Monthly Archives: November 2017

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PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles ensured that the power interior line combination of Tim Jernigan and Fletcher Cox will remain intact by signing Jernigan to a four-year extension Thursday that runs through 2021. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal is worth $48 million and includes $26 million fully guaranteed.

That’s good news for an Eagles defense that has been powered largely by the play of the defensive line. Jernigan, a 25-year-old Florida State product, adapted almost instantly to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s attack scheme after being acquired from the Baltimore Ravens in the offseason. He has a team-high eight tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and five hurries.
Timmy Jernigan liked what he heard from the Eagles: a four-year extension for $48 million. Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
You would be hard-pressed to find a better defensive tackle tandem in the NFL. But the Eagles are paying a big price for it. They signed Cox to a six-year deal worth over $100 million in 2016 with over $36 million fully guaranteed. After the Jernigan signing, they have more than $62 million in guaranteed money committed to two players along the interior.

On one hand, it makes sense to pay your best players regardless of position. And it is absolutely true that Schwartz’s scheme is predicated on the defensive front being a disruptive force without the assistance of extra pass-rushers. To that end, they’re investing in an area that both the organization and the defensive coordinator put a lot of value in.

It does, however, run counter to a philosophy held by some around the league that big dollars should be reserved for more critical positions such as quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive end and cornerback.

The Eagles had what they called an “optionality” approach this offseason where they acquired players with short-term deals such as Jernigan and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, giving themselves the choice to part ways with little harm if they proved not to be a fit or try to lock them up long term if they were. The only issue is some major dollars typically have to be dished out to players who are hot while nearing free agency.

This is a significant commitment for a team that has not been in the greatest salary-cap position over the past year or two. But it’s hard to argue with the 8-1 roster that executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman has put together. Jernigan has been a key piece of that.

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FRISCO, Texas — If Tyron Smith can’t play Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, then it looks like the Dallas Cowboys are ready to go with Byron Bell as their left tackle.

In last week’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Chaz Green took over for Smith and allowed four of the eight sacks the Cowboys allowed. Bell gave up two on the Cowboys’ final two drives.

The last time Bell started a game at left tackle came in Week 17 in 2015 with the Tennessee Titans when he took over for Taylor Lewan. Bell started games at both tackle spots and made seven at left guard.

“Just coming off the ball and getting to the junction point, just being physical with the guy and using hands and just getting a strike down,” Bell said. “Where I get in trouble is when I play complacent and timid. I just got to go out and cut it loose. If I get beat, just know this: I’m going to get beat my f—— way. If I lose I’m going to lose my way.”

The Cowboys signed Bell as a free agent despite the fact he didn’t play last season because of an ankle injury. In training camp he was given a chance to compete for the starting left guard spot, but opened the season as the swing tackle. Before last week’s game against Atlanta, he was inactive for three games.

The Cowboys did not give Green as much help as they should have against the Falcons. With the Eagles using a varied pass rush with four defensive ends recording at least 2.5 sacks (Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett and Chris Long), the Cowboys will have to give Bell help this week.
“I just think you try to continue to lift those guys up and let them know that we believe in them no matter what and that as a group we can be successful,” center Travis Frederick said. “I think that you want to make them know or let them know that last week isn’t this week. Every week is a new week and you have a new opportunity to be successful.”

When Smith is healthy, the Cowboys rarely slide help to his direction. He has been named to the Pro Bowl every year since 2013.

“He’s a really productive player in the running game and a really productive player as a pass protector,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Week in and week out he seemingly blocks the best rushers that teams have.”

After Wednesday’s practice, Bell was able to get some work done with Smith.

“It’s a lot of pressure. I mean he’s a future Hall of Famer,” Smith said. “He’s one of the best at his position. Just come in and get the job done and we know we need big T. But when he’s not up it’s the next man up. I play my role and just go in and get the job done.”

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It is not unique for the Denver Broncos to make a mistake in a game.

It happens and it’s unavoidable. But in the team’s current 3-5 state, the Broncos too often have turned one mistake into two, two into three, three into an even longer list — and the proof is in their current four-game losing streak.

“We have to get it right,’’ cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We can’t keep giving people chances.’’

It was just a three-play sliver of the story in a 28-point loss, but a stretch in the first quarter this past Sunday offered a glimpse into what has become a frustrating trend in an increasingly frustrating season for the Broncos.

With just less than seven minutes remaining in the opening quarter, the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense faced a third-and-1 at the Broncos’ 37-yard line. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz’s attempt to get the ball to Torrey Smith fell incomplete, but Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib was called for defensive holding.
Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib reacts after Alshon Jeffery’s touchdown, part of a string of errors that led to the Eagles’ 51-23 rout of Denver. Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
Talib vigorously argued the call following the play, but the Eagles got an automatic first down. On the next play, Wentz used play-action, then calmly tossed a 32-yard touchdown pass — with an overaggressive Talib defending — to Alshon Jeffery.

On the kickoff following the score, Broncos linebacker Kevin Snyder was flagged for an illegal block in the back, so Denver started its next possession on its own 8-yard line. Just a small part of the team’s worst loss since 2010, but also part of a growing pile of mistakes that have shaped the Broncos’ struggles, which include almost every player on the roster at one point or another.

And while all involved agree it has to stop if the Broncos are going to salvage the second half of the season, the “how’’ to do it has escaped them.

“I don’t know. If I had the answer to that I could coach and play football at the same time, earn two checks,’’ Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “I’m a player, we have some of the best coaches, some of the best leadership in the world — we still can’t figure that out.’’

In short, over and over again, the Broncos have clustered their mistakes much of the time. They’ve averaged just over two turnovers a game — only the Cleveland Browns have turned the ball over more than the Broncos’ 17 — and only four teams have had more penalties than the Broncos’ 79.

They’ve been outscored 41-6 in the first quarter of their five losses combined as their sluggish starts have turned into a string of losses.

“Obviously there’s going to be some adversity, but it’s been four in a row,’’ Broncos coach Vance Joseph said earlier in the week. “It’s not so much if you lost to an NFL team — it’s how you lose sometimes. The Giants game bothers me how we played after the bye and how we lost that game. The Chargers game, obviously being shut out, and [Sunday’s loss to the Eagles]. Those losses bother me because we work hard during the week, we expect to win games and we expect to compete.’’
The Broncos will attempt to stem the tide Sunday night against the New England Patriots (6-2), a team Joseph and several of the Broncos players have said will force them to clean up their football act. The Patriots are, statistically, ranked last in the league in total defense and pass defense, yet they haven’t surrendered more than 17 points in any of their past four games.

And the Patriots have the same number of turnovers for the season — five — as the Broncos had in their loss to the Chiefs in Kansas City.

But the starting point may be how the Broncos manage their own frustration. Linebacker Shane Ray said this week: “We’re just as pissed off as the fan base.’’ But it’s a fairly new level of disappointment since wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is the only player on the team’s current roster who was with the Broncos the last time the team had a four-game losing streak in 2010.

“[We’re] definitely sick and tired of losing — there’s a sense of urgency,’’ running back C.J. Anderson said. “We know what time it is. We have a chance to do something special. We have a chance to do something really special that only us in that locker room believe we can do. That’s where it starts. If everyone can change their minds … to believe that we can do it, we can definitely make it happen. We have the players to do it. We have the roster to do it.’’

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PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles’ ground game finally found its footing. That spelled bad news for the now 0-3 New York Giants on Sunday, and bodes well for quarterback Carson Wentz and the Eagles’ offense moving forward.

Entering this week’s action, coach Doug Pederson had his team throwing the ball at an unsustainable clip. Wentz dropped back 99 times through the first two games, more than any quarterback in the league with the exception of Aaron Rodgers (103), per ESPN Stats & Information. Following a road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, in which he dialed up 56 passes to 13 runs, Pederson conceded the approach was not a recipe for success. He responded by calling 39 run plays compared with 34 passes, and the backs incentivized him by racking up 193 yards on the ground.

“That was our goal this week,” said right tackle Lane Johnson. “We got tired of not running the ball, especially last week when we really needed it, so it was big.”

LeGarrette Blount helped lead the resurgent running attack, gaining 67 yards on 12 carries (5.6 average) with a touchdown in Sunday’s 27-24 victory. He acknowledged this week it was difficult not being involved in the run game against the Chiefs — he did not log a single carry in Kansas City — but maintained he and Pederson were on the same page. The 30-year-old veteran was largely written off after a quiet summer and slow start to the season but showed he has a little something left in the tank.

Blount let his emotions come out following a punishing 17-yard run in the first quarter that ignited the crowd and a 90-yard scoring drive.

“It’s the mentality. You have to get everybody on board and you have to get everybody in the game,” he said. “It’s not like you get a 10- [to] 15-yard run every time you get the ball. They come few and far between, so whenever you do that, emotions come running and [you have to] fire your offense up. It can fire up the defense. It can fire your whole team up.

“I take pride in running the football well. I take pride in getting big plays. That’s something that I love to do.”
LeGarrette Blount helped lead the Eagles’ resurgent running attack, gaining 67 yards on 12 carries with a touchdown. Abbie Parr/Getty Images
Multiple players stepped up when veteran Darren Sproles left with a wrist injury. Wendell Smallwood led all rushers with 71 yards, while undrafted rookie Corey Clement stormed for a 15-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and finished with 22 yards in his first action running the ball at the pro level.

The Eagles made a change to the offensive line heading into this game, opting for a rotation at left guard between Chance Warmack and Stefen Wisniewski after going with Isaac Seumalo the first two weeks. That seemed to factor into the improvement in the ground game.

The commitment to the run helped the Eagles nearly double up the Giants in time of possession. Clock control was crucial considering the Eagles’ defense lost tackle Fletcher Cox (calf) and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (ankle) in the first half and already was operating without cornerback Ronald Darby and safety Rodney McLeod.

The ground-and-pound approach allowed a banged-up squad to squeak past the Giants and will be crucial for the Eagles — and more specifically, Wentz — moving forward. Wentz entered Week 3 trailing just Andrew Luck for most passes through 18 games to start a career and was tops in the league in 2017 in quarterback hits. Balance is needed if the young QB is to stay upright and develop. Sunday was an encouraging sign Pederson may be cognizant of that. And he’ll be all the more inclined to stick with the running game if it’s working as well as it did against New York.