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November 07, 2019

What they're saying: The Eagles still need more WR help; Dez Bryant, anyone?

Eagles
Dez-Bryant_110719_usat Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is looking to make a comeback.

The Philadelphia Eagles are heading into the bye week coming off two straight wins, but with just a 5-4 record and the Cowboys still sitting ahead of them in the NFC East, fans can't just kick their feet up this weekend and relax. And neither should the Eagles' brass.

After standing pat at the trade deadline, despite obvious holes at wide receiver (and elsewhere) that needed filling, the Birds lost DeSean Jackson for at least the remainder of the regular season just a few days later, causing them to go out and re-sign old friend Jordan Matthews, now back for his third stint in Philly.

Given the play of the rest of the receiving corps, which has been flat-out abysmal lately, it's hard to imagine that Matthews will bring enough to the table to turn the offense around. It's truly maddening that Howie Roseman and the front office didn't seem to have any kind of backup plan for the oft-injured Jackson coming into the season, which is unacceptable given so much of their offense seemed to be predicated on his ability to stretch the field. And now, after passing on a chance to claim Josh Gordon off waivers and with the team still very much in the midst of a playoff race, it seems to be too late for Philly to do anything about it. 

None of the names that are out there are going to be all that enticing to Eagles fans, especially when compared to Jackson, but if you think the Eagles just fixed their offense with Matthews, think again. While a nice player who has played well for the Birds over the years, it's going to take more than an average possession receiver to turn this receiving corps around. 

Hell, with his fellow wideouts playing this poorly, Jackson might not have even been enough...

Of the free agents who could still be available to the Eagles — JJ Nelson, Michael Crabtree, Kelvin Benjamin, Pierre Garcon, and Martavis Bryant among them — it seems there's one player who definitely won't be coming to Philly: Antonio Brown. The troubled free-agent wideout unleashed a profanity-filled tweet directed at the NFL on Thursday morning ahead of a reported meeting with the league in the coming days.

But there's another veteran wideout who could be available to the Eagles, assuming he's fully healthy. And that's where we'll start today's Eagles bye week edition of What They're Saying... 

Better off Dez

Mike Kaye | NJ.com

Former Cowboys WR Dez Bryant hasn't played since facing the Eagles in the 2017 season finale following an injury prior to his 2018 debut with the Saints. But the veteran receiver says he's ready to return from his torn Achilles' tendon and seems more than comfortable taking a lesser role on a competitive team. 

Would the Eagles be willing to bring Dez in for a workout in a couple of weeks when he's ready? 

Bryant hasn’t played in an NFL game since the 2017 season. He was released by the Dallas Cowboys during the 2018 offseason and eventually joined the New Orleans Saints last November. However, during his first week of practice, Bryant tore his Achilles and was placed on injured reserve without suiting up for a Saints game.

It’s been nearly a full year since Bryant’s surgery, so the 31-year-old should be fully recovered from the injury. While he hasn’t played in an NFL game in nearly two years, he was a three-time Pro Bowl receiver during his eight-year tenure with the Cowboys.

Since the Eagles are desperate for wide receiver help, Bryant could appeal to the Philadelphia front office. The Eagles are obviously very familiar with Bryant from his time in the NFC East and general manager Howie Roseman knows the talent that he possesses. If the passing game is struggling in two weeks, Roseman may take Bryant’s call.

However, adding Bryant to the mix could be complicated.  [nj.com]

Best of what's around

John Barchard | 94 WIP

WIP's John Barchard is fully on the Dez Bryant train, and he makes a good point about Bryant being better than any playmaker currently available to the Birds. 

I am definitely not here to throw up an X and I certainly know that bringing in a former Cowboy to ride on in to the Birds nest never works out (although Orlando Scandrick could be responsible for turning the season around). But if we are being honest with ourselves, he is the only one that would actually have a chance to make a difference. The ego might not be gone, but after signing with the Saints last season, Bryant seemed quite comfortable in taking a back seat to be a part of a winner. 

“I’m way better than I was before I went to the Saints last year…mid-October is when I’m going to try and get back in the league.” Dez Bryant told that to NFL Network’s Jane Slater in August. 

Workout videos can always be deceiving but Bryant does look really good for a guy who turned 31 just yesterday, and despite a rocky ending in Dallas, he is the only playmaker on the free agent market that could actually help Carson Wentz. He's also not as uncontrollable as Antonio Brown. He’s an exceptional route runner, way more athletic than Alshon Jefferey, and he would be a huge asset if there is anything left to squeeze out of what has been a great career of overall.  [94wip.radio.com]

But that claim should also come with a disclaimer. Bryant was already on the downslope of his career during his final season in Dallas, finishing with his fewest yards, touchdowns and YPC in a full season in his entire career. And that was before a catastrophic Achilles injury. 

That being said, the Eagles have plenty of money to pay Bryant, and at this point, it's hard to imagine he'd be any less impactful than J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Mack Hollins, so...

Why do the receivers suck?

Reuben Frank | NBC Sports Philadelphia

That's exactly the question Roob set out to answer this week over at NBC Sports Philly, and he came away with five reasons that the Eagles seem to be totally inept at wide receiver. His first reason, however, is the draft. Looking at what the Birds have come away with at wideout during recent drafts — especially when you consider what else was out there at the time they made those picks — leaves quite a bit to be desired.

1. The draft

The Eagles have drafted eight wide receivers since 2010, the year after they took Jeremy Maclin. Who has the best career numbers of those eight? Jordan Matthews, of course. Next on the list is Nelson Agholor, who has had his moments but has put up some of the worst numbers in NFL history by a first-round wide receiver. Riley Cooper had a decent year in 2013, but that’s about it. Josh Huff was a disaster as a third-round pick, Mack Hollins has done nothing to warrant being a fourth-round pick and JJ Arcega-Whiteside can’t even get on the field. It’s not just Howie Roseman. Agholor was a Chip Kelly pick and Huff was probably more of a Kelly pick, although Roseman was still the GM. The bottom line is none of them are elite. For the record, Cooper was drafted before Antonio Brown, Huff before John Brown and Agholor before Stefon Diggs. It’s too early to fairly compare JJAW with D.K. Metcalf, Terry McLaurin or Diontae Johnson, but the early returns aren’t encouraging.  [nbcsports.com]

The state of the roster

Bo Wulf | The Athletic

Speaking of the NFL Draft, the 2019 version has come back with some pretty varied results. While JJAW is looking like he might've been a stretch, given that he can't even get on the field over Mack Hollins, the other two players taken in the first three rounds back in April have looked good so far. Unfortunately, the one position where they needed the most help seems to be the one area at which they continue to miss.

Over at The Athletic, Bo Wulf took a look at every player on the Eagles roster and offered an update — or in the case of Zach Ertz, a script for a rent-a-car commercial that NEEDS to get made — so let's take a look at what he had to say about the Birds' top three picks from this year's draft...

JJ Arcega-Whiteside

The production of rookie wide receivers across the league this season has not been kind to Arcega-Whiteside and the Eagles. He is the least productive of the 11 healthy receivers drafted in the first three rounds. ...

We can’t render a final verdict on the Arcega-Whiteside selection halfway through his rookie season. Maybe some wide receivers take more time to develop. But that does not leave the Eagles off the hook for the roster construction at the position. If they weren’t willing to count on Arcega-Whiteside as an early contributor, then they willingly entered the season with Mack Hollins as the only backup receiver, despite having a tandem of starting receivers in Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson who had combined for one 16-game season since 2015. ...

Andre Dillard

The Eagles will have a decision to make at left tackle if Dillard continues his adequate level of play and Jason Peters returns to full health. Doug Pederson said earlier this week that Peters is the starter when healthy and there’s a good chance he’s back after the bye, but the Eagles haven’t exactly hit their injury timetables on the nose in the last two years. ...

Miles Sanders

Sanders’ ascension to receiving threat has saved the passing offense from being putrid. It has also caught the attention of opposing defenses, who have started to disrespect the threat of the run when Sanders is in the game. According to Next Gen Stats, he has faced an eight-man box on just 6.58 percent of his snaps, which is the fifth-lowest mark in the league. When Sanders is on the field, the Eagles pass the ball 60.7 percent of the time, whereas they pass the ball just 47.7 of the time with Jordan Howard on the field. My guess is the Eagles will work to close that disparity in the second half of the season to keep defenses guessing. There are 10 teams whose top two running backs have both played enough to qualify for league leaderboards. Among those dual backfields, only the Vikings and Broncos have a greater disparity in run-pass splits between their top two backs.  [theathletic.com]

Seriously, read Bo's piece just for the commercial script — or for the baseball lineup he made under Timmy Jernigan. (I still think Kason Jelce was a missed opportunity.)

The man in the middle

Michael Renner | Pro Football Focus

This offseason, the Eagles brought in Malik Jackson and re-signed Tim Jernigan in order to help Fletcher Cox along the interior of the defensive line. Despite not having either for much of the season — not to mention that he's coming off offseason surgery that caused him to miss all of training camp and the preseason — Cox has been a beast. The sack numbers might not be there, but according to Pro Football Focus, Cox has been the fifth best pass rusher in the NFL this season, and is second behind only Aaron Donald among interior pass rushers. 

5. FLETCHER COX, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

No surprise to see Cox right behind Donald for Nos.  1 and 2 among interior players. He’s got a pass-rushing grade over 90.0 for the third season in a row. The sacks may not be there, but his 38 pressures still rank third among defensive tackles.  [pff.com]

(Really) Old school football

EJ Smith | Inquirer.com

Over at the Inquirer, EJ Smith took a look at how the Eagles are bucking an NFL trend, or perhaps conforming to a new one, by not just running the ball more, but doing so from under center, rather than from shotgun. And by doing that, they're conforming to an even older school of thought. A much older one... 

Shotgun runs come with an immediate tell: The running back has to line up on either side of the quarterback behind center before the snap.

That can limit a team’s ability to mask play calls. Defensive coordinators can eliminate possibilities based on pre-snap formation.

“It’s Sun Tzu’s Art of War,” Kelce said. “Being unpredictable is a huge advantage in any type of competition.”

Kelce said the Eagles work hard to keep their formations from giving away the play calls, but it’s a lot less complicated to just line up under center, with the running back directly behind the quarterback.

“Running under center presents a lot of advantages for the team running the ball,” Kelce said. “Obviously, you’re not tipping the play right away with what side the back’s on. ... The tendencies are a little bit harder to pick up on as a defense."

In the last two games, Eagles coach Doug Pederson has called 49 running plays with Carson Wentz under center to 27 running plays out of shotgun formations.  [inquirer.com]

Best of the decade

Joe DeCamara | 94 WIP

During the bye week, the guys over at WIP have been putting together All-Decade teams for the Eagles, and they recently dropped the 1990s edition, which was compiled by host Joe DeCamara. The offense featured Randall Cunningham, Ricky Waters and Irving Fryar, but dear lord that defense is stacked... 

The defense is pretty cut & dry. William Fuller was probably the best player left off this all decade squad, but I had to go with Reggie & Clyde. Jerome only played for the Birds for two years in the 90s, but his greatness compels that he be on this team.

The linebackers are rock solid and indisputable.

Bobby Taylor might be the second best player left off the team, but I couldn’t turn away from Eric Allen and Troy Vincent.

Dawk wasn’t quite DAWK until ‘99, but he was a four year starter in the 90s so he is an easy selection. And while I strongly considered an in-his-prime Greg Jackson for the other safety spot, I ultimately chose between Wes and Andre for the second safety position, and settled on Wes.  [94wip.radio.com]


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