Nelson Agholor

Eagles have bought into team-first approach

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Winning is an easy sell.

The Philadelphia Eagles are the first team since the 1990 New York Giants to reach a Super Bowl without a player totaling 1,000 scrimmage yards though running backs Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount and wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith have done so in the past.

That group plus Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz, wide receiver Nelson Agholor and others have bought into a team-first, unselfish concept. They’re not checking their stats after games. The only number they cared about all season was the win column.

One more against New England in the Super Bowl brings home the team’s first NFL title since 1960.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

“I think this group of guys is as good as you could ask to be around,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “Really, the character and the work ethic, the camaraderie, just the commitment to the process that Coach (Doug Pederson) and our staff is always talking about. There’s a complete buy-in.

“It really helps that we’ve had the success and the execution. It’s always easier to buy in when you’re having the success that we’ve had.”

Blount didn’t even get a carry in a loss at Kansas City in Week 2. Then he ran for a season-high 136 yards two weeks later at the Chargers. It was the only 100-yard rushing performance by Philadelphia this season.

Blount, who led the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns with New England last year, led the Eagles with 766 yards rushing but his touches decreased after Ajayi was acquired from Miami.

“You can’t be selfish when everybody has one common goal,” Blount said. “You have to make sacrifices for the betterment of the team. We’ve done that and it’s gotten us this far.”

Ajayi came to Philadelphia with a reputation for selfishness, but it hasn’t been an issue. He kneeled on the turf and sobbed after the Eagles beat Minnesota in the NFC championship game.

“It’s a special feeling to not be done and to still have our goal of winning a Super Bowl right there in front of us,” he said.

Jeffery was the go-to man in Chicago before joining the Eagles. He didn’t have one 100-yard game, but led the team with nine TD catches.

“We’re not looking at numbers, just going out there and playing,” Jeffery said. “No matter who’s out there having a great game, or whoever the ball’s going to, as long as we’re doing our job and just catching and working and getting those wins, that’s all that matters.”

There were no “throw me the damn ball” moments in Philadelphia’s locker room.

“I didn’t have to sell it too much,” Pederson said. “These guys are unselfish players. They are team players. I think any time that you factor in the wins, and they’re contributing to the wins, it sort of minimizes or sort of takes away the (idea) that, `I’ve got to have 1,000 yards; I got to have 10 touchdowns; I’ve got to rush for this many yards and have this many touchdowns.’ I think it minimizes that a little bit, because the team is doing well and the success of the offense.”

AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Foles throws 4 TDs, Eagles get first-round bye

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Nick Foles threw four touchdown passes in his first start replacing the injured Carson Wentz, and the Philadelphia Eagles secured a first-round playoff bye, rallying from an early 14-point deficit to defeat the surprising New York Giants 34-29 on Sunday.

Foles hit 24 of 38 passes for 237 yards and no interceptions. The Eagles (12-2) made a late stand on first-and-goal in the final minute in edging the Giants (2-12) for the second time this season, spoiling a three-touchdown, season-high 434-yard passing game by Eli Manning.

Foles hit Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Trey Burton and Nelson Agholor on scoring passes ranging from 3 to 13 yards in filling in for Wentz, who tore an ACL last week and was lost for the season after a brilliant year.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

The Eagles also got two field goals from Jake Elliott and three blocked kicks from their special teams, foiling an extra point, a punt and field goal. The block on the punt set up a touchdown.

Manning finished 37 of 57 and hit Tavarres King on two touchdowns and Sterling Shepard on one. Orleans Darkwa scored on a short run and Aldrick Rosas kicked a 28-yard field goal.

Manning drove the Giants from their 25 with 3:56 to play to the Eagles 9 with about a minute to go. A 2-yard loss on a pass to Shepard, an incompletion in the end zone and 5-yard run by Shane Vereen got New York to the Philadelphia 6 with 48 seconds to play. Right tackle Bobby Hart had a procedure penalty on fourth down, putting the ball at the 11.

Manning then threw a pass to Evan Engram at the back of the end zone that was high and incomplete.

It was Manning’s ninth career 400-yard game and his first since last season.

The Giants scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to take a 20-7 lead.

Darkwa capped the opening drive with 1-yard run and Manning hit King on a 13-yard TD pass on the second. He found Shepard on a 67-yard catch and run on the third.

Mistakes by Manning and special teams got the Eagles back in the game in a less than three-minute span in the second quarter.

A 37-yard interception return by Ronald Darby to the Giants 18 set up Foles’ second touchdown pass, a 10-yarder to Ertz, cutting New York’s lead to 20-14. Kamu Grugier-Hill blocked Brad Wing‘s punt on the Giants’ next series. Foles found a wide-open Trey Burton on a 13-yard pass to give the Eagles a 21-20 lead. He added a 10-yard to Agholor in the third quarter.

