Game-by-game 2016 Eagles notebook

EaglesWeek by week. Analysis in a nutshell. presents its second annual game-by-game notebook, a running recap of the 2016 Philadelphia Eagles season:

Week One: Eagles 29, Browns 10: It was the Carson Wentz show as the Birds opened the year at home. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s unit got after Cleveland quarterback Robert Griffin III as the contest wore on, but Wentz (22-37, 278 yards, 2 TDs) stole the spotlight, showcasing big-play poise roughly a week after sliding into the Eagles’ starting QB job. A 19-yard floater to Jordan Matthews (7 receptions, 114 yards, 1 TD) kicked off the rookie’s early hot streak, and after a snap over Griffin’s head gave the Eagles a safety, Wentz’s 35-yard third-quarter strike to Nelson Agholor quieted the Browns’ chances. The Eagles still surrendered some big gains, missed a first-half field goal and at one point led by only three, but everything else, from a tipped Agholor catch and booming Donnie Jones punts to a tipped Rodney McLeod interception, went Philly’s way. Totes from Ryan Mathews and Kenjon Barner (119 combined rushing yards) kept the ball out of Cleveland’s hands en route to rookie head coach Doug Pederson’s first step forward with the Eagles.

Week Two: Eagles 29, Bears 14: Slowness dominated Soldier Field for much of Monday Night Football’s first half, in which the Eagles started hot but mustered just nine points from three Caleb Sturgis field goals. But a third-quarter surge, headlined by three Bears turnovers in a span of four consecutive drives, quickly extended the Eagles’ lead from 9-7 to 22-7. A confident Carson Wentz (21-34, 190 yards, 1 TD), directing pre-snap calls like a crossing guard in traffic, engineered enough offense to capitalize on the takeaways – a pick by linebacker Nigel Bradham and fumble recoveries by cornerback Ron Brooks and linebacker Jordan Hicks. Some creative play calling from Doug Pederson and no-nonsense red-zone running by Ryan Mathews (32 yards, 2 TDs) offset penalties up front and deep-ball drops that may have sealed the Eagles’ win sooner. And the “D,” with rookie CB Jalen Mills replacing an injured Leodis McKelvin, held tight after knocking Bears QB Jay Cutler from the game. Half of Chicago’s points came on a fourth-quarter punt return.

Week Three: Eagles 34, Steelers 3: Toughest opponent of the season yet? Don’t tell that to Carson Wentz, a fist-pumping Jim Schwartz and Doug Pederson’s 3-0 Eagles. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan set the tone on Sunday’s opening drive, blocking a Pittsburgh field goal, and the rest of Schwartz’s defense swarmed to the ball as the day wore on, handing the Steelers a historic deficit with two sacks, a Brandon Graham fumble recovery and imposing play from safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, who had a one-armed pick of Ben Roethlisberger. Poised throws from the rookie whiz, Wentz (23-31, 301 yards, 2 TDs), gave the Birds points on their first three series – two field goals and a 12-yard pass to Jordan Matthews put Philadelphia up 13-3 at halftime. Antonio Brown (140 yards) had his usual big day for the favored AFC visitors, but Sunday was otherwise all Eagles, complete with sound blocking, a 73-yard catch-and-run TD by Darren Sproles and surprise scores from fellow running backs Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood.

Week Five: Eagles 23, Lions 24: The Eagles were under fire early in Jim Schwartz’s Detroit homecoming, falling behind 14-0 thanks to a pair of touchdown receptions by the Lions’ skittish Theo Riddick, and while three second-half scores gave Philadelphia the lead, the comeback was thwarted by the Birds’ own mistake – a third-down fumble by Ryan Mathews with 2:41 to play. The first Philly turnover of 2016, resulting in a go-ahead field goal by Detroit’s Matt Prater, occurred not long before the second, a game-sealing deep-ball interception thrown by Carson Wentz (25-33, 238 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT). Schwartz’s “D” stepped up in the second half with sacks by Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan as well as a fumble recovery by Nigel Bradham. And Wentz spread the ball around, setting up four unanswered Eagles scores, one a short pass to Josh Huff. At the mercy of the fast-moving Lions early on, however, the Eagles surrendered big plays and struggled to make enough of their own, downing themselves with 14 penalties and the late giveaways.

Week Six: Eagles 20, Redskins 27: Fortunate to be down only seven in the waning minutes of Sunday’s bout, the Eagles’ biggest wounds – 13 penalties and a line ravaged by constant pressure with rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai replacing suspended right tackle Lane Johnson – were mostly self-inflicted. Carson Wentz (11-22, 179 yards) absorbed five sacks and, despite a late rally, barely saw the field in the first half, in which Philadelphia managed just 41 yards. Some big plays, like a 38-yard catch by receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, were erased by debatable calls, but the Eagles still sputtered, only splitting a 14-0 second-quarter Redskins lead with a kick return touchdown by rookie Wendell Smallwood. Outside of a 64-yard pick six by safety Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles defense was no help, seemingly losing its grasp of fundamentals as it surrendered 230 yards on the ground and let Washington’s Kirk Cousins (263 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) lean on one big run after another. Caleb Sturgis nailed both of his two field goal tries for Philly in the fourth.

Week Seven: Eagles 21, Vikings 10: Carson Wentz (16-28, 138 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) had his sloppiest outing of the season on an offense that turned the ball over four times against Minnesota’s vaunted defense. But thanks to all-day pressure from the Eagles’ own “D,” ex-Philly QB Sam Bradford was just as sloppy in his homecoming, absorbing 19 hits and losing two of four fumbles behind a shaky line, at times coughing up the ball immediately after Wentz mistakes. The Birds’ aggressive performance, with six sacks and a red-zone Rodney McLeod interception, held the Vikings to three points until a last-minute touchdown catch by Cordarrelle Patterson, a score set up by a Ryan Mathews fumble. A 98-yard kick return by receiver Josh Huff, capped with a flip into the endzone and preceding a two-point conversion, gave the Eagles their lone first-half TD, while Wentz found WR Dorial Green-Beckham for a five-yard score in the third. Two Caleb Sturgis field goals gave an 18-point lead to the Eagles, who lost CB Ron Brooks to injury.

Week Eight: Eagles 23, Cowboys 29: Complacency cost the Eagles a big divisional win in Dallas Sunday night, as Coach Doug Pederson’s conservative play calling overshadowed Philly’s early containment of esteemed Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Dropped passes and another fourth-quarter fumble – this time from rookie Wendell Smallwood – didn’t help, as veteran reserve Darren Sproles (107 total yards) was about the only reliable weapon for Carson Wentz (32-43, 202 yards, 1 TD). A 55-yard Caleb Sturgis field goal near halftime gave the Eagles a 13-10 lead, and a five-yard touchdown pass from Wentz to Jordan Matthews made it 20-10 in the third. But Dallas steadily regained ground amidst the Birds’ play-it-safe drives, leaning on rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott and knotting the contest at 23 on a leaping grab by Dez Bryant with 3:11 to go. Jim Schwartz’s Eagles “D,” which had a first-half Jordan Hicks interception, made a big stop in the fourth but was outdone in overtime, surrendering a 75-yard drive capped with a five-yard Prescott TD toss.

Week Nine: Eagles 23, Giants 28: New York allowed the Eagles to hang around long after two ugly Carson Wentz interceptions set up a 14-0 first-quarter Giants lead. But late-game Philadelphia heroics, like a diving Jordan Hicks interception with 1:55 to go, were undone by a trio of failed fourth-down tries, streaky play calling and a malfunctioning secondary, which surrendered four passing touchdowns – three for more than 26 yards – to Eli Manning and the G-Men. Wentz (27-47, 364 yards, 2 INTs) found a rhythm with Zach Ertz (97 yards) and Jordan Matthews as the game went on, setting up rushing scores by Ryan Mathews and Kenjon Barner, who narrowed New York’s lead to 21-17. Often when it mattered most, though, Doug Pederson’s offense could not execute, settling for three Caleb Sturgis field goals, watching another get blocked and missing four straight red-zone passes on its final series. Hicks and Nolan Carroll had late takeaways but the defense’s day was epitomized on Manning’s 32-yard TD to a wide-open Sterling Shepard in the third.

Week 10: Eagles 24, Falcons 15: Red-zone woes, a second-half Carson Wentz fumble and some spotty officiating left the Eagles vulnerable late in Sunday’s bout with quarterback Matt Ryan and Atlanta’s No. 1-ranked offense. Wentz (25-36, 231 yards), however, leaned on a suddenly dominant ground attack – Ryan Mathews (108 yards, 2 TDs) and Wendell Smallwood (70 yards) found daylight behind surging blocks – to manufacture a go-ahead fourth-quarter scoring drive. The Eagles defense, forcing four field goal tries and churning out textbook tackles, held the Falcons to nine points until cornerback Leodis McKelvin was fooled on a 76-yard fourth-quarter TD pass. McKelvin, sans injured counterpart Nolan Carroll, later picked off Ryan to thwart a Falcons comeback, highlighting a unit that even forced drops from Julio Jones, the NFL’s leading receiver. Three Caleb Sturgis field goals held Philly’s tight leads (10-6, 10-9, 13-9) throughout, and a two-point Mathews run, coupled with a rare extra-point miss by Atlanta’s Matt Bryant, ensured an Eagles upset.

Week 11: Eagles 15, Seahawks 26: Until the fourth quarter, when Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had as many receiving yards (15) as Eagles wideouts, Philadelphia was all but buried by both its own mental errors and big plays by Seattle on both sides of the ball. Carson Wentz (23-45, 218 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) kept the roaring CenturyLink Field crowd on edge with a five-yard scoring pass to Dorial Green-Beckham with 3:46 to go, a touchdown that set up a two-point conversion and narrowed Seattle’s 26-7 lead. But after their first TD of the day, a four-yard catch by tight end Zach Ertz (6 receptions) that had them up 7-6 following a blocked Seahawks extra point, the Eagles were outdone with regularity. Forcing himself into two turnovers, Wentz was off but also without help from the rest of the Birds offense, which lost two running backs to injury and had a 57-yard catch-and-run score by Ertz erased by a Nelson Agholor penalty. Meanwhile, Seattle moved when it needed to, scoring on two plays over 35 yards and racking up 439 on the day.

Week 12: Eagles 13, Packers 27: The first two series of Monday Night Football promised a shootout, with Carson Wentz (24-36, 254 yards, 1 INT) attacking Green Bay’s poorly ranked pass defense on three first-down throws to Dorial Green-Beckham (6 receptions, 86 yards) and a touchdown scramble to mirror a scoring drive from Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Just enough from Wentz, whose 33 rushing yards behind a banged-up O-line nearly led the team, kept Philadelphia within four at the start of the fourth despite a third-quarter interception and 10 more points from Green Bay, six of which came on a perfectly lobbed 20-yard Rodgers throw to Davante Adams. But the Packers controlled the second half, as Rodgers helped convert 10 of 14 third downs against a lacking pass rush, holding the ball for a total of 35:23 and engineering another 10 points – the TD came courtesy of fullback Aaron Ripkowski – while Philly mustered just a 50-yard Caleb Sturgis field goal in the third. Missing two of his normal starting receivers, Wentz was also sacked four times.

Week 13: Eagles 14, Bengals 32: Whether Doug Pederson’s bunch was ill-prepared, too reliant on the passing game (Carson Wentz heaved the ball 60 times), equally as helpless in the secondary or simply drained of effort in its seventh loss in nine games, the Eagles’ hopes were cloudier than the Cincinnati skies Sunday. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was hardly touched by Philly’s invisible-as-of-late pass rush and had a field day with 332 yards through the air, setting up four straight scoring drives to give Cincy a 20-0 halftime lead. After a pair of late fumble recoveries, the Eagles came within two scores in the fourth on a fourth-down touchdown catch by tight end Zach Ertz and a two-yard Darren Sproles run, but the ground game was otherwise nonexistent, with Wentz (36-60, 308 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs) forced to fling the ball at an excessive and inconsistent rate. Four Mike Nugent field goals helped the Bengals, who at one point were up 29-0. So did 10 Eagles penalties and a Birds offense that had maybe one standout in rookie Paul Turner (6 receptions, 80 yards).

