Philadelphia Eagles: Nelson Agholor halts three-game slide

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The principal redemption story of the Philadelphia Eagles season seemed in danger going into the Chicago Bears game. Where was Nelson Agholor?

Going into Sunday’s meeting of the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears, a question had quietly arisen about the ultra-successful Eagles’ offense. It was partly obscured by the overall success of the team, but it was buried there in the stats for Nelson Agholor.

You all remember Agholor. He was one of the principal feel-good stories of the earliest part of this glittering season. Flying out of the blocks September 10th against the Washington Redskins, the newly designated slot receiver caught six-of-eight balls Carson Wentz spun towards him for 86-yards. The first went for 58-yards and the Eagles’ first score of the campaign.

In Philadelphia’s first eight games, he caught 27-of-38 passes Wentz threw him, and by Fox’s count dropped only one ball – a remarkable turnaround from 2016.  True, in the seven games after the opener, he wasn’t targeted as much as he had been in that contest, but still, Number 13 was viewed as redeemed. In only two games did his average yards per catch drop below ten, and in both of those games, the figure was at least 8.67. (Wentz’ average yards per completion figure in 2016 was 10.0 to all receivers.)

A Slow Decline

After the opener’s six catches, Agholor reached a secondary plateau in games five through seven of four grabs per game (on 17-targets). He caught a TD pass in each contest, but in the next three games he had, in order, three and two catches, then one against the Dallas Cowboys. That pass went for minus-2-yards although it had initially looked like a touchdown. On review, the receiver’s knee was down before he sprinted to the end zone. Agholor also dropped a ball in the Dallas game. He hadn’t caught a TD pass since the second Washington game, nearly a month earlier.

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What was going on? Had other teams figured out how to stop the speedy USC product?

Had Doug Pederson decided he needed to change it up? Not exactly – Agholor had been targeted 11 times in the Eagles’ previous three contests, including five times in Dallas. Considering his production in that game, a question begged: Would Nelson Agholor disappear further against the Bears?

Agholor versus Da Bears

Chicago’s defense had stifled most opponents early in the season, before a rash of injuries, and could have become a daunting challenge in the redemption story of Nelson Agholor. By Saturday, however, it seemed they had too many banged-up people, certainly too many to write a dark chapter in that story.

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Da Bears faced the potential of playing the Eagles without OLB Leonard Floyd (knee surgery), DE Akiem Hicks (questionable/hopeful), CB Bryce Callahan (questionable), and ILB Danny Trevathan (doubtful). Together this gimpy group represented 98-solo tackles and 14.5-sacks.  Without all four, the Eagles might not only have run wilder than they did but also thrown for 500-yards. Only Hicks seemed confident enough about playing to be talking trash. (“I didn’t cheer for Rocky.”)

Sunday Hicks and his seven-sack total were, in fact, out there to pressure Wentz. Agholor lined up in the slot on the Eagles’ first offensive play. Hicks made one tackle in the backfield in the first quarter; Agholor disappeared for that period.

In the second quarter, however, after flipping between the right and left slot – usually for several plays in a row at one or the other – Agholor re-appeared in a big way. With about four minutes gone in the quarter, he took a pass in the flat at the 15, sprinted towards the end zone, flipped over a defender at about the two-yard line, and scored.

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Over the course of the rest of the game, a messy Eagles’ win, 31-3, Agholor firmly halted what had seemed a three-game slide down a slippery slope. His best catch was probably a relatively short strike in the second quarter after the TD catch. It involved a move in, then out on tough defender Cre’von LeBlanc. Wentz’ pass was tipped at the line about the time of his receiver’s cut out, pushing it further from his front shoulder than Agholor likely expected. He caught it anyway.

More important than that catch, however, was Agholor’s later trailing Jay Ajayi’s 30-yard dash for an apparent TD in the third quarter that turned into a fumble rolling into the end zone. The receiver pounced on the ball for his second score.

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In the end, Nelson Agholor was targeted five times by my count, caught three passes, and scored two touchdowns. He had re-emerged as a significant piece on a team with many contributors every week.