Rosas had a go-ahead 28-yard field goal with 20 seconds left in the half for a 23-21 lead.

UP NEXT

Eagles: host Oakland on Dec. 25.

Giants: at Arizona on Sunday.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and – http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Is Sam Bradford suddenly … better?

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When we last visited Sam Bradford‘s performance as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, it wasn’t at all clear that the decision to trade Nick Foles for him was correct. Chip Kelly recently doubled down on Bradford’s performance, declaring he saw improvement on a weekly basis that got Kelly excited. What might Kelly be seeing, and what context can we add to Bradford’s performance?

The Contrast with Sanchez

One thing we’ve seen lately that we didn’t see earlier in the season was the Eagles’ 2015 offense with another quarterback. Mark Sanchez started two games and finished a third as Bradford suffered a shoulder injury and a concussion. While playing half the season in 2014, Sanchez was, on the whole, roughly as good as Foles was. In his playing time this season, Sanchez has been a significant downgrade from Bradford. Table 1 shows the statistical details, using adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A) and Football Outsiders’ metric DVOA.

Table 1. Mark Sanchez vs. Main Starters, 2014-15

Year QB DVOA ANY/A
2014 Foles 1.8% 5.93
Sanchez -1.4% 6.18
2015 Bradford -11.3% 5.50
Sanchez -43.8% 4.62

Two specific areas stand out as major issues for Sanchez. First, he has continued the trend from most his career of throwing interceptions at a rate above the league-average while Bradford has taken better care of the football. Sanchez’s interception rate is 4.4 percent, compared to Bradford’s 2.8 percent.

Second, the Eagles’ offensive line has been much more problematic for Sanchez in pass protection. His adjusted sack rate, as calculated by Football Outsiders, is 9.0 percent, the seventh-highest rate of the 40 passers with at least 100 dropbacks this season. Bradford’s, by contrast, is just 4.9 percent, the tenth-best rate in the same group, even though he started both games the Eagles played without Jason Peters. Quarterbacks can do a lot to control this number, as Denver’s similarly contrasting numbers with Brock Osweiler and Peyton Manning and many other examples show, and Bradford is helping the line in a way Sanchez is not.

This contrast suggests that even though Bradford’s production is down from what Foles did in 2014, this could be the result of broader offensive issues which Bradford is doing well to mask.

Bradford Is Playing Better

Bradford’s numbers since returning from injuryare better than the ones he had earlier in the season. His DVOA earlier was -17.9 percent. Since then, it is 2.5 percent, better than the league average. His game against the Bills was his worst in the last four contests; on a per-play basis, it would have been his third-best performance in the first seven games.

One other thing Bradford is not doing is running. He has just one actual rushing attempt in the past couple games, while most of his nominal carries have been aborted snaps or kneeldowns. This is important, because he was not an effective runner when the Eagles tried to use him as one in the option game.

Finding the Range Downfield

The biggest development in Bradford’s game of late has been the deep pass. His performance on short throws has been roughly the same as it was earlier in the season, with a DVOA of -1.9 percent compared to -0.2 percent over the first seven games. If anything, he has been less consistently productive on them, posting a success rate of 39 percent compared to 47 percent earlier. Only throwing fewer interceptions has saved the numbers from being worse.

Where Bradford has improved the most has been on deep throws. This was where the great Foles-led offense of 2013 made most of its hay, and it was a big struggle for Bradford earlier in the season. He had the sixth-worst success rate of the 32 passers with the most deep attempts earlier in the season. Over the past six weeks, he has the second-best success rate, 60 percent, and the third-best DVOA among the 32 passers with the most deep attempts.

The easy response is to say that this is a fluke due to a small sample size, the product of a limited number of games and passes. What makes Bradford’s performance so encouraging, though, is he has been doing it at multiple levels. His numbers are better on throws 11-15 yards downfield, 16-20 yards downfield, and even that 21-25 yard area where he did not have a single completion on 18 attempts in the first seven games, while he has continued to enjoy success on very deep throws like his 53-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor last week.

Going Forward

The numbers suggest Kelly was not just blowing smoke, that Sam Bradford has been playing better of late and may well be doing much better than Nick Foles would have done for the 2015 Eagles. Kelly still has a problem, though: the Eagles are still a below-average offense. Looking just at the last four games Bradford has played, they are 20th in DVOA and just 17th in passing DVOA. Even if Bradford is in fact the answer, Philadelphia still has offensive problems to address.