Each week, we check in with our friends at our sister blogs - this time we go to the City of Brotherly Love and talk with Bleeding Green Nations Brandon Gowton.
First, allow me to pass along a Happy Thanksgiving. It’s great that we’re playing the Eagles on Thanksgiving weekend as it allows me to remind all of you that Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia’s favorite adopted son, once argued for the Turkey to be the national bird instead of the eagle. His arguments were incredibly practical and I think it’s kind of sad he didn’t prevail. How cool would it have been to play the Philadelphia Turkeys? Enjoy your holiday. Feel free to share your poor nutritional decisions below in the comments.
Windy City Gridiron: Let's start with the obvious ties to the Chicago Bears. Alshon Jeffery signed a 1 year contract with the Eagles this off-season. How is he? We miss him…
Bleeding Green Nation: Alshon got off to a slow start this season. It’s not like he was flat out bad by any means, but he wasn’t producing like a dominant No. 1 wide receiver, which was the expectation coming into this year. In recent weeks, however, Jeffery has started to heat up. He has 12 receptions for 213 yards and four touchdowns (plus two 2-point conversions) over the last three games. He’s made some real No. 1 WR type catches.
The cool thing about Jeffery is there’s no indication he’s unhappy with his touches. He genuinely seems to care more about winning. Jeffery’s been a great presence in the locker room. He’s been the one orchestrating a lot of the Eagles’ touchdowns celebrations.
One of my favorite Alshon moments was this quote after the Eagles beat the Cowboys on Sunday night:
"They ain't f***ing with us. Ain't nobody f***ing with us. Anybody. That's how we feel.”
All while wearing a Brian Dawkins t-shirt! I hope the Eagles re-sign Jeffery to a long-term deal.
WCG: The Eagles currently sport the best record in the NFC, have all but clinched the NFC East, and are looking at the NFC playoffs coming through the City of Brotherly Love. When is the last time Eagles fans have felt this good about their squad? Is there an underlying feeling of angst due to conditioning or does this team feel different?
BGN: Honestly, I don’t know if Eagles fans have ever really felt this good. The 2004 season comes to mind; that’s the last time the Eagles went to the Super Bowl. Everybody was really excited back then, too, obviously. But that season was expected because the Eagles had already been to three straight NFC championship games and they just added Terrell Owens. This season has been more of a surprise, so I’d say it feels more magical.
I love the awareness in your question. There’s always going to be some level of skepticism in Philadelphia, but I don’t know, man. This team really does feel different. It just feels like everything is going their way, for the most part. The team is so well-rounded. Doug Pederson is proving to be a good head coach. Carson Wentz is playing like the league MVP. The offense can put up points. The defense can stop the run, generate pressure, and cover. Special teams can contribute.
It doesn’t feel like this team is a fluke. No one destroys opponents like the Eagles have by accident. Maybe this is finally the year. A lot of people in the Delaware Valley region would love to believe that’s the case.
3. I was an early passenger on the Wentz Wagon as he impressed me throwing to replacement level players as a rookie. When did it become apparent that he was something special?
I don’t know if there was a single moment.
Wentz does a lot of things that take make you go “Holy sh*t!” as you’re watching him. Take some of his big plays in the Eagles-Redskins game on Monday Night Football this season, for example. He’s just doing unreal stuff out there.
Wentz showed positive flashes in his rookie season. But as you mentioned, there just wasn’t a lot of talent for him to work with. A number of his 2016 wide receivers aren’t even in the league in any capacity anymore. He didn’t have any kind of reliable running game to turn to. The offensive line was dealing with a number of absences.
The Eagles improved Wentz’s situation in the offseason. To no surprise, he improved as well. To say that Wentz’s success is only based on his supporting cast would not be true. Wentz showed signs of improvement in the offseason with regards to his throwing mechanics and footwork. He looked really good in training camp. That carried over into the regular season. And now we’re here.
Wentz is only in his second year so it’s not like he’s a finished product. That’s kind of the crazy part about the season he’s having. He’s already playing at an MVP level in just Year 2. He has the potential to be a force in this league for a very long time.
3b. Can you provide any parallels to Mitchell Trubisky in terms of the development in Wentz and what would be most important for the Bears organization to do to allow for a similar jump in development?
Yeah, from the outside looking in, it definitely seems like there are some similarities from Wentz’s situation last year to Trubisky’s situation this year. Especially when it comes to wide receiver. The Bears just need to get Trubisky some legitimate options there.
I don’t think that’s the only fix, though. Another big aspect is the coaching element. Head coach Doug Pederson, offensive coordinator Frank Reich, and quarterback coach John DeFilippo have all played a role in Wentz’s development. The Bears would actually be wise to hire either Reich or Flip, in my view, and get rid of John Fox and his staff. You can see how much of a difference coaching can make in the NFL with Sean McVay and Jared Goff out in L.A.
4. While Wentz gets the press, this team is playing excellent defense, which is no surprise as they were a talented bunch coming into the year. For Bears fans unfamiliar with this roster, who are the big names to know and give us an under the radar guy we should look out for?
The big names to know pretty much include the entire defensive line. And not just the starters, since the Eagles heavily rotate their d-linemen. Defensive ends Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett, and Chris Long can all get after the passer. They’re not lacking in run defense, either. Barnett, who is just a 21-year-old rookie, has been especially coming on strong lately. At defensive tackle, starters Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan are beasts who can stuff the run and generate interior pressure. Beau Allen and Destiny Vaeao are capable backups behind them.
The Eagles rank as the top run defense in the NFL. That forces teams to become one-dimensional in passing the ball. From there, the Eagles can simply have their pass rushers tee off on the opposing quarterback. That’s a big reason why Philadelphia ranks first in the NFL in pressures generated this season.
I don’t know if Barnett qualifies as an under the radar guy since he was a first round pick this year, but I’d definitely keep an eye on him.
5. All-Pro and likely future Hall of Fame Left Tackle Jason Peters tore his ACL and MCL last month. First, what's the status on his recovery - does he have a shot at coming back in 2018, or does this put his career in question? Second, have the Eagles changed their scheme at all to help his replacement or just expected him to step up?
Peters’ status is unclear. He could very well retire, especially if the Eagles do end up going all the way. If the Eagles don’t win it all, however, I’d think JP would try to come back. If anyone could at his age, it would be him. The guy is a freak of nature. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Hard to say.
With Peters out, the Eagles have been starting Halapoulivaati Vaitai at left tackle. We call him “Big V” for short. And yes, the team has been doing some things to help him out. It’s not like the Eagles’ offense has changed entirely, but there are times when there’s an effort to get the ball out quicker or have a running back/tight end chip on the left side.
With that said, Vaitai has earned praise from the coaching staff for his improved performance. Pederson said he’s actually been giving Vaitai less help as the season goes on.
Bonus: Last year I asked BGN about what steak shops to go to when in Philly. I would describe eating a Jim's cheese steak to be one of the most wonderful food experiences in my life. Just how often does the typical Philadelphia resident frequent these shops and what do we need to know when we order to blend in with the crowd?
Very happy to be talking cheesesteaks with you.
First of all, since you brought up Jim’s, I have to introduce you to the Philly Taco. It’s a Jim’s cheesesteak (on South Street) wrapped in a giant pizza slice from Lorenzo’s. I’ve had it on multiple occasions and it’s fantastic. Here’s a video:
Also, if you’re around South Street, you gotta stop in to Woodrow’s. I legitimately think they have the best cheesesteak in Philly. The truffle cheese whiz they use is immaculate.
Woodrow’s is a newer joint so they don’t have a big reputation. People think I’m crazy when I say they have the best. But then people go there and their mind is blown. Woodrow’s tagline is literally “mind-blowing sandwiches.”
Thank you to Brandon and Bleeding Green Nation!