NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA -- For the second year in a row, a team rose to the occasion at AT&T Stadium and claimed the NFC East title.

Last year, it was the Philadelphia Eagles. This year, it was the Cowboys. By blowing out the playoff-bound Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, the Cowboys also eliminated the Eagles from playoff contention. Of course, the Eagles made that possible by failing to rise to the occasion Saturday at Washington.

“That’s how fast it happens,” Eagles running back LeSean McCoy said Saturday night after the 27-24 loss. “I mean, just a couple weeks ago I was planning on the playoffs and who we were going to be playing and those types of things.”

The Eagles lost their past three games to fall from 9-3 to 9-6. In doing so, they surrendered control of the NFC East -- earned with a Thanksgiving Day win in Dallas -- back to the Cowboys.

After that Thanksgiving game, Eagles coach Chip Kelly talked about what his team had accomplished at that point in the season.

“We’re just getting better,” Kelly said. “Our approach is good because we’re going to play meaningful football in December.”

The Eagles are 0-3 in those “meaningful” December games. They lost to Seattle, 24-14, at home. Then came the stunning 38-27 loss to Dallas, also at the Linc. On Saturday, a 3-11 Washington team managed to beat the Eagles, 27-24.

They finish the season Sunday against the Giants at the Meadowlands. With a win, the Eagles would finish 10-6. That would match their record last season. It would make them the fifth NFC team to miss the playoffs with a 10-6 record since the current alignment of divisions was adopted in 2002.

Missing the playoffs makes this season feel like a step backward for Kelly’s team, despite the record. That’s because of the way the Eagles got to this point.

Sitting at 9-3, they had a second consecutive NFC East title in their control. All they had to do was win three games against division opponents they had already beaten this season.

Instead, they lost the first of those two divisional games. That made the third meaningless, except for the chance to get to 10 wins and garner a little useless information.

Kelly will have to decide who to start at quarterback. If Nick Foles is cleared to play, is it worth risking re-injury of his collarbone to see if he looks better behind the relatively healthy offensive line? Kelly would also have to factor in the line’s surprisingly poor play Saturday against Washington.

The easy alternative is to start Mark Sanchez, who has started the past seven games. But the Eagles have lost four of those seven starts and Kelly has a pretty clear idea of what Sanchez offers. There may be more value in seeing Matt Barkley play quarterback for a full game, if only to determine whether the second-year pro is ready to handle to primary backup role next season.

The Eagles have questions at positions other than quarterback. They have seen all they need to see from cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams. There might be value in letting Nolan Carroll and rookie corner Jaylen Watkins get some playing time.

Marcus Smith? The first-round pick managed to remain on the sideline for the entire game Saturday. If he can’t play, either at inside or outside linebacker, then it will be fair to wonder just what the Eagles coaching staff has been up to for the past six months with Smith.

Kelly’s approach -- basically, to win every possible game and try to get to the postseason -- justifies sacrificing a certain amount of player development and team building. Now that the postseason is beyond reach, the Eagles might as well focus on getting better. The future is coming, whether they prepare for it or not.
PHILADELPHIA -- It is the tender spot unprotected by every coach's armor, having his team accused of being undisciplined. So it's no wonder Chip Kelly wasn't particularly receptive to a question about the 13 penalties his Philadelphia Eagles team drew during Saturday's 27-24 loss to Washington.

"They aren't lacking discipline," Kelly said, jaw muscles tensing. "We just aren't doing the right thing during the football game."

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Kelly
A year ago, Kelly had the Eagles on a 7-1 march toward the NFC East title and a berth in the playoffs. This season, his team is in the midst of a hard crash. The Eagles were 9-3 and in control of their postseason destiny. Three losses later, they are 9-6 and gasping for air.

The Eagles should have come out and dispatched the 3-11 Washington team they were facing. Washington had lost six games in a row. There was internal sniping going on, especially surrounding head coach Jay Gruden and his quarterbacks. The Eagles had the superior record and had to be viewed as the better team.

All they had to do was step onto the field and be that better team. Simple, right?

"They were just the better team tonight," Eagles safety Nate Allen said. "We knew what was on the line and what we needed to do. They just beat us. You might as well not even have records in the NFL. On any night, anybody can beat anybody."

When a lesser team beats a better team, people look at the coach. When a team draws 13 penalties, people look at the coach. When a team succumbs to mistakes that it has been committing all season long -- turnovers, penalties, egregious defensive play -- people look at the coach.

The Eagles committed three roughing-the-passer penalties. Each helped keep Washington drives alive. Cornerback Cary Williams committed an unnecessary roughness penalty that gave Washington three more chances to score a touchdown in the red zone. Eagles offensive linemen were called for five holding penalties.

"You aren't going to win a football game that way," Kelly said. "We left [the defense] on the field too long on third downs when we got penalties to extend drives you feel like you had to stop. Thirteen penalties and two turnovers is not going to win football games in this league."

The Eagles had been penalized 97 times all season going into the game. That put them right in the middle among NFL teams. Drawing the most penalties in a must-win game in Week 16 is not the mark of a disciplined team, whatever the coach may say.

Missed opportunities haunt Eagles

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
10:50
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LANDOVER, Md. -- After a discouraging loss like the Philadelphia Eagles experienced on Saturday, there are plenty of missed opportunities to linger over.

Two especially hurt.

On the opening kickoff of the second half, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins tore the ball from the arms of Washington return man Andre Roberts. Nolan Carroll saw the ball come out and made a beeline for it. Carroll dove on the ball before it could bounce out of bounds, and the Eagles had the ball on the Washington 16.

Four plays later, the Eagles had nothing. No ball, no points, no ground gained against Washington.

“That was big,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said after the 27-24 loss. “You want to come away with points, obviously. You start off, it was a momentum swing and Malcolm makes a nice play on the kickoff. You think you are at least coming away with three points, but you always want seven in those situations.”

LeSean McCoy ran around left end for 1 yard on first down. He caught a Mark Sanchez pass but was dropped for a loss on second down. On third down, Sanchez threw the ball into the end zone. Unfortunately, none of his teammates were near where it landed.

Rookie kicker Cody Parkey, who had missed just two field goal tries all season, came out for the 34-yard attempt. Parkey has had some issues with his groin muscle, but Kelly said that did not bother Parkey on Saturday. He just kicked the ball a few feet wide to the right. Parkey missed a 46-yard attempt later in the quarter.

“I just left my hips open a little bit and missed it wide right,” Parkey said. “I’m still confident in my ability because I know what I can do and I know what I’m capable of doing. Tonight just didn’t go my way.”

In the fourth quarter, the Eagles had driven from midfield to the Washington 4-yard line. On third down, Sanchez dropped back. Tight end Zach Ertz had slipped out, picked his way through Washington’s zone coverage and found a spot in the end zone.

“I tried to squeeze it in to Ertz,” Sanchez said. “They ended up dropping eight [players into coverage], so I was just trying to get a quick one over the middle to him. They converged on him pretty quick. A safety got a hand on it. [Ertz] came over and was, like, 'I’ve got to catch it, I’ve got to catch it.' That’s just the way he is. He’s an awesome guy and wants to catch every ball.”

Parkey kicked a 22-yard field goal to tie the game at 24, but the Eagles had blown a chance to take a four-point lead there.

“I was hoping to have another [chance],” Parkey said. “Obviously, I wasn’t able to do that. It falls on me because if I make those two [missed] kicks, it could be a different story.”
LANDOVER, Md. -- Eagles fans no doubt used some choice language to describe the way the team’s defense chose to handle Washington wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

Jackson
 Jackson didn't hold anything back after the game.

“That’s how they play,” Jackson said of the Eagles defense. “They’re very na´ve, and they play how they play, so they can care less who’s out there or who’s at wide receiver. They’re going to play their defense the way they play it. I’m just glad I was able to get the opportunities I got on them.”

Jackson found himself lined up across from cornerback Bradley Fletcher. During the week, Jackson enjoyed watching tape of Fletcher giving up three touchdown passes to Dez Bryant last Sunday.

In the first quarter, Jackson ran past Fletcher and under a pass from Robert Griffin III. Jackson veered to his right and caught the ball for a 51-yard gain.

On the next play, Alfred Morris ran 28 yards for a touchdown and a 7-3 Washington lead.

In the third quarter, with Washington holding a 17-14 lead, it happened again. Fletcher was singled up on Jackson. The receiver blew past him, drifted toward his right and caught another Griffin bomb. This one went for 55 yards.

After that play, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis took Fletcher out for a while. Nolan Carroll played cornerback in his place.

“He’s had two bad weeks,” Davis said. “I was hoping he could get out of that slump. He didn’t. They went at him deep. They made the plays on him, so I made the switch. I think Fletch is a good corner. He’s just lacking confidence right now.”

Two plays later, Jackson drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone. Darrel Young ran for a 1-yard touchdown on the next snap.

“We felt like our corners could stay with him and obviously, they didn’t,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said.

That was the second miscalculation the Eagles made regarding Jackson this year. Back in March, Kelly decided Jackson was a poor fit for the kind of team he was trying to build. Jackson was released.

He caught an 81-yard touchdown pass when the teams met in September at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The Eagles won that game, though. This time, Jackson didn’t get into the end zone, but his team won.

“As far as my ex-teammates, I think a lot of guys miss me,” Jackson said. “They tell me that during the game. I still have good relationships with a lot of guys over there. They constantly tell me how much they miss me and wish I was still there. But that’s a decision they chose to make in the front office.”

LANDOVER, Md. – The mirage lingered there, just out of reach. Mark Sanchez was zipping the ball this way and that and led the Eagles to one, two, three scoring drives. After falling behind to the 3-11 team from Washington, D.C., on Saturday, the Eagles tied the game and were making a fourth drive.

They were on the edge of field-goal range when the mirage evaporated.

Sanchez’s second turnover of the game, an interception to Washington rookie Bashaud Breeland, ended the Eagles’ chance of completing the comeback. Washington drove to the game-winning field goal, which ended more than the Eagles’ already faint chances of getting back into the playoff picture.

Sanchez
The 27-24 loss also dashed the illusion that Chip Kelly’s program was on a steady upward climb. Once 9-3, the Eagles are suddenly 9-6. They can equal the previous season’s record by beating the Giants on Sunday, but their chances to take another step forward disappeared with Kai Forbath’s 26-yard field goal. The Eagles will now be rooting for Indianapolis to beat the Cowboys (10-4) on Sunday. A Dallas win eliminates Philadelphia. A Dallas loss keeps a modicum of hope alive.

Sanchez was making his seventh start since starting quarterback Nick Foles fractured his collarbone. When the Eagles were 9-3, coming off that big win in Dallas on Thanksgiving, anything seemed possible. Sanchez could be re-signed and brought back as the No. 1 QB. Foles could return and, rising to the challenge posed by Sanchez, reassert himself as the starter.

Now?

After three consecutive losses, Sanchez looks more like the turnover-prone, limited quarterback who inspired the New York Jets to move on last year. With Foles not cleared by doctors, there is little chance for him to show he deserves to be the No. 1 quarterback when training camp opens in July.

“You have to win games,” Sanchez said. “The head coach and the quarterback, we are the only ones who they keep a record [on]. So it goes with the territory of this position. There have been three really tough games, and this one came down to the wire, and we came up a little short.”

Kelly will be going into his third NFL season without knowing if he has a legitimate No. 1 quarterback. That was the risk he took when he got to Philadelphia last year. Kelly had Foles and Michael Vick on his roster and decided to let them compete for the job. He wanted to try to win right away -- no building around a young quarterback for Kelly -- and, for a while, that’s exactly what he did.

Foles’ astonishing 2013 season (27 touchdowns, two interceptions, 7-1 second-half record) created the impression Kelly had his quarterback. But Foles was nowhere near that level of excellence this season. His injury forced Kelly to make a decision he might have come close to making soon anyway.

Foles and Sanchez have each thrown 10 interceptions this season.

“I think we’re currently minus-9 in turnover margin,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “So us having nine wins is impressive. We’re living on borrowed time playing that style of football. If we had come out and run the table in December with that kind of football, it would have been surprising.”

The 26 turnovers from quarterbacks is the most in the NFL. There is no good time to turn the ball over, but there are especially bad times. Sanchez fumbled the ball away to end a drive that had started in promising fashion. But the interception, which gave the ball to Washington with under two minutes left in a tie game, was a killer.

Because of the Oregon connection, there already has been speculation Kelly will try to get in position to draft Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota in April. That would mean finding a team willing to trade down and giving up multiple draft choices, but it would give Kelly a cornerstone player at the most important position in sports.

If it’s not Mariota, the Eagles still have to find someone. Kelly tried to get by with the quarterbacks at hand, and he got the Eagles to the playoffs last year. They lost in the first round. This year, it seems likely they will miss the playoffs altogether. That is not progress. It is not enough to provide a fig leaf over the lack of a franchise quarterback.

They deserved to lose this game. They committed too many penalties, made too many mistakes and dropped too many passes.

“You aren’t going to win a football game that way,” Kelly said. “Thirteen penalties and two turnovers is not going to win football games in this league.”

That’s true. But a special quarterback would have erased all those mistakes by completing that final drive. The ball was in Sanchez’s hands. He threw it to the other team.

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
7:35
PM ET
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LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles27-24 loss to the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.

What it means: The Eagles’ 2014 season is officially falling apart, and playoff talk is now just wishful thinking. It was one thing to lose to the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks two weeks ago. It was another to lose to Dallas, a division opponent the Eagles had beaten decisively on Thanksgiving Day. But it was unthinkable for this Eagles team to turn in a flat, uninspired performance against a 3-11 Washington team -- not with its postseason hanging in the balance. That’s what happened, though. Fans of poetic justice can savor the two 50-plus-yard catches by DeSean Jackson, who burned cornerback Bradley Fletcher for both. In March, coach Chip Kelly shocked Eagles fans by releasing Jackson. In December, Jackson got his revenge. Advantage: Jackson.

Stock watch: It is dropping for the Eagles across the board. A couple of months ago, it seemed obvious they were heading for a second consecutive NFC East title and a trip to the playoffs. Even a few weeks ago, the Eagles seemed postseason-bound. With three consecutive losses, they now are 9-6 and need a win against the Giants next week just to equal last year’s record.

No Parkey zone: Cody Parkey, the Eagles’ rookie kicker, had missed just two field goal attempts all season. Parkey missed two consecutive attempts in the third quarter. His 34-yard attempt went just wide right. A few minutes later, Parkey was way wide to the right on a 46-yard attempt. Parkey made a chip-shot field goal to tie the game at 24-24 in the fourth quarter, but six points would have made a difference in this game.

Game ball: Before his inevitable fourth-quarter interception, Mark Sanchez was playing his best game of the season. But it was hard to miss tight end Zach Ertz on the other end of many of Sanchez's throws. Ertz caught a career-high 15 passes for 115 yards. Throw the game ball to him. He'll catch it.

What’s next: The Eagles close out their regular season next Sunday against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands. It will be an anticlimactic game, but it will be interesting to see how Kelly gets his players to react in such a situation. The Eagles can’t salvage their season, probably, but they can salvage a little bit of pride after three consecutive losses.
PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles coach Chip Kelly has been talking about reducing the number of turnovers committed by his team all season. This is not what he had in mind.

Elias changed the scoring from Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, taking away one of the Eagles’ turnovers. The opening kickoff, which took an odd bounce and was recovered by the Cowboys, has been scored officially as an onside kick. It was originally ruled a fumble lost by the Eagles.

The Eagles still lead the NFL with 33 turnovers this season. As bad as that sounds (and is), there is one simple conclusion to be drawn. The Eagles’ quarterbacks have turned the ball over way too much this year.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
AP Photo/John F. RhodesIn the seven games Mark Sanchez has played in since taking over for Nick Foles, he has 11 turnovers (9 picks and 2 fumbles).
Nick Foles, who started the first eight games, committed a total of 13 turnovers. Foles was on a pace to give the ball away 26 times all by himself over the full season. That number is especially jarring because Foles was so good at taking care of the ball last season. He threw 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

This year, Foles threw 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Mark Sanchez took over for Foles in the Eagles’ Week 8 game in Houston and has started the six games since then. Sanchez has a total of 11 turnovers -- nine interceptions and two lost fumbles.

Add them up and the two quarterbacks are responsible for 24 of the Eagles’ 33 turnovers.

Last season, the Eagles turned the ball over a total of 19 times. Quarterbacks were responsible for 14 of those turnovers, nine interceptions and five fumbles. Foles, with two interceptions and two fumbles, was responsible for just four turnovers. Michael Vick (two fumbles, three interceptions) committed five turnovers. So did Matt Barkley, with four picks and one lost fumble.

The rest of the Eagles’ roster committed just five turnovers last season. It has committed nine this season. That’s obviously more, but it is not the huge leap made by the quarterbacks. If Sanchez commits two more turnovers in each of the remaining games, Eagles quarterbacks will have double the amount of turnovers they committed in 2013.

That begs the question: Why? Is there something about Kelly’s offensive system that makes quarterbacks more prone to committing turnovers? Foles’ numbers from last season make a pretty compelling case that it has nothing to do with the system.

Pressure on quarterbacks is the No. 1 cause of turnovers. For most of the first half of the season, the Eagles were juggling offensive linemen because of injuries.

As the line returned to its current state of health-related stability, Sanchez replaced Foles. Considering Sanchez had thrown 69 interceptions and 68 touchdown passes in his first four seasons combined, his turnover rate is hardly surprising.

The good news is Elias took one of the turnovers off the Eagles’ ledger. The bad news is they aren’t about to turn any of those interceptions into touchdowns.
PHILADELPHIA -- The last 20 yards of a scoring drive are tough, as the Philadelphia Eagles' red zone problems have demonstrated all season.

The first 10 yards are no picnic, either, except when they are. It has been feast or famine for the Eagles all season. In some games, they get off to a quick start with successful drives right from the beginning. In other games, the Eagles seem unable to generate a first down for the entire first quarter.

The Eagles' past two games, losses to Seattle and Dallas, were examples of the latter.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
AP Photo/Michael PerezThis season, the first few possessions of a game have been a good indicator of what to expect from Mark Sanchez and the Philadelphia offense.
"We have to execute better," coach Chip Kelly said. "We need to stay on the field on third down and convert those third downs into first downs. Usually with this offense, once we get one first down, we're in pretty good shape. But we have got to get that first first down. That's the key for us in terms of being successful on the offensive side of the ball."

Against Dallas on Sunday, the Eagles lost the ball when the opening kickoff fell shorter than they were prepared to handle. The Cowboys scored a touchdown. On the Eagles’ first two possessions, they went three-and-out. They punted twice and the Cowboys drove down and scored two more touchdowns. It was 21-0 before the Eagles got a single first down.

It was a similar story the week before against Seattle. The Eagles threw three incomplete passes and punted the ball away. After a defensive stop, the Eagles got the ball back when Seattle’s punter mishandled the snap. They converted that opportunity into a touchdown, but were unable to get a sustained drive going until Seattle regrouped and took the lead.

Earlier in the season, when the Eagles lost in San Francisco and Arizona, they had trouble keeping drives going. They got one first down on their opening drive against the 49ers, but had to punt quickly. In that game, the offense had trouble getting into a rhythm for other reasons, too. The Eagles scored three first-half touchdowns on a blocked punt recovery, an interception return and a punt return. Their offense never got going and didn't score the entire game.

In Arizona, the Eagles started with three incomplete passes and a punt. They did sustain a drive for a touchdown later in the first quarter. Two second-quarter drives were ended by turnovers -- another problem that has plagued the Eagles all season.

But when the offense is really clicking, it tends to do so from the start.

Against the Giants, the Eagles' first two drives lasted 10 plays each. One produced a field goal, the second a touchdown. The Eagles went on to rout New York 27-0.

In the first Dallas game, the Eagles went 80 yards in nine plays on their first possession. Mark Sanchez's 2-yard touchdown run ended that drive. His 15-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz ended their second possession, a 10-play, 81-yard drive.

So the Eagles experienced both extremes against the Cowboys. They came out and moved the ball with ease in Dallas. They couldn’t move the chains at all in Philadelphia.

"They didn't do anything we didn't expect," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "There were a few new things, but nothing drastic. It was the total opposite of the first time we played them where we jumped up by two scores. We just got behind. So we didn't execute as well in the first couple series. We got it rolling. Then that's when we scored what amounted to be 24 straight points. It just comes back to execution."
PHILADELPHIA -- Zach Ertz has long been a fan of Andrew Luck. At Stanford, Ertz spent two seasons catching passes from Luck. Now, Ertz’s chances of returning to the NFL playoffs are tied to Luck.

Luck and the Indianapolis Colts travel to Dallas to play the NFC East-leading Cowboys Sunday afternoon. The Cowboys are 3-4 at AT&T Stadium, and may be without running back DeMarco Murray. If Murray plays, the broken hand he sustained in Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles is bound to affect his performance.

“Obviously, I’m a big Andrew Luck fan and a Colts fan when we’re not playing them,” Ertz said. “This week, I’ll be even more of a Colts fan.”

After Dallas beat the Eagles, 38-27, Sunday, there was a feeling in Philadelphia that the Eagles’ playoff chances were lost, as well. But it’s hardly far-fetched that the Colts will win in Dallas. Luck and his team are 10-4 and riding a four-game winning streak. They have clinched a playoff berth, but are still alive for a first-round bye. That is plenty of incentive for the Colts to play their best against the Cowboys.

