Monthly Archives: December 2017

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Keep an eye out: That guy watching you fill up your morning coffee at Wawa might also play for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Eagles tight end Brent Celek traded in his shoulder pads and jersey for an apron and a ballcap, donning the convenience-store chain’s uniform to go undercover for a day as a Wawa employee.

“They say you ain’t a true Philadelphian until you work at Wawa,” Celek told one customer who recognized him, “so I had to work at Wawa.”

The 10-year veteran has spent his entire career with the Eagles, but most patrons didn’t recognize him as he offered friendly small talk and quick-witted humor. Among the highlights was Celek asking a customer, “How much you bench, bro?” while doing bicep curls with a gallon of milk in each hand.

The 31-year-old’s role in the Eagles’ offense has declined in recent years, but he had 76 catches for 971 yards and eight touchdowns in 2009. Now playing under the team’s third coaching regime since he was drafted in the fifth round of 2007, Celek remains a key contributor.

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants found a new way to lose. It shouldn’t be surprising given the way this season has unfolded.

Their special teams was the primary culprit on Sunday in a 34-29 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. That is evident in this week’s up/downs.

Without the benefit of film review, here were the best and worst performers from Sunday:
Tavarres King was having a big game Sunday with two touchdowns, but he had to leave with a concussion. AP Photo/Seth Wenig
UP

WR Tavarres King: He all but put Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills on his backside with a perfectly executed slant-and-go route in the first quarter. King was wide open for the touchdown. He also burned cornerback Ronald Darby in the third quarter and showed his speed on a 57-yard touchdown catch. The only downside is he suffered a concussion on the second touchdown and did not return. Tough break after King scored two TDs on Sunday. He came into the afternoon with one career regular-season touchdown.

QB Eli Manning: He played his best game of the season. It may have been one of his best games since the 2015 season. Manning was quick and decisive. He got the ball to his playmakers (Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram) early and often. The increased tempo appeared to get Manning into a rhythm early. He finished with a season-best 434 yards passing and tied a season-high with three touchdown passes. The only thing missing from this vintage performance was leading a fourth quarterback comeback with a game-winning drive. He still doesn’t have one of those in this rough season.

DE Olivier Vernon: He was a one-man pass rush for the Giants. He recorded a sack for four yards but was constantly in the Eagles’ backfield. Vernon had five quarterback hits in the contest. The Giants had seven as a team. He also forced a fumble that Philadelphia was fortunate to recover. It was a strong effort from Vernon, who has been banged up this season.

Honorable mention: CB Ross Cockrell, G Jon Halapio, RB Wayne Gallman, WR Shepard

DOWN

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Tom Quinn: Where do you even start? Quinn is the Giants special teams coordinator and just about every part of his group was a mess. They looked woefully unprepared as they had a field goal, extra point and punt blocked. Quite the trifecta. It even appeared that the Eagles were daring Kalif Raymond to return some kickoff and punts. He averaged a pedestrian 20.0 yards on five kickoffs and had one punt return for seven yards. Quinn’s special teams, which came in ranked near the bottom of the league, cost the Giants the game on Sunday. That falls on his shoulders. It’s hard to imagine a situation where he survives the “wholesale changes” this offseason, given the performance of his units in this game and this season.

DE Jason Pierre-Paul: While Vernon was constantly pressuring Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, Pierre-Paul was being held in check by right tackle Lane Johnson. He didn’t record a sack or quarterback hit despite playing 94 percent of the defensive snaps. Pierre-Paul was also flagged for an illegal use of hands penalty. Clearly, he’s somewhat limited wearing the club on his right hand, but the Giants need more from their high-priced defensive end who has underperformed this season.

S Darian Thompson: The young safety finished with nine tackles and a pass defended, but it was hardly his best game. He missed a pair of tackles, including a big one on a third down in the fourth quarter. He also appeared to be involved in a missed assignment on the blocked punt, where Thompson was in an unfamiliar role filling in for the injured Nat Berhe as the fullback on the punt team. It continues the up-and-down season for second-year safety who is going through his rookie travails after missing almost all of last season.

Dishonorable mention: RT Bobby Hart, LT Ereck Flowers

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Sean McVay rattled off the names of 15 Philadelphia Eagles players. There was Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement on offense; Tim Jernigan, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Mychal Kendricks, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Ronald Darby, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod on defense. He raved about all of them while answering two questions.

The conclusion?

“These are the games that you better be ready to go for because they are a great football team,” McVay, the Los Angeles Rams’ first-year head coach, said of the Eagles. “It’s an exciting matchup.”

That’s putting it lightly. The Rams, 9-3 coming off a 32-16 win against the Arizona Cardinals, will host a 10-2 Eagles team that just had its nine-game win streak snapped by the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night. McVay watched the early part of that game during his 45-minute flight from Phoenix to L.A. and then studied it a lot more closely on Monday.

McVay called the Eagles “one of those teams that truly is a complete team.”

But they’re also vulnerable.

The Eagles are now tied with the Minnesota Vikings for the best record in the NFC. The Rams lost to the Vikings in Week 11, but they beat the New Orleans Saints (9-3) in Week 12. A win Sunday would give the Rams head-to-head tiebreakers over two of the three teams fighting for first-round byes in their conference.

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ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Rams a 16 percent chance to lock up either of the top two seeds in the NFC, behind the Vikings (87 percent), Eagles (74 percent) and Saints (19 percent). But that will change drastically if the Rams can come out on top on Sunday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox). A victory is even more crucial considering the Rams play the Seahawks — only one game behind them in the NFC West — the following week.

