BEN VOLIN | SUNDAY FOOTBALL NOTES
It wasn’t supposed to happen this quickly in Philadelphia.
Year 2 of the Carson Wentz/Doug Pederson era was supposed to produce modest results after last year’s 7-9 finish — maybe a wild-card playoff appearance, if Wentz didn’t have that dreaded sophomore slump and the defense continued to improve.
Never did the Eagles expect to be an NFL-leading 10-1 entering Sunday’s game at Seattle, with a nine-game winning streak, the best point differential in the NFL, and a legit MVP candidate in Wentz.
“No one dreamt of this level of dominance,” said former NFL fullback Jon Ritchie, now a daytime radio host at WIP in Philadelphia. “This city, as you know it’s been a bit of a drought around here. We haven’t had this sort of dominance for quite awhile, going back to that 2004 team that faced [the Patriots] in the Super Bowl.”
A third franchise appearance in the Super Bowl certainly doesn’t seem far-fetched right now. The Eagles have the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense, No. 3 scoring defense, and they’re absolutely steamrolling teams. They have won four straight games by at least 20 points, and can join the 1999 Rams as the only teams since the 1970 merger to do it in five in a row.
“It feels a lot different from the miracle spurt run they went on in Chip Kelly’s first year,” said former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese, referencing the Eagles’ 10-6 record and playoff appearance in 2013. “This seems like it’s a little more sustainable, because you’ve got a quarterback. It happened a little faster than we expected.”
Wentz, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2016, gets much of the credit for the team’s rapid turnaround. And it is deserved. His stats are excellent — a league-leading 28 touchdowns, five interceptions, 241.5 yards per game, and a passer rating of 104.0. He has also shown an impressive ability to pick up yards with his feet, extend plays, and bounce back from big hits.
“With Carson there’s a feeling that he will get this team in the right play,” Ritchie said. “His football intelligence, it’s through the roof. And even if the offensive line completely whiffs and he’s got a 325-pound DT grabbing him, he can somehow escape, outrun a linebacker to the first down. It’s pretty amazing when you talk about the total package that he represents.”
But while Wentz is the ringleader, the credit for the Eagles’ ascent really should be split about a dozen ways.
“His play certainly is a big difference, but I wouldn’t say it’s all him,” Reese said. “And I think the great thing about this kid, that would be the first thing he would tell you, that he has a great support system, and it really is a strong, well-rounded team.”
Wentz has gotten plenty of help from the NFL’s No. 2 run game, averaging 147.5 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry. LeGarrette Blount has been a revelation — 10th in the NFL in yards rushing (658) and eighth in yards per carry (4.8) as the Eagles have fed him between 12-16 carries in nine of their 11 games.
“He’s really been I think a surprise to a lot of people, just how big a stud this guy has been,” Ritchie said. “LG is the starter, LG is dependable. LG was such a stand-up guy when they brought in Jay Ajayi, and I do think that his experience being up there [in New England] is proving invaluable to this locker room. And when he runs it he gets that sideline going, that’s for sure.”
The offensive coaching staff, led by Pederson, offensive coordinator Frank Reich, and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, deserve plenty of credit for getting the most out of Wentz and the offense. Former first-round pick Nelson Agholor, considered a bust early in his career, has 458 yards receiving and six touchdowns this year.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz deserves a ton of credit for cutting his players loose and creating a scheme that takes advantage of the Eagles’ strength up front. Brandon Graham has seven sacks, Fletcher Cox has 5.5 sacks, newcomer Timmy Jernigan has been a force in the middle, and the Eagles’ 22 takeaways are third most in the NFL.
And the front office, led by executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman and VP of player personnel Joe Douglas, found the right puzzle pieces this year, from Blount to receiver Alshon Jeffery to Jernigan and cornerback Ron Darby.
“I’m really surprised to bring this amount of new people in there for them to all have jelled as quickly as they have,” Reese said. “It’s hard to figure out whether or not some of these guys are playing over their heads or are they really maximizing their potential? Whatever it is, it’s all coming together this year.”
