Good morning, Eagles fans. I’m heading to Los Angeles this weekend for the Eagles’ first visit to L.A. since 1990. Who’s making the trip? Send along your experiences and food suggestions — I’ll include them in Early Birds to help the fans going to L.A. in December when the Eagles play the Rams. This is Early Birds, the twice-weekly newsletter breaking down the Eagles. It’s free to sign up here to get 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. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
Wendell Smallwood’s time to step up
If you are among those who thought Wendell Smallwood could be the Eagles’ solution at running back, the next three months will offer a convincing answer.
Starting Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, Smallwood will have an expanded role on offense. Darren Sproles is out for the year with a torn ACL and broken forearm, so Smallwood will step into that role. Sproles wasn’t the featured running back, but he played the most. He took 59 percent of the offensive snaps in the first two games and 45 percent of the offensive snaps last season. The Eagles will keep their committee approach, although LeGarrette Blount’s role won’t likely change. Corey Clement and Kenjon Barner can mix into the rotation, but Smallwood becomes the third-down back, an important job that requires pass-catching and pass-blocking duties. (For more, check out Les Bowen‘s story on Smallwood from earlier this week.)
“I’ve got to step up and try to do things that he does and get better at the stuff I do well,” Smallwood said. “Everybody’s kind of taking on that role, like, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ ”
I’ve thought Smallwood would become more of a complementary back than a lead rusher. He wears No. 28 not for Adrian Peterson, but for Correll Buckhalter — a key part of the Eagles’ three-headed running back with Duce Staley and Brian Westbrook. But sometimes, all a player needs is an opportunity.
This will be a good week to showcase his ability. The Chargers have the 31st-ranked rush defense and allowed a 100-yard rusher the past two games. With edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram capable of hurting the Eagles’ passing game, a good running game will be a key ingredient toward escaping Los Angeles with a win. Smallwood will be in the spotlight all season — it starts shining on Sunday.
What you need to know about the Eagles
- The Eagles are expected to play without Fletcher Cox on Sunday, Les Bowen writes. Look for Beau Allen to start next to Tim Jernigan, who needs to step up in Cox’s absence, Paul Domowitch writes. On passing downs, you could see four defensive ends on the field: Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham playing inside, and Derek Barnett and Chris Long on the edges. Injuries have tested the depth on the Eagles defense.
- When Jordan Hicks was out of the lineup, Mychal Kendricks received more playing time. Kendricks played well — and he could play at that level if he’s on the field more often. He explained his frustration to Jeff McLane in Jeff’s weekly notes. (Also, read about what Jason Peters said to Jake Elliott.) Kendricks was the only player not locking arms last week because he was caught up in his pre-game music, Marcus Hayes writes.
- The Eagles used both Stefen Wisniewski and Chance Warmack at left guard last Sunday. There could be clarity at the position by this afternoon. My guess: Wisniewski gets the job. Losing Darren Sproles affects an offense that wasn’t thriving, Les writes. Kenjon Barner is expected to replace Sproles in the return game.
- Carson Wentz has the freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage, Les writes. Wentz was 2 for 2 converting first downs on quarterback sneaks last week. Domo looks into Wentz’s sneaky effectiveness in his weekly notes. (He also has an item on where the announcers for the Eagles’ Spanish broadcast were moved.) Wentz still must work on his deep balls, as McLane explored.
- Speaking of Wentz, he was caught on microphone saying he’d give his game check to Jake Elliott if Elliott made the field goal. The two reached an agreement: Wentz will donate part of the check to a charity of Elliott’s choice. For more on Elliott’s 61-yard field goal, Tom Avril checked out the science. Check out the Sunday Inquirer and Philly.com to learn more about how Elliott started playing football.
- Jalen Mills has been the Eagles’ top cornerback without Ronald Darby. How did Mills do against Odell Beckham Jr.? McLane broke down the film to find out.
- You should get used to Doug Pederson going for fourth downs, Hayes writes. Pederson said even though he checked for the data before the call, the fourth-down decision was his to make.
- All four beat writers picked the Chargers to win.
- Make sure you’re listening to the Birds’ Eye View podcast.
3 Questions With | Running back Kenjon Barner
Zach Berman: You’ve spoken to us in the past about the role Darren Sproles has had on your career. Is it bittersweet that the opportunity came this way?
Kenjon Barner: “The way that it came, no. Him being hurt, Sproles has been a huge influence on my career and really helped me out a lot. So I wasn’t happy about that. But the opportunity that I have, absolutely. Very fortunate.”
Zach Berman: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from him?
Kenjon Barner: “How to be a professional. How to carry myself, how to approach the game, how to approach film, how to approach meetings. That dude’s taught me a lot.”
Zach Berman: Was it odd wearing No. 38 out there as opposed to No. 34?
Kenjon Barner: “Yes! That number’s terrible! But LeGarrette [Blount] told me, ‘Hey, you just got to make it look good! Definitely a terrible number. But, I’m going to make it work.”
Elsewhere in the NFL
- Giants owner John Mara is “very unhappy” with WR Odell Beckham Jr.‘s antics. Beckham is sorry for his penalty, not his celebration. [New York Post]
- Here’s a glimpse of Redskins QB Kirk Cousins‘ personality: He keeps pictures of the local reporters in his locker so he knows their names. [Washington Post]
- What’s Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott’s reaction to those who think he lost a step? [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]
- QB Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense must improve against the Eagles to earn their first win. [Los Angeles Times]
- Could Penn State’s Saquon Barkley be better than any of the running backs drafted in recent years? [theMMQB.com]
- Former Eagles safety Terrence Brooks, now with the Jets, won AFC defensive player of the week after his two interceptions against Miami. He was traded by the Eagles before the preseason finale. [Pro Football Talk]
From the mailbag
When Sidney Jones and Ronald Darby are healthy, who are the starting outside corners?
— Charlie Wigginton (@_SirCharles34) September 28, 2017
My guess is those two are the eventual starters at the position. I’m not sure that’s the lineup in November, but if both are healthy next season, they should be the starting outside cornerbacks. I’ve been impressed with Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas, though. Howie Roseman and his staff deserve credit for the way they’ve rebuilt this cornerback group with young talent instead of another year of free agents. However, Sidney Jones represents the Eagles’ best chance for a Pro Bowl-caliber player at the position. He has No. 1 cornerback skills if he’s healthy. Combined with a healthy Ronald Darby, the Eagles could have an impressive starting duo — and Mills and Douglas will continue to challenge them. I’m curious whether Mills eventually becomes a slot cornerback. He has the instincts and tackling ability.
When the time comes: Sturgis or Elliott?
— chris luise (@coachchrislu) September 28, 2017
It’s too soon to say. That might seem like an easy way out, but Jake Elliott is only two games into his Eagles career and is 3 for 5 on field goals. He showed he has a big leg, but he needs consistency. That said, if Elliott is consistent this season, I can see him keeping the job through the rest of the season and competing with Caleb Sturgis next summer. It could be a similar situation to Sturgis and Cody Parkey two years ago. Sturgis replaced Parkey after an injury, and the two had a camp competition for the job. The point will be moot if Elliott is inconsistent, though. It’s going to take more than making a 61-yarder.
Asking if you feel that being guarded has impact, & if you do, do you feel it has impact with us, 1 way or the other?
— Chuck (@cmart6780) September 28, 2017
Actually, Doug Pederson has taken the opposite approach this season. He’s been guarded with injuries and lineup decisions. He was more open last season. This is a change in his second year. Pederson doesn’t want to give much away, going away from the Andy Reid way of starting a news conference with injuries. It’s his prerogative, and I understand why he does it. As a reporter, I’d obviously prefer him being open. The league has an injury report, so there’s not much hiding. And sometimes it can be to a player’s advantage. There have been times when a coach makes it seem like a player is on the verge of playing and the injury is actually more serious than the coach lets on. That can lead to a negative perception of a player — that he’s slow to recover or not getting back quickly enough, when all along, he was on the original timetable. (Fletcher Cox‘s current injury could prove to be an example.) But ultimately, I don’t think a coach’s gamesmanship has much of an effect on the game. Opponents are usually prepared for different possibilities.