State of the Eagles (and the NFC East): Week 16

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Oh, what an odd season the Eagles have had. After a five game losing streak, the Eagles finally proved they could win a close game after defeating the New York Giants, 24-19 on Thursday Night Football, delaying New York’s postseason party. The defense intercepted Eli Manning three times, Odell Beckham was kept out of the end zone, and Nelson Agholor caught a 40 yard touchdown. Heading into the season finale, at home against the Cowboys, the Eagles have nothing to play for except pride. But some individuals need a big performance to convince either Howie Roseman or another GM that they still have what it takes in the NFL.

 

The Offense:
On the offensive side of the ball, Carson Wentz didn’t put up flashy numbers, but he did enough to secure a victory. Darren Sproles is still an electric playmaker, as evidenced by his 25 yard touchdown run to open the scoring. Ryan Mathews didn’t have a particularly good game, and also finished the game with a herniated disk, missing the season finale as a result. His Eagles career could be over, as his contract is not guaranteed for 2017 and would only cost $1 million in dead cap space. In an effort to get younger and more talented players on this offense, Mathews could easily become a casualty.

Nelson Agholor caught just his second touchdown pass of the season in the second quarter, on a deep crossing route where the Giants seemed to just forget him in coverage. Although Agholor has massively struggled this year, his high cap hit in 2017 and the difficulty of finding a trade partner will make it difficult for Agholor to not be on the Eagles roster next season.

The rest of the skill players on offense struggled as Wentz failed to generate any sort of rhythm, but one key player to the successes the offense did have was Lane Johnson. Johnson, the team’s first round pick in 2013, was suspended 10 games this year for failing a PED test. The Eagles went 3-1 with Johnson in the lineup at the start of the year, before going 2-8 with Johnson suspended. His return was crucial to the stability of the line, and it showed. The first drive started with a run off right tackle, Johnson’s side, and finished with a toss play around right end with Johnson pulling out in front and sealing the crease for Sproles to run through. Throughout the entire game, the right side tandem of Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson looked almost unstoppable. For the Eagles to be competitive in the future, they need Johnson to stay on the field.

 

The Defense:
On the defensive side of the ball, well, Jim Schwartz’s men did enough to secure the victory. Although he was unable to record a sack, Brandon Graham continued his outstanding season. He forced Manning into an uncomfortable throw on Malcolm Jenkins’ pick-six, as well as key pressures on the Giants’ failed comeback drive. Fletcher Cox was also disruptive, as the big money DT tries to return to form. Bennie Logan, on the other hand, is a pending free agent after the season and may not be back in Philadelphia next season. He has struggled at times this year and with the emergence of Beau Allen, don’t be surprised to see Logan somewhere else next September.

Although he did have 150 yards on 11 catches, the Eagles successfully held Odell Beckham Jr. out of the end zone. The secondary that has struggled mightily at times this year came through when it mattered most Thursday night, highlighted by Nolan Carroll’s clutch play on Sterling Shepard on 4th and 6 and the messy-but-effective prevent defense used in the last minute. The Eagles lined up with two deep safeties (Rodney McLeod and Terrance Brooks) and rushed three (Graham, Cox, and Vinny Curry), dropping another five into zone while leaving 7th round rookie Jalen Mills to shadow Beckham. It worked, as Manning’s 3rd down pass floated high into the night before coming down in the hands of Terrence Brooks for Brooks’ first career pick. The win leaves the Eagles record at 6-9 with one game left.

 

The NFC East:
Around the NFC East, the Giants were still able to clinch their playoff berth with the Buccaneers and Vikings losing Saturday afternoon. They are locked into the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs, although their Wild Card opponent is not currently known.

The Cowboys clinched the NFC East, a first round bye, and home-field advantage with the Eagles victory Thursday night. However, Jason Garrett is surprisingly continuing to use his star players in meaningless games. Early reports suggest that Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dez Bryant, among other stars and starters will start and play a majority of Sunday’s Week 17 clash with the Eagles.

The Redskins do not control their own destiny for a playoff spot, but have a good chance of taking the second Wild Card spot. Washington needs to beat the Giants Sunday in Landover, a meaningless game for the Giants, and hope that the Sunday night game, featuring the Packers and the Lions for the NFC North title, does not end in a tie. What many considered to be the worst division in football heading into the season will be sending at least two and potentially three teams to the playoffs, including the best team in the NFC.

 

Up Next for the Eagles:
Sunday, January 1, 2017 at 1:00 PM at home against the NFC East champions, the Dallas Cowboys. A good chance for the Eagles to end the season on a high and match their record from last year by gaining some revenge after a crushing OT loss in Dallas earlier this season.

 

Eagles Draft Watch:
The Vikings have officially been eliminated from the playoffs. Their first round pick/the Eagles’ pick currently sits at 14th overall. It can move as high as 8th overall or as low as 18th overall, depending on the Vikings result and other results around the league. The Vikings play the woeful Chicago Bears, quarterbacked by ex-Eagle Matt Barkley, in Minnesota this Sunday. The Eagles own the rest of their picks, plus the Browns’ fifth that can become a fourth.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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