Eagles-Steelers, Day After: ‘Sky Is the Limit’
Minutes after the Eagles shattered any remaining preseason expectations by handing the Steelers their worst loss since 1989, Doug Pederson walked through the bowels of Lincoln Financial Field to the locker room quietly repeating one word: Wow.
The head coach was admittedly surprised himself to see his team start out 3-0 by beating Pittsburgh, 34-3. In extending their home win streak against the Steelers to nine consecutive games, a mark dating back to 1966, Philadelphia recorded their largest margin of victory over Pittsburgh since 1965.
Pederson became the only head coach in Eagles history to win his first three games with the team, while Carson Wentz became just the second rookie quarterback to start and win the first three games of his team’s season since the 1970 NFL merger. The Eagles have held opponents to 14 or fewer points in each of their first three games for the first time since 1992, and they also lead the NFL in points scored (92), points allowed (27) and point differential (+65).
In other words: For the last three weeks, the Eagles have played like a team who ignored all of the outside noise because, well, they did ignore it.
“That is why we are the players and you guys are the media,” Kenjon Barner said. “That is the media’s job to speculate and create stories. We know what we have in this locker room. We have a group of guys that have come together through OTAs, training camp, and the regular season. The sky is the limit when you truly believe in each other.”
Brandon Graham referred to the victory as a “statement” win, which surely put the rest of the league on notice. This is not the same Eagles team as last year; in fact, it’s almost the exact opposite.
Rather than being labeled a Super Bowl dark horse as they were last year before the season, the 2016 Eagles were widely expected to lose more than they won. Rather than losing two of their first three games in an unexpectedly horrid fashion, the 2016 Eagles have shockingly dominated each opponent. And rather than looking like a team with a hopeless future, the 2016 Eagles appear to have all of the potential in the world.
“When you’ve been in the league for a while you can tell when you have a good team,” Jason Kelce said. “Even in the offseason, I think everybody, just looking at the roster we had, I thought we were very underrated in the media’s eye. Honestly, it seems like our team always does better when the media doesn’t expect us to do well, so I was a little bit happy.”
According to Pederson, the Eagles’ early success can be attributed to their quick buy-in back during OTAs. He asked his players to “trust the process” and to believe in the coaches as well as their teammates, which appears to be a message well received.
“We kind of enjoy flying under the radar, but I think obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing is different. We’ll keep our preparation the same, stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day, and understand what has gotten us to 3-0.”
It was perhaps the biggest play of the game, and by far the longest touchdown pass of Carson Wentz’s NFL career, but the rookie quarterback who should’ve had the best angle to watch Darren Sproles scamper for a 73-yard score missed part of it. Before Sproles reached the end zone, Wentz was yelling at Jason Kelce to get out of his face as the center celebrated before the play ended because he was happy Wentz simply avoided a sack.
“We made something out of nothing there,” Kelce said. “He scrambles out, and then most times a lot of quarterbacks would just tuck it down and runs it out of bounds or something like that. He has the wherewithal to see the defender commit to him, dump it over top and then, obviously, Darren in space is as good as it gets. Just a tremendous play. I was ecstatic before I even found out it was a touchdown, and then that elevated it a little bit more.
“There are a lot of plays that really exemplify [what Carson can do that many quarterbacks can’t], but that’s certainly one of them.”
The Eagles’ touchdown on the third play of the second half extended their lead from 13-3 to 20-3, while simultaneously showing why Wentz can be special. Facing third-and-8 from their own 27-yard-line, Philadelphia came out with 11 personnel in a shotgun formation. Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham and Jordan Matthews lined up on the left side (from outside to inside), while Trey Burton was next to Lane Johnson and Sproles was to Wentz’s right.
Wentz was reading the left side of the field until Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt quickly got past Allen Barbre on a stunt, forcing the quarterback to escape the pocket and transition to “scramble mode,” as he put it. Sproles, who ran a simple five-yard out, turned up the sideline as Wentz rolled to the right.
What happened next was vintage Sproles, who now ranks 10th in NFL history in all-purpose yards because of his 128 receiving yards on six catches, as the 33-year-old proved impossible to bring down in space.
“It was so much fun. Those are the kinds of plays that you can’t design,” Frank Reich said. “It’s just players making plays. The players deserve all of the credit for that in terms of having that kind of instinct and then executing. Sproles did his thing and wiggled down there and it was fun to watch.”
While Kelce called it “backyard football,” Brent Celek referenced the play as something “you can’t teach.” Sproles made multiple guys miss as he ran 53 yards after the catch, but Wentz also did what Doug Pederson praised him for just a few days ago: He kept his eyes up field as he left the pocket and ignored the easy yards before him if he simply ran the ball himself.
“I always want to be a thrower first. Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening,” Wentz said. “If I scramble I might get five, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”
Eagles are 11th tm under current playoff format (1990) to win 1st 3 games of season by 14+ pts. Previous 10 made playoffs & 4 won Super Bowl pic.twitter.com/UHxso8AGpz
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 25, 2016
Per ESPN Stats & Info, 227 of Carson Wentz's 301 passing yards Sunday came after the catch.
— Tim McManus (@Tim_McManus) September 26, 2016
Wendell Smallwood & Kenjon Barner are first Eagles duo to score first career TDs in same game since Kevin Kolb & Shady vs. Chiefs in 2009.
— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) September 26, 2016
Bennie Logan blocks the FG!! Steelers keep ball for 6-plus min, convert pair of 3rd downs, but Wheaton drop was huge pic.twitter.com/s1d4ZjEK7d
— Philly Influencer (@PHL_Influencer) September 25, 2016
Rodney McLeod with the INT in the end zone. https://t.co/EWfJlYxbfk
— 975TheFanatic (@975TheFanatic) September 25, 2016
Here's Fletcher Cox going through a Pro Bowl guard to get to the QB. Impressive stuff. pic.twitter.com/rfnkAaH834
— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroNBCS) September 26, 2016
When you wake up on Monday, but then remember the Birds opened up that can of whoop-ass yesterday…https://t.co/CKuOOlxMxQ
— Life of a Philly Fan (@PhillyFanLife) September 26, 2016
“We were thinking about something that represents both of us. So usually when guys score touchdowns or something crazy happens, they jump into each other’s arms, and they call it getting ‘hype.’ But with us, we want to play with each other for a long time. We feel like we work hard enough to where we should expect the touchdown and we should expect great things to happen. So every time I run up to him, we fake like we are going to jump into each other. Then say, ‘Nah,’ put the tie on and shake hands. So it is like no hype, straight business.”
—Jordan Matthews on his touchdown celebration with Carson Wentz.
“Well it’s a mentality. It’s an aggressive mentality and at the same time, there’s a lot of weapons on that side of the field on offense. They’ve proven it. I really don’t think that any lead is too great in the National Football League. I don’t ever want to get caught where, you know, the wind sort of comes out of your sail a little bit. I want to keep sending that message to our guys that we’re going to remain aggressive until the time is right. So I’m going to continue to coach that way and obviously play-call that way.”
—Doug Pederson on keeping Wentz in for the entire game.
“He played like a freakin’ Hall of Famer. I don’t know how many passes he missed, but he managed the game, got the ball to his receivers, got the ball to the running backs.”
—Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward on Wentz’s play, via ESPN’s Tim McManus and Jeremy Fowler.
“I am not sure right now. We will get him evaluated and I will update you tomorrow, but right now I do not really know at this point.”
—Pederson on Ryan Mathews’ ankle injury and health status.
“No, I mean what he’s doing is great. It’s just amazing. It’s something that I think he will downplay but there is no doubt about it; what he’s doing is special.”
—Malcolm Jenkins on if he can believe what he’s seeing from Wentz.
“He doesn’t play for you. He doesn’t play for his parents. He doesn’t play for me. He plays for God straight up. So when you do that, there is no pressure. It is just straight up. So that is why anytime he says something he says, ‘AO1,’ and everybody wants to say, ‘Oh, is it this? Or is it this?’ No. He puts himself in a position where he doesn’t have to put pressure on himself. He plays for God and that makes it that much easier on him.”
—Matthews on Wentz.
“My favorite play of the day was we were in a four-minute-type offense. We run a little draw play to the outside and he knows exactly where the chain is and comes down right in bounds to keep that clock moving. And I mean, that is something a lot of rookies don’t have the wherewithal to do. I thought it was an incredibly smart play by Wendell. And a lot of times those kind of go unnoticed. But in our world, especially in clock management, even though the score was pretty much out of reach at the time, let’s say it’s a closer game that is a big play for us.”
—Jason Kelce’s favorite Wendell Smallwood play.
“No, not at all. I’m going to enjoy bye week. I think it’s at a good spot. We had a really tough training camp. Even the first three weeks of the season and practices being pretty tough, and that Monday night game coming back on a short week. I think we need the rest right now. Obviously we have a long way to go after the bye week. I think it’s fallen at a good spot.”
—Jenkins on if he’s disappointed the bye week is so soon.
“He played great. He won the game. He managed the game, he makes throws, he does the checks and audibles. I’m not sure how much freedom he has, but just look at the score.”
—Ben Roethlisberger on Wentz’s performance.
|Player||# of snaps||% of snaps|
- The biggest surprise of the game? Wendell Smallwood (37 percent) played as much as Darren Sproles (37 percent) did, tied for the most among Eagles running backs. Ryan Mathews (12 percent) was limited, likely because of his ankle injury, but Smallwood made the most of his opportunity as he ran the ball 17 times for 79 yards and one touchdown. The rookie running back had more than twice as many carries as anyone else in the game on either team.
- No offensive lineman missed a snap as the continuity and consistent play up front led to zero sacks and just three quarterback hits. Stefen Wisniewski will have high standards to live up to if Lane Johnson’s suspension is upheld after Allen Barbre’s impressive start at left guard.
- With Zach Ertz out, Matt Tobin (18 percent) was again used as a third tight end/sixth offensive lineman, this time for a dozen snaps.
- Dorial Green-Beckham (49 percent) got a bump in snaps as he caught three passes for 33 yards.
|Player||# of snaps||% of snaps|
- We’ve touched on this before so I’ll keep it short this time around, but paying Mychal Kendricks (15 percent) $29 million over four years — with more than $16 million reportedly guaranteed — to play nine snaps is a huge waste of money. The Eagles played a ton of nickel throughout the game, but when you give a guy that kind of money, you expect him to play in your sub-packages, too. Kendricks makes a lot of sense as a trade candidate.
- On a similar note, Vinny Curry (43 percent) is getting a lot of money — reportedly $47.25 million over five years — to play a minority of snaps every game. Perhaps his knee injury is still bothering him a bit, but I’m surprised Curry isn’t getting more of Connor Barwin’s (78 percent) snaps.
- If I’m gonna spend the first two notes on the defensive snaps about how the Eagles may be wasting money, it’s also worth noting what a bargain both Nigel Bradham (93 percent) and Ron Brooks (97 percent) have been. Bradham is getting a reported $7 million over two years, while Brooks is getting a reported $5.5 million over three years.
- Brooks started over Jalen Mills (88 percent), but the rookie still played most of the snaps.
- Bennie Logan’s playing time (48 percent) also suffered because the Eagles were in nickel a lot, but he still made a huge impact through a sack, two quarterback hits and a blocked field goal.