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WR Corps: The Difference A Season Makes

Posted Nov 26, 2017

We are 11 games into this don’t-pinch-me season. The beauty of the Eagles’ offense as we saw again in Sunday’s 31-3 beatdown of the visiting Chicago Bears is that there are many ways to pick the poison to beat a defense. The running game is a beast. And the passing game, with the upgrades made at wide receiver, is dangerous in every way ...

We are 11 games into this don’t-pinch-me season. The beauty of the Eagles’ offense as we saw again in Sunday’s 31-3 beatdown of the visiting Chicago Bears is that there are many ways to pick the poison to beat a defense. The running game is a beast. And the passing game, with the upgrades made at wide receiver, is dangerous in every way.

Much of it is because of the remarkable play, week in and week out, from quarterback Carson Wentz, who now has 28 touchdown passes and is closing in on the Eagles’ franchise record (32, set by Sonny Jurgensen in 1961).

And some of it is the wide receiver group, which has flourished under position coach Mike Groh.

“We have a great group,” Torrey Smith said. “We’re extremely competitive with each other. We push each other and we want each other to have success. There are no 'me' guys in our room. We have players who you can put anywhere on the field and we’re going to make plays.”

A year ago at this time, the Eagles were slogging through a losing streak trying to find some traction with a receiving corps that included Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Bryce Treggs, and Paul Turner. The team made the position a priority in the offseason, signing veterans Smith and Alshon Jeffery, and drafting Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson. They traded Matthews to Buffalo in the preseason to acquire cornerback Ronald Darby, a key piece in the secondary, and moved Agholor into the slot.

How has it all worked for the Eagles? Nothing short of brilliantly. In this spread-it-around offense, the wide receivers have been consistent and productive. Jeffery scored another touchdown in Sunday’s win against his former team, adding five catches and 52 yards to an offensive output of 420 total net yards (with the starting offense sitting out, again, for much of the fourth quarter). Agholor scored two times, once on a tricky catch-and-run from the 15-yard line that ended with a somersault into the end zone and another time when he pounced on a Jay Ajayi fumble in the end zone.

Smith kept one touchdown drive alive by drawing a holding penalty on a third-and-4 play and added four catches for 30 yards and the Eagles mixed their personnel, moved tight end Zach Ertz all around the formation to catch 10 passes for 103 yards - the first 100-yard outing by an Eagles pass catcher this season - and a touchdown and it was another trip into Blowoutville for the 10-1 Eagles.

The wide receivers, without a bunch of fanfare and absent of any diva attitudes, stepped up again.

Jeffery scored in his fourth straight game as he and Wentz are very much on the same wavelength after an anticipated getting-to-know-you start to the season. Jeffery’s length and his ability to create space with his big body open up windows for Wentz, who has connected with Jeffery 17 times for 265 yards and five touchdowns in the last four games. Smith’s speed still demands respect from defense and he and Wentz had a nice intermediate connection on Sunday, in addition to drawing the penalty late in the second quarter ahead of the touchdown throw to Jeffery.

Then there’s Agholor, the reclamation project of the year. Twelve months ago Agholor was a confused second-year player who had lost his gameday swagger and his confidence catching the football. There were many questions as to whether he would even make the 2017 roster after all of the attention paid to the position in free agency and the draft.

Give Agholor credit: He didn’t stop working, he didn’t listen to the outside world, and he made the most of the faith the Eagles showed him with the move into the slot to put himself into a career-season kind of 2017. Agholor has 33 receptions this year with six receiving touchdowns and the fumble recovery for a seventh score. Agholor’s quickness gives the Eagles a matchup advantage in the middle of the field.

On Sunday, Agholor scored on the edge when he caught a quick-release throw from Wentz and beat one defender and then turned on the jets as he neared the end zone. A final Bears defender went low on Agholor, who vaulted into the end zone after contact.

It was a tremendous show of athleticism from Agholor, who is playing so much faster and unleashed this season. His improvement has been perhaps the most significant plus in the passing game, along with the go-to development of Ertz in the red zone as a touchdown machine.

“I’m having a lot of fun and we’re in a situation where everyone is bringing out the best in each other,” Agholor said. “Last year was last year. This year, it’s a totally different situation. It’s a new page for me and for this football team. My focus is on the now what we’re doing as an offense.

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“Anything I can do to help. I have my role. Everyone accepts his role and I think that’s what makes this team so special. We just want to win. It’s not about me, or about Alshon or anybody. It’s about our team.”

And what an incredible team this has been through 11 games, including a franchise-first three straight games with a winning margin of at least 28 points. Chicago garnered nary a single first down in the first half of Sunday’s game, and the Bears managed a paltry 6 rushing yards in the entire four quarters.

The Eagles are dominating in every phase of the game, including wide receiver. Did you think there was any way in the world you would have said that a season ago?

“All great guys and we have plenty of ways to beat you,” said Jeffery, who downplayed his first game against his former team. “We all believe in each other. I don’t know if you find that in every locker room in this league.”

Well, you don’t find any other 10-1 teams in the league. The Eagles have nine straight wins, tying a franchise record. They now head to Seattle for the start of a three-game road trip. The season, as far as playoff seeding, is on the line.

“I can’t wait,” said Agholor, who was at the height of his struggles in 2017 when the Eagles lost at Seattle. “Let’s go out there and play our best game and see what happens. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We’re having a lot of fun. You see what we’re doing out there.”

Yes, we do. The Eagles are crushing teams. It won’t be this easy the rest of the way, as the margin for error narrows in December. The next phase of the season is coming. The Eagles are prepared, playing their best football of this marvelous season.

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