Domo: After disappointing Eagles season, Matthews hopes for a better 2017

matthews8
This busted lip, suffered in the Falcons game in November, was the least of Jordan Matthews' injury worries.

JORDAN MATTHEWS expected so much more from this season.

He expected the Eagles to be a legitimate playoff contender, and he expected to establish himself as one of the NFL's top wide receivers.

Neither of those things happened.

The Eagles head into Sunday's final game against the Cowboys with a disappointing 6-9 record. Yes, six of those nine losses have been by seven points or fewer. But, as the saying goes, close counts only in hand grenades and horseshoes.

As for Matthews, he's been hobbled by a five-week-old ankle injury that has limited his effectiveness and killed any chance he had of crashing the league's top-wideouts party. He has only eight catches for 39 yards the last two games and might not even play on Sunday.

He practiced for the first time this week Friday, but was listed as questionable. There's not really much upside to putting him out there in a meaningless game.

"We gotta see," he said. "I don't make those decisions. We'll see what the coaches say, based on today. But I really don't know right now."

The injury has frustrated Matthews. This is a guy who had been the picture of health his entire career. He had never missed a game in his life before this year. Not in any sport at any level. He was one of those lucky guys who knew the team trainers only by reputation.

Then he injured his knee early in training camp when he got hit by an overzealous rookie, cornerback Jalen Mills, and missed the entire preseason.

He recovered from that and was having another solid season when he injured the ankle in a late-November Monday night loss to Green Bay.

"I don't want to talk about it too much," Matthews said. "Obviously, it's well-documented that it's bothering me. But to go back and talk about it all the time and how it's affecting me, that's making excuses.

"You just have to push through it. But it definitely has been significant. Anybody with a bird's-eye view can see that."

Matthews' receiving numbers haven't been bad, particularly when you consider the lack of help on the outside. He has 73 catches (85 last year) for 804 yards (997 last year) and only three touchdowns (eight last year). If not for the ankle injury, those numbers almost certainly would've been significantly higher.

"It's been difficult," he said. "The way I've always trained, if I have a game on Sunday, I love to be able to practice all week. I love to get extra reps. The last couple of weeks, I haven't been able to get any reps. It's not ideal for my style of play; for the person I am."

After Sunday, there will be no more games for Matthews and the Eagles until next season. While he is disappointed in the way the year turned out, he is excited about the future with Carson Wentz at quarterback.

It should be pointed out that, a year ago at this time, he was similarly excited about the future with Sam Bradford at quarterback.

But Wentz brings something to the table that Bradford did not, and that's the ability to extend plays with his legs and run for first downs.

"The best thing I've noticed about him (is) his awareness of guys coming to sack him and his ability to escape and scramble," he said. "That's huge.''

Wentz extended several plays in last week's 24-19 win over the Giants. He also rushed for 27 yards on four carries, including an impressive 11-yard Houdini act early in the fourth quarter against a blitz when he pivoted and ducked under the arm of defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins and ran for a first down.

"Teams hate playing against quarterbacks that love to pass the ball and are mobile," Matthews said. "Teams hate that. Our defense, if you talk to them, when they have to go play a guy like Russell Wilson or a guy like Aaron Rodgers, (they hate it).

"On that play in the last game, I thought he didn't see the guy coming. The move he put on him was Russell Wilsonesque."

Wentz has made it clear that he is a thrower first. When he's been flushed from the pocket, he keeps his eyes downfield, looking for his receivers.

"When he drops back, he's looking to throw it," Matthews said. "When he's scrambling out, he's still looking to throw it down field.

"But the fact that he's able to do that and make plays out of nothing, that's going to be huge for us. Those third downs where we're having trouble getting open, the fact that he can break the pocket and extend drives, I think that's the biggest thing I've seen (with Wentz)."

What we didn't see often enough this season was Wentz's receivers getting open after he extended plays. Too many times, they seemed at a loss for what to do when Wentz had to scramble.

"You look at the Seahawks, they make so many big plays off of scramble drills," Matthews said. "It seems like the second Russell escapes the pocket, somebody is coming open.

"But they practice that. The receivers get excited about it (when he scrambles). They don't think, 'Oh, crap. He's running around now.' They think,'This is when we make big plays.'

"That's where the mindset's gotta go. It's something we've talked about in our (wide receiver) room. Definitely coming back to the ball and being quarterback-friendly. It's something that I feel can really open us up offensively moving forward."

Last offseason, Matthews and tight end Zach Ertz spent extra time working and hanging out with quarterback Sam Bradford. They flew to his home in Oklahoma City in March and spent three days working out with him and running routes.

In late June, most of the team's receiving corps and quarterbacks got together for several days in San Diego.

Matthews said he and Ertz already have talked to Wentz about doing the same thing with him this offseason.

"We've already started talking about, what is the plan for the winter, and definitely a plan for the summer in June and July," he said. "Zach has a home here (in Philadelphia). Carson has a home here. We're kind of brainstorming what's the best way for us to be around each other as much as possible. Throwing the ball. Getting our chemistry right.

"We don't want to be an offense that has (individual) guys out there. You look at the quarterback-receiver corps that do well for a long time in this league like Green Bay with A-Rod, Jordy (Nelson) and Randall Cobb. Those guys are close. We want to build a unit like that."

Watkins promoted

The Eagles signed running back Terrell Watson from the practice squad Friday. He'll be the team's third running back Sunday behind Darren Sproles and Byron Marshall.

It uncertain how much playing time, if any, Watson will see. coach Doug Pederson said he wants to get a good look at Marshall in this game.

"See what we've got there," he said. "But (Watson) definitely will be there in case of . . . and then situational, some situational football as well. So we'll see where he's at."

Marshall, an undrafted rookie out of Oregon, was signed from the practice squad three weeks ago when another rookie, Wendell Smallwood, was put on injured reserve with a knee injury.

He had a couple of impressive runs in the Eagles' Week 15 loss to Baltimore, but played only one offensive snap and didn't have any touches last week against the Giants.

Marshall played both running back and wide receiver at Oregon. He rushed for 1,000 yards as a sophomore in Eugene and had 1,000 receiving yards his junior year.

"I had played running back my whole life before they moved me to wide receiver," he said.

"It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Playing receiver really helped me move in space and just become that much better of a pass-catcher and route-runner."

Birdseed

Only one player was listed as doubtful on the Eagles' injury report, left guard Allen Barbre (hamstring). Doug Pederson said Barbre will start if he's healthy. If he isn't, Stefen Wisniewski will start, but rookie Isaac Seumalo also probably will get some snaps at left guard. Seumalo (ankle) is one of four players listed as questionable, along with Jordan Matthews, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (ankle) and weakside linebacker Mychal Kendricks (quadriceps). Kendricks didn't appear on the Eagles' injury report until Friday.


pdomo@aol.com

@Pdomo Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog