Roob's observations: A critical lesson Eagles can learn from 2013 Chargers

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Roob's observations: A lesson Eagles can learn from 2013 Chargers originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

An important lesson the Eagles are bound to hear, some mind-blowing sack stats and a look at just how productive DeVonta Smith has been the second half of the season.

It’s the final 10 random Eagles observations of the regular season as the Eagles get ready to face the Giants with everything on the line.

1. Nine years ago, Nick Sirianni was a young wide receivers coach on Mike McCoy’s Chargers staff, and they went into the final game of the season 8-7 and needing a win at home over the Chiefs to lock up a playoff spot. The Chiefs, 11-4 in Andy Reid’s first season, had already locked up the No. 5 seed, so Big Red played his backups — Chase Daniel for Alex Smith, Knile Davis for Jamaal Charles, Junior Hemingway for Dwayne Bowe, etc.

Easy blowout for the Chargers, right? Not quite. The Chiefs’ backups raced out to a 10-point lead and the Chargers' starters needed a 10-point fourth quarter to send the game into overtime, where four runs by Ryan Mathews set up the winning field goal.

The lesson there is that no matter who is playing for the other team, if you don’t bring your A game and approach every game like your opponent is legit, you can lose. The Eagles may face the Giants’ backups Sunday, but those backups are in the league for a reason, and they are hungry to prove they can play.

I’m sure that will be a big part of Sirianni’s messaging this week. The Eagles aren’t good enough to just show up and beat the Giants’ backups. If they approach this game the same way they approached their 13 wins, they’ll be fine. If they approach it the same way they approached the Saints? They will lose. No matter who the Giants run out there.

2. First half of the season: Darius Slay’s defensive passer rating was 37.2 and James Bradberry’s was 35.9. The second half of the season Slay is at 134.6 and Bradberry 80.4.

3. I’ve seen people trying to discredit the Eagles’ 68 sacks by pointing out that passing is a lot more prevalent than it was back in the days of Reggie White and Clyde Simmons, so supposedly it’s easier to get sacks now. One small detail. It really isn’t.

The Eagles’ previous sack record of 61 was set in 1989 by Simmons (15 ½), White (11), Jerome Brown (10 ½), Mike Pitts (7, Seth Joyner (5) and others. In 1989, NFL teams averaged 32.0 pass plays per game. This year it’s 33.3. Not a huge difference.

But here’s the thing: In 1989, quarterbacks got sacked on 7.2 percent of pass plays and this year it’s 6.7. So let’s look at the math: In 1989, the Eagles recorded a sack every 10.5 times the opposing quarterback dropped back, and this year they’ve recorded a sack every 11.6 opposing pass plays. So in 1989, Reggie, Clyde, Jerome and company recorded a sack 31 percent more often than the league average and this year that figure so far is 42 percent.

Are Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham, Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox better than Reggie, Clyde, Jerome and the rest? I won’t go there, but I do think it's fair to say this is the deepest and most versatile group of pass rushers the Eagles have ever had.

4. Robert Quinn is on the brink of making NFL history. The largest single-season dropoff in sacks by someone playing at least 10 games is 14 ½ by Justin Houston of the Chiefs, who had 22 in 2014 and 7 ½ in 2015. Quinn had 18 ½ last year with the Bears and has one this year in 12 games with the Bears and Eagles, a dropoff of 17 ½ sacks. Unless he gets 3 ½ sacks against the Giants Sunday, he’ll have the greatest one-year sack dropoff in history.

5. Gardner Minshew put up really good numbers for bad Jaguars teams in 2019 and 2020. He played well against a bad Jets team last year. He put up 27 points in a loss to the Cowboys but with the game on the line and three shots from inside the 20 he didn’t produce. And then Sunday, in a game the Eagles really had to win, he was terrible.

I thought Minshew was one of the NFL’s best backups, but when you’re a backup on a good team you have to be able to rise to the occasion in a big moment, and I haven’t seen Minshew do that. It’s one thing to play free and loose when there’s nothing at stake or the other team is 4-9 and playing out the string. I didn’t see anything Sunday that made me believe Minshew is equipped to play at a high level in a high-leverage situation.

If he gets the start Sunday against the Giants he’ll have every opportunity to prove me wrong. But I just don’t have a lot of faith in him right now.

6. Before this year, no Eagle had ever had 400 yards in December. This year, A.J. Brown and Smith both went over 400 and finished with the two-biggest December receiving totals in franchise history. Brown had 473 yards and Smith 405 yards.

Brown and Smith ranked 2nd and 4th in the NFL in receiving yards in four games in December. The previous high by an Eagle was Alshon Jeffery's 382 yards in December 2018. Brown’s 118 yards per game in December is the highest by an Eagle in any month since Pete Retzlaff had 135 per game in November of 1965 (539 in four games).

7. Brown has been so good lately it’s easy to lose sight of just how ridiculously productive Smith has been the second half of the season. Since Week 9, Smith is 6th in the NFL with 687 yards – ahead of Jaylen Waddle, Travis Kelce, even ahead of Brown. The only players with more yards than Smith the second half of the season are Justin Jefferson, Davante Adams, CeeDee Lamb, Tyreek Hill and Amon-Ra St. Brown, and the only WRs with more touchdowns are Adams and Christian Watson.

Smith seems to make at least one circus catch every week. The only Eagles with more yards in a season before their 25th birthday are Mike Quick in 1983 (1,409), Ben Hawkins in 1967 (1,265) and DeSean Jackson in 2009 (1,156). And Smith’s 687 yards since Week 9 are second-most in Eagles history in the second half of a season (or Week 9 through Week 16), behind only Quick’s 772 in 1985.

A star in the making.

8. I was chatting with Graham this week about his remarkable breakthrough season at age 34 and he marveled at how sacks he used to just miss he’s now getting: “They’re coming to me now. All the ones in the past where I had the guy and he just got the ball away or he got away from me just before I had him, they’re coming to me this year. I don’t know why. I have no idea why. But, hooooooooo, I’m glad they are!”

B.G.’s the best.

9. We all know the Eagles are the first team in NFL history with four guys in double digits in sacks. But all four – Reddick, Sweat, Graham and Hargrave — now have at least 11. And here’s the crazy thing: Only seven other teams since sacks became an official stat in 1982 have even had three guys with 11 sacks in a season, only two of them in the last 30 years (1996 49ers with Roy Barker, Chris Doleman and Bryant Young and 2000 Saints with LaRoi Glover, former Eagle Darren Howard and Joe Johnson).

And get this: From 1997 through 2021 – a span of 25 years – four different Eagles reached 11 sacks (Hugh Douglas three times, Trent Cole three times, Jason Babin once and Connor Barwin once), and this year alone four Eagles have reached 11 sacks.

Truly remarkable stuff from Jonathan Gannon’s pass rush crew.

10. Carson Wentz has finished the last six seasons injured, injured, injured, traded, traded, benched. It’s crazy to think back at how good he was early in his career and where he is now. Wentz’s first four years he had a 92.7 passer rating, at the time 3rd-highest in NFL history (minimum 2,000 attempts) by a player in his first four seasons, behind Dak Prescott and Dan Marino. In three years since, he has an 83.6 passer rating, 2nd-worst in football (minimum 1,000 attempts).

There have been other QBs who’ve lost it. But there isn’t one who has dropped so precipitously so quickly so early in his career. Not one.

Where will Wentz be next year? Maybe he’ll try to latch on somewhere as a backup and hope he can revive his career at some point. But Wentz has two daughters now, lots of outside interests, a foundation he’s deeply involved in. He’s earned over $128 million. I wouldn’t be shocked if he hangs ‘em up.

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