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September 11, 2018

What they're saying: Ajayi will be Eagles' workhorse; tough test awaits in Week 2

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Carroll - Eagles Public Practice Jay Ajayi Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Jay Ajayi practices at the Eagles public practice on August 11 at Lincoln Financial Field.

Everything we knew about the NFC East coming into the season has remained fairly true through the first week of action. The New York Giants still have an aging and bad quarterback, the Cowboys continue to float into the abyss, and Washington offers what is probably the most credible threat to Philadelphia's division crown. The Eagles, for their part, took care of business and stayed in the driver's seat through the opening week.

But elsewhere around the league, a few more surprises were in store. None stood out more than Philadelphia's Week Two opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who put on a show against the Saints with backup Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center. Suddenly, a road game that looked like a walkover could end up being a tough test for the defending champs early in the season.

And that will be the case regardless of how the quarterback situation shakes out this week.

Jay Ajayi will be Eagles' workhorse

Tim McManus | ESPN

One of the major bright spots of Philadelphia's opening win over Atlanta was the play of Ajayi in the second half. After ceding touches to Darren Sproles early on, the presumed No. 1 back took over in the game in the final two quarters and propelled the Eagles to a victory.

From the sound of things, the Eagles would prefer to keep featuring Ajayi throughout the season, and his limited use early against Atlanta was a product of health as much as anything.

The opening act of Thursday's game led to some confusion for fans and fantasy players alike, as veteran Darren Sproles got the start for the Eagles while Ajayi played sparingly, finishing the half with just three carries. The script flipped in the second half, though. Ajayi was unleashed, and ended with 15 carries (10 more than both Sproles and Corey Clement) for 62 yards with a pair of touchdowns. 

Ajayi was dealing with a foot ailment entering the game. When you factor that in, Pederson's running back rotation makes more sense, and Ajayi's prospects for the 2018 get even brighter. 

"I wanted to make sure because Jay was nursing a little bit of a lower body injury for a couple weeks, and just wanted to make sure he was good and get him into the flow of the game," Pederson said. "I think not only going forward, but him, health-wise, coming out of the game was really good. Moving forward, we'll see him more." 

That's music to Ajayi's ears. He wants to carry the load. Standing at 6-feet, 223-pounds, he likes to grind defenses down early and take advantage of their exhausted state late. It worked well in 2016, when he toted the ball 260 times and finished fourth in the NFL with 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns. The 25-year-old has extra incentive to reclaim the role of primary back. Ajayi is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. The bigger the year, the bigger the new contract that awaits him, whether it be in Philadelphia or elsewhere. []

Seems like a simple strategy to me: give the big man the ball and watch him go to work.

Eagles vs. Bucs tougher matchup than we once thought

Dave Zangaro | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Yes, they went up against a New Orleans Saints defense that has never been compared to the '85 Bears, but the Bucs still went out and hung 48 points against another NFL team on Sunday. That alone will get the attention of Philadelphia's coaching staff, who must prepare as if Tampa Bay is prepared to do it again for a second straight week.

The good news for Jim Schwartz? His defense looked tremendous in Week One against Atlanta, and is well-equipped to deal with the group of weapons their opponent will throw at them on Sunday. But they are treating Tampa Bay as a credible threat to thrive and win either way.

“Veteran guy, [Fitzpatrick has] been doing it for a long time,” cornerback Jalen Mills said. “I can’t say nothing else about it. Backup quarterback. I mean, you saw what we did last year with our backup quarterback. He’s stepping up in his role.” 

Sure, the Eagles have a better defense than the Saints. No one would argue differently. But the Eagles’ defense better be able to shut down the Bucs, because the Nick Foles that showed up in Week 1 won’t be able to win a shootout. If the Super Bowl Foles shows up, they’re fine. But no one knows what to expect from him. 

And I’m not saying the Eagles are going to lose this game; I’m just saying it’s a little tougher of a game than we probably thought it was a week ago. 

The Eagles might catch a little bit of a break this week because DeSean Jackson, who had a monster game in Week 1, suffered a concussion and might not be ready for Sunday’s game. But even without Jackson, the Bucs still have Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at receiver. All three guys found the end zone Sunday. 

“They have really three receivers that can make a ton of plays down the field,” Jenkins said. “We know from playing them a couple years ago that the shots down the field is what they like to do. Max up so they give the quarterback time to stretch the field. We’ll have a unique challenge on our hands.” []

The return of Jason Peters, on film

Sheil Kapadia | The Athletic

No one had a more dominant game for the Eagles last Thursday than Jason Peters, the All-Pro lineman attempting to make a comeback from a devastating knee injury. You would have hardly known that was the context for his return from watching him play, because he dominated his side of the line from start to finish.

Whether his aging body holds up over the course of the season is another story, but if the Eagles get full-strength Peters for another season, that's a massive lift to a unit that already showed it can play at a Super Bowl level.

Last month, Doug Pederson was asked on multiple occasions whether he wanted to see Jason Peters participate in the preseason. 

Peters, 36, was coming off of a torn ACL and MCL. His 2017 season ended in October, but he decided to return for at least one more run (and maybe more). There was a thought that Peters might benefit from a series or two of live game reps before Week 1, but Pederson decided that was unnecessary. 

“Jason is very limited usually through camp,” Pederson said. “Try to get him to the regular season and keep him healthy for 16 games.” 

Peters took the field Thursday night for his 15th NFL season. Before kickoff, he stood next to Jason Kelce and admired the Super Bowl banner that had been unveiled at The Linc. Last year was the first time that Peters was on an Eagles team that won a playoff game. But he didn’t get to participate in the postseason. That’s part of the reason why he came back. Peters wants to be on the field for another run in January. 

And in Week 1, he showed he still has plenty left in the tank. []

Bradham promises to be a "wild man"

Dave Spadaro |

Sharp as the defense looked against Atlanta, they might end up looking even better moving forward. Thanks to the return of Bradham from a brief suspension, the Eagles are getting one of their best and biggest contributors back in Week Two without a single health concern to speak of.

With the perspective of a man who had to watch from home for a week, Bradham sounds ready to jump back into the thick of things and leave his imprint on the field.

Bradham did feel the electricity coming from the stands at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday. He thought the goal-line stand to halt Atlanta’s first drive “set the tone, even the commentators said so,” and that the fans “never let up throughout the whole game.” 

“I just missed being in the Linc with them yelling,” he said. “I can feel the vibrations and stuff.” 

For the most part, Bradham said he was “iffy” as he watched the game. There was some yelling and screaming both happy and not quite as happy. It was a one-time thing and Bradham is glad the moment is behind him. 

“I’m going to be back to doing my thing,” he said. “I’m working on my game every day. The guys picked it up and now I’m here to do my part. I see us as being stacked. We’re only going to get better and better." []

11 takeaways from NFL Week 1

Brandon Lee Gowton | Bleeding Green Nation

Just as the preseason has to be taken with a grain of salt, so too does the analysis of a single week of NFL action. We've seen plenty of teams bounce back from uninspiring starts, and pretenders have faded down the stretch after coming out guns blazing.

At the very least, the Eagles need to be prepared for a more formidable Week Two opponent than they may have previously expected. But BLG believes you shouldn't overreact to this week's opponent playing a division rival tough.

Allow me to attempt to alleviate your worries a little bit. As divisional opponents, the Bucs and Saints typically always play each other tough. This is something I even hinted at prior to this week’s game, so I’m not just saying that in hindsight. Including yesterday, eight out of the last nine Saints-Bucs meetings have been one-possession affairs. The Bucs are 4-5 in those nine games. 

Make no mistake, the Bucs have some legitimate weapons. The Eagles know one of them all too well, although DeSean Jackson did suffer a concussion and might not be able to play. We’ll see. 

It goes without saying that the Eagles might need more than just 18 points from their offense this week. I can’t help but feel their defense will fare significantly better against Tampa Bay’s offense than the Saints’ did, though. []

Wentz or Foles? Eagles just concerned with getting wins

Zach Rosenblatt |

We haven't heard much to suggest Carson Wentz is much closer to a return this week than he was last week. Even the reports on the optimistic side of things have suggested a Week Three return is his best bet moving forward.

So it seems likely the Eagles will have to push forward with Nick Foles as the starter for at least another week. He was not especially good in the team's opening win, and he's going to have to improve (along with the rest of the offense) if the Eagles are going to continue on a roll to start the year.

The way his coaches see it, however, is that he took care of his primary responsibility: winning the game.

"I learned a long time ago from (Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells): the No. 1 job of the quarterback is to bring his team home a winner," [Offensive coordinator Mike] Groh said. "Nick's found a way to do that. He's played really, really well and there's been other times where he hasn't played as well or up to that level but still found a way to get his team home a winner. 

"In the national football league, that's the No. 1 thing you've got to do. As long as he continues to do that we can improve on some other things." 

Foles' struggles date back to the preseason, where he turned the ball over three times in his final appearance against the Browns. 

Groh and the Eagles have a plan to get Foles going if (when?) he starts against the Buccaneers in Week 2 -- keeping it simple, stupid. 

"It's just trying to find him easy completions," Groh said. "Not unlike a lot of quarterbacks, you like to get in the flow of the game, get a completion, or to use a basketball analogy, find a nice, easy, open shot or layup. Find your rhythm early and get going. We've got to do a good job with that and try to present him those opportunities early to get him in the flow of the game." []

Deiondre Hall is all smiles following trade to Eagles

Daniel Gallen | PennLive

You'd be forgiven if you forgot about the Eagles picking up the 24-year-old defensive back in the first place, given that he spent his first week of the year suspended and unable to play. Hard to make an impression on the fans when you're relegated to hanging out in the team hotel, far away from the action on the field.

But the former Bears player sounds fired up to be joining the project in Philadelphia, as you might expect for any young player jumping into the mix for a Super Bowl winner. And who else would have welcomed him to the team except for Wentz, the current and future face of the franchise — and familiar foe for Hall.

Hall, a defensive back who the Eagles acquired from the Chicago Bears on Sept. 1, was suspended for the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. So while his new teammates were eking out an 18-12 win Thursday night, Hall was relegated to being a distant observer. 

"It was crazy, just getting in here this past week and learning these guys on defense ... and then seeing those guys go out there and ball out was crazy, especially in that last two minutes," Hall said. "I'm jumping and screaming at the TV." 


And one of the first faces Hall saw when he got his first tour of the NovaCare Complex was star quarterback Carson Wentz. The two faced off in college, with Hall roaming the secondary for Northern Iowa and Wentz piloting North Dakota State's prolific attack. Wentz started twice against Northern Iowa in his Bison career. When they were juniors, the Panthers won, 23-3. Hall had seven tackles and a pass breakup in the secondary, while Wentz was 15 of 25 for 132 yards with an interception. 

In 2015, North Dakota State got one back with a 31-28 win. Wentz threw for 335 yards and four touchdowns. Hall had eight tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss. Hall said Wentz got the better of him during their college matchups. 

"Wentz definitely did," Hall said. "He has, what, five national championships? Golly." []

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