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Eagles playmakers need to make plays, paging Brandon Graham, Nigel Bradham, Lane Johnson and Malcolm Jenkins | Marcus Hayes

The Eagles have invested a lot of money into a handful of players. Now, those players need to hold up their end of the bargain.

Eagles Brandon Graham walks off the field after the Titans game. The Philadelphia Eagles lose 26-23 in overtime to the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, TN on September 30, 2018.
Eagles Brandon Graham walks off the field after the Titans game. The Philadelphia Eagles lose 26-23 in overtime to the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, TN on September 30, 2018.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Jim Schwartz said it well, but by accident.

"There are probably half a dozen plays you can point to as a 'Play of the game.' "

When Schwartz said that Tuesday he was referring to the pivotal roughing-the-passer call in a loss to the Vikings on Sunday. He was right in that instance, but he's right in the bigger picture, too.

The Eagles are 2-3 because more of those "Plays of the Game" are happening for their opponents than for them. Who makes "Plays of the game?"


The Eagles need their playmakers to start making plays if they're going to play in January.

Which playmakers? These playmakers.

Defensive end Brandon Graham, who's looking for a contract. Linebacker Nigel Bradham, who just signed one. Right tackle Lane Johnson, coming off his first — and possibly his last — Pro Bowl. Safety Malcolm Jenkins, who's 30, and, suddenly, looks it. Even fourth-year middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, who runs the defense. He's making a lot of tackles but he's not making big plays. He's looking for a contract, too.

Schwartz was asked about the play of Destiny Vaeao, but Schwartz realized it shouldn't fall to an undrafted backup tackle to save games.

"We're playing a lot of games that come down to one play, and we have been one play short," Schwartz said. "We need somebody, whether it's Destiny, or whoever: Fletch [defensive tackle Fletcher Cox], Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, Malcom Jenkins: We need to find a way to get that one more play."

Cox, the most complete and dominant player on the team, has done more than his share to earn every cent of his $102 million deal. That cannot be said for many of his teammates.

>> READ MORE: Carson Wentz can't play this recklessly if he wants a long career with Eagles | Paul Domowitch

Left tackle Jason Peters isn't playing to his $10.6 million salary-cap hit, but, at this point, he gets a pass. He's 36, and he's playing on a knee that, less than a year removed from surgery, he admits isn't near 100 percent. Besides, he's getting better.

You also can explain away some of Carson Wentz's issues, at least for the moment. He shredded his knee in Game 13 last season, which cost him the preseason and the first two games of the regular season. As a quarterback, and a mobile one, it will take him time to adjust to his offensive teammates; to the speed of the game; and to a reconstructed joint.

The rest? Put up.

Last season, Graham spent more time in the backfield than most of the Eagles' running backs. He posted 9 1/2 sacks and 16 tackles for loss, which got him the closest to a Pro Bowl that he might ever get. He has one sack now, collected Sunday against the Vikings. Graham, 30, had ankle surgery in May to help him fully recover from an ankle sprain suffered against the Raiders on Christmas night. The surgery cost him the entire preseason. He's making $7 million in salary this season, and he's 30. A drop in production will cost him millions when he hits the market this spring. It has already cost the Eagles plenty on the field.

When Graham strip-sacked Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII and helped cement the Eagles' first championship, that was precisely the sort of play the Birds got all over the field in 2017. The Birds made big plays all season, including the first five games, as they coalesced into something great — a sharp, disciplined group of focused, determined players.

There's been no coalescence so far, great or otherwise.

In the first five games of 2017, the Eagles committed six turnovers and forced nine, a plus-3 differential. In the first five games of 2018 the Eagles have committed nine turnovers and forced just five, a minus-4 differential. That's a seven-turnover difference. That's huge.

"I feel like that's the biggest thing," Jenkins said after the Eagles lost to the Vikings. They committed two turnovers and forced one, but that wasn't really even forced; a Viking just dropped a lateral and the Eagles recovered. "Forcing turnover is just making plays. We need to make plays."

Turnovers aren't the only issue, of course.

The Eagles have committed 43 penalties, third-most in the league. They had committed 35 penalties entering Game 6 last season. Peters has committed five penalties. He might be 36 but the turnovers have little to do with age. Only two offensive players have committed more, and they're both at least 10 years younger.

Peters hasn't given up any sacks, according to Pro Football Focus, but he's allowed a pressure or a hurry 18 times. The Eagles have allowed 17 sacks, an increase of four through the first five games.

>> READ MORE: Eagles won't have Haloti Ngata, Darren Sproles, or Brandon Graham against Giants

According to PFF, Johnson had a hand in surrendering five of those sacks, though it's hard to fault him for more than three. Regardless, PFF blamed Johnson for just three sacks in all of 2017. That level of efficiency, facing some of the the league's premiere pass rushers, sent Johnson to his first Pro Bowl. It also seemed to justify the 5-year, $56.2 million extension he had signed in 2016 (just before his second suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs).


"I need to play a lot better," Johnson said Sunday, after his whiff resulted in a strip-sack that the Vikings returned 64 yards for a touchdown. "It starts with me."

It doesn't end with him. Before the injury, linebacker Jordan Hicks was a lethal in pursuit of tight ends and running backs. Now, he can't quite catch them.

Bradham averaged 5.7 tackles per game last season, the finest of his six seasons to date. He then signed a 5-year, $40 million contract extension.

He is averaging 3.5 tackles in this, his seventh season.

You do the math.