Of course, the Eagles haven’t really played many challengers. Their next three are on the road — at the Seahawks, Rams, and Giants.
“The next couple of weeks I think are going to determine how the country feels about this Eagles team,” Ritchie said. “It won’t change the enthusiasm here in Philadelphia. We feel like we know how good they are.”
The 2017 season has been nothing short of a disaster in New York. The team is 2-9, multiple players ripped the coaching staff anonymously to the media after a 34-point loss last month, the quarterback was benched awkwardly, and now the team is defending itself against accusations of tanking. Typical Jets, right?
Not this year. Now it’s the usually steady Giants falling into dysfunction and getting slammed on the back [and front] pages of the tabloids.
Eli Manning’s NFL-leading ironman streak will end Sunday when Geno Smith gets the start at Oakland. Manning has started 210 consecutive games (222 including playoffs) dating to Week 10 of 2004.
But with the season a lost cause, the Giants want to see what they’ve got in rookie quarterback Davis Webb before diving headfirst into the college QB market next spring (spoiler: Webb isn’t going to be the answer).
The only problem is the coaches still want to give Webb another week to prepare for his first start. So the Giants devised a plan in which Manning would start against the Raiders, but give way to Smith at some point in the game, which would then open the door for Webb to start next week against the Cowboys.
But Manning told the Giants to start Smith.
“What I did not expect — and this was my fault; maybe I was naïve — I did not expect Eli to react by saying to go ahead and start the other guys,” co-owner John Mara told reporters. “I completely understand, but that took me by surprise a bit and maybe I would’ve handled that a little differently.”
It certainly looks like the Giants are setting themselves up for a housecleaning once the season ends, with the jobs of coach BenMcAdoo, Manning, and general manager Jerry Reese in jeopardy. But Mara hinted that perhaps Manning, who turns 37 in January, isn’t done as a Giant.
“I don’t think you should be writing his obituary just yet,” Mara said. “A lot of things can change between now and next spring and next season. We obviously have some tough decisions to make at the end of the year, and we don’t know what is going to happen.”
Manning isn’t washed up and hasn’t suffered serious injury. But the Giants are in line for the No. 3 pick, and should have a rare opportunity to draft a future franchise quarterback.
Manning can control his fate this offseason, as he has a full no-trade clause. Manning’s contract is fairly reasonable for a quarterback — $16 million and $17 million owed to him the next two years — so it wouldn’t be unheard of for the Giants to keep him as a seat warmer. And a team such as Jacksonville, with Tom Coughlin running the front office, should view him as an attractive commodity (as should Denver, Cleveland, Buffalo, and the Jets).
If the Giants do trade Manning, they’ll carry a $12.4 million cap hit next year. The more reasonable solution will be to simply release him as a post-June 1 designation, when they can spread out the cap hit to $6.2 million in 2018 and 2019.
The NFL received criticism earlier this season for holding talks with players about social justice reform, but excluding Colin Kaepernick.
But it wasn’t the NFL preventing Kaepernick from having a voice in the process.
49ers safety Eric Reid, who continues to take a knee after joining Kaepernick in 2016, said that Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, the leader of the Players Coalition, is the one who removed Kaepernick from the process. The NFL has said that it welcomes whomever the Coalition invites, even Kaepernick.
“Malcolm kicked Colin out of the Coalition following the meeting in New York at the beginning of the season,” Reid said, per the Associated Press. “There’s a group message. [Jenkins] is the administrator and he took Colin out.”
Reid, Dolphins safety Michael Thomas, and Chargers tackle Russell Okung all left the Coalition last week, saying they disagreed with the way it was being led by Jenkins and Anquan Boldin. Per ESPN, Jenkins and Boldin agreed in principle with the NFL to allocate $89 million to social justice organizations over the next seven years, and Reid said that Jenkins asked him to stop protesting during the national anthem.
“When I started this, it wasn’t to get funds from the NFL. It was to raise awareness,” Reid said. “I give kudos to the NFL for wanting to step up and help us with regard to systemic oppression. I question their intent behind it. I personally think they just want the protests to end because it’s affecting their bottom line.”
