Things have not gone smoothly for the Eagles this season. Former Pro Bowlers Malik Jackson, Jordan Howard, Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson have all spent extensive time on the injured list, the cornerback position continues to be a revolving door, the defense hasn’t traveled well on the road, Pederson and his offensive staff have turned to accepting Craigslist listings at wide receiver, former players have blasted the team on national television, and they even managed to squeeze in a loss to the hapless Dolphins in a surprising shootout in Miami.
Still, in spite of the surplus of obstacles along the way, the Eagles managed to secure the NFC East title- finishing with a 9-7 record, respectively- and have punched their ticket to the postseason for the third consecutive trip. While the entire organization- players, staff, and front office- deserve praise for persevering and making weekly improvements to make the unit stronger, the veteran players especially stand out as the pillars of success in Philly.
On the offensive side of the ball, veteran players Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, and Zach Ertz have given Eagles HC Doug Pederson a consistent cast of players to gameplan around week-to-week. In a season in which the Birds were forced to make a few more roster moves than normal, the consistent play of the aforementioned veterans has been a sweet reprieve for Philly.
Possessing 40 years of experience between them, Peters, Kelce, Brooks, and Johnson continue to outclass rival counterparts at their position and prove that their names should be among the first uttered whenever top offensive lines are mentioned. Displaying the same impressive technique and efficiency that has led to massive success over the years, Jeff Stoutland’s unit continues to be the anchor of the team- even when the storm rages the hardest in Philly.
Despite Peters and Johnson being hobbled at times this season, the offensive line has been able to hold firm and allocate Wentz and the offense time to extend and make plays.
“It’s kind of always ‘us versus the world’ and I think that’s the mentality you take as a team and in this league,” said outspoken center Jason Kelce. “The closer you come together, the closer you come as a group, that’s how you survive in this thing. It’s us versus everybody else every single week. The opponent is faceless. We just have the drive and the passion to continue to win, continue to execute.”
Holding firm to the chip-on-our-shoulder mentality they adopted during their notorious ‘Underdog’ championship season, Philly has pulled off the highly improbable for the second straight campaign. A month ago, this Eagles team was reeling at 5-7, coming off an embarrassing loss to the Dolphins and accumulated more injuries than there are cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. Most teams would’ve folded under the circumstances, without having to dig too deep through the excuse pile, either.
Philly, however, simply remained composed under the immense pressure and rattled off four straight divisional game victories to secure the NFC East title- largely due to the play and leadership of their veteran players.
While beating the uninspired Eli Manning-led Giants and rookie Dwayne Haskins-led Washington were hugely important victories, they didn’t quite hold the weight the final two weeks did for the Birds. For starters, Philly was widely expected to trump the aforementioned units considering how poor the opponents ranked offensively. Secondly, the previous division matchups didn’t have the inflated revenge element that the Week 16 game versus Dallas had.
After being routed in their first go-round with Dallas, the Eagles wanted to ensure they imposed their will on them this time around. And, more importantly, prevent the Cowboys from clinching the division and eliminating Philly from playoff contention.
With revenge on their minds, the defense played four quarters of inspired ball in the win over the Cowboys. Despite losing incumbent starter Ronald Darby halfway through the contest, the defense was able to keep their wits about them and pitch a near shutout- finishing the game without surrendering a single touchdown. They accomplished this in large part due to the play of the veterans of the defense. Per usual, the Brandom Graham-Fletcher Cox- Malcolm Jenkins-led defense completely stifled the opponents rushing attack. The veteran trio combined for 13 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery, doing so in addition to limiting Ezekiel Elliott to a measly 47 yards on the ground.
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Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports