Mychal Kendricks turned 27 years old on Thursday. Told that 27 is often considered the “peak” year for a NFL player, the Eagles’ sixth-year linebacker offered his own term.
“Your prime,” Kendricks said. “You’re in your prime.”
If he is indeed entering the prime of his career, Kendricks doesn’t know if he’ll ever get the opportunity to play to his capabilities in Philadelphia. It has been an ongoing story. But Kendricks had his best performance in years in place of the injured Jordan Hicks on Sunday, and the frustration of having a secondary role came to the surface once again when he was asked on Thursday if his recent play could lead to more snaps.
“I haven’t been able to play,” Kendricks said. “I could have been doing this. … You only have so much time to do this [stuff], man.”
Kendricks was on the field for 48 of 69 plays in the Eagles’ 27-24 win over the New York Giants. He was credited with seven tackles — six solo — and two pass breakups, one of which was deflected to teammate Patrick Robinson for a third-quarter interception. The Eagles scored a touchdown off the turnover.
“I thought that was a really, really big play in the game,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Tuesday, “and not only getting that interception, but it helped us get even a bigger lead.”
Under normal circumstances, Kendricks wouldn’t have been on the field in that situation. He has played almost exclusively in the Eagles’ base defense, while Hicks and Nigel Bradham have been the two nickel linebackers dating back to all last season.
“I can’t even say, ‘Oh, I’m excited,’ because I’ve been there, done that,” Kendricks said. “I’ve … won games. I know how to do [stuff] … felt natural. … It’s crazy to me.”
But Hicks, who suffered an ankle sprain, is expected to return for Sunday’s road game against the Chargers, and Kendricks will likely be relegated to his part-time role on defense. The Eagles use their base personnel roughly 30 percent of the time.
Kendricks was steady last season even though most of his efforts were spent defending the run. He had previously been most effective when rushing the passer, but he blitzed only 8 of 105 pass plays in 2016. He has rushed on 10 of 60 pass plays this season, according to Pro Football Focus, and has a sack.
But Kendricks had been equally effective in all phases this season, and it started in the preseason when he recorded three interceptions, three passes defensed, two tackles for loss and a sack in just 61 snaps over three games.
Hicks and Bradham were very good last season and played all 16 games, so it’s been difficult to argue for more playing time. But Kendricks has stood out thus far this season, however small the sample, and it’s not as if he doesn’t have a history of making game-changing plays as a regular.
He doesn’t expect to play more, however.
“I don’t know. Who knows, man?” Kendricks said. “All I can do is do what I do.”
Kendricks asked to be traded after last season. The Eagles dangled him on the market and were looking for a fifth-round draft pick around the start of free agency. Ultimately, they kept him, even though he has a $6.6 million salary-cap number.
Hicks’ injury, and the unlikelihood that he and Bradham will play all 16 games again, suggests the team made the right decision. But Kendricks, who has had his own issues with injuries over his career, may have to continue to bide his time.
“I don’t know even know what a third year [in one scheme] feels like because I … split reps with Kiko Alonso” in 2015, Kendricks said. “… I just want to know what it would be like to play a third year, like a full third year, in a defense.”
Kendricks is under contract through 2019.
When the Eagles started losing last year, the ire of fans was directed toward many players, but perhaps none more so than veteran center Jason Kelce. The irony was that he played his worst football during the team’s three-game winning streak to open the season.
But Kelce said he wasn’t bothered by the criticism.
“I think I was just more bothered that I wasn’t playing well,” Kelce said Thursday. “You’re used to playing at a certain level, and when you’re not playing at that level it’s frustrating.”
It’s why trade rumors or a possible release were taken seriously this offseason. The Eagles had Isaac Seumalo waiting in the wings and then re-signed Stefen Wisniewski. But Kelce stayed and three games into this season, he is playing at or near the level that made him one of the best centers in the NFL.
“He’s really playing well in all phases,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “It’s a credit to him, credit to his technique and fundamentals.”
Kelce may have had his best game in years in the win over the New York Giants on Sunday. The Eagles rushed for 193 yards and he had key blocks on some of the running backs’ longest carries.
“These were things we worked on towards the end of last year and we saw a payoff,” Kelce said. “It’s stuff [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] has been on me really hard this offseason about improving. I think it’s definitely been a much better start.”
Playing center had come relatively easy to Kelce during his first five years in the NFL, but as got older, he noticed that his technique, for whatever the reason, wasn’t as sound. He will turn 30 in November.
“The biggest thing is hands,” Kelce said. “I don’t know whether it was because I was younger or stronger, or technique started to fade when you’re not paying attention to it as much, but I think we put a big emphasis on having good inside hands … and that’s going to give you more power.”
The Wentz threat
Carson Wentz has 14 rushing attempts this season, but only two carries have been designed runs and each was a successful sneak on fourth down, including one on Sunday.
The Eagles quarterback, who was scrambled for 80 yards on 12 tries, has the athleticism to keep the ball on zone read plays, but he has yet to run this season. And that’s fine, as long as Wentz is able to use the threat to hold an unblocked defender before he either hands off to a running back or throws a quick pass.
“Obviously, it puts a lot of stress on the defense when there’s multiple options,” Wentz said of the Eagles’ run-pass option plays. “I can run, I can hand it off, I can throw. Obviously, it creates an element. You don’t do it a lot. It’s kind of a play here and there.”
The Eagles have had more success running from under center (33 carries for 179 yards) than they have from the shotgun (33 carries for 122 yards), and with running back Darren Sproles out for the season, they may have to cut back on the number of run-pass options they call each game.
But Wentz has been effective when opting to throw.
“It’s not a thing that everybody can do,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “Carson’s mind works so fast, and then he’s so athletic and can deliver the ball on all kinds of angles, so even if he’s riding it a little bit longer, Carson is the kind of quarterback that doesn’t have to be in perfect posture to make a good throw.”
Still, if Wentz were to run once or twice a game — and avoid unnecessary contact — it could open space for the rest of the offense.
“Am I going to be right every time with those decisions? No,” Wentz said. “But I think it can definitely create some big plays and some good opportunities.”
Five questions: Zach Ertz
- If you couldn’t play the position you now play in the NFL, which position would you want to play? Quarterback. I feel like I’m pretty smart. Maybe outside linebacker like Brandon Graham, who murders tight ends. Would be nice to be on the other side of that.
- What’s your least favorite part of the week’s practice leading up to a game? I don’t like away trips. I don’t like traveling on planes. I don’t like the way they make my body feel.
- What’s the hardest you’ve ever been hit? [Saints defensive end] Cameron Jordan got me pretty good my third year.
- What’s your favorite play you ever made in football? My rookie year touchdown against the Vikings.
- When did you first think that you were good enough to play in the NFL? When I got to my redshirt freshman year in college and saw these guys I had been competing against go onto the NFL.
Inside the game
The Eagles have called the same amount of running plays from under center vs. shotgun — 33 each. They’ve had more success with Carson Wentz handing off from under center with 179 yards and a 5.4 average. From the shotgun, the Eagles have gained 122 yards for a 3.7 average.
Running back LeGarrette Blount has accounted for most of the under-center rushes with 21 for 105 yards (5 average), followed by Wendell Smallwood (5 for 15), Corey Clement (5 for 15), and Darren Sproles (2 for 16).
Smallwood, who is slated to take most of the injured Sproles’ set plays, has the most rushes from the shotgun with 14 for 62 (4.4 average), followed by Sproles (13 for 45), Blount (5 for 8) and Clement (1 for 7).
Inside the locker room
NFL Films caught Eagles tackle Jason Peters scolding/encouraging kicker Jason Elliott after he hooked a 52-yard field-goal try wide left in the third quarter of the Giants game.
“Hey, Elliott,” Peters said as he gave Elliott a hand slap. “Come on, baby. … No more misses. No more misses.”
Said Peters a few days later: “I was being serious.”
Elliott, of course, would go on to boot the game-tying 46-yard field goal with 56 seconds left and the game-winning 61-yard field goal as time expired. The lesson: Listen to 340-pound future Hall of Famers.
“Obviously, the game means a lot to him,” Elliott said of Peters. “Having a player like that come up to you and kind of give you a spanking almost, it kind of gets you back in rhythm for the next one.”
By the numbers
Number of third downs of 6 yards or more that the Eagles have faced this season — tied for most in the NFL with the Seahawks. They have converted 11 (38 percent). Only the Patriots (52.4%), Broncos (50%) and Redskins (40%) have a higher rate.
Number of fourth downs the Eagles have gone for it over the last two seasons — most in the NFL. Their conversion rate (15 of 30 for 50 percent) is tied for 12th among 32 teams.
Number of games in a row that the Eagles’ Fletcher Cox has played — tied for second among active NFL defensive tackles. That streak is expected to end on Sunday.