With the Eagles off last week, fans and media alike were left to reflect on an amazing start to the 2017 season. At 8-1, Philadelphia has now won seven games in a row thanks to a balanced offense and an opportunistic defense.
What may be most impressive about this team is simply their resiliency. Throughout the first half of the season, the Eagles have lost star players to IR, and have had other impact players miss extended time as well. It seems as though anytime a player goes down, another player steps right in and they don’t miss a beat.
Another impressive aspect of this Eagles’ team has been their offensive balance. It’s safe to say that balance on offense starts with the offensive line and the running game, and during their winning streak, Philly has simply dominated up front rushing for 100 yards in each of those contests. If the Eagles can keep playing balanced football down the road, they’ll most certainly be playing into January and February for the first time in a long time.
Let’s dive into some Eagles’ statistics at the midway point in the year:
These team efficiency rankings from Football Outsiders help show the balance the Eagles have been able to win with. Not only do they rank third in the league in Overall Team Efficiency, they rank inside the top ten in every category other than Weighted Defense (where they rank 11th), and they easily rank above the league average in every category as well.
Like all top-tier teams, the Eagles have been led by the extraordinary play of their quarterback. Carson Wentz’ NFL-leading 23 TD passes have been impressive, but his growth on third downs and in the redzone has really helped push this offense over the top. Of his 23 TD passes thus far, Carson has thrown for 15 TDs and zero interceptions in the redzone. Wentz has also led the Eagles to a 46.8 third-down conversion rate (2nd in the NFL) and to an average time of possession of just over 33 minutes a game (2nd in the NFL). Carson hasn’t done it alone, though. Undoubtedly, the free-agent additions on offense (and rookie WR Mack Hollins) have also helped Carson’s progression into a top-tier quarterback, and into the 5th highest graded quarterback in 2017:
Speaking of those additions, Wentz has been spreading the ball around to just about any and everyone. Not only have the Eagles done a great job balancing the run and the pass in general this year, they have done a terrific job of balancing the carries and snaps of each running back, and have been successful balancing the pass game as well. Despite missing the last game, TE Zach Ertz leads the team (43 receptions, 528 yards, 6 TDs) and WR Alshon Jeffery is right behind him (34 receptions, 500 yards, 5 TDs). However, it’s not just the two stars contributing; the Eagles have had seven different players top 40 receiving yards in a game so far this year.
In the running game, the Birds have had Blount, Clement, Smallwood, Ajayi, and Wentz each lead the team in rushing at least once this year. This balance on offense makes the Eagles nearly impossible to gameplan for.
On defense, the Eagles likely have the scariest front four in all of football. Not only have they been scary good, they have been historically good, as their 166 rushing attempts against them are the fewest in NFL history through the first nine games of a season.
Their incredibly stout run defense has been able to make opponents abandon the run altogether – often times in the first or second quarter. By now, we all know the defensive line is the engine that makes the defense run, and no team is better at stopping the run AND getting after the quarterback:
While Philly’s dominant defensive front may get most of the credit, the Eagles’ secondary has held up their end of the bargain as well. As the perceived weak spot on the team to start the year, the Eagles’ secondary is tied for second in the NFL with 11 interceptions through nine games.
To make matters worse for opposing offenses, the Eagles’ defensive unit will be returning Ronald Darby, perhaps their most physically gifted corner. After the week-one injury, the timeline for Darby’s return was thought to be 4-6 weeks. However, with the Eagles’ current corner group playing so well, the team wasn’t forced to rush Darby back into action.
“Eight weeks was the goal, but it wasn’t feeling right at the time,” Darby said on Monday. “I already knew the cornerbacks we had were really good. I didn’t feel like I had to rush back as soon as possible. It helped a lot.”
The Eagles will be returning Darby at the perfect time. While he will likely return as the team’s number-one corner, the Eagles shouldn’t feel pressed to play him the entire game with how well the other corners have played this season.
As the Eagles continue on their path to securing home-field advantage in the NFC, they will face plenty of tough teams down the stretch. They still have two games against Dallas, one against the Seahawks, and one against the LA Rams that could potentially have home-field advantage implications.
Should the Eagles continue playing the kind of balanced football they did during the first half of 2017, they seem like an absolute lock to make the playoffs. Even more so, they seem like they are in line for at least a first-round bye, and potentially home-field advantage throughout the entirety of the playoffs. Try and imagine home-field advantage at the Linc. What an exciting time to be an Eagles’ fan. The best part is, there are many more seasons like this on the horizon.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports