The Eagles enter week three with a 1-1 record after falling to Kansas City on the road last Sunday. The question as the Giants come to own is a simple one. Are the Eagles better or worse than their record suggests? The answer will be made crystal clear after tomorrow’s home opener.
It may seem quite confusing at first. How could a game in which the Eagles are so heavily favored show the character of the team? The Giants Offense has been diluted in comparison to what we have come to know and expect, and the Defense simply can’t mask the shortcomings on the offensive front and beyond. The Eagles strengths seem to correlate perfectly with the weaknesses of the Giants, and a home-field advantage that played such an active role one year ago presents a near “should-win” scenario. But there are no easy wins in the NFL, especially when it comes to divisional rivalries.
Doug Pederson’s 2-4 record against NFC East opponents which included a game against a resting Dallas unit who were preparing for the playoffs was less than impressive, but his first win over Washington was an important one to open the season. The Eagles have a chance to climb atop the division with a win over New York, but it won’t be easy.
“Listen, this has always been an exciting match-up.” Doug Pederson told the media. “These two teams have played extremely well, had some great games. We split with them last year, and our guys are eager to play. Listen, I think personally they’re better than 0-2 and they feel that way, as well. This is a dangerous football team – weapons on offense, tremendous defense obviously – and our work is cut out for us. [We’ve had] a great week of preparation so far, and [we’re] looking forward to Sunday and opening our stadium.”
Divisional games are different. The intensity isn’t like any other regular season game, there’s an extra chip on the shoulder among players. For the Eagles, this is a chance to make a statement and show that they’re no longer the gritty underdogs, but a franchise rapidly on the rise. To do so, they will have to overcome some tough setbacks…but this is a team that’s no stranger to adversity.
Maybe it’s an embarrassing loss to Cincinnati that draws criticism from Doug Pederson, or maybe it’s criticism of the coach himself that gives his players an extra incentive to push that extra mile in order to bathe him in Gatorade after a week one win. Maybe it’s a string of tough losses on the field, or the loss of one crucial right tackle for what he took off of it. In Pederson’s short tenure as Eagles Head Coach, he’s had to rally the team through a treacherous storm and into calmer seas as his second year approached.
So far, so good. No off-the-field controversies, no suspensions, no shocking trades (at least for the most part), and no injuries after a grueling training camp. At least that was the case. The Eagles lost newly acquired starting cornerback Ronald Darby in week one, only to then suffer even more secondary setbacks. Three of the five safeties on the team limped off the field in Kansas City, with Jaylen Watkins and Corey Graham now officially listed as inactive. Add in to that a lopsided offense that can’t establish the run, a change of heart at left guard that has left many in suspense, and even more criticism facing Doug Pederson and his play-calling, and suddenly the narrative of this team hasn’t changed despite an offseason of nothing but progress.
A win over the Giants would simply silence the doubters. Doug Pederson may not have years of Head Coach experience. The running back situation may not be pretty. The secondary may be battered and bruised. The offensive line may see some subtle changes in order to protect a quarterback who has been forced to throw way too often, scramble away from danger that he shouldn’t be exposed to. Wentz may have been forced to put the Offense on his back. But this is a Philadelphia team…and for the first time in a long time, it’s one with a clear sense of direction and a sense of unity.
The players are forming incredibly tight bonds on and off the field, the playing style is tenacious and embodies the City and both the players and fans have the same belief. The belief that this team can go all the way. That the makings of something special have been planted in the foundations of the franchise and that it’s beginning to blossom. The Linc will be a chorus of fans screaming at the top of their lungs for what they believe on Sunday, and if the Eagles can tap into that energy and send the Giants back down the interstate with a loss, then it says one thing.
It doesn’t matter what circumstances the Eagles are forced to overcome, what challenges they have to face or opponents they need to beat. This franchise is making progress. This team can emerge as one of the most exciting in the NFL. This city has relit a fire that was beginning to burn out.
Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports