Eagles surprising everyone with 2-0 start
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By Rob Maaddi
AP Pro Football Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A 2-0 start in Philadelphia has people comparing Carson Wentz to Peyton Manning and Doug Pederson to Vince Lombardi.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz deserves some credit, too.
Wentz has certainly exceeded expectations . He’s the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to win his first two starts and not commit a turnover.
Pederson has pushed all the right buttons, showing strong leadership and excellent playcalling.
Meanwhile, Schwartz has taken a defense that ranked among the worst each of the past three seasons and turned it into a stingy unit. They’re ranked fourth in yards allowed and have allowed the second-fewest points (that includes a punt return for a TD ).
“I like the way it’s coming together,” middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said after Monday night’s 29-15 win at Chicago.
“We’re playing stout, pretty strong and aggressive. That’s what this defense is. I’m excited. The sky is the limit with this defense. We have a lot to improve and it’s a long season, but we’ve started out pretty well.”
Schwartz, a former head coach in Detroit, returned to coaching after sitting out the 2015 season. He brought an aggressive, 4-3 scheme and is maximizing the talent he has.
Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin moved to defensive end after playing linebacker in former coordinator Billy Davis’ 3-4 system. Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan are getting a strong push up the middle. Linebackers Hicks and Nigel Bradham have made big plays . The secondary overcame the absence of injured cornerback Leodis McKelvin and shut down Jay Cutler and the Bears.
“We’re playing well together, having fun and everybody is chipping in,” said Graham, who had one sack and two tackles for losses.
Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick, gets most of the praise and he’s been outstanding. He has a 94.1 rating, three TDs and a completion rate of 60.6 percent.
Wentz already has won more games in two starts than Joe Montana (0-1) and Troy Aikman (0-11) did their rookie seasons. Manning went 3-13 with the Colts in 1998. John Elway (4-6), Terry Bradshaw (3-5), Fran Tarkenton (2-8) and Johnny Unitas (3-4) also had losing years as rookies.
But the Eagles beat the hapless Browns (0-2) and the Bears (0-2). They have a tougher road ahead, starting with a home game against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0) on Sunday.
Big Ben, by the way, was 13-0 his rookie season in 2004 and led the Steelers to the AFC championship game.
Asked if Wentz reminds him of Roethlisberger, Pederson said: “Little bit, little bit. Carson has the ability to extend plays with his legs. Ben is big, strong, physical in the pocket, hard to bring down and continues to have great vision down the field.
“I think that’s one thing with Carson’s strength is he continues to have that vision down the field when things begin to break down.
“So, yeah, there are a lot of similarities there. The fact that they’re both very good throwers outside the pocket is a tribute to both of them.”
NOTES: Pederson said RT Lane Johnson will start until a decision is made on the appeal of his 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. … LB Mychal Kendricks broke his nose and has a quadriceps contusion, but is expected to play vs. Pittsburgh. … Pederson said there’s no change with the status of McKelvin (hamstring) and TE Zach Ertz (ribs). Both players missed one game.