Twenty-five questions in less than 12 minutes were lobbed at Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh on Monday. Fourteen of them were about Golden Tate, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Detroit Lions for a third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
In the year of offense, where scoring has been higher than ever thanks to rules that make it even more challenging to play defense, the Eagles elected to bring in another weapon for go-time. And go-time begins now.
Halfway through the season, the Eagles are sitting at 4-4, but three of their next four games are against teams in the NFC East, beginning Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field. And Tate will be an integral piece to whatever the future holds over these final eight games.
“He's a veteran player, he's been in a couple different systems, so he's got familiarity with different systems in the league and he can relate it to things that he's done in the past,” said Groh. “We're trying to look back at things that he's had a lot of success with and start there.”
There is no question that the Eagles became much more difficult to defend when you factor in Tate, who leads the league in yards after catch since entering the league in 2010, receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor and tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. It’s now a matter of fitting the pieces correctly into place.
“When you win, everybody eats,” said Agholor. “That’s the most important thing. We have to win football games. I’m going to have make plays that help him and he’ll have to make plays that help me. All I know is winning is important. If he’s going to help us win football games, which I believe he will, then that’s important to me because we win games, we all continue to contribute to that, it’s all going to work out. I like we got a guy who will help us stay on the field.”
The Cowboys are hoping Amari Cooper, who they acquired days before the trade deadline, but gave up a number one draft pick to make it happen, can be that player for them. Cooper has one game under his belt with the Cowboys and caught a touchdown pass in Monday night’s loss to the Tennessee Titans, and figures to be more active as the week goes on.
In Philly, though, Tate talk has swirled, and has given the fan base as well as his new teammates a jolt of confidence that they are still the team to beat in the NFC East.
As for Tate, he hasn’t been in town long, but he is already familiar with the rivalry that intense rivalry that exists between the Eagles and Cowboys.
“I’ve heard about it on social media,” said Tate. “Our fans have expressed their passionate dislike for the Cowboys. It’s going to be a great game. I’m happy that my first game gets to be at home against such an intense opponent. I can’t wait to get to Lincoln Financial Field for my first game and play a division opponent. Coach said (earlier in week) we’re right where we want to be, and this is the most important game not just because it’s the next game, but because it’s a division opponent.”
EAGLES 27, COWBOYS 17
115th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead the series, 63-51. The two teams split last year’s regular season matchup, but the Cowboys win in the regular-season finale meant nothing to the Eagles since the Eagles had already clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Eagles have won five of the previous nine meetings dating back to the 2013 season.
The Eagles are minus-5 in the takeaway/giveaway department, a season after they were fourth best in the NFL at plus-11. They had 31 takeaways in 2017; just seven this year, including the forced fumble by rookie Avonte Maddox that was a big key in helping the Eagles beat the Jaguars in London prior to their bye. It was the first forced fumble of Maddox’s career. He also has an interception this year.
“There's some that you earn (and) I thought that was one that was earned,” said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. “He did a good job of cutting his coverage. He did a good job of getting through that tackle. Again, I'd sort of like to see us -- I think the next step for us is multiple turnovers, and then probably the next step after that is getting back in the end zone. We haven't been in the end zone after being in the end zone a bunch last year. Turnovers are game-changing plays. I thought that certainly could be classified as that.”
Carson Wentz’s completion percentage is well above what it was his first two seasons in the league. He is completing 70.7 percent of his throws compared to 62.4 as a rookie and 60.2 last year. “I think just better decision making, not trying to force the ball down the field all the time and taking what the defense gives me,” said Wentz trying to explain the reason why. “I think a lot of times it has to do with how defenses are playing us. I think we are getting more overall soft zone than in the past, so just taking underneath stuff is probably part of it.”
The Eagles are 1-1 coming out of a bye week under head coach Doug Pederson, with the win coming last year when the Eagles trounced the Cowboys, 37-9, in Arlington. “We have to avoid coming out sluggish,” said Wentz. “I think over the years sometimes you come out of bye weeks or long weekends after Thursday night games, a little slow. That’s something we’ve already talked about and emphasized starting (Wednesday) at practice, coming out fast, coming out swinging right away on Sunday. That’ll be big for us.”
BY THE NUMBERS
- That is the number of defensive snaps this season for linebacker Jordan Hicks. Hicks gets a knock for always being hurt, which seems undeserved, but he has been on the field for 100 percent of the team’s D snaps this year, leading the team in tackles with 67, with a career-high three sacks, three passes defensed, and one fumble recovery.
Hicks, whose rookie contract expires at the end of the season, had a torn pec in his rookie year of 2015 that cost him half the season then, last year, he tore an Achilles and missed the second half of the year. But he has been a full go this year and played 95 percent of the snaps in 2016.
PERSONNEL PLAYER NOTES
Darren Sproles suffered a setback with the hamstring injury that has prevented him from playing since the season opener on Sept. 6. Head coach Doug Pederson said on Friday though that he is optimistic that Sproles will play at some point this season.
Jalen Mills and Sidney Jones are out with injuries, so the slot cornerback spot will bear watching, especially with safety Corey Graham, who missed the previous three games with a hamstring injury, expected to play. Rasul Douglas is the likely starter for Mills. Newcomer Cre-Von LeBlanc could be in the mix for snaps as well.
Right tackle Lane Johnson is listed as questionable and will be tested prior to the game. The expectation is he will be OK and play.
Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan could be close to returning to the lineup after being cleared to practice on Monday. He had offseason back surgery and hasn’t played a snap yet this season.
The team added defensive tackle T.Y. McGill and waived cornerback Dexter McDougle and receiver DeAndre Carter, who was claimed by the Houston Texans.
Golden Tate. The newly acquired receiver will take his first snaps as an Eagle, and it will be interesting to see not only the impact he makes as a pass catcher, but as a presence that could prevent double teams of any of the other Eagles weapons, such as Jeffery, Ertz, and Agholor. Accounting for Tate, may also make a defense a bit more vulnerable to the run, as well.
Tate already played the Cowboys once this year. When he was with the Lions, he made eight catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns, but Detroit lost, 26-24.
“I think that’s to my advantage,” said Tate. “They run same defense, and I’m on a different team with different concepts, so I think that’s to my advantage.”
Limit Ezekiel Elliott’s legs and make Dak Prescott beat you with his arm. That’s the formula to beating the Cowboys. Of course, it easier said than done.
In two career games against the Eagles, Elliott has averaged 144 yards from scrimmage. He did a lot of damage last year in the meaningless regular season finale, but still stopping Elliott will be the focal point. The Eagles’
“I think they’re entire offense stems from the running game,” said Hicks. “Stop him and get after the quarterback. It’s great for linebackers. It’s what you want to hear and we take a lot of pride in stopping the run as a defense, so this is a great opportunity for us.”
The Eagles’ run defense is ranked second in the NFL, but teams have not stayed committed to the run against them. The Eagles have the second fewest rushes against them in the league.
On offense, the Eagles will need to find a way to score points against a Cowboys defense that is giving up an average of just 18.5 points per game.
“They've done a good job in holding points down,” said Groh. “They've got some talented players up there. They're good up front. They can create some pressure, particularly on the edges with their D-line. They've got speed at linebacker and they're covering well on the perimeter. We're going to have to put a good plan together to get ready to beat these guys. They’re definitely having a good season.”
QUOTES TO NOTE
“Defensively, (the Cowboys) are a good football team,” said Pederson. “It's a really good football team on defense, and they're really good up front, good pass rushers, third-down. They're one of the top, if not the top, third-down defense, getting off the field. We understand (RB Ezekiel) Elliott, what a tremendous back he is. A lot of things offensively run through him, and you've got to basically stop him if you can. He's tough to bring down. This is a team that has a lot of weapons. (WR) Amari Cooper now is going into a couple more weeks of practice and getting more comfortable with (QB) Dak (Prescott). And Dak can obviously beat you not only with his arm but with his legs. Listen, this is a tough match-up. Again, NFC East, great opportunity for us.”
“The bye week was great,” said Wentz. “For really the entire team it came at a perfect time, middle of the season. You couldn’t ask for a better bye week than that. Just to be able to get away and refresh my mind, with the rehab and all that’s been going on this offseason, this was a big break for me both physically and mentally.”
“A lot of my former teammates (at the University of Texas) were huge Cowboys fans, and I’ve always been the type of person to go against the grain, so when I got down there, I wasn’t really feeling them,” said linebacker Jordan Hicks. “Then that’s probably just grown over the years. I’ve seen their fans. I’ve seen them first hand. They’re not, obviously, better than our fans, but they’ve got a good fan base. They do.”
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Eagles offensive tackles Lane Johnson (right) and Jason Peters (left) against Dallas defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford. Both Eagles tackles are banged up, with Peters coming off offseason knee surgery, battling a quad injury and torn biceps, and Johnson struggling with an MCL strain and high ankle sprain. Lawrence is tied for 13th in the league in sacks with 6.5 while Crawford has contributed 2.5.
“We know No. 90 (Lawrence) this week is a really good pass rusher, so we've got to be careful with the amount of spread sets and empty sets that we do,” said Pederson.
Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox against left guard Connor Williams. Cox is the Eagles’ top sacker with four of them and the Cowboys have typically double-teamed Cox with center Travis Frederick. Frederick, however, is out with an injury and Joe Looney is filling in. If the Cowboys can’t successfully double Cox, he could add to his sack total.