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NFL Team Report - Philadelphia Eagles - INSIDE SLANT
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek is having one of the poorest statistical seasons of his career. With just 25 catches and 348 receiving yards, he is on pace to catch 31 passes for 428 yards.
Both numbers would be the lowest since his second year in the league in 2008.
But that doesn't mean the 28-year-old Celek is having a bad year. The truth is, he may be having one of the best seasons of his career. While his pass-catching numbers are down, Celek's blocking has become an important part of the Eagles' running success this season.
The Eagles are first in the league in rushing, averaging 158.2 yards per game after last week's 299-yard effort in their snowy 34-20 win over the Detroit Lions.
Running back LeSean McCoy, who had a franchise-record 217 of those 299 yards, leads the NFL in rushing.
The tight ends are an important part of the running game in Chip Kelly's offense. Celek has become an extension of the offensive line.
Pro Football Focus, which grades every player in the league, has Celek ranked as the ninth best run-blocking tight end in the league this season. It's the first time he's ever been in their top 10.
"We're a big part of the running game," Celek said. "Tight ends can really help the run game out big-time. I've been trying to still get better. I can still do more."
Under Andy Reid, the Eagles passed first, second and last. Sprinkled in the run in the second half after they secured a lead. But Reid felt you had to pass early and often to win in the NFL.
Under Kelly, his inside and outside zone runs are a major part of the offense. The Eagles, who take an 8-5 record and a five-game winning streak into Sunday's road game against the 3-9-1 Minnesota Vikings, have run the ball 48.4 percent of the time this season, which is the third highest percentage in the league behind only San Francisco and Seattle and just ahead of Carolina.
Celek was a big part of the passing game under Reid. Caught 76 passes for 971 yards and 8 touchdown in 2009. Had 62 receptions for 811 yards and 5 TDs two years ago.
But he has embraced his blocking role in Kelly's offense.
"I was a blocking tight end in college (at Cincinnati)," he said. "You go back and watch my film, we ran a lot of power play-action. My tight ends coach there was an offensive line coach. That's what it was about. Run, run, run, play-action. Run, run, run, play-action. That's what I was used to.
"Then, coming here, it was a little different deal in the West Coast (offense) because we used short passes as our running game almost. Getting back to my fundamentals and focusing on the blocking has really helped me. I like it."
Said right guard Todd Herremans: "That's the kind of player Brent is. He always puts the team first before his own accolades or whatever. I think he realizes that, for us to be successful, he's going to have to get in there and get dirty. And he's done a great job with it."
SERIES HISTORY: 22nd regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 12-9. The last time the two teams met was on December 28, 2010 in Philadelphia. The game, scheduled for Sunday the 26th, was postponed because of a snowstorm that hadn't yet arrived when they made the decision, and rescheduled for that Tuesday night. The Eagles had won six of their previous seven games and went into that game with a 10-4 record. But the Vikings, with Joe Webb at quarterback, upset the Eagles, 24-14. The Eagles ended up losing the division title to the Cowboys the next week and making the playoffs as a wild card. They lost in the first round to the Green Bay Packers, who went on to win the Super Bowl that year.
NFL Team Report - Philadelphia Eagles - NOTES, QUOTES
--One of the things that has changed with the hiring of Chip Kelly as head coach is the Eagles' practice schedule. They are one of just four teams that practice on Tuesdays. The other three are San Francisco, Detroit and Miami.
And the 49ers and Lions essentially have just a 20-minute walk-through on Tuesday. The Eagles players, who used to get Monday and Tuesday off when Reid was the coach, weren't crazy with the idea of practicing on Tuesday, just two days after a game.
But given their 8-5 record and the fact that most of the players have never felt this good this late in a season before, they have accepted it.
"I do miss going into the locker room after the game on Sunday and saying, 'See you Wednesday," wide receiver DeSean Jackson said. "I miss those two days (off). But obviously, we've got all the time in the world in the offseason." Said linebacker Connor Barwin: "I, like most people, especially the older guys, wasn't a fan of the Tuesday practices. But we all stuck with it. And it's really amazing how well our bodies feel on Tuesday now compared to years prior. And I think it does give us a head start in our preparation for the week ahead."
--Center Jason Kelce, who missed 14 games last season with a torn ACL, was named the team's winner of the Ed Block Courage Award. Kelce has played all but five snaps this season and is the anchor of the league's best offensive lines.
"The biggest part is it's voted on by your teammates, so it shows they have a certain amount of respect and understanding about the way the season went last year," Kelce said. "It was a tough season. It feels good to know they all understand that and respected how I went about my business."
--The Eagles are coming off a big win over Detroit that helped vault them into first place in the NFC East. Next week, they have a prime time game on NBC against the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears. If ever a team was ripe for a letdown, it's the Eagles this week against the 3-9-1 Vikings. But Chip Kelly said that's not going to happen.
"We are just a one-week operation," he said. "I literally was thinking of the Vikings game coming off the field on Sunday. What's our next opportunity to go out and see where we are as a team. And that's what this deal is all about. I think the teams that are mentally tough can work their way through it. And I think we have a mentally tough group."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Winston Churchill said, problems in victory are more agreeable than problems in defeat, but no less difficult, and we always adhere to that as coaches because I think the easiest thing to do is let's move on, let's get ready for the Vikings. Well, there were a lot of things that went on (in the win over the Lions) that we need to continue to correct." -- Eagles coach Chip Kelly
BY THE NUMBERS: 22.2 -- Wide receiver Riley Cooper's yards-per-catch average over the last nine games.
NFL Team Report - Philadelphia Eagles - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--S Patrick Chung likely will start at free safety Sunday since Earl Wolff still is recovering from a knee injury.
--WR Brad Smith is starting to get integrated into the offense. The Eagles have lined up him at quarterback and running back for a couple of snaps in the last two games. He caught his first pass Sunday.
--WR Jason Avant has just four catches in the last five games.
--TE Brent Celek's pass-catching numbers are down this season, but his role as a blocker in the running game in Chip Kelly's offense has increased.
--LB Najee Goode, who sat out Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, didn't practice for the second straight day Wednesday. He will not play this week.
--S Earl Wolff, who has missed the last three games with a knee injury, was a limited practice participant for the second straight day. The chances of him playing this week are slim. Patrick Chung likely will start again in his place at free safety.
--CB Brandon Boykin, who is nursing a hip injury, was a full practice participant Wednesday.
Even though they are coming off a game in which they rushed for the fourth most yards in the history of the franchise, the Eagles likely will come out throwing Sunday against the Vikings. That's because the Vikings can't stop the pass. They have a 95.7 opponent passer rating and have given up a league-high 29 touchdown passes. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles has the highest touchdown percentage in the league.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Eagles LT Jason Peters vs. Vikings Jared Allen.
Terrific matchup between one of the league's top 4-3 ends and one of the league's top left tackles.
--Eagles WRs DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper v. Vikings CB Chris Cook and Xavier Rhodes.
This matchup could get ugly if Cook and Rhodes don't get help from their pass rush.
--Eagles RDE Fletcher Cox vs. Vikings Charlie Johnson.
Johnson is a fairly steady eight-year NFL veteran with 98 career starts. But Cox is playing at a Pro Bowl level.