By: Joe Staszak
If you are one of “those” Eagles fans who are criticizing the Birds after a rather convincing 22-14 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, then I think you need to adjust your expectations. If you are still of the belief that this is still a Super Bowl team wel then, you’re just never going to be happy this year. So you have two choices. You can stay the course and be miserable for the next seven weeks or you could change your critical view point to reflect the level at which this team plays on a weekly basis.
The Eagles pushed the Bears all over the field on Sunday yielding just nine yards to Chicago in the first half, the fewest yards allowed in a half by a Philadelphia team in the last 32 years. At the end of the day, the Birds yielded just 14 points to a team averaging 18 points per game and scored 22 points on a team that was only giving up 17 points per game. Sounds like a heck of a day does it not? The running backs ran the ball 31 times for 131 yards and the quarterback threw for 239 yards and a touchdown without turning the ball over. The offense scored on its first three possessions and capped the day with a 16 play, 69 yard drive that consumed 8:14 ending in a field goal that left the Bears in an eight point hole with just :25 seconds left. So what’s the problem one might ask?
Well, some will say that the Eagles made it a game by going to sleep long enough the let the Bears cut the lead from 19 to 5 with just under 13 minutes left in the game. Some might say that the Birds offense and defense both went quiet for a 17 minute stretch in the second half. I will remind you that the Bears had one of the top five defenses in the league entering the game and they get paid too. I will also tell you that it is difficult to hold even a Mitch Trubisky led offense scoreless for 60 minutes. At the end of the day, the Birds controlled the Bears on both sides of the football and despite some hairy moments, pretty much won the game handily.
The win left the Birds with a 5-4 record and a two-game winning streak heading into the bye week. That’s two straight wins over two teams with top five defenses. One of the teams was 5-1 before entering the game and the other team won 12 games last year. That’s not bad, considering the Eagles were coming off of back to back conference losses by a total of 45 points combined to the Vikings and Cowboys respectively. So why are most fans and analysts alike not happy about this? After all the goal is to win the game is it not? The Eagles won the game and pretty much dominated the stat sheet. So why all of the long faces and the down-trodden phone calls on Sunday night? The answer is pretty simple. Eagles fans are still in denial. They still think that this is a Super Bowl team. The second they come to grips with who this team is, the second their Sundays become more enjoyable.
How much more evidence do you need to see? The season is more than half over and these games aren’t anomalies. This is who the Eagles are, win or lose. The Birds are an average football team with marginal talent and in some areas less than marginal. If you had come to grips with this after the first seven games you’d be glowing today. The Eagles have put themselves back in the playoff race, a one team race with the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East division title heading into the bye week. That’s pretty good considering the disaster they were
two weeks ago, following those embarrassing losses in Minny and Big D. The problem is that we were led to believe that this could be another Super Bowl year. Boy those were the days.
But underneath the spoils of consecutive wins the problems remain the same. Let’s start with the wide receiving corps. You know the saying “if a defensive back had hands he’d be a wide receiver?” If that was the case at least their cornerback situation would be resolved. They’d have at least four more healthy cornerbacks to rotate in.
Yesterday, the Birds’ wideouts combined for a whopping 62 yards, hauling in 8 receptions on 17 targets. That’s pathetic by anybody’s standard. Oh and they dropped four passes too. Alshon Jefferey had three of those drops including two on critical third down plays in the second half. Here’s a guy who has not played well this year. He’s also the guy that many think is the one who criticized Carson Wentz anonymously a couple of weeks ago. If you recall, Jefferey is the guy who dropped a crucial pass from Nick Foles late in the playoff game in New Orleans last year that could very well have cost the Birds a trip to the NFC title game. Not only did he drop the ball but the ball went through his hands and into the arms of Saints’ defensive back Marshon Lattimore, sealing the game for the Saints. Normally something like that happening around here would result in the Bill Buckner treatment from the fans but for some reason he was given a very gracious pass. I suspect it was because of his outstanding play in the Super Bowl the prior year. If you ask me, he got off light and I mean real light. Not by me mind you. I thought he was a mutt for dropping that ball and should have conducted himself with all the humility and gratitude he could muster up for the foreseeable future afterwards, not someone who goes around with underground comments criticizing his quarterback. Really Alshon? You really think you have room to criticize anyone after spitting up a big time opportunity to advance in last year’s playoffs? Earlier last year he actually proclaimed his hands to be the best in the league. Funny how karma can kick you in the ass if you act like one.
Anyway, those hands really let the team down yesterday. And it was a day where everyone needed to step up their game after wide receiver DeSean Jackson left the game after only one series due to a possible re-aggravation of that abdominal injury. He finished the day with one catch for five yards. He is scheduled to have surgery on Tuesday morning and he will most likely miss the rest of the season, How’d that Josh Gordon acquisition work out, Howie? Would have been nice to have a back up plan for your 32 year old injury prone receiver, one who already had missed seven games this year due to that injury.
Anyway, Zach Ertz to the rescue. Ertz hauled in 9 balls for 103 yards and a touchdown Sunday. He won’t catch 116 balls again like he did last year, but it was good to see the big guy play like the star he is especially coming off of back to back games with just two catches in each game.
Going forward I think a few things need to happen to stay the playoff course.
- Head coach Doug Pederson needs to let Carson be Carson. Take the leash off of him. Wentz is a guy who needs to play with less structure, not more. He needs to get out of
the pocket more often and either use his legs or his ability to throw on the run to move the chains and to make splash plays. Wentz was 26 of 39 on Sunday for 239 yards. All told, he dropped back 43 times. His record when he drops back over 40 times is less than stellar but yesterday’s high passing totals could be credited to the Birds’ ball control. Wentz and the Eagles controlled the ball for just over 40 minutes and ran 36 more plays than did the Bears. He did run the ball four times for 15 yards and I think that number needs to go up. Wentz has gifted legs to go along with his gifted instincts and he should be allowed to use both more. I understand that there is the injury factor but it’s in Wentz’ DNA to be a run-action quarterback, not a stand alone drop back passer.
- The quarterback is pretty much out of decent wide receivers to throw to, so it is uber-important that the Eagles sustain their success on the ground. If Wentz had some nice new shiny toys to play with, I’d say stick to Coach Pederson’s 65/35 pass to run ratio. Since that’s not the case, I’m on board with more of the ground and pound philosophy, at least in the second half. In four of the Eagles’ five wins this year their backs have rushed for over 100 yards – 25 carries for 117 yards vs Washington, 27 carries for 163 yards vs the Packers, 31 carries for 176 yards vs the Bills and 31 carries for 131 vs the Bears. Those numbers would probably even be higher if the Eagles had any kind of vertical game. Without one, team’s can drop from a two safety deep zone to a single high safety and put an extra man in the box. A successful running game is a recipe for success as far as this team goes right now although I’d still like to see them throw the ball a little more in the first half. You don’t build leads by running the football. Leads are built though the air and the team that has the lead at the half wins the game 80% of the time.
- But above all else is ball security. In their two losses to the Vikings and the Cowboys, the Birds turned the ball over seven times for a mind-boggling minus four. They lost those two games by a combined 45 points. In the last two games, the Birds turned the ball over just once for a plus one. They won the last two games by a combined 26 points. Coincidence? Please. Wentz tends to be a fumbler but he has a spectacular career touchdown to interception ratio. This year he’s thrown 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions. In his 11-2 run in 2017 his ratio was 33-7. For his career he has thrown 85 touchdowns to just 32 interceptions. That, ladies and gentlemen is a gift and half the battle for a young quarterback. If the Eagles continue to secure the football good things are going to happen.
If they are to get through the next two games, with the Patriots and the Seahawks respectively , the Birds could very well go on a run to finish out the season with the soft schedule they have over the last five games, sans the Cowboys game December 22. They’re going to need to do all of the aforementioned on a consistent basis. If you can adjust your expectations to believe that their ceiling is about ten wins and a division title you’ll probably be able to enjoy the wins a little more than you are right now. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. I consider success nothing short of a Super Bowl title. But let’s face it, this is an average football team and the limbo bar should be set accordingly. Otherwise you’re in for seven more weeks of watching Sisyphus on a bum ankle.