“I haven’t been satisfied with the structure of the coalition or the communication Malcolm has been having with the NFL on his own,” Reid added.
It’s hard to blame Reid for being upset with the owners’ proposal. Per ESPN, the $89 million would come down to a $250,000 yearly donation from each owner, which would be matched by the players, plus a donation from the league’s national coffers. The money would then be dispersed at the discretion of a panel consisting of five players, five owners, and two league employees — giving the NFL a distinct 7-5 advantage.
So NFL owners would make a donation that barely makes a dent in their checkbook, the players would have to match it, and the NFL would have total control over how the money is donated.
No, that wouldn’t get me to stop protesting racial injustice, either.
Darrelle Revis would be a first-ballot inductee into the mythical NFL Contract Hall of Fame, and the cornerback has crafted yet another slick deal with the Chiefs, finding a way to maximize his value and stick it to the Jets.
Revis, who will be active Sunday for the first time this season (against the Jets, of course), actually signed a two-year deal two weeks ago. This season, he’ll make a six-week prorated amount of the $1 million veteran minimum salary ($352,941). He’s basically playing for free, since the Jets owe him $6 million for this season (they’ll get a credit for the $352,941).
The Chiefs also added two incentives for Revis — $1.75 million if the Chiefs win the AFC Championship game (and he plays in 50 percent of the snaps), and another $1.75 million if the Chiefs win the Super Bowl (and he plays 50 percent of the snaps).
But the key part — the incentives aren’t due until the first day of the 2018 league year (March 14). That makes the incentives count in the 2018 season, and are not subject to the offsets Revis has with the Jets for 2017.
Revis then has a $1.015 million base salary and $8.8 million roster bonus for next season, but it’s basically funny money — it’s not guaranteed until March 19, and the Chiefs can cut him with no salary cap or financial repercussions (other than the $3.5 million incentives, if he earns them).
So Revis gets five weeks to showcase his talents, has the opportunity to earn an extra $3.5 million, and will try to set himself up for another contract next year. Pretty slick.
Sunday’s Patriots-Bills game is going to be especially gratifying for Joe Ventura, an airbrush artist from Ludlow. Ventura, owner of Joe V Designs, will see his work on display on both sidelines.
Ventura designed several pairs of footwear — Bill Belichick’s shoes supporting his foundation, Alan Branch’s cleats to support Food Allergy Research Education, Rex Burkhead’s cleats to support Team Jack, and Lawrence Guy’s cleats supporting his hometown of Las Vegas on one side and the Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep foundation on the other. Ventura, 48, also designed LeSean McCoy’s cleats for his Shades of Greatness organization, and is working on special Christmas shoes for Tyrod Taylor.
“To be working with the team or players from the team that you have followed since you were young is pretty gratifying. And then also to look on the other side and see that my work is on the other guys, too, it’s just a dream come true,” Ventura said.
Jimmy Garoppolo gets his dream assignment today, making his third career start (and first with the 49ers) in his hometown of Chicago against the Bears. Garoppolo needs the experience, but both he and the team should tread carefully. Garoppolo’s value is already at its highest — the 49ers will use the franchise tag on him if they can’t agree on a long-term contract — and playing in a few meaningless games at the end of this season can’t help his value, but certainly can hurt it. And the 49ers need to ensure that Garoppolo leaves these games healthy. The 49ers need Garoppolo learning the playbook and taking over as a leader next spring, not rehabbing an injury . . . Despite skipping offseason workouts and all of training camp, Le’Veon Bell is certainly getting a heavy workload from the Steelers. Bell’s 252 carries lead the NFL (Todd Gurley is next at 204), and his 61 catches give Bell 313 touches this season, 67 more than Gurley, next on the list. Bell leads the NFL in rushing yards (981) and total yards (1,377), but he’s 25th in rushing average (3.89) and 47th in yards per touch (4.4) . . . The Gridiron Club of Greater Boston is holding its Bob Whelan College Football Awards Night on Dec. 14 at the Burlington Marriott, honoring the top college football players and coaches across New England. Tickets are $75 and can be purchased here.
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