The Eagles’ forgotten Super Bowl hero, expectations of DeVonta Smith in 2022 and an unforgettable Andre Waters story.
It’s all here and lots more in this week’s edition of Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Offseason Observations!
1. As much as we talk about the performances of Nick Foles, Zach Ertz, Brandon Graham, Corey Clement, Alshon Jeffery, LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi in Super Bowl LII, the story of the Eagles’ Super Bowl championship can’t be told without the performance of Nelson Agholor. Nelly has played in 108 NFL games. He’s caught nine passes once, and it was in the Super Bowl. Only seven WRs have ever caught more passes in a Super Bowl. But what makes his performance legendary is what he did on the game-winning drive. The 4th-down Nick Foles-to-Zach Ertz conversion gave the Eagles 1st-and-10 on their own 48-yard-line trailing by a point with 4:52 left. After a short Blount run, here are the Eagles’ next three plays: Foles to Nelly for 10 yards, Foles to Nelly for 18 yards, Foles to Nelly for 10 yards. Three plays, three first downs, 38 yards, moving the ball from Eagles territory down to the Patriots’ 14-yard-line. That’s the only time in Agholor’s career he’s had three 1st-down catches on the same drive. Nelly has had fewer than 38 yards in more than half his career games — 62 of 108. But he picked up 38 yards and three crucial first downs in the span of three plays on the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl. Ertz of course capped the drive with his miracle TD catch, but none of this happens without Nelly coming up huge.
2. I’d love to see Doug Pederson consider Duce Staley as his offensive coordinator in Jacksonville. I don’t know how likely it is, and I know Dan Campbell really values Staley in Detroit, but Pederson played with Duce in 1999 and coached with him under Andy Reid and then kept him as an assistant when he became head coach, so nobody knows what Duce brings to the table more than Doug. And Duce is so much more than a running backs coach. He knows blitzes. He knows coverages. He knows the passing game. He knows blocking schemes. He could call plays. Pederson understands Staley’s value, and Staley knows every nook and cranny of Pederson’s offense. Seems like a perfect match.
3. Imagine what it was like being an Eagles fan in the 1960s and 1970s? After the 1960 team won the NFL Championship and the 1961 team went 10-4, the Eagles proceeded to go 73-142-9 during the 16-year span from 1962 through 1977. No other team lost more than 130 games during that span. Think about that for a second. Over a decade and a half, the Eagles averaged 4½ wins per year. They had one winning season during those 16 years — the 1966 team somehow went 9-5 despite losses by 49, 31, 20 and 14 points. So if you became an Eagles fan in 1962 and you were 14 years old, you got to experience one winning season and no playoff appearances by the time you were 30. There have been a lot of disappointments over the last few decades, but consider this: The last 34 years, the Eagles have had seven losing seasons. The previous 34 years, they had 23 losing seasons. It’s not a bad time to be an Eagles fan.
4. It’s just bizarre to me that Rich Kotite, Chip Kelly and Buddy Ryan all had a higher winning percentage as head coach of the Eagles than Doug Pederson.
5. Josh Sweat is the Eagles’ first defensive player 24 years or younger drafted in the 4th round or later to make a Pro Bowl team in 67 years. The last one was Wayne Robinson, a linebacker the Eagles drafted in the 8th round out in 1952 out of Minnesota, where he played with Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant (who the Eagles drafted in 1950). Robinson was 24 when he made the 1954 Pro Bowl team, and he made the team in 1955 as well. He was just 26 when he retired after the 1956 season to accept a job as an assistant coach with the CFL Winnipeg Blue Bombers, where Grant had been just named head coach.
6. In the first quarter of his first NFL game, on his first career target, Jalen Reagor caught a 55-yard pass from Carson Wentz. He hasn’t had a catch of 40 yards since.
7. I fully expect DeVonta Smith to be in the 1,300-1,400-yard range next year. For him to be over 900 yards as a 22-year-old rookie with a 1st-year starting quarterback in a run-first offense? Smith made so many spectacular highlight catches but didn’t get a lot of easy yards. With presumably more depth at WR and another year in the offense for Jalen Hurts, the Eagles’ passing game should make a big jump in 2022. Think about it. One more 25-yard catch per game gets Smith to 1,341 yards. I’ll be surprised if that doesn’t happen.
8. It occurred to me this week that we never talk about Pete Pihos. And we should. The guy is an all-time top-10 Eagle. Pihos grew up in Chicago and was a 5th-round pick out of Indiana in 1945 as an offensive end. Because of his service in the Army during World War II, he missed two years of his prime, but in his nine NFL seasons — all with the Eagles — he still won two NFL Championships, made 1st-team all-pro five times and seven Pro Bowl teams, led the NFL in catches three times, scored 61 touchdowns and got inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970. His best year was 1953, when he led the NFL with 63 catches, 1,049 yards and 10 TDs in just 12 games. Project that over a full season now and you’re looking at 89 catches, 1,486 yards and 14 TDs. When Pihos retired — immediately after leading the NFL in catches and yards in 1955 — he ranked 3rd in NFL history in catches, 4th in receiving yards and 2nd in TDs. To this day — 67 years after he last played — Pihos ranks 7th in Eagles history in catches, 6th in Eagles history in yards and 3rd in TD receptions. An all-time Eagle, and every Eagles fan should know about Pete Pihos.
9. Dallas Goedert has caught 29 passes on 3rd down over the last three years and 28 of them have gone for 1st downs. That’s 97 percent. The only exception was a 3rd-and-20 against the Browns last year where he gained 12 yards. The last time Goedert caught a pass on 3rd-and-10 or shorter and didn’t get a first down was late in 2018 on a 3rd-and-1 against the Texans when he caught a short pass from Nick Foles for no gain.
10. The Eagles had the worst pass defense in the NFL in 1987, allowing a league-high 240 passing yards per game — at the time 10th-worst in NFL history. That was a year before Eric Allen arrived. Wes Hopkins missed the entire season with a torn ACL, Roynell Young got old overnight, Elbert Foules was dreadful and Terry Hoage was a year away from becoming a terrific safety. Andre Waters, on the other hand, was playing lights out. So late in the season, I wrote a column for my old newspaper, The Burlington County Times, blasting the play of the secondary, although I made sure to mention that Waters was the one exception, that he was playing at a high level. I had just started covering the Eagles during the player strike, taking over the beat when my esteemed colleague Phil Sheridan — who you remember from his days with the Inquirer and ESPN — was promoted to general sports columnist. So my piece on the secondary ran in the paper on a Tuesday, and the next day, a bitterly cold December afternoon, I went to watch practice at JFK Stadium.
The Eagles were in the midst of dropping out of the playoff hunt with four losses in five games, and these were tense days around the team. As soon as practice ended, there was Andre in full pads with his intimidating No. 20 jersey and helmet still on stomping along the sideline, screaming at the top of his lungs, “WHERE’S REUBEN FRANK??? WHERE’S REUBEN FRANK???” My initial instinct was to run like hell and hide in a cave in the hills for the rest of my life. But I walked over and said, “I’m Roob.” Turns out Andre was furious with the column I wrote. The problem wasn’t that I criticized his teammates, it was that I praised him. “We are a team,” he told me. “We are a group. We play together, and if we’re not playing well, it’s all of us, not just two or three of us. You don’t praise one of us, you criticize all of us. We’re not getting it done as a TEAM. And that means I’m not playing well enough.”
We shook hands, and he thanked me for my time. That remains one of my favorite interactions ever with a player in the 35 years I’ve covered the Eagles. Andre’s been gone over 15 years now. God bless him.
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