Good morning, Eagles fans. After two road games, the Eagles finally play in front of the home fans Sunday against the Giants. Keep reading to find out which matchup merits your focus. This is “Early Birds,” the twice-weekly newsletter breaking down the Eagles. It’s free to sign up here to get it in your inbox every Monday and Friday. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thanks for reading.
— Zach Berman
This matchup will decide Sunday’s game
The big Eagles stories this week have been about a seldom-used running game, injuries in the secondary, and a changing of the (left) guard. But on Monday morning, the story you will be talking about figures to be the Eagles’ defensive line against the Giants’ offensive line.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz acknowledged its significance this week, one day after Giants quarterback Eli Manning became a tackling dummy against Detroit on Monday Night Football. Manning has been sacked eight times and hit 12 times in two games. If you’re paying attention to the stories the Giants fans are reading or rants on talk radio, they’re about a porous offensive line.
The Eagles have their own protection issues, but their pass rush has not been a problem with eight sacks and 16 quarterback hits. The Eagles rotate through eight D linemen, and both lineups have brought down quarterbacks so far. Brandon Graham leads the team with 2.5 sacks.
“We can’t go into a game thinking it’s going to be easy, because it’s never going to be like that,” Graham said.
Even if the Eagles had a pedestrian group, they still would be entering a favorable matchup. Left tackle Ereck Flowers, a former first-round pick, has received the most scrutiny. He allowed three sacks to Ziggy Ansah last week. Vinny Curry and Derek Barnett should be on alert.
The defensive line needs to play even better on Sunday because the Eagles have problems in the secondary. It’s unknown who will start at safety for the Eagles, and rookie Rasul Douglas is expected to start at cornerback. A good pass rush is the best way to help a shaky secondary. Look for the Eagles to play off-coverage, keep the wide receivers in front of them, and rely on tackling to avoid big plays. If the Eagles can force the Giants into obvious passing situations, the pass rushers can use the crowd noise at Lincoln Financial Field. There’s a reason that 20 of the Eagles’ 34 sacks last year came with Reggie White‘s retired number hanging overhead.
Manning will be booed in Philadelphia and his head coach called him out this week, but he’s capable of big games. I covered Manning in 2010 and 2011 and have seen what he can do when he has the protection and the weapons. Odell Beckham Jr. is getting healthier and the Giants’ pass catchers can challenge the Eagles’ secondary, so the key will be getting to Manning. I think the Eagles win Sunday, and the defensive line will be the reason.
What you need to know about the Eagles
- Chance Warmack will start at left guard in place of Isaac Seumalo, Les Bowen writes. What went wrong with Seumalo? Jeff McLane breaks down the film. But the problem could have been in the summer, when the Eagles gave Seumalo the job without competition. That’s the topic in Paul Domowitch‘s weekly notes. (I also enjoyed Domo’s breakdown of all the personnel groupings.) Poor offensive line play has been in a trend in the NFL, as Bowen examines. Both teams this season are examples. The Eagles’ offensive line is more accomplished than the Giants’ line, though.
- Injuries in the secondary have left the safety depth chart “paper thin.” They’re likely to have two new starters on Sunday. Cornerback Ronald Darby, safety Rodney McLeod, and safety/cornerback Jaylen Watkins are not expected to play. Safety Corey Graham has missed practice the past two days, although he finished last week’s game. McLane’s weekly notes take a look at the development of the young cornerbacks. (He also has a good note on back-shoulder passes.) The Eagles claimed safety Trae Elston off waivers and might need to play him Sunday, Bowen writes. Even after the injuries, Bowen was impressed with how the secondary played last week.
- McLane looks into whether the Eagles’ rushing problem is personnel or play-calling. As I wrote in Monday’s newsletter, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Doug Pederson has shown a proclivity for calling passing plays, and the personnel problems were apparent during the summer. But Corey Clement could get a bigger role this week, Domo writes.
- The Eagles are in third-and-long too often, Bowen explores. They’re relying too much on Carson Wentz, who drew the praise of Doug Pederson and Andy Reid.
- The beat writers all predicted the correct outcome last week. This week, we all predict an Eagles win.
- Chris Long will donate his first six game checks to fund two scholarships to his high school in Charlottesville, Va. While Connor Barwin played for the Rams last night, his foundation hosted a concert in Philadelphia.
- It hasn’t been a good season if you own Giants in fantasy football. Ed Barkowitz writes.
