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The deep ball finally opens the Eagles offense, shows its versatility | Early Birds

The strategy adds to the offense; three questions with Corey Clement; giving Doug Pederson his credit.

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz rears back to fire a bomb to wide receiver Nelson Agholor for a 72-yard touchdown in the third quarter Sunday.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz rears back to fire a bomb to wide receiver Nelson Agholor for a 72-yard touchdown in the third quarter Sunday.Read moreCLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

Good morning, Eagles fans. It's Oct. 9, and the Eagles have two more wins than any other team in the NFC East after a 34-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Who saw that type of blowout coming? This is Early Birds, the twice-weekly newsletter breaking down the Eagles. It's free to sign up here to receive in your inbox every Monday and Friday. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

Note: Because of the Thursday night game, there will be a special edition of Early Birds on Thursday morning.

— Zach Berman

The deep ball finally opens the Eagles offense, shows its versatility

One week, the Eagles rely on their running game. The next week, they use a deep passing game for the big plays. The versatility of the Eagles offense has been apparent through five weeks this season.

This offense is starting to look like what the team's decision-makers envisioned when they put the roster together. The success of the deep ball in Sunday's 34-7 win showed a dimension that wasn't a big-enough part of the offense during the first month of the season. It changes the entire offense when the Eagles can connect on those plays.  They can play different styles, adjusting to the matchup. That's what coach Doug Pederson wants.

"It's huge," Pederson said of the deep balls.

The hints of a performance like Carson Wentz's four-touchdown effort Sunday could be found in March, when the Eagles emphasized adding explosiveness at wide receiver. They could be found during the summer, when it was clear that the deep ball would be a priority this season. The hints even could be found during the first month of the season, when Wentz's inconsistent deep balls and Torrey Smith's suspect hands were story lines.

Wentz's 59-yard TD to Smith was a long time coming. Smith signed to be the Eagles' deep threat, and the two haven't been able to connect this season. In the opener, Wentz misfired. In recent games, Smith's drops were a problem. But Smith would get open, and Wentz would look for him. It seemed like a matter of time before they would connect. That's why Smith's touchdown was such an important development. Wentz wants to go deep.

There's a Jordan Matthews quote from September 2016 that I always think about when I see Wentz drop back and look to throw deep. The former Eagles wide receiver explained when he was sold on Wentz:

Wentz is wired to be aggressive. Nelson Agholor, who caught a 72-yard TD, said Wentz was "going to chuck it, and you have to get under it." And it helps when he has the players to do so. That's a big reason Smith is here. Agholor moved to the slot, where he can be more dynamic. Alshon Jeffery is a downfield threat, and you'll see that connection soon. The Eagles didn't have that element in their offense last season. Wentz averaged 6.2 yards per attempt in 2016. He's up a full yard to 7.2 yards per attempt this season. That will keep growing.

Don't expect this every week, just like it wouldn't be reasonable to expect a 200-yard rushing performance every week. But the Eagles are showing diversity on offense. They move the sticks with the intermediate passing game. They can run when needed. And with the deep ball clicking,  it's another sign of how far this offense has come since last season.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. My game story looked at the Eagles' dominating win, and the first quarter in particular. Is it time to climb aboard the bandwagon? That's the subject of Marcus Hayes' column.

  2. After Carson Wentz's performance, others are noticing, as Jeff McLane writes. (Others include Donovan McNabb.) Paul Domowitch can't get enough of Wentz's third-down numbers, and for good reason: Wentz was 11 of 12 on third-down passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns.

  3. Torrey Smith finally found the end zone, as described in Les Bowen's story. Nelson Agholor might be the best story on the Eagles, Mike Sielski writes, speaking to a mentor of Agholor's.

  4. Lane Johnson left the game with a concussion, and his status for Thursday's game is in question. (Also in the notebook, read about the running game without Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner's big return.)  Smallwood and Jaylen Watkins were both inactive.

  5. As much attention as the offense will receive after that game, how about the way the defense played? Bob Ford tells you in his column.

  6. It's exciting to think about what's ahead, Sielski writes. Hayes offered his quick postgame observations.

  7. Who's up and who's down? McLane examines. Domo gives you his grades and five numbers that mattered.

  8. Zach Ertz added a touchdown to continue a scorching start to the season. How has Ertz grown since arriving in the NFL in 2013? That was the subject of the Sunday Inquirer story.

  9. McLane tells you why this year's start to the season is different than last year's start.

3 Questions With | Running back Corey Clement

Zach Berman: You had a bigger role with Wendell Smallwood out. How do you think you played?

Corey Clement: I think I played pretty well. I always want to do better. I want more opportunities. I want to keep contributing. But we have great guys in the backfield. Everybody contributed. The more touches that go around, this is definitely an unselfish team. When you think about it, everybody's playing for one another. We're excited when Ertz gets into the end zone. Basically, our whole wide-receiver corps gets into the end zone. We thrive with that. We want to see everybody, what they put in in training camp, show forth in the regular season."

Zach Berman: What about with the additional third-down duties such as blocking?

Corey Clement: I tried to emphasize my blocking more than getting out to my pass routes. I wanted to show that Carson can be protected once I'm in there. … And just have fun. If I don't put too much thought into it, I think I can execute it just fine.

Zach Berman: You're five games into your NFL career. How would you describe it?

Corey Clement: It's fun. I'm pretty excited as to how we're rolling right now. Just got to keep it moving. Can't let it get to our head. Just keep pressing on. Now we have the Carolina Panthers. It should be a fun time.

Elsewhere in the NFL

  1. The Giants' season went from bad to worse with another loss — and also the loss of Odell Beckham Jr. [New York Times]

  2. The Cowboys lost in the final minute to the Packers … again. Here are some observations from the loss. [Dallas Morning News]

  3. The view from Arizona: The Cardinals must adjust their offense after the loss to the Eagles. [Arizona Republic]

  4. Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions for the Steelers, and wondered whether he still had it. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

  5. The 4-1 Panthers host the Eagles this week after a win over Detroit. [Charlotte Observer]

  6. J.J. Watt suffered a significant injury in Houston. [Houston Chronicle]

From the mailbag

I'm still going Alshon Jeffery, who has two touchdowns. Nelson Agholor has three touchdowns. But Jeffery is the better red-zone threat and will be targeted more than Agholor. One thing you can't overlook when looking at the offense's production today was that Jeffery commanded the attention of Patrick Peterson. That gave better match-ups to the other receivers. I expected Jeffery to have more production through five games than he does (20 catches, 246 yards), but I still think there are big games ahead of him.

The obvious answer is that more talent will help. However, I think Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas have played fairly well. They're sure tacklers who are working within the framework of the defense. There were too many big plays against the Giants and Chargers, but the secondary held up against the Cardinals. Darby will give them more speed at the position, which they need. I didn't get to see much of him before the injury, but his track record in Buffalo and the way he looked briefly for the Eagles is reason to believe he'll be a noticeable upgrade. Douglas would rotate in as the fourth cornerback. I don't see Patrick Robinson being moved from the slot. He's playing at a high level. As for Sidney Jones, it's hard to say how he'll affect the defense — if at all. The Eagles will have a decision to make soon, but they need to see him play football post-injury to get a sense of what he can do this season. I think Jones is starting by next season, though.

Doug Pederson absolutely deserves credit. He has called good games in recent weeks, there haven't been game management gaffes, and his management of the locker room has been outstanding. I'm in the locker room just about every day; it's a tight-knit, motivated group that plays for Pederson. A big part of the head coaching job is the human element, and Pederson is doing a very good job in that area. It's still early in the season, so you don't want to go overboard, but he would be getting the blame if the Eagles were 1-4 right now. So at 4-1, he's earned credit.