“You get excited for these games because it’s going to be future games,” Rams running back Todd Gurley said, pondering the possibility of meeting these teams in the playoffs.

Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth called the upcoming matchup against the Eagles “a measuring stick game.”

“I don’t think you really look at it as this is an end-all, be-all game,” Whitworth said. “You look at it as, ‘This is another team that is very successful. This is another team that’s on a roll and a team that looks to be one of the postseason favorites.'”

The Eagles rank first in the NFL in point margin (plus-146), and the Rams rank second (plus-139). The Eagles’ offense is averaging the third-most yards per game (385.1), and the Rams’ offense is averaging the fourth-most (372.7). The Eagles’ defense is allowing the sixth-fewest points per game (17.92), and the Rams’ defense is allowing the seventh-fewest (18.50).

“This is the game where you’re able to show your talents and be able to put out there just how capable you are,” Rams left guard Rodger Saffold said. “We take it as a challenge.”

The spotlight, of course, will be on Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, and Carson Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in 2016.

It’ll mark only the eighth time in the common draft era that two quarterbacks who went first and second overall will face one another, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The two share an agency, Rep 1 Sports, and worked out together in Irvine, California, during the months leading up to last year’s draft.

Together, they have led their teams to combined 19-5 records while throwing for 6,189 yards with 49 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Goff has completed 62 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,184 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions while posting a 55 Total QBR. Wentz has completed 61 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,005 yards, 29 touchdowns and six interceptions while posting a 72 Total QBR, which is boosted by his ability to make plays outside the pocket.

“It’ll be fun to play against him,” Goff said of Wentz, “but I’m more excited to play their team.”

“It’s not Jared versus Carson. It’s the Rams versus the Eagles,” McVay said. “Jared’s job is to play well against their defense, and Carson’s will be to play against our defense.”

McVay raved about the Eagles’ Jim Schwartz-led defense, which he said does a nice job of creating pressure with a four-man rush and features a secondary with the talent to stay in man coverage.

“They don’t have any weakness,” McVay said. “There’s a reason why they’re one of the top defenses in this league, and you see it show up with their personnel, with their scheme.”
McVay and the Eagles’ second-year coach, Doug Pederson, look like two of the favorites for NFL Coach of the Year honors. McVay, 31, has been studying Pederson’s offenses dating back to his days as Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs. On the Eagles, McVay said Pederson has “done a great job of presenting a variety of issues and kind of being able to run a lot of the similar concepts off different personnel groupings.”

The Rams have the NFL’s fourth-hardest remaining schedule these last four weeks, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, which compiles the rankings based on opponents’ win percentages. The Seahawks are eighth, the Saints are 20th, the Eagles are 21st, and the Vikings are 24th.

But McVay is keeping the focus on only the upcoming game, which shouldn’t be hard this week.

“This is what you love about the NFL,” he said. “These games are fun. But it doesn’t make it any more pressure. It just makes it more exciting because of what our guys have done and what they [the Eagles] have done to make the game a little bit more intriguing.”

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The Los Angeles Rams waived cornerback Troy Hill as part of a series of roster moves Tuesday, three days after Hill was arrested on suspicion of DUI.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he’s “not going to rule out a second opportunity.”

“I think people deserve second chances in life,” Fisher told reporters after Tuesday’s practice. “I think he learned from it, but I was just disappointed in his choices.”

The Rams also waived fellow cornerback Dwayne Gratz and put rookie linebacker Josh Forrest on injured reserve, promoting cornerback Michael Jordan and linebacker Nic Grigsby from the practice squad to the active roster.
The Rams said goodbye to Troy Hill on Tuesday, three days after Hill was arrested. Dave Reginek/Getty Images
Forrest suffered a knee injury Sunday that was expected to keep him out four to six weeks.

Hill was arrested on Saturday morning, after his Mercedes swerved over multiple lanes on an L.A. freeway and crashed into the back of a semi-truck around 8 a.m. PT, according to multiple reports. The 25-year-old was then given a field sobriety test and was handcuffed on the spot, booked in Van Nuys, California, and de-activated by the Rams for Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins.

Hill — the Rams’ fourth cornerback on the depth chart, after Trumaine Johnson, E.J. Gaines and slot corner Lamarcus Joyner — was released from custody later in the afternoon on $15,000 bail and has a preliminary court date for Dec. 14.

“I was disappointed in his choices, as they relate to Friday night and Saturday morning,” Fisher said. “I don’t think he put the team first. I got information, and we made the decision. Because Troy was truthful with me in our conversations the last couple of days, I also said that I’m not going to rule out a second opportunity.”

The Rams also signed linebacker Randell Johnson to their practice squad.

 

Hill, undrafted out of Oregon, spent last season with the Cincinnati Bengals and had started four games for the Rams in 2016, emerging as a key fill-in with improved play. In a 9-6 win over the New York Jets in Week 11, Hill came off the bench to play in 52 percent of the defensive snaps and was the Rams’ highest-graded player by Pro Football Focus.

Gratz, a third-round pick out of Connecticut in 2013, was claimed off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 11 to combat the release of Coty Sensabaugh and subsequent ankle injury suffered by Johnson.

Fisher called parting with Gratz “a tough decision” and hinted at other moves in the secondary.

Jordan — not to be confused with the greatest basketball player of all time — went undrafted out of Missouri Western State earlier this year and was among the Rams’ final cuts during training camp.

“He’s so excited,” Fisher said. “It was really fun to talk to him today. He understands our system. He’s played really hard in practice; he was productive in the preseason games. He understands that there’s maybe a 50-50 chance of him being active this week, just because of numbers and things, but he’s really excited.”