Corey Clement’s opportunity, Michael Bennett’s penalty, and playing on Thursday | Early Birds
Will Corey Clement become the top running back? Plus, the coaching point from Michael Bennett's penalty
Good morning. The Eagles head to North Jersey today for tomorrow's game against the New York Giants. Before the Eagles go, Doug Pederson has an 8:45 a.m. news conference. It will be Pederson's first time meeting with reporters since Jay Ajayi was lost for the season.
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— Zach Berman
Corey Clement’s opportunity
Corey Clement will play on Thursday, and he'll have a chance to show the front office that they don't need to acquire a running back. Running backs coach Duce Staley told his running backs about the opportunity available after Jay Ajayi's injury. The Eagles like to use a committee approach – that's what Carson Wentz said they will do – but the Eagles haven't always made it an even distribution.
When Ajayi missed the Week 3 win over the Colts, Clement played 55 percent of the offensive snaps and had 16 carries. That's the most carries by an Eagles running back this season. So there will be a leader in the committee, and Clement can earn that spot.
"It's definitely unfortunate to have Jay out, but at the same time, I have to be able to step up," Clement told reporters. "Whether it's me taking a bigger role, Wendell taking a bigger role, Josh Adams taking a bigger role, somebody has to take the lead. I think that's what the front office is looking for: Who's going to be the guy in this group to bring this pack on?"
I know fans are curious about a trade. Howie Roseman always looks around, and the Eagles reportedly have more cap space. But the Eagles won't have a new running back this week, so they'll go with Clement, Wendell Smallwood, and Josh Adams. (Darren Sproles continues to miss practice with a hamstring injury.) The Eagles had their best rushing performance of the season with those three against the Colts. Clement took advantage of his opportunities in the past – first to make the roster, then to carve out a role – and he'll try to do the same this season.
Michael Bennett’s penalty
By this point, most opinions have been shared about Michael Bennett's roughing-the-passer penalty in Sunday's loss. But what the Eagles need to determine is how to avoid those penalties going forward. They weren't hurt by the new point of emphasis until Week 5, but they want to be around the quarterback often, and the Eagles cannot afford those game-changing penalties. So what's the coaching point to Bennett and the pass rushers?
"We coach guys to try to stay in the strike zone, but sometimes they're going to be pushed off their feet; sometimes they're not," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Our coaching point when they are off their feet is try to swipe the leg and not have forcible contact. I think that's a judgment call whether that was forceful or not. I know we can bring a lot more force than that and Michael was trying to do the right thing. Obviously that was a big play in the game. Sometimes you're going to get a foul when you're not trying to. Sometimes there is going to be a guy that's going to hit the quarterback in the head because he ducks the head. There is strict liability on defense. It's a tough situation, but we've got to deal with it."
Schwartz has discussed the "strike zone" before, and that seems to be what the Eagles emphasize – below the head and above the knees. When it was suggested to Schwartz that Bennett followed the rules, Schwartz said "it's not up to us to officiate." Schwartz noted that the Eagles have avoided those situations this season, but they're seen around the league and "this one bit us."
"He's trying his best to get the quarterback on the ground," Schwartz said. "He's not trying to get a foul right there."
Preparing for Thursday night
The Eagles have played three Thursday night games with this coaching staff. They've won all three of them. They beat the Giants in 2016 in Philadelphia on a short week, they beat Carolina last October on a short week, and they beat Atlanta in Philly in Week 1. That Falcons game is not comparable to this one because the Eagles had more time to prepare for the season opener, but the way they played in the other two games could be a good sign for this week.
"When it's a short week Monday never feels right," Schwartz said. "Today you never feel like you're right, but by the time we get to tomorrow night, we get to the hotel, we have our Saturday night meetings, it feels like a Saturday to the players.Then they gas it up on Thursday night. You can go on fumes for a game. It's hard to go play on short rest for multiple weeks in a row, but we don't have to. We got to do it this one time. We did to last year on the road at Carolina. Some similar situations. We had some injury situations and were able to get that energy going. Our players know what time it is and how important this game is."
What you need to know about the Eagles
Who's replacing Jay Ajayi? The Eagles will turn to a committee — at least for now. David Murphy doesn't think the Eagles need to pay a premium price to fix running back.
Jalen Mills spoke to reporters for the first time since the Eagles played in Tennessee. Find out what he said in Les Bowen's story. Bob Ford doesn't think Mills is the defense's biggest problem.
The Eagles have more salary cap space after Fletcher Cox restructured his contract, Bowen writes.
What was on the minds of Eagles fans on Tuesday? Find out in the weekly chat.
From the mailbag
Darren Sproles has been a marvelous player, but how long can the Eagles afford to keep him in a roster spot if he can't get healthy? — Donna Z., via email
Good question, Donna. Assuming Sproles misses Thursday's game, it will be a five-game injury. And it's always concerning when a 35-year-old running back coming off a torn ACL has a hamstring injury. At this point, the Eagles can be patient. If they were to add another running back, then they might have a decision to make. But Sproles is an important player for this team. He's their punt returner, a reliable pass blocker, and a versatile offensive player. The offense will be better with him than without him. But he needs to be healthy to play, and he's played only four games since the start of the 2017 season. So my guess is the Eagles will be patient — they don't want his career to end on injured reserve — but Sproles must show improvement soon.