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Eagles linebackers coach Ken Flajole comes to the defense of oft-maligned Nate Gerry | Early Birds

With the exception of Carson Wentz, no Eagles player has been a bigger magnet for fan and media criticism this season than Gerry.

Eagles linebacker Nate Gerry (left) has had some rough moments this season, including this one in Week 2 when he gave up a touchdown pass to Rams tight end Tyler Higbee.
Eagles linebacker Nate Gerry (left) has had some rough moments this season, including this one in Week 2 when he gave up a touchdown pass to Rams tight end Tyler Higbee.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Gooooooood morning, EaglesNation. Three weeks after needing two touchdowns in the final 5 minutes to beat the Giants, the NFC East-leading Eagles will travel up the Jersey turnpike Sunday for a rematch with the 2-7 Giants.

The Eagles are expected to be getting running back Miles Sanders back this week. They also might get left guard Isaac Seumalo back. Seumalo has missed the last six games with a knee injury. if Seumalo is good to go, Nate Herbig, who has done a solid job in his absence, likely would slide over to right guard.

The Eagles have not played very well coming out of the bye. They have lost their post-bye-week game each of the last two years and are 1-3 after the bye under Doug Pederson. So even though the Giants are 2-7, don’t put this one in the win column quite yet.

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Nate Gerry is the critics' choice

Except for Carson Wentz, no Eagles player has been a bigger magnet for fan and media criticism this season than linebacker Nate Gerry.

The Eagles' linebacker unit is considered the weakest part of a defense that is giving up 25.6 points per game this season despite having one of the league’s best pass rushes. Gerry has found himself in the middle of many of the ah, crap moments.

Before he suffered a foot injury three weeks ago in the first Giants game, Gerry had given up four touchdown passes, including two to tight end Tyler Higbee in a lopsided Week 2 loss to the Rams, and a 35-yard game-clinching TD to wide receiver Chase Claypool in a Week 5 loss to the Steelers.

He also was at the epicenter of Lamar Jackson’s 37-yard touchdown run in a two-point Week 6 loss to the Ravens as well as several of the misdirection runs that the Eagles have been beaten on this season.

Gerry was placed on injured reserve before the Dallas game. Under this season’s COVID-19-related injured-reserve rules, a player must stay on IR for a minimum of three weeks. So Gerry can be activated after Sunday’s rematch with the Giants.

Gerry hasn’t played particularly well this season. He’s ranked 41st among all linebackers by Pro Football Focus, and 48th vs. the pass. But while Eagles fans might be down on Gerry, his coaches aren’t.

“I know there’s been a lot of people who paint Nate in a different [negative] light,” linebackers coach Ken Flajole said Tuesday. "But I’m going to stand up for the guy because he helps us in a lot of different ways that aren’t necessarily shown on game day.

"His ability to manage the game, I don’t think you guys realize how much mentally we put on our MIKE linebacker in terms of getting us into the right call. You know the score. You know the personnel group. You know the time and the field position.

“But there’s a lot of times you make a call as a coordinator based on those things and an offense comes out and gives you a little bit different look. It falls on the MIKE linebacker. It falls on somebody who’s out on the field on defense to amend the call and get us into the right call. And Nate has been really good about that. He gets us into the right call. He thinks ahead of the problem. He can get us out of a bad down a lot of times by adjusting the front or getting us into a check that makes it a little easier for us to manage that given down.”

Gerry wasn’t able to get them out of a bad down against Pittsburgh in Week 5. Three minutes left. The Steelers up by two, 31-29. A third-and-8 at the Philadelphia 35. The Eagles needed a stop, needed the ball back.

They were in a six-DB sub-package, quarters coverage. But the Steelers came out in an empty set with their fastest wideout, Claypool, lined up directly in front of Gerry.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger saw the glaring coverage mismatch and checked to Claypool. The rookie out of Notre Dame gave Gerry a stutter move to the inside, then bolted upfield past Gerry for what ended up being one of the easiest touchdown passes Roethlisberger ever has thrown.

“You have to understand the situation,” Flajole said. “If we didn’t get off the field there or prevent a field goal, the game was going to be over anyhow.”

That’s actually not true. If they could’ve held the Steelers to a field goal there, it still would’ve been a one-score game, and there still was nearly three minutes left in the game, and the Eagles had two timeouts left.

“They put a wide receiver [Claypool] at No. 3 [the left slot],” Flajole said. "That’s already a double-tough down on the MIKE linebacker. Because it was out of empty [set], he gets no safety help on the down. So the guy ended up running like he was running a shallow cross. And then, when Nate bit, the guy ended up taking it vertical.

"I give credit to Pittsburgh for recognizing the coverage and understanding where the stress of the coverage was. I guess Nate could’ve backed up on the down [and kept Claypool in front of him]. But then he would’ve given up the shallow cross, and it would’ve been a first down, and the game would’ve been over anyhow.

“It was really choose your poison. So I’m not going to fault the kid on that. He knew they were going to run a stutter. He tried to prevent them from running the shallow cross. It was a tough down for him. Kudos to the Steelers. But I’m not going to hang that one on Nate.”

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Press Taylor says Carson Wentz’s No. 1 focus needs to be eliminating turnovers, reports EJ Smith.

  2. Underappreciated Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham seems to be saving the best for (close to) last, writes Mike Sielski.

  3. Ed Barkowitz takes a by-the-numbers look at Brandon Graham’s season and career.

  4. How many more Carson Wentz turnovers would it take to persuade Doug Pederson to turn the offensive controls over to rookie Jalen Hurts? Let’s ask Marcus Hayes.

  5. I wrote the news that the NFL owners will expand the playoffs to 16 teams if COVID-19 forces postponement of games.

From the mailbag

Is there any correlation between the success of players Howie has scouted in person and those he has not? I wonder how much Howie trusts his own instincts vs. how often he is willing to pick players based only on his information from scouts. — Doug Muller (@Doug_Muller on Twitter)

Thanks for the question, Doug. That’s a tough one to answer this year since colleges aren’t granting NFL scouts any on-campus access because of COVID-19. But in recent years, Howie Roseman hasn’t really done a whole lot of in-person scouting in the fall because his duties as general manager have required him to stay close to NovaCare to deal with potential in-season roster moves.

But by the time the Eagles get around to completing the predraft scouting and evaluation process in April, Roseman, like every other GM in the league, has watched endless film on all prospects. He’s also talked to them at the NFL scouting combine and during the predraft visits that teams are allotted.

So I think it’s safe to say he’s never drafted a played based only on information from his scouts. That said, from what I’ve been able to gather, he trusts his scouts and seems to value their opinion. Does he always listen to them? No. But you can say that about every GM. Ultimately, the final decision rests with him. He owns it, whether it’s Sidney Jones or Miles Sanders, whether it’s J.J. Arcega-Whiteside or Jalen Reagor. And he’ll ultimately be judged on their success or failure.