Eagles try to keep roll going
The Eagles returned from their bye week in the role of the hunted, not the hunters, all apologies to Carson Wentz and his camoflage-and-crossbow pose with that 8-point buck.
Wentz is wearing the NFL rookie-of-the-month for September target on his chest as he bids to become the only rookie quarterback to win his first four games since the 1970 merger, the Eagles one win away as they take on the Detroit Lions in their way Sunday at Ford Field (1 p.m., Channel 29, WYSP 94.1-FM).
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz would prefer the Lions forget how the Buffalo Bills players he coached carried him off the field when he beat them here two years ago. Schwartz had been fired as head coach of the Lions the previous season.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, the model of calm, isn’t preaching the merits of the 4-0
start. In the past five NFL seasons, 14 of 16 (87.5 percent) teams that won their first four games reached the playoffs.
The Eagles are on a roll, or at least were on one, before the schedule told them to take a break. That roll is due largely to the defense that’s given up just 27 points over three games, the fewest in the Eagles’ first three starts since the 1992 team allowed 27.
Wentz is the other obvious reason for the success of the Eagles as he’s performed like a seasoned veteran despite entering the season with just two quarters of live action in one preseason game.
Wentz has five touchdowns, no interceptions and a 103.8 passer rating in a 3-0 start. If not for dropped passes, hed’ be completing 71.5 percent of his throws.
Wentz heard it all and then some during the bye week, some calling him the favorite for MVP.
“I’m very cautious about taking too much praise,” Wentz said. “I realize it’s only three games and we’ve got a long way to go.”
The Lions (1-3) are in trouble. They’ve lost three straight games by a total of 11 points in a league where many games are decided by 7 or fewer points.
The Lions are allowing a league-worst quarterback rating of 120.2. Oh, and this is probably not the best time for the Eagles to be reminded how they were humbled, 45-14, by the Lions here last year.
“It was the worst feeling because it was Thanksgiving day,” defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. “To get embarrassed like that on national TV while everyone was getting together with their family enjoying one another? And we pretty much were on TV stinking it up. It’s definitely a bad feeling. You definitely remember those games like that.”
Logan, unfortunately, is questionable for the game with a calf spasm. His work alongside Fletcher Cox, the NFC defensive player of the month for September, has enabled the Eagles to play Schwartz’s brand of physical, downhill football.
The Eagles have depth up front to get after Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who Schwartz praised for converting 50 percent of his thirdand-long opportunities. Beau Allen and Destiny Vaeao are ready to roll in at tackle. Brandon Graham and Cox have 3 sacks apiece. The current Lions’ offensive line isn’t going to put anyone on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Though Stafford remains accurate, he doesn’t have Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, who retired from football and is enjoying his run on Dancing With The Stars.
Stafford has completed 66.7 percent of his throws to a stable of receivers including Marvin Jones, Anquan Boldin and Golden Tate. That’s partly because the ground game with Theo Riddick, more of a third-down type of back, has been unable to carry the load.
Stafford, 28, is looking forward to seeing Schwartz again
“I have a lot of respect for him,” Stafford said. “He was the one who brought me in here, gave me a chance, stuck with me through some injuries early in my career. I have a lot of respect for him not only as a guy but as a coach, as well. I’ve played against him, at least with Buffalo and he always had a nice game plan. He’s a really smart guy that gets his guys to play hard for him.
“I’m sure ay time you go back and play another opponent that you used to coach for in some capacity it probably means a decent amount.”
The Lions have several injuries on defense. Linebacker DeAndre Levy (quad, knee) and pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah (knee) are out and the secondary is banged-up.
The Lions are preparing for an Eagles squad that’s dominated the opposition as the game grinds on. The Birds have outscored opponents, 43-3, in third quarters and 57-10 in second halves. The Eagles have been outscored in just two of 12 quarters this season.
The contest Sunday marks a stretch in which the Eagles play four of their next five games on the road. Three of those away games are against NFC East opposition.
“Most teams have a formula,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “Win all your home games and go 50 percent on the road and you’re sitting real nice. This is an opportunity to go on the road and get a win. It’s the only opportunity we’ve got right now so it’s all we’re focused on. It’s a tough place to play. Obviously we learned our lesson last year about this place so we’ve got to make sure that we come prepared.”
Schwartz might not get that ride on the shoulders of his players. Linebacker Nigel Bradham, who played for the Bills’ defense that hoisted Schwartz following the close win over the Lions in 2014, says the emotions of this return to Motown aren’t as raw.
“I think it’s a different atmosphere,” Bradham said. “It’s been a little time since he’s been there. This is what, the third season since he left? I don’t think that that will happen.”
Said another defensive player, “Maybe we’ll dump some water on him or something. We’ll see.”
If the Eagles get to 4-0, which lately has been a magic number, someone deserves to be carried off.