Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Bowen: It's talent assessment time for Eagles

THE EAGLES' defense played only 48 snaps Sunday. Connor Barwin was on the field for just 25 of them, 52 percent, the veteran defensive end's lowest total of the season, well below his 73 percent average.

THE EAGLES' defense played only 48 snaps Sunday. Connor Barwin was on the field for just 25 of them, 52 percent, the veteran defensive end's lowest total of the season, well below his 73 percent average.

Barwin, 30, a franchise bellwether these past four seasons, said he wasn't surprised. Asked what he thought the falloff was based on, Barwin said: "I think that's based on, we're out of the playoffs, there's some young guys in our room, and they want to see 'em play."

That is indeed where we are with three games left in a season that can't turn out better than 8-8. (No, the Eagles aren't technically eliminated from playoff contention, but reader, please.) The team activated six defensive ends Sunday (technically, Bryan Braman counts, though he plays only special teams). Steven Means got a season-high 11 snaps. He was up in place of running back-returner Kenjon Barner, Doug Pederson confirmed Monday, so of course, running back/returners Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles went down during the game.

As Pederson detailed the carnage Monday from Sunday's fourth successive loss, it became clear that we're going to see a whole lot more of guys like Means, corner C.J. Smith, some practice-squad types, such as running back Byron Marshall, probably, and some new names. The Eagles signed corner Dwayne Gratz, formerly of the Rams. You don't bring in guys unfamiliar with your system at this time of year to play for a few weeks, you bring them in for next spring and summer, which, maybe not so suddenly, is what we're really looking at now.

The end of the season is close enough that three of the injuries suffered Sunday entailed season-ending injured reserve, for long snapper Jon Dorenbos, rookie running back Smallwood and tackle Matt Tobin. The Eagles signed John Lovato to replace Dorenbos; Lovato has filled in for injured snappers previously with Green Bay and Washington.

Dorenbos underwent wrist surgery Sunday night. He officially will not get to set the franchise record for successive starts, after tying Harold Carmichael at 162 on Sunday.

With the focus turning to the future, Smallwood would be in line for a lot more carries the rest of the way, except that recovery from a Grade 2 MCL sprain will take longer than three weeks, so those carries might go to Marshall, or to Barner. With Ryan Mathews' future here in doubt, it sure would have been nice to go into the offseason knowing a little more about Smallwood, who closes the books on his rookie year with 312 yards on 77 carries, 4.1 yards per carry, and a kickoff return touchdown.

Tobin's Grade 2 MCL sprain, suffered on the Eagles' next-to-last play, ended his season, and could make rookie tackle Dillon Gordon active for the first time this week at Baltimore. Though Pederson said he expects Allen Barbre (hamstring) to be able to play this week, the Eagles are going to entertain the notion of adding a body or two there.

"There's going to be, probably, opportunity to work out some guys and bring some guys in and try to fill those spots, obviously just like we would with (Dorenbos)," Pederson said. "The next couple days will be big days for us."

Jaylen Watkins' ruptured finger tendon might be the reason for the Gratz signing. If there's anybody on a contender's practice squad that you think could help your team in 2017, now is the time to IR someone and get that guy on your roster.

We all know what the offseason will be about - finding help for Carson Wentz, at wide receiver, running back and offensive line. Acquiring a shutdown corner somehow, if that's possible. Drafting a starting-quality corner, for sure. Signing Bennie Logan? Maybe, he's a good, loyal player, but that money might be better spent elsewhere.

Will Barwin be here, with an $8.35 million cap hit next season? Will he be asked to take a pay cut? What do you do about Vinny Curry, who has offered little production and has a $15 million dead cap number in 2017?

Redrawing the line

The offensive line absolutely has to be more stable next season. Good teams suffer injuries, yes, but they tend to know who most of the starters are going to be from week to week. You don't get to your fourth right tackle, as was the case with Matt Tobin, who tried to block the Redskins' Ryan Kerrigan on the Eagles' final snap, despite his injury, Tobin figuring he was the last tackle standing and couldn't come out. Kerrigan strip-sacked Wentz and the Eagles lost.

Doug Pederson said that if coaches had seen that Tobin was hurt, they could have given him help with Kerrigan on the fatal play, or taken him out, brought in Josh Andrews at guard and moved Isaac Seumalo to tackle.

"As coaches, we've got to be a little more in tune to that," Pederson said.

On the better teams, nobody just shows up too sick to play on game day, for the second time in three weeks, the way right guard Brandon Brooks did Sunday.

This has happened to Brooks four times in the past three seasons, twice during his Houston tenure. When Brooks became violently ill the day of the Nov. 28 Green Bay game, he checked himself into the emergency room. This time he was actually at the stadium Sunday morning but didn't get to warm up.

Pederson was asked many questions about Brooks on Monday. He had no answers, though he said he spoke with Brooks Monday morning, and that Brooks remains a starter, who should be well enough to practice Wednesday.

Asked if he knew why this has happened twice, Pederson said: "That's something we're going to continue to explore today with him and just see. It's obviously unfortunate, but we need to get to the bottom of it and just find out why . . . There is a little bit of history there, but it's something our medical team will do more to investigate this thing as we go."

Rookie Seumalo again was an emergency starter, finding out he was playing hours before kickoff. Pederson said when he spoke to Brooks Monday, Brooks "definitely wants to explore the reasons why. If we can help him, I want to help him and make sure it doesn't happen again."

This seems like a good idea, given that the Eagles signed Brooks to a five-year, $40 million contract last offseason, and they have more than enough other issues on their o-line.

Developing story lines

* This was the most elusive Carson Wentz has been; he fought his way out of at least three sacks and ran away from a couple more.

* Jordan Matthews gave everything he had Sunday, but as analyst John Lynch noted early in the broadcast, his sprained ankle wasn't close to 100 percent. Matthews said afterward not being able to separate the way he usually does led to the pushoff that netted him an offensive pass interference penalty. "I just didn't feel like myself. It's hard to really bend, burst, break tackles," Matthews said. He still caught eight passes for 79 yards, on 10 targets.

* Twenty-six runs and 46 passes Sunday, 50 pass attempts including sacks, still not a great mix, but the playcallers get a pass because they were down to one healthy running back in the fourth quarter, the offensive line was a scrambled mess, and Brent Celek, the best blocking tight end, was out of the game. The Eagles ran it only three times after Darren Sproles went down, with 11 minutes and 27 seconds remaining. But they got just two more possessions, and they had to throw every down on the final one, needing to go 75 yards for a touchdown in 1:53, with one timeout.

* This was the Eagles' first loss in which they led going into the second quarter.

* Doug Pederson said wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (oblique) should practice Wednesday. He said tight end Brent Celek (stinger) won't, but he should play in Baltimore.

Isn't that special

TV analyst John Lynch mentioned during the broadcast that Washington coach Jay Gruden told him during the week, "We've gotta stop their special teams."

Well, let's see. Eagles primary kick returner Wendell Smallwood left the game with an MCL sprain. Punt returner Darren Sproles left with a concussion, after being blown up while waiting for a punt to come down, a flagrantly illegal hit. Long snapper Jon Dorenbos was plowed, more or less from behind, away from the play on a punt and broke his right wrist, ending his season and his streak of 162 successive starts. His backup, Brent Celek, left the game with a stinger following a penalized helmet-to-helmet hit on a punt, courtesy of Deshazor Everett, the same guy who took out Sproles.

Somehow you missed kicker Caleb Sturgis and punter/holder Donnie Jones, Jay, but otherwise, I'd say, "Mission accomplished!"

Doug Pederson said Monday that he thought Houston Bates' hit on Dorenbos was "legal," because Bates got Dorenbos' shoulder, which from watching the broadcast replay seems a very generous view. The hit was mostly from behind and occurred away from the play, as the Redskins returner was going out of bounds.

(Maybe Pederson was being mindful of the wallop Terrence Brooks delivered to Redskins punter Tress Way on that Sproles punt-return TD that was called back.)

Victory safely in the bag, after the Eagles flubbed a field-goal snap and set the Redskins up for a shortish touchdown drive, and after Carson Wentz couldn't quite manage to beat them without Sproles or Celek, Everett expressed remorse Sunday to Washington Post blogger Dan Steinberg.

"If I could have taken that split-second back, I definitely would," Everett said. "It's too late. You can't take it back. You can't rewind. It's not a video game. You make choices out there on the field, and you've just got to live with it. Unfortunately, it was a bad hit."

Everett also said he had "the utmost respect" for Sproles, 33, who Monday was named a finalist for the NFL's Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award. "I wasn't trying to take anyone out of the game, no malicious intent," he said. "When we game plan for him . . . coaches say,'We've got to get this guy stopped, he's super-quick.' "

Everett said he would probably reach out to Sproles to tell him personally that he didn't mean to hurt him. Sproles is in the NFL concussion protocol.

The D.C. view was that since Sproles didn't signal for a fair catch, had Everett hit Sproles a split-second later, it would have been legal. That's sort of true, but you really can't hit the returner as the ball arrives, either, you have to give him a little time and space to catch it. Everett, the Redskins' right-side gunner, didn't come close to doing that, after fighting through C.J. Smith's less than awesome blocking attempt. As Everett noted, the ball hit him in the back, as he bulldozed Sproles.

Smith, by the way, did his teammate no favors Sunday. He banged into Sproles' kneecap early in the game, as Sproles tried to fair-catch a punt.

Who knew?

That Nolan Carroll would become Bradley Fletcher, if you left him out there long enough?

Obscure stat

It isn't really a stat, more of a coincidence. Derek Carrier, the guy Zach Ertz couldn't avoid bumping into from behind, negating Darren Sproles' 72-yard punt return for a touchdown, shared the Eagles' tight-end room with Ertz all spring, summer and preseason in 2013, Ertz's rookie year. Carrier, who spent 2012 on the Birds' practice squad, caught on with the 49ers after the Eagles cut him in August 2013 and was traded to the Redskins last year.

Here is an actual stat, courtesy of's Reuben Frank: Carson Wentz has thrown 313 passes in the last seven games. No rookie QB has ever thrown as many in a seven-game stretch in NFL history. How he looked that up, I have no idea. But I'm glad I didn't have to.