Week 14: Eagles 22, Redskins 27: Disappointing as it may have been thanks to a last-minute comeback attempt that was thwarted too soon, the Eagles’ rematch with Washington was not devoid of effort. The Birds had reason to be fired up after Darren Sproles was knocked out of the game on an illegal hit while waiting to field a punt, riding a fourth-quarter pick six by Leodis McKelvin and on-the-run success from Carson Wentz (32-46, 314 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) to set up a potential go-ahead score. But a perpetually reshuffled O-line left Wentz out to dry against Redskins pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan, who forced a game-sealing strip sack at Washington’s 14-yard line. Down five at that point after a third field goal by Caleb Sturgis, who may have had four if not for injuries to both long snapper Jon Dorenbos and emergency backup Brent Celek, the Eagles led 13-7 at halftime after a four-yard touchdown catch by Sproles. Big plays still hurt the Philadelphia defense, which gave up an 80-yard bomb to ex-Eagle DeSean Jackson and two scoring runs of more than 20 yards – one with 2:00 to go.

Week 15: Eagles 26, Ravens 27: With the Eagles eliminated from playoff contention by day’s end, Doug Pederson let his team go for it all with four seconds left, trying a go-ahead two-point conversion after a last-minute scrambling score by Carson Wentz (22-42, 170 yards, 1 INT) erased a 10-point deficit, bringing Philly within one point of the Ravens. A tipped pass deflection sealed Baltimore’s lead, but the gutsy call showed fight from a Birds team in transition – one that was again downed by big plays, including a 34-yard touchdown catch by the Ravens’ Steve Smith right before halftime, but finally found success on the ground despite Baltimore’s top-ranked defense. Ryan Mathews (20 carries, 128 yards, 1 TD) gave the Eagles an 11-10 advantage in the second quarter after a score and subsequent two-point dive, and a couple takeaways (a Fletcher Cox fumble recovery and a late Jordan Hicks interception) kept things close, forcing four first-half lead changes. Baltimore came up big when it mattered, though, and Philly had to settle for four Caleb Sturgis field goals on offense.

Week 16: Eagles 24, Giants 19: Spoiling New York’s opportunity to clinch a playoff spot and securing their first one-possession win of the year, the Eagles were hot from the get-go Thursday night, riding tackle Lane Johnson’s triumphant return to a 78-yard opening scoring drive (Darren Sproles touchdown run) and going up 14-0 on a 34-yard Malcolm Jenkins pick six. Carson Wentz (13-24, 152 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) shook off a deep-ball pick, scrambled for 27 yards and tossed another 40 on a second-quarter TD pass to Nelson Agholor despite briefly leaving with an apparent head injury. Up 21-6 after the Agholor score, the Birds allowed the Giants breathing room (quarterback Eli Manning had 356 passing yards) but were largely suffocating in the red zone, forcing four field goals. Late offensive struggles let New York, which narrowed the score with several Odell Beckham catches and a 13-yard Sterling Shepard TD, threaten. But the Eagles “D” also got its hands on the ball, nabbing two more interceptions – another by Jenkins and one by backup Terrence Brooks with 14 seconds left.

Week 17: Eagles 27, Cowboys 13: Playoff-bound Dallas rested some of its starters partway into Sunday’s rematch, and despite some red-zone shortcomings by the Eagles, Philly had little trouble picking on its former backup quarterback, Mark Sanchez, who was intercepted twice by linebacker Jordan Hicks while playing in relief of the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott and Tony Romo. Now No. 2, Romo had Dallas up 10-3 after a second-quarter touchdown pass, but the Eagles’ front seven got push as the game wore on, logging three sacks and allowing just 69 rushing yards. An efficient offense lessened the burden, too, with an elusive Carson Wentz (27-43, 245 yards, 2 TDs) and a backfield of young reserves – including rookies Byron Marshall and Terrell Watson, the latter of whom had a one-yard TD to put the Eagles up two scores late in the fourth quarter – giving the Birds a big time-of-possession edge. Two scoring catches by tight end Zach Ertz (13 receptions, 139 yards) broke a 10-10 halftime tie and headlined the Eagles’ second half, which also featured the second of two Caleb Sturgis field goals.


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