The Eagles play Saturday, so they won’t know the outcome of the Colts-Cowboys game before they take the field in Washington.

“This game, we have everything to play for,” Ertz said. “We’re looking at it as a playoff game. If we don’t win this game, we have very, very little chance of going to the playoffs.”

Last year, the Eagles went 7-1 in the second half of the season. They seemed to get better as the postseason approached. This year, they lost two games in December that really hurt their postseason chances. But those games were against Seattle and Dallas, two teams also vying for the postseason.

The Eagles finish with Washington and the New York Giants, two teams that are just finishing the season and thinking about next year. The Eagles have already beaten both teams. They came back and edged Washington, 37-34, despite injuries along their offensive line. They crushed the Giants, 27-0, for their first shutout since 1996.

“We need wins,” running back LeSean McCoy said. “They’re just trying to finish the season up. I’ve been there. I’ve been in that type of role. You play hard, but they’ve probably got their flights all scheduled. We’re fighting for something. It’s a little different situation.”

The Eagles need help, but thanks to Luck and the Colts, there is still real hope.

 
PHILADELPHIA – The question of whether the Philadelphia Eagles made progress in Chip Kelly’s second season as head coach will be hard to answer definitively.

If they beat Washington on Saturday and the New York Giants in the season finale Dec. 28, the Eagles will finish 11-5. That will be one victory better than last season's 10-6 team. But the 2013 team won the NFC East title and earned a home playoff game. If the Dallas Cowboys win out, the Eagles could find themselves missing the playoffs all together.

Is that progress or a step back? Kelly didn’t really answer the question, but he made something of a case for the view that missing the playoffs is all that really counts.

“Right now, we’ve only got nine wins,” Kelly said Wednesday. “I mean, for us to think of questions like that, that doesn't help us beat Washington. So I don't really think about it. If we win 11 games and it's not good enough to get in, shame on us because we didn't win the right games. That’s the bottom line. That's what this whole deal is all about and we know it going in.”

That’s undeniable. The Eagles are 9-5. All five losses are to NFC teams that are, or were at the time of the game, in the NFC playoff field. In short, the Eagles lost to the teams they would have possibly faced in the postseason. That doesn’t support the argument that they should be outraged if they go 11-5 and somehow miss the postseason.

“All we can do is get to 11-5 and believe that somehow, some way, that will be enough to get us into the playoffs,” tight end Zach Ertz said.

So there is little reason to believe the Eagles will take Washington (3-11) lightly when they play Saturday. The Eagles beat their NFC rival back in September, but it was 37-34. It was not an easy victory.

“Right now, there is no such thing as struggling to get up for a game,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We need to win. Bad. So it won’t take much motivation. It’s not like we have our playoff seed locked in and we’re the No. 1 seed and we’re resting starters. We’re fighting for everything we’ve got right now.”

It sounds like Kelly’s message for the week has gotten through.

“What we can do is control how we prepare for Washington and that's what we're going to do,” Kelly said. “They [the players] were great yesterday; they came in here ready to play. That's what I know about this group. They love playing football, they love training for it and they were fantastic yesterday and they’re going to be the same today.”

If they’re fantastic Saturday, that will be even better.
PHILADELPHIA -- Two years ago, the future looked grim for the Philadelphia Eagles. Andy Reid's team was in the middle of a 4-12 meltdown of a season. The NFC East looked to be in other hands.

The New York Giants were the defending Super Bowl champions for the second time in five years.

Griffin
And in Washington, a rookie quarterback named Robert Griffin III was taking his team to an NFC East title and what appeared to be supremacy in the division for years to come.

Two years later, the Eagles are the defending NFC East champions. They will face Griffin Saturday, but only because Colt McCoy was injured Sunday.

Nevertheless, they know Griffin is a quarterback capable of beating them and putting an end to their postseason hopes.

"Last week, he was playing a lot more confident and loose than he had earlier in the year," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "It looks like the time off has done his legs good. He's moving pretty well. A lot more confidence in his throws, a lot more decisive. The pressure's off him. He looks a lot better than he did earlier in the year."

The Eagles played Washington way back in Week 3. Kirk Cousins was the starting quarterback for Washington in that game. Cousins completed 30 of 48 passes for 427 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw one interception, to Jenkins.

Jenkins
Cousins played well, but the Eagles won that game, 37-34. This time, they run into a Washington team that is playing out the string. All except for Griffin, who appears to be playing for his future, whether that is in Washington or elsewhere.

"We expect to get his best," Jenkins said. "This is his opportunity at the end of the year to put some good tape out there."

A week ago, a mobile quarterback named Russell Wilson tore the Eagles' defense up. Griffin is capable of doing the same kinds of things, even if his team hasn't built its offense around his abilities.

"If you sleep on that guy? Trust me," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "You guys will be sitting there after the game going, 'He ran for 100 yards against you. How'd that happen?' That kid's athletic as heck. He can really run. We have to understand where he is on every single play.

"RG III can really hurt you with his legs and with his arm. We have to be really sharp. He's a different element than we've seen -- except for Russell Wilson, and you saw what happened. We did a really good job at times defending Seattle and all of a sudden, Russell just extended plays."

The Eagles' defense struggled with Cousins in the first game. Griffin is a very different player, but he presents even more of a challenge.

"He's still a dynamic player," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "He really looked like he benefited from a little bit of perspective in taking a step back and looking at it. He came out there with a little more confidence and that old swagger you saw. He ran the ball more aggressively, he put the ball on the money, he threw the ball a little more accurately, and it looked like he had a better understanding. So, I think he has gained a little bit of perspective from sitting back and watching for a little bit."
PHILADELPHIA -- It will take a pair of first-round draft picks to replace Trent Cole, a former fifth-round pick, and there's no guarantee they'll do as well.

Brandon Graham, the Eagles' 2010 first-round pick, will start Saturday at Washington. It will be the first time Graham has started a game since the 2012 season. Marcus Smith, the Eagles' first-round pick this season, will rotate with Graham and Connor Barwin at the two outside linebacker spots.

Graham
Smith
"I'm looking forward to it," Graham said. "It's one of those things, when a man goes down, you want to bring the same intensity, if not more, during the game."

Cole broke a bone in his hand late in Sunday's loss to Dallas. He still hadn't decided whether to have surgery on the hand as of Tuesday afternoon. But the Eagles were preparing to be without him. That meant opportunities for Graham, who has 5.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in a backup role this season, and for Smith.

After Smith failed to outperform Cole or Barwin during training camp, he was moved to inside linebacker in September. The Eagles had a need for depth there because of injuries to Mychal Kendricks, Najee Goode and Travis Long. Smith was unable to move ahead of backup inside linebackers Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho, but was needed on the inside even more when veteran DeMeco Ryans tore his Achilles tendon.

Now Smith is moving back to his more natural position. He believes the time on the inside will help him out there.

"It helps you a lot," Smith said. "Now that I moved back to outside, playing inside really helped me a lot. I've been playing inside linebacker the whole season, and now I have to go back to the outside. I just tried to get better each and every day. That's what I've been doing the whole season."

On the inside, Smith learned to see the offensive alignment from a wider perspective. He had to read it and learn to make defensive calls based on what he saw.

On the outside, he's able to focus more narrowly on what's right in front of him. It's a more instinctive position.

"Playing outside, you just see things from one side of the field," Smith said. "Once you know the inside position, you can see it a lot easier. It's also run and gun. You just hit the ball carrier as hard as you can."

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis acknowledged that changing positions slowed Smith's development. But the simple truth is that, if Smith had distinguished himself at outside linebacker, he would have been on the field at that position somehow. Cole and Barwin are two of the Eagles' better defensive players, but first-round picks tend to get the benefit of the doubt.

Smith said he learned to live with the expectations and the questions about why he wasn't playing. One of the people who helped him was Graham, who went through all of that himself. Like Cole, he had to make the transition from defensive end in the Eagles' old 4-3 scheme to outside linebacker in Davis' 3-4.

"I'm excited to go out there and show what I can do," Graham said. "We're going to go out there as a whole defense and just wreak havoc. At the end of the day, I'm ready for whatever. Like I told Marcus, be ready. I think it's one of those things where Marcus is going to get his shot. I'm happy for him, too."
PHILADELPHIA -- Mark Sanchez didn't know Sunday night whether he would still be the Eagles' starting quarterback in their next game, which is Saturday at Washington.

Nick Foles' status was going to be determined by an examination of his fractured collarbone on Monday morning. Foles was not cleared to play, and Sanchez will start this week. There is a good chance Sanchez will start the following week against the Giants at his old stomping grounds, the Meadowlands.

Sanchez
You might think the uncertainty, and the sense that Eagles fans are beginning to appreciate Foles more the longer he's out, would be taking a toll on Sanchez. But you would be wrong.

"It comes with the territory," Sanchez said Tuesday. "That's part of the deal when you sign up for this position. If you can't handle it, then don't play. Go do something else. But I love it -- win, lose or draw. I love this team. This is one of the best times of my life. This is going to be really fun for us the next couple of weeks."

With back-to-back losses to Seattle and Dallas, the Eagles fell out of the NFC playoff picture. To get back into it, they'll need to win against both Washington and New York. For Sanchez, those are the last two games on his one-year contract with the Eagles. He can buy some more time here by helping this team get into the playoffs.

"By the time we hit the field today, you can't be carrying any of that baggage from last week," Sanchez said. "Or it really affects performance. We've got to shake off a two-game skid and move on. These next two games are going to be even more important than the last two. We can't do anything about it, except learn and move on and get better."

It seemed as if Sanchez had an opportunity to claim the starting job once Foles went down. After all, Foles did just that last year while filling in for the injured Michael Vick. After these last two losses, though, the Eagles are 3-3 in the six games Sanchez has started. If there was an opportunity there to seize the job, it seemed to be lost.

Now there is at least one, and perhaps two, more chances. Sanchez wants to win these games, but not because of that, he said.

"We've been back and forth a little bit," Sanchez said. "I'm not worried about what kind of message I'm sending externally. I'm worried about the guys in the locker room. What are we doing to win these games? What are we doing for each other? Are we going to watch extra film? Are we going to try to fix what's been going wrong.

"As far as me and my stock and all that, I don't care. That really doesn't matter. I just want to win some games."

QB snapshot: Mark Sanchez

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
1:00
PM ET
A quick observation of quarterback Mark Sanchez and how he played in the Eagles' 38-27 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 15:

Sanchez
Sanchez took responsibility for the Eagles’ deflating loss to the rival Cowboys on Sunday night. He might have been a bit hard on himself. Sanchez didn’t give up 38 points, after all, but it is true the Eagles aren’t getting the kind of quarterback play they did last season.

They weren’t getting it from Nick Foles earlier this season, for that matter. Sanchez doesn’t take as many deep shots as Foles, which the coaches say is a result of how defenses are playing the Eagles more than a reflection on Sanchez. And Sanchez threw two more interceptions against Dallas, giving him nine for the season.

Sanchez might have been a bit harsh in his self-assessment, but he does need to clean things up for Saturday’s game at Washington.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles are preparing to be without outside linebacker Trent Cole when they play at Washington Saturday afternoon.

"There's still some decisions that have to go on in Trent's camp," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Tuesday. "I don't think so. I don't know for sure. I think he'll be back the next week if he's not in there."

Cole
Cole fractured a bone in his hand during the Eagles' loss to the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night. He has to decide whether to have surgery on the hand or let it heal on its own.

If Cole can't play, Brandon Graham would start at the "predator" outside linebacker spot usually manned by Cole.

"We have the utmost confidence in BG and his ability to go in there," Davis said. "He plays 25 to 30 snaps a game. He's doing a great job with it. Our rotation will be a little more limited."

Smith
Davis said first-round pick Marcus Smith will move back to outside linebacker. The Eagles moved Smith from outside to inside because of injuries to Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans, Najee Goode and Travis Long. Smith has seldom played on defense since moving to the inside.

"Out of necessity, we had to move him," Davis said of Smith. "It did not benefit him and his progress. We set him back by moving him inside, but we needed that because of all the injuries we had inside. It's a credit to him that he's got the mental and physical capability to go inside and learn. Now he didn't overtake anybody, because he's never been in there. But now, that's something we can use as a plus instead of a minus."

Bryan Braman, who is a key special teams player, could also play outside linebacker.

If it's only a matter of one game without Cole, then Braman would probably back up Graham. If Cole were to be unable to play through a playoff run, it's more likely Davis would push to get Smith ready.

"He's got to get the rust off," Davis said. "His development has been stifled a little bit by what we had to do. In the long run, I think he'll benefit from this move."

As for the long term, Davis said he's not sure whether Smith will play inside or outside.

"I would say outside first," Davis said. "But I still think the jury's out on him."

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