Sua Opeta’s future, an unsung Eagles assistant coach and a remarkable Derek Barnett stat.
This week’s Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Observations is a mish-mash of thoughts, opinions, stats and trends that have nothing to do with each other. Which is exactly the point.
1. There hasn’t been a huge dropoff since Sua Opeta replaced injured Cam Jurgens at right guard. Not that Jurgens wasn’t playing well before he went on IR with a foot sprain. He was. But Opeta has been very good, as well. Pro Football Focus actually gives Opeta a much higher grade as a pass blocker (74.2 to 58.3) but Jurgens a much higher run blocking grade (64.3 to 47.0). No question the job belongs to Jurgens when he’s healthy, but Opeta has played well enough against some stud defensive tackles that he’s at the least in the right guard conversation assuming Jurgens moves to center when (if?) Jason Kelce retires. Tyler Steen was a 3rd-round pick this year and is also in that equation. Complicating things is that Opeta will be a free agent after this season and the way he’s played, he'll have some value on the open market, while Steen is signed through 2026. Steen can also play tackle, but Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson aren’t going anywhere. You know Howie Roseman would love to keep Opeta around, but he’s never earned much – about $4.2 million over parts of five seasons – and at 27 this could be his one chance at some free agency money. Whatever happens, Opeta deserves a lot of credit for holding it down these past few weeks with Jurgens sidelined.
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2. There have only been four players in NFL history with at least 42 catches, 650 yards and 16 yards per catch after six games. Three of the four will be at the Linc Sunday night. A.J. Brown (42-672, 16.0) and Tyreek Hill (42-814, 19.4) have both reached those milestones this year and Julio Jones of the Falcons did in 2018 (44-708, 16.1). The only other player with those numbers after six games was Andre Rison of the Falcons in 1990 (43-710, 16.5).
3. In three career starts at MetLife Stadium, Jalen Hurts has completed 59 percent of his passes with three TDs, six INTs and a 61.5 passer rating. In 37 career starts in every other stadium, Hurts has completed 64 percent of his passes with 47 TDs, 19 INTs and a 93.8 passer rating. Incredibly, 24 percent of his lifetime interceptions have been in East Rutherford, although only 8.6 percent of his pass attempts have. Eagles-Giants Jan. 7 at MetLife. Maybe the Eagles won’t need Jalen for that one.
4. One unsung guy who deserves a ton of credit is rookie secondary coach D.K. McDonald. Through six games, the Eagles have already used 15 different defensive backs (most in the league, 2nd-most in franchise history), six undrafted defensive backs 25 or under (12th-most in NFL history for an entire season) and six different starting lineups. Most of those numbers will increase Sunday night if Sydney Jones and Josiah Scott start Sunday. If Scott plays, he will become the seventh slot the Eagles will have used either in a game or practice, following Avonte Maddox, Zech McPhearson, Mario Goodrich, James Bradberry, Eli Ricks and Mekhi Garner. An NFL-high six Eagles d-backs – Goodrich, Ricks, Garner, Sydney Brown, Kelee Ringo and Tristin McCollum - have made their NFL debut this year, already tied for most in franchise history. And there’s a chance Brown and Scott will become the Eagles’ ninth and 10th starting defensive backs this year, which would be 4th-most in franchise history (with 10 games left). And it hasn’t always been pretty, but McDonald has kept the whole thing on the rails through injuries, roster changes, practice squad call-ups, IR stints, mid-season additions, you name it. Not one Eagles d-back has played in all six games. Despite all of that, the Eagles' defense is 8th-best in the NFL in passing yards allowed per play and down to 19.5 points allowed per game. McDonald was hired here as assistant d-backs coach in 2021 after four years at Toledo and five years at Iowa State, both under Matt Campbell, Nick Sirianni’s teammate at Mount Union. Anybody who can get this group, with so many youngsters, undrafted guys, newcomers and practice squad call-ups, playing together, knows what they’re doing. Sunday night is the ultimate challenge, but so far McDonald has been very impressive.
5. I was wondering if Julio Jones would become the first Hall of Famer ever who was once on a practice squad. I thought maybe Kurt Warner, but he apparently never was on a practice squad, although he obviously bounced around various leagues and teams before becoming a star with the Rams. James Harrison was on the Steelers’ practice squad at the start of his career, but he’s not quite a Hall of Famer. Same with Arian Foster. The only guy I could think of is Jason Peters, who was on the Bills’ practice squad as an undrafted rookie tight end in 2002 and definitely has a very good shot at Canton. Anybody I‘m missing?
6. Drive data is one of my favorite ways to really judge an offense, and the NFL’s composite drive charts – as found on Stathead – show some revealing things: The Eagles are averaging 38 yards per drive, 2nd-highest in the NFL, and their average drive goes for 3 minutes, 18 seconds, highest in the league. The Eagles are scoring on 48 percent of their drives (2nd-highest), and they’re averaging 7.1 plays per drive, again highest in the league. They’re even 8th in touchdown percentage and 7th in points per drive despite their red-zone issues. Now, the red zone has been bad. BUT … the Eagles have had the 5th-most red-zone drives, and that’s a really good sign. And they’ve actually scored the 10th-most red-zone points in the league because they’ve had so many opportunities down there. It’s just that their TD percentage is low – 23rd in the league. That includes two red-zone drives where they weren’t trying to score, which doesn’t help their average. I really believe this offense will ultimately be fine in the red zone because every single metric says they will. Nobody else is stopping them. They’re stopping themselves. They’re too talented not to get dramatically better inside the 20.
7. Here’s why the Eagles should never abandon the run if they get off to a slow start: In the first half this year, they’re averaging 4.1 yards per carry. In the second half, they’re averaging 4.7. That’s a huge difference and that’s what happens when you keep pounding the rock behind this offensive line. Eventually you wear defenses down and the later the game goes, the more their advantage grows. Doesn’t mean they have to be 50-50 or even 60-40. But when you have positive matchups up front – along with a really talented running back room – you don’t give up if your first handful of carries don’t go anywhere. Teams might shut down the Eagles’ running game early but nobody has shut them down late.
8. With Julio Jones now in the fold, seven of the 25 leading receivers in NFL history have all been Eagles at some point in their career. But none of those seven for the bulk of their career. Terrell Owens ranks 3rd in NFL history (15,934 yards), with James Lofton 12th (14,004), Cris Carter 13th (13,899), Jones 16th (13,629), Irving Fryar 21st (12,785), Art Monk 22nd (12,721) and Jimmy Smith 25th (12,287). Of that group, only Carter and Fryar played more than 1 ½ seasons with the Eagles. Both played three. Carter was a supplemental draft pick in 1987, but of conventional Eagles draft picks, the players with the most career yards are DeSean Jackson (11,263), Harold Carmichael (8,985), Tommy McDonald (8,410), Art Powell (8,046) and Zach Ertz (7,415).
9. Derek Barnett has now gone 339 consecutive snaps since his last sack, Nov. 14, 2021, in Denver against Teddy Bridgewater, who has since played for the Dolphins and Lions. His streak of 10 consecutive games without a sack by an Eagles edge rusher (minimum 10 snaps per game) is tied for longest on record in franchise history (snap counts have been kept since 2012). Vinny Curry had a 10-game streak from 2017 through 2019. Barnett’s streak is also the longest current streak by any NFL edge rusher. Fourteenth pick.
10. Everybody made a huge deal about Jason Kelce breaking Jon Runyan’s franchise record when he started his 145th consecutive game last Sunday, and rightfully so. But Kelce will quietly break another pretty significant franchise record Sunday night. Kelce and Brian Dawkins have both started 182 games in an Eagles uniform, and Kelce will take sole possession of the Eagles record for career starts this weekend. Fletcher Cox (172), Chuck Bednarik (166), Tra Thomas (165) and Harold Carmichael (160) are also at 160 or higher. Also within range for Kelce is David Akers’ Eagles record of 188 games played, although Brandon Graham is at 184, two ahead of Kelce (with Dawkins at 183). So if everyone stays healthy, B.G. will get their first.