Sitting atop the NFL with the six wins and the inside track for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs the Eagles are not only in unfamiliar territory but very unexpected territory. Through 7 weeks fans are in between wanting to give this team the full credit they deserve and tempering the sky high expectations that some people have now set. After a convincing victory on Monday night over the Redskins here are my 5 takeaways that need to be considered when thinking about the team’s outlook moving forward.
After watching the Redskins drive down the field for an early field goal the Eagles offense began their first possession with a mind-numbing four penalties on four consecutive plays. With the team backed up to their own goal line Wentz launched a 50-some yard interception, and on their next possession they promptly went 3-and-out. With -1 yards of offense and the team seemingly hoarding penalties it was fair to wonder if the wheels were falling off, and a great deal of Philly fans were already running to hit the panic button. After finding ourselves down 10-3 with 3:19 to go before halftime those concerns were silenced when Wentz launched a 64-yard touchdown to rookie Mack Hollins and subsequently lead a 2-minute drive to the end zone to take a 17-10 lead. From this point the script was flipped and the Birds didn’t look back as they buried Washington 34-24. Any fans who had remaining doubt about this team more than likely left this game with any and all questions answered
2. Even in the win we suffered two huge losses in injuries to Jordan Hicks and Jason Peters.
This upcoming week is sure to be full of optimism from Philly sports heads with the team sitting at 6-1, 3-0 in the division, and our quarterback playing at an MVP level. But another conversation that will be sure to dull the optimism is the impacts of season ending injuries to Jordan Hicks and Jason Peters. Peters is a 9-time pro-bowler who’s not only crucial to keeping our Quarterback upright but is also a key cog in the run game. Losing his presence along the line could easily create problems similar to those faced last season during Lane Johnson’s suspension, and although I think Vaitai is a capable short term solution it’s worth considering whether or not they can be the same dominant line in the playoffs without their All-Pro tackle — because that’s exactly what they’ll need. The Hicks injury concerns me less, and there are a few reasons for that. First of all the defensive line remains the strength of that unit and as long as they continue to get penetration and pressure on the opposing quarterback I see no reason why Bradham, Kendricks, and Najee Goode can’t fill his shoes much like they did Monday night. Additionally, as the Birds continue to use less linebackers in favor of defensive backs two of their veteran linebackers continue to step up. According to Pro Football Focus both Nigel Bradham (#30) and Mychal Kendricks (#25) are rated higher than Hicks (#51) at linebacker this season. In years past when we’ve lost Hicks it has created serious holes because of lack of replacements. Because the Eagles rely on an elite defensive line and now have more than capable replacements to step up in Hicks’ absence I fully expect his loss to have a negligible impact on our defense. History says we have more than enough reason to fear the loss of Jason Peters, but I have a hard time seeing Hicks’ loss hurting us like it has in the past.
Carson Wentz is hands down the leading candidate for NFL MVP after 7 weeks.
In years past with QBs like Nick Foles, Sam Bradford, and Mark Sanchez the Eagles could ill-afford to lose a bookend like Peters or a defensive leader like Hicks. Teams without a franchise quarterback are often trained to think that losses like this fundamentally change their season — if not end it. But with Carson Wentz playing at an MVP level it’s not entirely crazy to think that he’s able to compensate for or hide these potential holes. Being a second year player that claim may sound premature but we’ve seen young quarterbacks defy expectations and jump the shark early in their career in the past. Andy Reid’s first season with McNabb yielded a 5-11 record only to see he and the second year passer improve to 11-5 with a trip to the NFC Championship Game. Another time this comes to mind is with the ‘04 Steelers and a rookie Ben Roethlisberger took over a 2-1 team and lead them to 13 consecutive wins and a trip to the AFC Championship Game. After watching Wentz throw for four, three, and four touchdown passes in his last three games on his way to a league-leading 17 passing TDs I think it’s safe to say he’s made a leap to the top of the MVP conversation; not only are the Birds the hottest team in football but Carson Wentz is the hottest player in football. Call it an overreaction but I have no problem putting Carson Wentz in the class of Quarterbacks who keep their teams competitive through even the greatest adversity — as evidence by their win last night in the face of an abysmal start and injuries to two pro-bowl caliber players. Under normal circumstances I would say losing these players would be the end of our season but it’s time to shift our mentality to the belief that anything is possible with an MVP-caliber leader like Carson Wentz.
If healthy, Ronald Darby and possibly Sidney Jones could push this defense to ‘elite’ status.
Many Eagles fans expected a return to the lineup from Ronald Darby considering the team has said ‘Monday vs Washington’ was their target date, but that didn’t happen. Regardless it can be assumed that he will take the field again either this week against San Francisco or the following vs Denver. When that happens this defense is capable of reaching elite status joining a front seven that ranks atop the NFL. Rasul Douglas and Patrick Robinson have been surprise contributors but otherwise the cornerbacks have allowed consistent separation to more talented receivers all season and that’s exactly what Darby was brought in to stop. If he’s fully healthy then Philly has a true number one corner for the first time in years and many pundits agree it’s the only weakness in a defense that currently ranks top 5 in both yards and points per game. Also, with the hope of Sidney Jones returning in the future we have the potential to add more depth and talent to a currently make-shift cornerback unit. For all the talk about how great this defense has been this season there’s a very real possibility it takes yet another step up when they’re rejoined by either player, and that’s a scary thought for the rest of the league.
Looking forward to next week against the 49ers, is there even anything to look forward to?
Heading into next week against the winless San Francisco 49ers it’s almost pointless trying to pick out things to watch out for. The Eagles open as roughly 2 touchdown favorites at home against a team from the West Coast and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they lose. The 49ers are young and devoid of talent and that spells trouble considering they’re about to run into the best team in football. Normally I would say this has the making of a trap game but after blowing out Arizona in a similar situation I don’t have concerns that this team won’t treat each game the same. Essentially fans should be looking for more of the highly-productive well-balanced game that they’ve been playing recently and look for Wentz to continue his domination over opposing defenses. A dogfight for three quarters wouldn’t be a total surprise, but if this team is every bit as good as we are starting to perceive them as then they should win comfortably against one of the worst teams in the league.