Eagles ‘Other Guys’ Have to Get in the Mix Again
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The Eagles' offense has shifted from one where everybody is invited to the party into a unit featuring two playmakers at the skill positions: talented tight end Zach Ertz and lengthy receiver Alshon Jeffery.
And while it's pretty impressive to look at the historic numbers Ertz is putting up or the number of touchdowns Jeffery has generated over his past 17 games, it's also highlights what's missing from an offense that is just 22nd in the league when it comes to scoring: the ability to hit a defense from different directions.
"We’ve got two guys that have playing at a very high level and they have been productive and have been getting the ball," offensive coordinator Mike Groh acknowledged on Tuesday. "Carson [Wentz] has got a lot of trust in those guys and they have been getting themselves open. I think we did a good job of spreading the ball around. [TE] Dallas [Goedert] had some good catches down the field the other day, but we need to continue to do that and keep everybody involved. I do think that helps every offense stay balanced and keeps the defense honest."
Keeping the defense honest might be even more important across the pond this weekend when the Eagles face the Jacksonville Jaguars, a similarly desperate team which needs a win badly.
While the Jags have been struggling to get Ws recently, it's not because of the pass defense, which has been the NFL's best, allowing just 179.7 yards per game, and spearheaded by two top-tier cornerbacks in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.
Ramsey is particularly difficult to deal with as one of the top two or three cornerbacks in the NFL and the ability to lock down opposing receivers gives an impressive pass rush -- led by Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue -- a little extra time to get to the quarterback.
"They have a lot of team speed in general, a lot of team speed," Groh said. "That's one of the reasons why they played in the AFC Championship Game last year. They have an excellent defense. It's a challenge."
As impressive as Wentz had been since returning from his ACL injury, the one fly in the ointment has been the strip sack, something which often comes from attempting to extend plays.
The likelihood of that happening increases if Wentz is focused in on his two top playmakers meaning this could be the week that the Eagles really need Nelson Agholor to return to his 2017 form as well as additional contributions from the backfield and receivers like Goedert and Jordan Matthews.
"We like to spread the ball around and we have to be able to do that against this [Jaguars] defense," Groh admitted. "Their reputation precedes them. They have an excellent secondary, they're strong up front, put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. We have to be able to get the ball out of our hand and spread the ball around and find favorable matchups. We have good players in that huddle and we are confident about their ability to show up on Sunday and make plays."
So maybe the biggest key against the Jacksonville defense is getting the ball out on time and making the offense work for you, something coach Doug Pederson explained earlier in the week.
"I talk to this team a lot about how you don't have to go looking for plays," Pederson said. "There's enough out there. Plays are going to come to you. When they come to you, make the play in the game."
On Wednesday the coach also insisted that while Ertz and Jeffery have to remain a big part of the offense, the other guys have to be mixed in as well.
"I think they're getting the majority of the targets. Some of it is by design," Pederson explained. "Dallas is in the mix a little bit. Nelson is in the mix a little bit. Nelson's been probably more in the run game -- RPO stuff -- you know things like that we've done with him but sometimes it's just dependent on the defense we're seeing and where the ball goes. Carson's reads and all that but obviously you have to go in the game planning for Zach, Alshon, Dallas, you know when we get Sproles back, Nelly, you definitely have to put in plays for those guys."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen