Just like that, the Eagles regular season is over. From the emergence of Carson Wentz to a steep learning curve for Doug Pederson, the Birds saw just about everything in 2016..but when all is said and done, it’s exactly what the team needed in order to cement their future competitiveness.
It all started with a shocking trade, right before the start of the regular season. The Eagles sent Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings, recouping the first round pick given up for Carson Wentz. What was supposed to be a season learning on the sidelines, changed in an instant. The rookie out of North Dakota State would soon be called upon to lead the Franchise, despite spending most of the offseason working with the backups.
A dominant win against Cleveland built up a lot of hype around Carson Wentz and also painted a very clear picture. The Doug Pederson era was well underway. With a new quarterback at the helm and a ruthless Defense, the future was certainly bright.
Wentz went on to learn a lot in his rookie year. Hitting the rookie wall stagnated his game for a few weeks..but not many expected him to smash his way through as early as he did. In his last three games, Carson Wentz threw for ( ). Proving the naysayers wrong and flashing the very potential that the Eagles saw in him on Draft night.
One man who had placed all of his faith on the shoulders of Carson Wentz, was Doug Pederson. Through thick and thin, wins and losses, Pederson stood behind his quarterback and defended his mental tenacity and admirable work ethic. But Pederson himself also seemed to hit a rookie wall.
At 3-0, it was easy to forget that Pederson was still a rookie Head Coach..and one who had just ( ) years experience coming into this season. The hot start soon cooled down..and some questionable play-calls, timeout decisions and flags raised some concerns over Pederson’s readiness to lead.
Whether it was opting against clear game-changing field-goal opportunities, being overly aggressive on fourth down or simply running eight yard plays when the team need ten, Pederson endured a harsh comeback to reality.
His character was tested more than he could have ever imagined however in the weeks surrounding the Bengals loss. Whether it was concerns on whether the team were “all-in” beforehand or the reaction following the embarrassing defeat, Pederson’s media remarks sent shockwaves through the locker room..and shockwaves that one year ago would have destroyed it.
Instead, Pederson’s emotional connection with the players spurred the team on to fight back in each and every game. Meeting with the leadership council in order to justify his views and ensure that they were taken the right way, Pederson made a conscious effort to inspire his team..and it worked.
The team rallied behind their Head Coach just one week after having their effort called out. Whether it was a resurgent Carson Wentz, a wide receiver driven to make up for lost time or Fletcher Cox, who ended the season with the same dominance that earned him such a shattering payday , the Eagles played every game like a team who simply wanted it.
They came close to the ultimate reward, with Wentz leading a game-tying drive against Baltimore..only to be denied a two-point conversion in the dying seconds. But ending the season on a two-game win streak speaks volumes about the character of the team and the trust in their Head Coach.
Even on Defense, the Eagles learned a lot. A dominant unit through the opening weeks of the season, Jim Schwartz watched his men falter and begin to struggle as the season progressed. Holes opened up, questions were raised and the form began to dip.
But with a focus on younger players and building toward the future, Schwartz ensured his Defense played every game with a fire inside their stomachs. Jalen Mills developed far quicker than anybody expected, while Jordan Hicks put the unit on his back and emerged as a leader.
Schwartz also acknowledged that a struggling cornerback corps was partly responsible for the lack of pass rushing success, with guys getting open with ease off the line, limiting the time that the pass-rushers had to make their mark.
This may not sound like a lot, but what was one of the main criteria used by Jeffery Lurie throughout the hiring process and offseason? Accountability. After a train wreck just one year ago, the fact that coordinators and teammates alike are willing to recognize weakness, hold themselves accountable and build on that is extremely promising.
The Eagles may not have made the playoffs in year one under Doug Pederson. But if’s, but’s and maybe’s aside, the team needed this season. They needed to discover the glory in winning and heartbreak in losing under Doug Pederson. They had to see if they could relate to their Head Coach and if he could rally his team when all hope seemed to be lost.
The bottom line is this. If the Eagles had opted against trading Sam Bradford, Carson Wentz would still be yet to take a snap. Chemistry would be at a low and the Eagles would then have the tricky decision of whether to ride Bradford for one more year or go with Wentz in year two. The losses may not have been as character building, the direction may not have been so clear and the development perhaps not as steep.
The Philadelphia Eagles endured just about every problem imaginable in 2016. Quarterback controversies, arrests, character issues, chemistry concerns and suspensions where just some of the issues encountered by a rookie Head Coach and his coaching staff. But the Eagles did achieve the one thing they absolutely had to if they are to find sustained success under Doug Pederson. They found themselves. They found that gritty, underdog mentality that burns so brightly in the hearts of the Fans and has lacked in recent years. They found reasons to believe in hours of need, and reasons to fight for that extra yard in meaningless games. The Eagles found their identity..and that may be the greatest takeaway from this season, when all is said and done.
Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports