Good morning. The Eagles have their last practice at 11:50 a.m. today before Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts. Doug Pederson's news conference is at 10:30 a.m. The Eagles will release their final injury report after practice. Pay attention to the status of Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Alshon Jeffery, and Jason Peters.
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— Zach Berman
This is obvious, and it's applicable every week, but who isn't going to watch closely for Carson Wentz to get up after a hit? In Wentz's first game back from a torn ACL and LCL, I don't expect much rust. Wentz has been practicing all summer, and though he hasn't taken a hit, he's an incredibly talented player. I also don't think there should be any more worry of injury than there is in any other week; he's been cleared to play. But I expect Wentz to play like he did last season, which means he'll use his mobility, he'll extend plays, and he'll be aggressive. He won't stay clean the entire game. There will be anticipation about the first hit, but it's not just hits – there will also be heightened attention when he plants his leg, when he cuts, when he starts and stops. That's part of the intrigue about a player's first game back from major injury.
The Eagles might be without Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles at running back, leaving them with Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, and Josh Adams. Although Doug Pederson uses a committee-like approach in the backfield, this would not be the weekend to do it. If those are the three running backs, Clement deserves to be close to a featured running back. If it means scaling back his special teams responsibilities, so be it. Clement is too valuable to the offense. He just keeps getting better, both on the ground and through the air. He'll be used both ways, but pay attention to him in the passing game. The Colts allowed 16 catches to Washington running backs last week. Clement's 108 total yards in the Super Bowl were a career high. He might eclipse that mark against the Colts.
The Eagles are undermanned at wide receiver, too, likely missing three of their top four receivers entering the season. Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor will be Wentz's top targets, and I expect Jordan Matthews to catch a few passes. But the Eagles need to get Dallas Goedert involved. He has played only 23 percent of the offensive snaps this season despite the lack of weapons. For a second-round pick with his pass-catching ability, that's not enough. Yes, he's learning the offense. Yes, the Eagles limit their formations when they put him in the game. But given his offensive potential, Doug Pederson and Mike Groh should put plays for Goedert in the game plan. It would give the Eagles a dimension that has been lacking through the first two weeks. My guess is the Eagles will feature him in the red zone. They should see if he can do more.
The Colts have the NFL's best third-down offense through two weeks, converting an eye-popping 60.6 percent of their third downs. Coach Frank Reich emphasizes situational football, and Andrew Luck is an outstanding quarterback. It's going to be a long day for the Eagles if that continues on Sunday. The Eagles are keeping opponents to 32 percent on third downs. They had the third-best third-down defense last season, when they also limited opponents to 32 percent. The Eagles defense excelled at home last season, and they'll have the crowd in their favor. The crowd can especially be a factor on third downs, when the pass rush can get after Luck.
There's no question who is the best weapon on the Colts, and there's not even a close second. T.Y. Hilton, who led the NFL in receiving yards in 2016, has 12 catches, 22 targets, and two touchdowns through the first two weeks. He's been a big-play threat throughout his career, averaging 15.7 yards. You saw how the Eagles defense struggled against the deep ball last week.
"It doesn't happen by accident," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said of Hilton. "He can make a play deep down the field, and that was something that proved a liability for us last week. So I'm sure they're going to…test us, and we have to be up for the challenge."
It's worth noting that Hilton missed practice the past two days with a quadriceps injury. Top tight end Jack Doyle has also missed practice with a hip injury. So check out the injury report on Friday afternoon and inactives on Sunday morning.
The Eagles have the NFL's top-ranked rush defense through two games this season, keeping opponents to 58.5 yards per game and 2.9 yards per carry. They also had the top-ranked rush defense last season. The Colts have the 24th-ranked rush offense this season, and they don't have personnel there that worries teams, with Jordan Wilkins and Marlon Mack their top running backs. Of course, the Eagles defense struggled against the pass last week, and the Colts have Luck at quarterback. The Eagles try to make opponents one-dimensional, but if I were the Eagles, I'd rather them run the ball this week than have Luck drop back. Reich knows the Eagles defense well; my guess is the Colts test the Eagles through the air. Luck has 84 pass attempts (he's completing 71.4 percent) through two games, and they will trust the ball in his hands on Sunday.
Jake Elliott missed a 42-yard field goal last week that could have changed the way the Eagles played in the second half. He also missed a field goal and an extra point in the preseason. It's way too early to be concerned about Elliott, but this would be a good week for him to show why he was a key part of the Eagles' Super Bowl run. Think about one year ago. The Eagles returned home after a Week 2 loss in Kansas City. Elliott kicked a 61-yard field goal to win. With an offense struggling to score points, the Eagles cannot leave points on the board. That means Elliott must deliver.
Zach Berman: You haven't needed to talk about the injury in awhile. Does that seem like a lifetime ago?
Jones: I don't even want to talk about the injury. We're way beyond that. …I don't want to hear one more time about the injury. We're way beyond that. I'm good. I'm good.
ZB: I'm sure you know the excitement about you among Eagles fans. Has it been a challenge trying to live up to those expectations?
SJ: Not really. I just go out there and handle my business and do what I do every week, and try to get better and try to build off each and every week that I play. I go out there and do me, basically. … It is what it is.
ZB: How is not having the sideline an adjustment while playing in the slot?
SJ: A slight adjustment. Depending on what we play in our coverage that dictates the sideline issue, but that was definitely the biggest thing for me at first, when you line up against a guy in the middle of the field and they have a two-way go and all that space. But just play ball at the end of the day, and know where you have help and where you don't have help. And that can help you out at the end of the day when you know you don't have the sideline to help you out, knowing the defense.
I see Jordan Matthews as a notable contributor on Sunday. I wouldn't be surprised if he's up there with Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor, and Corey Clement atop Carson Wentz's target list. Matthews was productive during his three years with the Eagles, has a connection with Wentz, and can fill a role on short notice. I've always thought more of Matthews' talent than some others in Philly, and that's because he's produced. Qualify it or rationalize it all you want, he averaged 75 catches in his three seasons with the Eagles and five catches per game in his lone season with Wentz. I think Wentz looks his way Sunday. If you want a prediction, I'll go with four catches for 40 yards.
It depends what you qualify as a breakout player. Zach Ertz is their top pass catcher, so if he has a good game, it should be expected unless he sets career marks. I'm going with Corey Clement. I wrote about it above, but I think they need to give him the majority of the snaps at running back if Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles are out, and I think the opportunity will be there against Indianapolis' defense. I've been impressed with Clement through two weeks, so he deserves more playing time even if the Eagles were at full strength. They need him to come through Sunday, and I believe he will.