- Listen to the latest Birds’ Eye View podcast.
3 Questions With | Safety Corey Graham
Note: Veteran safety Corey Graham missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but he could start if he plays Sunday. He’s played in 159 consecutive regular season games, the second-longest streak among active defensive backs. This interview took place before Graham injured his hamstring.
Zach Berman: How do you think you’ve been able to last so long in the league and stay healthy as long as you have?
Corey Graham: “I’m taking care of my body. I do a lot on days off and throughout the week, from cold tub to massages, from soaking in Epsom salt, to acupuncture, to chiropractors, doing a little bit of everything. It’s helped me avoid injuries and stay flexible.”
Zach Berman: When you first came to the NFL out of New Hampshire, could you have envisioned the type of career path you’ve taken?
Corey Graham: “No. It’s funny you say that because I was just thinking about that the other day. I was talking to my high school football coach, and we were talking about the same thing. Coming out, obviously, a lot of kids dream about playing in the NFL. I had those same dreams. So I always hoped for an opportunity and make it any way I possibly could. But if you would have told me I’d accomplish all the things that I have and played as long as I have and been able to be as successful as I have, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. It’s been truly a blessing. I’ve been fortunate to stay healthy. The most important [thing] is to stay healthy, be available, have opportunities. That’s helped me a long way. Sometimes it shocks me still to believe I’m still playing.”
Zach Berman: You played in a Pro Bowl. You won a Super Bowl. You’ve played for your hometown team. What keeps you going?
Corey Graham: “Just love of the game. I enjoy playing. I enjoy being around the guys. My kids love it. My kids love watching me play, my kids love coming to the games. I enjoy everything about playing in the NFL, everything that comes with it. I just love the game still.”
Elsewhere in the NFL
- Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. still believes in QB Eli Manning. [Newsday]
- Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott said there’s no excuse for his lack of effort last week. [Dallas Morning News]
- Learn more about Redskins LT Trent Williams, who is one of the NFL’s best offensive tackles. [Washington Post]
- The Eagles play the Chargers next week and you’ll hear about DE Joey Bosa. Here’s a story on his family. [Sports Illustrated]
- Broncos QB Trevor Siemian has won over his teammates [Denver Post]
- Ever told a weight joke about Seahawks RB Eddie Lacy? Read how it affects him. [ESPN The Magazine]
- Aaron Hernandez had CTE; there are lawsuits planned against the Patriots and the NFL. [Boston Globe]
From the mailbag
What's with the batted balls at the line? Carson's tall enough to throw over most defenders.
— PhillyTrevor (@PhillyTrevor) September 21, 2017
Glad you asked. I actually brought this up to both Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson this week. The explanation I received was that when the offensive line is holding their blocks, the defensive linemen are putting their arms up instead of trying to continue the pass rush. And then on screen passes, Wentz admitted he must throw better passes. But this is noticeable — both of Wentz’s interceptions were on deflected passes, although one went off a helmet. You’re right about the height; he’s nearly 6-foot-6, one of the tallest quarterbacks in the NFL.
“It’s something we’ve constantly got to be working on,” Wentz said. “Sometimes it’s finding a better window, it’s different things. It can be frustrating, it can be annoying, but it’s all kind of situational.”
Will Clement ever be their RB1 this season?
— cj hood (@therealcjhood) September 21, 2017
I can see Corey Clement‘s role growing this year, but I don’t think Clement becomes their No. 1 running back. I can’t see him ever serving that role with the Eagles, either. He’s a good player to have on the roster as a rotational running back who can also contribute on special teams. But I’m not sure he supplants Darren Sproles or Wendell Smallwood if the Eagles reduce LeGarrette Blount’s workload, and I think they draft ahead of Clement in the future. The caveat for this season is if Blount and/or Smallwood suffers an injury. That would open up more playing time.
How do you think Warmack is going to do starting this week?
— 1⃣9⃣ (@____MaRiO19) September 21, 2017
I’m curious to find out. Even though Chance Warmack didn’t play well in Tennessee last season, he has started 48 games in his career. The stage won’t be too big for him. You know you’re getting an experienced player. The Eagles were high on him this summer, especially his run blocking. If they want to bolster their running game on Sunday, it could help that Warmack is in the lineup. Considering the way Isaac Seumalo played in the first two weeks to warrant the demotion, I don’t think Warmack will be worse. But expectations should also be realistic for a player who was a backup all summer.