The Eagles haven’t exactly enjoyed the smoothest start to their first ever season as Super Bowl champions. With disappointing 2-2 record hanging over their heads, it’s been a stark contrast compared to last season for the players, coaches and their fans alike. We’re a quarter of the way through the NFL season and the team that looked so unbreakable one year ago is now looking very vulnerable. It’s not all doom and gloom forever.
Success this year was always going to be a long-term product of a process that tests both coach and player to their core. Injuries that carried over from the arduous playoff run and a shorter offseason looked to dent one of the most explosive offenses in the league and it didn’t take long for injuries on the other side of the ball to begin shaking an already unstable boat.
There’s a lot of finger pointing going on right now. Some of it is targeted at individuals, some of it at scheme and some of it at coaches. In the grand scheme of things however, things aren’t all that bad.
The Eagles STILL lead the league in run defense, haven given up just 255 yards in 4 games, which is astounding when you think about it. For those counting, that’s an average of just 63 yards per game. Offensively, Carson Wentz turned in his best performance yet according to PFF, grading out at 85.3. The pieces of sustaining success are all there and Doug Pederson knows that.
“Well, obviously when you sit back and you look and you get time these last couple days to evaluate kind of where we are, the sky is not falling.” The Eagles Head Coach said on Wednesday. “The sun came up today. We’re 2-2. We’re still in good position, control our own destiny. A lot of football ahead of us and there is no panic.
As coaches we prepare our players and we prepare them extremely well. We have confidence in all our guys moving forward, and so with that, we just continue to coach and get our guys ready for Sunday.”
After an explosive week one win, the Eagles slowly came back down to earth. But in the last two weeks, the offense has seen the return of franchise QB Carson Wentz, #1 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and starting running back Jay Ajayi. It’s going to take time for those pieces to click, but in the first week where the band was fully back together, the fact that both Jeffery and Ertz combined for over 200 receiving yards has to be a positive.
The offense has malfunctions of its own, there’s no denying that. After being flagged more than 30 other teams in the Nfl for offensive holding through four games and struggling to move the sticks on third down, it’s clear that there are some bigger problems afoot. However, the contrast in efficiency from Wentz between his return against Indianapolis and the grueling overtime loss on Sunday was night and day. The Eagles quarterback looked far more comfortable in the pocket, despite being hit 11 times by the Titans and sacked twice. His confidence in wideouts that were plagued by drops once again was unwavering and his placement is perhaps the best we’ve seen.
Offensive production is bound to follow suit. With a patched up receiving corps that still lacks depth or identity, you can expect a few misfires in the opening weeks. The likes of Nelson Agholor suddenly being used as a gadget player one week while Tight ends run the show, before returning home to his slot role while Jordan Matthews moves outside the next. It’s easy to forget that Sunday was the first time Alshon Jeffery and Wentz had connected on passes in a game environment since week 14 of last season.
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But what about the defense?
Jim Schwartz has always stuck by his ‘bend but don’t break’ mentality and against the Titans, an adjustment to the injury of Rodney McLeod seemed to come back and haunt the veteran defensive coordinator. Mariota abused a wobbling secondary throughout the game in spite of a strong run-stopping effort in the trenches from the Eagles defensive front. The issue with the ‘bend but don’t break’ mentality is that conceding 20 points in regulation against a red zone QB who has never thrown a pick inside the 20, whichever way you look at it, is very good. However, when the offense is misfiring and can’t put games away, that’s when those errors that were once neutralized by a red-hot offense, now become the reason that it stays ice cold.
If the Eagles offense put up 34 points on Tennessee, we wouldn’t be discussing the poor form and discipline anywhere near as avidly, but they didn’t. In fact, every game this season has been a one score game. The same Head Coach who dropped 50 on Denver last season is struggling to put games away because the offense simply doesn’t have the firepower to effectively dismantle defenses…but that won’t last forever.
Good things come to those who wait and the Eagles have 75% of their season left. We were never going to see just how efficient this offense would be until the band came back together and Sunday showed a huge step forward in some areas, while raising new concerns in others. As soon as the pressure is taken off the defense to carry the offense through a game, things will begin to change. As soon as Carson Wentz can play four quarters without being hit on a huge percentile of his drop backs, progress will come. As soon as the receiving threats can diversify the offense and draw attention away from the middle of the field, those lethal runs will return. When the Eagles can win a shootout, the wins will follow.
As of right now, it’s all just one big domino effect and the injury to Rodney McLeod did anything but help considering just how much of an impact he has in commanding the defense. We were never going to find out just who exactly this Eagles team really is until October. But October has arrived, the excuses will now begin to dry and the production on both sides of the ball should, in theory, begin to flourish. If they don’t, then we really may be seeing a Super Bowl hangover in full effect.
Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports