Roob's Observations

In Roob's Observations: Why did A.J. Brown's big plays disappear?

What happened to the A.J. Brown big plays? What’s up with Reed Blankenship? And more in Roob's latest observations.

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What happened to the A.J. Brown big plays? What’s up with Reed Blankenship? Why Matt Stafford over Jalen Hurts?

We take a look at all of that and tons more in this weekend’s edition of Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Observations.

1. The biggest difference between A.J. Brown the first eight games of the season and the last eight games isn’t the number of targets or catches. It’s where those targets and catches are. Through Week 8, Brown was averaging 10.4 targets and 7.5 catches per game. The last eight games, he’s at 9.3 targets and 5.6 catches per game. So those numbers are down a bit – 10 percent on targets and 25 percent on catches. But look at his yards per game, yards per target and yards per catch: The first eight weeks: 117 yards per game, 15.7 yards per catch and 11.3 yards per target. The last eight weeks: 64 yards per game, 11.3 yards per catch and 6.9 yards per target. So yards per game is down 45 percent, yards per catch 28 percent and yards per target 39 percent. The big plays have been few and far between. Jalen Hurts is getting him the ball – he’s actually 5th in the NFL in targets over these last eight games – but he’s 22nd in yards. The first eight weeks he was also 5th in targets but 2nd in yards. The big plays have disappeared. Through Week 8, Brown was tied with Tyreek Hill for the most 25-yard receptions in the league with 13. The last eight weeks he’s tied for 67th with two. The same number as Jalen Reagor during that span. Not ideal. Some of this is on Nick Sirianni and Brian Johnson, but much of it is on Hurts, who’s had opportunities to connect on medium-range and deep balls with Brown and has either misfired, taken the underneath throw or taken off scrambling. I like what Johnson said on Tuesday: “A.J. is a great player and we've got to force him the ball sometimes and make sure we get him going.” Brown is way too talented not to be making a ton of plays down the field.

2. Jalen Hurts hasn’t played up to last year’s level, but he deserved to make the Pro Bowl ahead of Matt Stafford. Hurts has more wins (11 to 9), a higher completion percentage (66.1 percent to 62.6 percent), way more total touchdowns (38 to 24) and a much better record vs. winning teams (5-2 vs. 2-5). One thing that may have hurt Hurts in the Pro Bowl voting: Some of his bigger wins were vs. AFC teams – Patriots, Dolphins, Chiefs, Bills. And AFC players don’t vote for the NFC. After Week 5, Hurts was only 3-4 vs. the NFC.

3A. Eagles offensive line Pro Bowlers since Jeff Stoutland became offensive line coach in 2013: Jason Kelce (7), Lane Johnson (5), Jason Peters (4), Brandon Brooks (3), Evan Mathis (2) and Landon Dickerson (2). That’s 23 Pro Bowl offensive linemen in 11 years. In the half century years before Stoutland became offensive line coach – 1963 through 2012 – the Eagles had only 20 Pro Bowl offensive linemen: Bob Brown (3), Peters (3), Jim Ringo (3), Tra Thomas (3), Shawn Andrews (2), Jerry Sisemore (2), Stan Walters (2), Jermane Mayberry (1) and Jon Runyan (1). So Stoutland has coached more Pro Bowl offensive linemen in 11 years since Chip Kelly hired him than the Eagles had in the previous 50 years. The dude is a magician.

3B. Landon Dickerson is only the eighth guard in the last 30 years to make two Pro Bowls in his first three seasons. The others are Ruben Brown of the Bills (1995 and 1997), Hall of Famer Larry Allen of the Cowboys (1995, 1996), Kyle Long of the Bears (2013, 2014), Carolina’s Trai Turner (2014, 2016), the Cowboys’ Zach Martin (2014, 2015, 2016), Washington’s Brandon Scherf (2015, 2017) and the Colts’ Quenton Nelson (2018, 2019, 2020). Dickerson is the 15th Eagle to make two Pro Bowls in his first three years, the first since DeSean Jackson (2009, 2010). 

4. The Eagles are 19-for-25 this year on 4th down, and that 76 percent conversion rate is 5th-highest in NFL history by a team attempting at least 20 fourth down conversions. The franchise record regardless of attempts is 75 percent on 9-for-12 from the 1990 team. Depending what happens Sunday, the Eagles could move on up the all-time list. They trail only the Patriots in 2006 (80.0 percent) and 2008 (77.3 percent), the 1989 Giants (77.3 percent) and the 2020 Raiders (76.2 percent). 

