagles last March after becoming an unrestricted free agent.

"I’ve been in a situation like this before in some of the past years. I’ve even been in a tie before [21-21 against the Browns in the Steelers' 2018 season opener]. It’s the NFL. It’s a lot of ups and downs. It’s a long season.

“We’re really not that far from where we need to be. We just got to keep going and getting on the right path. I think everybody’s really confident that we can turn this around and get things rolling.”

Hargrave said he sees a lot of similarities between the resilient Steelers teams he played on and the Eagles.

“We’ve got a lot of veteran guys here that have been in these kinds of battles before,” he said. "It was the same way in Pittsburgh. We had a lot of veterans that kept going and kept talking to us.

“Losing wasn’t acceptable there, and it’s not acceptable here. It’s in our nature to keep going and keep trying to turn this thing around. The NFL is just a roller-coaster. A roller-coaster. And we’re about to get on the right track.”

If they are able to do that, Hargrave likely will be one of the reasons. With him, Malik Jackson and Fletcher Cox, the Eagles have one of the best defensive-tackle threesomes in the league.

Hargrave was sidelined for virtually all of training camp and the Eagles' season-opening loss to Washington with pec and hamstring injuries. He returned in Week 2 against the Rams but wasn’t much of a factor in the 25 snaps he played.

Sunday’s 23-23 tie with the Bengals was a different story. The Eagles sacked rookie quarterback Joe Burrow eight times. Hargrave, who still is trying to play himself back into football shape, played 32 snaps and had four quarterback pressures. He gift-wrapped a third-quarter sack for blitzing safety Jalen Mills.

The Rams game "wasn’t his best game,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "It was his first action in a [new] scheme. He’s missed so much time in training camp, and [there was] no offseason program.

“But I thought he made a really big jump from last week to this week. He was disruptive. He was gaining ground to the quarterback on some of those heavy play-actions, which is one of the things we expect from him. He was around the football a lot. I thought he took a really big step, and I think he’s going to fit really well for what we do.”

Hargrave is hoping to take another significant step Sunday in the Eagles' prime-time game against the defending NFC-champion Niners. The Eagles have invested a lot of money in their three defensive tackles because of the disruption they can cause running up the middle at the quarterback. The combined 2021 salary-cap number for the three of them will be $51.2 million.

“The first game [against the Rams] was me really kind of just trying to get my confidence,” Hargrave said. “ … The second game was me kind of getting into my comfort zone and knocking some of the rust off.”

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. The Eagles started getting ready for the 49ers on Wednesday. But as EJ Smith reports, an awful lot of players were missing from practice.

  2. EJ takes a look at struggling Carson Wentz’s receiving options heading into Sunday’s game in San Francisco.

  3. In his latest film review, Jeff McLane shows us what Carson is seeing and, more importantly, what he’s not seeing.

  4. Marcus Hayes visits with former Eagles long-snapper Jon Dorenbos and gets his thoughts on several things, including Donald Trump.

From the mailbag

Does the lack of takeaways from the defense directly correlate to the lack of talent at the linebacker position? We had good athletic linebackers (Kendricks, Bradham, Hicks before he got hurt) in 2017, which is the last time we had a defense that produced takeaways. — BeBetter (@CoachDaveHuf on Twitter)

I’m not ready to say that, Dave. The fumble takeaway total hasn’t shifted all that much over the last four years. It’s gone from 10 in 2016 to 12 in 2017 to 7 in 2018 and 9 in 2019. The biggest drop has been in interceptions. They had 19 during the Super Bowl season and have had just 10 and 11 the last two years. But their leading interceptor in ’17 was slot corner Patrick Robinson, who had four. Rodney McLeod and Jalen Mills, who still are here, each had three.

Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks certainly were better linebackers than anybody the Eagles have now. But are the linebackers the reason for the drop in turnovers? I don’t think so. In my mind, the key to seeing the takeaway total go up is the defensive line. If the linemen can get consistent pressure like they did Sunday against the Bengals' Joe Burrow, they’ll get some strip sacks, and they’ll force some hurried throws that the DBs will be able to intercept.

Figuring the Eagles

The Eagles are 24th in average drive start (25.8) through three games. They’re 31st in opponent drive start (34.9). That’s more than a 9-yard difference per possession. Largely because of a minus-seven turnover differential, the Eagles have started at their own 40 or better just three times in 38 possessions. Their opponents have begun 14 of 39 drives at their 40 or better.