A.J. Brown is one of the best receivers in the NFL and he’s getting treated like it.
Sometimes that means double coverage or a bracket. Sometimes that means a top corner following him. Sometimes it means the opposing defensive coordinator spends all week working to stop No. 11.
“Going into every game, I know their game plan is probably to take me away,” Brown said. “It’s a part of it. It’s the new world I’m living in now. It’s OK.”
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Brown, 26, only has himself to blame.
That NFL-record stretch of six straight games of 125+ yards certainly woke up defenses around the NFL. Against the Chiefs on Monday night, Brown was targeted 4 times and had just 1 catch for 8 yards in the 21-17 win.
“You try your best just to try to stay locked in as much as possible,” Brown said. “You continue to do your job regardless of whether you’re touching the rock or not. Staying locked in mentally. Whenever you get your opportunities, you have to make the most of it.”
One of those plays that Brown was doubled was a crucial 3rd-and-5 in the middle of the fourth quarter. And all that extra attention on Brown allowed DeVonta Smith to get open for a 13-yard gain. A couple plays later, the Eagles punched in the go-ahead touchdown.
That attention doesn’t end up in the stat sheet but it’s an example of the effect Brown can have on a game even when he isn’t putting up record-breaking numbers.
“Man, I’m all about winning. I’m all about winning,” Brown said. “If I get it, cool. If DeVonta get it, cool. If Dallas (Goedert) get it, cool. If Quez (Watkins) get it, it doesn’t matter. Like I said after the game, he was the MVP of that game to me. He made some crucial plays all night.”
A sweet Sweep
It was one of the Eagles’ biggest plays in their win over the Chiefs in Week 11 and it’s one that the team was especially proud of.
Because as Sirianni explained, everything had to be perfect on the jet sweep to D’Andre Swift that picked up 35 yards in the fourth quarter of the 21-17 win.
“It takes a lot of work because, D'Andre is obviously a special talent, but without the exact detail on that play being right on, that play doesn't work for that,” Sirianni said. “And then we lose all those yards rushing that we got on that play and that obviously set up a touchdown.
“So, the amount of time that our guys have spent on that play and the ball handling of plays, right, and that's just not on that play. That's every running play that is in and every play-action that's in. There is a lot of time devoted toward the detail of the play. The talents of the players make the play go and then the detail lets the play really shine. And so, man, they really worked hard on that.”
Against the Chiefs, the Eagles finally got their run game going a bit. Swift had his best game since Week 3, finishing with 107 scrimmage yards and a touchdown.
On that play, the Eagles were in 21 personnel with Swift and Boston Scott on the field together. They used that personnel grouping on five snaps against the Chiefs after using it a total of 11 snaps in their first nine games of the season.
“As far as the sets, D'Andre is a special back in the sense he can line up different places and be an issue to the defense at different places where he lines up,” Sirianni said. “Whether it's in the backfield with another back, whether that’s in the backfield with himself, whether that’s in the backfield with like DeVonta (Smith) which we had this week, or whether that's in the slot or outside, that just makes him harder to defend and more of a problem. Those are some of the things we've used in the past and last week to just help our guys make plays.”
Could Avonte Maddox return in 2023?
Eagles nickel cornerback Avonte Maddox tore his pec in Week 2 and has been on IR ever since. But Sirianni on Friday wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Maddox returning this season.
“We'll see. Yeah, we'll see,” Sirianni said. “He's working hard. Working really hard to be able to [come back]. We'll see. That all depends on how his — I know he's going to put the hard work in. I know we got the best trainers and doctors and strength staff in the NFL.
“But sometimes it's just going to be all with the way the body reacts. We'll see how that goes. I’d hate to put a timetable on him and say, ‘Yeah, we’re expecting him back’ and he doesn't make it [back] or vice versa. So, day by day, we'll see.”
But the fact that Sirianni didn’t completely rule it out means there’s a chance Maddox could return at some point, even if that means late in the playoffs if the Eagles make another run.
During his absence from the field, Maddox has still been around the team an awful lot. He’s in the building during the week, on the sidelines Sunday and on Friday was even seen stretching with the Eagles before practice.
We meet again
Before getting traded to the Bills in 2020, Pro Bowl receiver Stefon Diggs spent the first five seasons in his NFL career in the NFC North with the Vikings. That meant facing off with Darius Slay twice per season when Slay was still with the Lions.
These two have had their battles.
“He’s been getting better every single year,” Slay said. “I’ve been seeing him for a long time. Me and him got a great, great relationship. We’ve been going at it. Lot of great battles. At that time, he was a young pup. I was young as well. But you can see how he’s grown into himself and really developed who he is as a player.”
This year, Diggs has 77 catches for 895 yards and 7 touchdowns in 11 games. He’s on his way to being a Pro Bowler for the fourth straight season.
While the element of Diggs’ game that seems to get talked about a ton is his route running, Slay sees other parts of his game that are underrated.
“Honestly, his route running is great as well but, man, his contested catches is real crazy,” Slay said. “High-pointing the ball, understanding when to catch it with his chest or with his hands. Him and the quarterback have a good relationship in zone coverages when it’s time to scramble around. And his after the catch. He’s not one of those little pretty receivers that catch a ball and then just steps out of bounds. He catch the ball and try to run you over (for) extra yards.”
Facing an unknown at coordinator
Earlier this month, the Bills fired offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey and promoted Joe Brady to interim offensive coordinator.
While the Bills still have the same personnel, this change has led to a bit of extra tape study for the Eagles this year.
“Yeah, that's always challenging, really trying to see what the identity and the philosophy of the new play caller is and the tweaks he wants to bring,” Eagles DC Sean Desai said. “Joe has obviously done this before in this league at a high level, so he's got a lot of the experience and they have a lot of great players, and they present a lot of different challenges for us. It'll be an exciting matchup to prepare for.”
Brady, 34, has been the Bills’ quarterbacks coach since 2022 but spent a couple years before that with the Panthers as their offensive coordinator and was LSU’s passing game coordinator before then. At LSU, Brady coached Joe Burrow, JaMarr Chase and Justin Jefferson.
Before the Eagles hired Sirianni in 2021, they interviewed Brady for their head coaching opening.