5. One name we haven’t talked about much during the defense’s recent meltdown is Reed Blankenship, but the 2nd-year safety has struggled over the past six weeks or so. He was so good last year and the first half of this year that it’s been surprising to see. Usual Pro Football Focus disclaimer — you take their grades for what they‘re worth — but his average grade in his first eight games (through Kansas City) was 71.5. His average grade the last six games is 56.7 (he missed the Dolphins and Vikings games). That’s quite a dropoff. You don’t expect Blankenship to be elite in coverage, but the concerning thing is that the areas Blankenship has struggled in are tackling and run defense, two areas he was outstanding in last year and the first couple months this year. Sometimes undrafted players reach a point of diminishing returns and whatever limitations kept them from being drafted eventually catch up with them the more they play and the more their weaknesses are exposed. Hopefully, that’s not the case with Blankenship, and I don’t think it is. He’s now learning his third defense in two years and like so many guys on that side of the ball, he’s just not playing well. But he’s 24, he’s only started 18 games in his career, he’s played way more football than he’s ever played — three times more snaps than last year — and I think he’s got the right combination of toughness, intelligence and instincts to make up for less than ideal speed and athleticism. I still expect Blankenship and Sydney Brown to be the Eagles’ starting safeties next year, but nothing is etched in stone. The immediate concern is getting Blankenship back to playing the way he was a couple months ago once the postseason begins.

6. D’Andre Swift hasn’t had a 100-yard rushing game since Week 3 in Tampa. He’s the first Eagles running back to go 13 straight starts without a 100-yard game since Brian Westbrook had a streak of 18 over the 2004 and 2005 seasons. The longest streak in franchise history belongs to Keith Byars, who had 77 consecutive starts over the 1988 through 1992 seasons without a 100-yard game. He had 102 yards against the Bills on the final day of the 1987 season and never had another one, although he did convert to tight end once he joined the Dolphins and became a Pro Bowler.

7. The last four quarterbacks drafted with a top-5 pick to play for at least four different teams were all Eagles at some point in their career: Mark Sanchez (Jets, Eagles, Commanders, Cowboys), Sam Bradford (Rams, Eagles, Vikings, Cards), Carson Wentz (Eagles, Colts, Commanders, Rams) and Marcus Mariota (Titans, Raiders, Falcons, Eagles). The last 1st-round QB who played for four teams but never played for the Eagles? That was 2002 No. 1 pick David Carr (Texans, Panthers, Giants, 49ers). Before that? Michael Vick (Falcons, Eagles, Jets, Steelers). The only Eagles 1st-round picks other than Wentz to play for four teams over the last 50 years: Keith Byars (Eagles, Dolphins, Patriots, Jets), Lito Sheppard (Eagles, Raiders, Jets, Vikings) and Nelson Agholor (Eagles, Raiders, Patriots, Ravens). 

8. With DeVonta Smith ruled out for Sunday and due to miss a game for the first time in his three-year career, I was wondering who the last Eagle was to start every game in his first three seasons. As it turned out, Smith technically didn’t start a game against the Jets in 2021 because the Eagles opened with three tight ends (Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Tyree Jackson) and one receiver (Jalen Reagor). Smith played 44 snaps but didn’t start. As it turns out, there isn’t a single Eagle that started 48 of 48 games in his first three seasons (or more since the onset of 17-game seasons). Smith still has the most starts by an Eagle through Year 3 with 49 (16, 17, 16). Tra Thomas from 1998 through 2000 and Hank Fraley from 2001 through 2003 each started 47 of 48 games, but to find the last Eagle who started every game his first three seasons in the NFL you have to go back to tight end Charle Young, who not only started every game in 14-game seasons in 1973, 1974 and 1975 but made the Pro Bowl each year as well. 

9. Jalen Hurts has run for 67 first downs this year, 2nd-most in the league – Christian McCaffrey has 83 – and 2nd-most ever by a quarterback behind Lamar Jackson’s 71 in 2019. Hurts can break Jackson’s record with five rushing first downs against the Giants. He’s had 21 career games with five or more rushing first downs, most recently the first Giants game two weeks ago. The last Eagle with more than 67 rushing first downs in a season was LeSean McCoy, with 68 in 2014.

10. Josh Sweat has played 382 snaps over the last seven games without a sack. Courtesy of the Stathead player spanfinder, that’s the most snaps by a defensive end or edge rusher over a seven-game span without a sack since 2018, when Telvin Smith of the Jaguars played 450 snaps over seven games without a sack.

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