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Eagles Armchair: Carson Wentz Affirms the Sam Bradford Decision

By Tucker Bagley, Sports Talk Philly staff writer 

The Eagles were able to put two weeks of frustration behind them with a 21-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday to return to the win column and improve to 4-2 when it appeared 3-3 was staring them in the face.

While this was a nice response to frustrating games for many departments, there were definitely areas that looked better than others. 

Here is the full breakdown in Eagles Armchair.

Going Deep

The difference was noticeable. 

As the clock ticked down to zero, Carson Wentz searched for Sam Bradford through the crowd that filled the field after the conclusion of yesterday's game, but the rookie's quest came up empty as the veteran quickly made his way to the locker room, eager to avoid the crowd and his former team.

"I talked to him before the game, I didn't talk to him after the game," Wentz told reporters. "I was looking for him."

Bradford's presser went a bit differently. Through tight lips and an emotionless stare, the former Eagle went through the standard cliches, claiming he harbored no ill will toward the city he called home for 17 months. 

On the field, there were differences, as well. While both QBs struggled to get anything going with their sub-par supporting casts, Wentz's ability to make something out of nothing proved to be invaluable as he fumbled a pair of snaps and picked up first downs on both plays.

Meanwhile, Bradford spent the day running for his life and ducking Brandon Graham and the rest of the Eagles' pass rushers. Wentz even handed Bradford three chances to take a hold of the game early in the first quarter, but he was unable to cash in.

Three turnovers to start the game, three possessions in plus territory, and only three points. That's not good, but some people still refuse to place the blame on Bradford.

"It's hard to evaluate his performance when you leak like a sieve," Vikings' coach Mike Zimmer said after the game. "It's hard to throw when somebody's bending your arm."

The juxtaposition of Wentz and Bradford confirmed the Eagles were right in dealing the veteran signal-caller. Despite Bradford's talents, he's missing a certain intangible that prevents him from taking over and winning the big game. He's a less-moody Jay Cutler. 

With Wentz, all of that moxie is there. He can be the magician or the game manager or the emotional leader. He is in charge of protection calls and audibles, but his grades aren't curved. He continues to impress and show poise, even if the stats are coming.

Despite posting a QB rating under 60, Wentz didn't lose the Eagles the game. His poor numbers didn't help, but he avoided the killer mistake, he took care of the ball for the final three quarters and kept the chains moving by making simple throws and the correct decisions. 

When Howie Roseman traded away Bradford, it seemed like the Eagles were simply just punting away their season. But Wentz out-dueled Bradford on a day where he didn't have his best stuff and was facing the top defense in the NFL. By no means was he perfect, and he accepted that, admitting that he forced some balls and will rectify his mistakes.

A look at the stat sheet will tell a different story. Bradford put up better numbers than Wentz in every category, except for one: points. And as the two quarterbacks' paths veer into very different directions, that difference will be noticeable.

Injury Report

Did Not Play: Bennie Logan (groin)

Ron Brooks: We'll start with the big one as it seems like Brooks will be out for a long time. In the first quarter, Brooks chased after a swing pass and fell to a knee while trying to make a tackle and never got up. He remained down on the field and had to be carted into the locker room where he was seen on crutches after the game. The cornerback said he has an MRI scheduled for tomorrow and based on the nature of his injury, the prognosis doesn't seem too good. A torn knee ligament seems rather likely at this point.

Chris Maragos: Maragos went down after covering a kick in the second quarter and seemed to be clutching his wrist or forearm as the trainers escorted him to the sideline. The injury must've been rather minor because the special teams ace returned to the game a short while later and didn't seem to be favoring anything.

Brandon Brooks: The offensive guard had his right leg rolled up on during the third quarter and was replaced by Stephen Wisniewski for the remainder of the series. However, Brooks got taped up and was back in the game by the time the Eagles' offense took the field for their next drive. After the game, Brooks told reporters he was fine and his injury isn't something that should affect his play long term.

Jason Peters: Peters' condition at the end of the game seemed worrisome considering he was downgraded from "cleared to return" to "return is questionable." The left tackle hurt his biceps around the same time as his linemate, Brooks, went down with his injury. After failing to return, Peters told reporters he was fine, but just wanted to rest up and didn't feel like he should test his injury in garbage time.

Numbers Game

9: It had been nine games since the Vikings had allowed more than 17 points in a game. The streak dates back to the Vikings week 14 loss to the Cardinals last year when Zimmer's squad allowed 23 points. The Vikings had proven to be the top defensive unit in football this season and, if Josh Huff's kick return touchdown is taken away, the Eagles offense put up just 15 points. Still, nine games with no more than 17 points allowed is impressive and speaks to the elite level the Vikings have been playing at.

36%: According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Eagles pressured Bradford on 36 percent of his dropbacks. On those plays, the Vikings averaged just 0.6 yards per play and turned the ball over three times. The Eagles pass rush was incredibly effective yesterday and if they can continue to wreak havoc up front, the Eagles should have no trouble staying in games with teams who are more talented than they are right now.

5: The Eagles and Vikings turned the ball over on five straight possessions, over a span of 11 plays. It was the first time five straight possessions ended with a turnover since Dec. 11, 2005, when the Redskins and Arizona Cardinals opened up their game with a similar sequence. Mark Brunell threw two interceptions, Kurt Warner threw a pick and lost a fumble and running back J.J. Arrington added a fumble of his own. Despite turning the ball over four times in the game, the Redskins ended up winning, 17-13. 

Quotables

"It's a no-brainer situation for me."

Weekly Awards

Offensive Player of the Week: Josh Huff

In short, Huff got this award by default. It's hard to justify giving it to a quarterback whose QB rating was lower than his completion percentage, so Huff gets some love here. Not only was he the Eagles top receiver, but two of his catches went for first downs and he hauled in all four of his targets. It seems like Pederson may beginning to see what a matchup nightmare Huff is and he could start to cut into Nelson Agholor's snaps if the second-year receiver can't find a way to get open down the field. The Eagles inefficiency with traditional down-field passing may cause a pivot in philosophy and that plays right into Huff's hands.  

Offensive Grinder of the Week: Ryan Mathews

Yes, he fumbled. Yes, that was not good. But, before that, he was penciled in for Huff's hardware. Mathews will receive a lot of well-deserved criticism for his end-of-game gaffes, but he's been prone to fumbles his entire career. As the Eagles bell cow back over the past few games, Mathews has been effective picking up tough yards between the tackles and even broke off a 20-yard run against a Vikings defense that hadn't allowed one through five games. 

This is an incredibly unpopular pick, but Mathews is a flawed player. There's a reason why he fell from being a first-round pick to a free-agent castoff so quickly in his NFL career. His mistakes are becoming a trend, and that is worrisome, but his running ability kept the Vikings from flattening Wentz into a pancake. 

Defensive Player of the Week: Rodney McLeod

McLeod delivered a super-human effort yesterday. He had seven tackles, a strip sack of Sam Bradford and picked off Sleeves in the end zone on third and goal, saving the Eagles three points. Adding McLeod into the fold has really allowed Malcolm Jenkins to play at the line of scrimmage where he made a number of plays in the run game yesterday. McLeod flies around the field like his hair is on fire and is fun to watch every week. It's only a matter of time before he becomes one of the most popular athletes in this city.

Defensive Grinder of the Week: Brandon Graham

Graham played his best game of the year against the Vikings, which is saying something since he's been setting up shop in opposing backfields since week one. Graham had a sack and picked up five quarterback hits, many of which altered throws. There were a lot of other Eagles defenders who played above what we've see from this season. Connor Barwin and Beau Allen, in particular. But Graham has been playing at a Pro Bowl level all year and he simply wrecked the Vikings game plan from the first snap of the game.

Three-Step Drop

1. A lot of yesterday's success needs to be credited to Jim Schwartz who put together a masterful game plan to combat a quarterback who spent months practicing against his unit. Schwartz switched things up a bit, calling for more zone blitzes and stopping the Vikings rushing attack, something the Eagles failed to do during each of their two losses. A lot of criticism was thrown Schwartz's way for his insistence on using the wide-nine, even when it was being picked apart by Kirk Cousins and Matt Jones, but Schwartz tweaked and pushed all the right buttons yesterday to carry the Eagles to a victory.

2. Another unit that stepped up in a big way was the Eagles offensive line. One week after hanging Wentz out to dry, the line did not allow a sack and just two quarterback hits. The Vikings came into the game averaging almost four sacks per game and the Eagles kept the pass rushers away from Wentz. A huge help came from Halapoulivaati Vaitai who came back from a dreadful game against the Redskins to have just one blemish, a false start, against the Vikings. The line was far from perfect and still committed a few too many penalties, but protecting Wentz is the key and they certainly did that yesterday.

3. How good was Jordan Hicks yesterday? The second-year linebacker led the Eagles with 11 tackles, including three tackles for loss a sack and an additional QB hit. Seriously, Hicks looked a lot like the guy he was before his injury last season and was everywhere on the field. In addition to Hicks, the rest of the Eagles linebacking corps got into the action, with Nigel Bradham picking up a sack and two QB hits and even Mychal Kendricks looked a bit like his old self, with two quarterback hits of his own. Schwartz's insistence of running the wide-nine will put more pressure on the linebackers to step up and make plays. Yesterday, they delivered.

Who's Next

The Eagles will head into to Dallas to face the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football this week. The Cowboys are flying high after reeling off five straight wins before their bye week. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot look like the two front-runners for Rookie of the Year and the defense has been solid, allowing more than 20 points just once all season.

The Eagles could pull even with Dallas for first place with a win Sunday night, but a loss would certainly damage their chances at the division crown, dropping them to 0-2 in the NFC East. I'm sure Schwartz is salivating over the idea of playing against a rookie QB, but Prescott has handled a lot of things being thrown at him and it helps to have the NFL's leading rusher lining up behind him and the league's best offensive line in front of him. It's still early in the year, but this is as big as a game as you can have in October. The Eagles need to grind out a victory Sunday night, or else they'll face a real uphill battle moving forward.

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