Good morning, Eagles fans. It’s been only 10 days since the Birds last played, but it feels much longer. Nevertheless, football is right around the corner with the 8-1, Bill Belichick-led Patriots coming to town Sunday. The Eagles entered the bye week with a two-game winning streak, but the Bills and Bears pale in comparison to New England.
Belichick will be looking to enact some revenge after the loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII, although the Hall of Fame coach downplayed the significance of a rematch during a conference call with Philadelphia reporters Tuesday. There are still a large number of players who participated in that game on their respective teams, but the relevancy of the next meeting should drift away at kickoff.
Both squads are coming off a bye. Belichick’s record with the Patriots after the week off is excellent. He’s 14-5, and his teams have won by an average margin of 17.4 points. Doug Pederson hasn’t coached as many seasons, but his teams with the Eagles are 1-2 after the bye.
— Jeff McLane (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The last time Carson Walch met with reporters, the Eagles were coming off an exhilarating win at the Packers. DeSean Jackson had been sidelined for two games, but few knew the full extent of his abdomen injury that now has him on injured reserve. Eagles wide receivers caught only a combined four passes in Green Bay, but the offense had put up 34 points mostly behind a run-heavy attack.
When the first-year receivers coach next met with reporters, on Monday, the narrative on his position had changed dramatically. The lack of production from the group, overall, had been identified by many as the primary reason the passing offense has struggled.
The loss of Jackson, most noted, would hurt, but few saw Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor regressing as much as they have this season. And to compound the ineffectiveness, reserves Mack Hollins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside have offered little.
But how much of the blame can be pinned on Walch? Coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Mike Groh certainly shoulder some responsibility. It’s not as if quarterback Carson Wentz has been at his best all season. And GM Howie Roseman has ultimate say in the formation of the roster.
But when your starters are playing well below their career medians, and your young guys aren’t developing at a quick enough pace, you’re going to be under the gun.
Walch delivered some suspect answers when pressed about his group. Told that Eagles receivers were last in the NFL in receiving yards per target and second to last in yards per catch entering last weekend’s games, he said that he wasn’t aware of those numbers.
“I don’t look at individual statistics,” Walch said. “All we talk about is winning football games. So that’s A1 for us. How do we find ways to win football games? We’ve done that the last two weeks against two very good defenses. But at no point will I say in front of anyone that our group is satisfied with where we’re at.”
Walch conceded that his group had fallen short of meeting team standards for “certain games,” but his assessments of each receiver in almost every description had nothing to do with the most important aspect of playing the position: catching the football.
On Jeffery: “He’s prepared every week. He battles through the weekly injuries like any football player does.”
On Agholor: “He works harder than everybody in the room. He’s a great young man. He’s prepared every week.”
On Arcega-Whiteside, Walch focused on his inexperience and of having to learn multiple positions.
Walch’s comments on Hollins were the most incendiary. He could have noted that the third-year receiver was far down the list of receiving options, as Pederson has, or that he was coming off two sports hernia surgeries. But Walch instead said that Hollins, who has zero catches over the last five games despite running 89 routes, was “one of our top graders every week because he aligns right, he assigns right, and he plays with great effort.”
With Jordan Matthews taking Jackson’s roster spot and Arcega-Whiteside cross-trained now at multiple positions, Hollins could return to playing mostly on special teams. Actions would then speak louder than Walch’s words.
What’s the future hold for Sidney Jones? — Mark A. Mansfield (@MarkAManfield) via Twitter
Thanks for the question, Mark. The future doesn’t look bright, at least in Philadelphia, for the Eagles’ 2017 second-round draft pick. I’d hate to give up on someone with Jones’ talent, especially when he’s still only 23, but being a healthy scratch against the Bears said plenty about how the team feels about him.
“It’s just the way it’s gone," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Monday when asked why Jones doesn’t have a role on his defense.
Jones’ inability to contribute on special teams certainly played a role in his not dressing, but it’s inexcusable that a defensive back can’t find a role outside of playing on defense. It’s hard to fault Schwartz, though. Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby at outside cornerback, and Avonte Maddox in the slot are just better options than Jones at this point.
I don’t know whether it’s confidence or the injuries that have plagued him over the last three years, but Jones has been a disappointment. I’m hesitant to use the term bust, because he does have natural ability and does have time to turn his career around. But he may need a new environment to fully blossom.
“Everybody in this league is a work in progress,” Schwartz said. “He’ll continue to work hard, and we’ll continue to work hard with him and have him ready for when his number is called.”