Is this real life? Did the Eagles just put up 51 points against statistically the best defense in football? Did the Eagles really rush for nearly 200 yards against the second-best run defense in football? Did Carson Wentz really have another 4-touchdown game? Did our offensive line really neutralize one of the best speed rushers in the NFL, Von Miller? Are we really 8-1 heading into the bye? Are we the best team in football? Yes, yes we are. It almost feels too good to be true, but believe it or not the birds are the best team in the NFL through 9 weeks; there’s no doubt about it. The Eagles are 8-1 after another dominating victory, this time over the Denver Broncos and their top ranked defense. This was supposed to be another trap game for the birds, but if we’ve learned anything about this team through 9 weeks; there’s no such thing as trap game. Week after week they’ve come out and executed their game plan to perfection, and despite a plethora of injuries to key players, they haven’t missed a step. The Eagles, for the first time in a long time, have built a winning culture inside of their locker room and everyone has bought in. It’s so exciting to watch every Sunday, and I can’t wait to watch the second half of this season. Here are five observations from this past weekend and looking ahead to the bye week.
1.) Doug Pederson is quietly becoming one of the best head coaches in the NFL.
Yes, you read that correctly; Doug Pederson has been one of the best head coaches in the NFL this season. Although he had somewhat of a rough start to the season, run/pass ratio completely lopsided and that terrible 4th and 8 call in the Giants game, Doug has really come into his own as a coach. His play calling and play design have been nothing short of genius, and that notion really played itself out in the Denver game. Realizing that he was up against an elite front-7, Doug didn’t put the task of stopping them solely on his offensive line. He had a lot of designed pass/run option plays in the game plan and they all worked marvelously. The first touchdown of the game to Alshon was on one of these pass/run option plays:
On this play Wentz is reading the defensive end that’s circled, Von Miller. In order to neutralize his pass rush, Wentz keeps Miller honest by forcing him to either commit to the running back or stay home and commit to the quarterback.
Wentz decides to keep the ball here instead of handing it to the back. Usually, when a quarterback does this on a read option play he’s looking to run with it. That’s why you see Miller staying home and going after Wentz, that’s also why you see Aqib Talib at the bottom of the screen with his eyes in the backfield. This is where the genius of Douggie P comes in. The fake handoff freezes Aqib Talib for a split second, giving Alshon more than enough time to run right past him. The result was an easy pass and catch for Wentz and Alshon, fooling two of the best defenders on the Bronco’s defense. It’s plays like this that define a head coach, brilliant design and even better execution by Wentz and Alshon. Doug kept the Broncos’ defense off balance all day with plays like this one. The defense looked down right confused at times. Chris Harris, defensive back for the Broncos, was quoted as saying this after the game, “They knew everything we were going to do [on defense]”, if that isn’t the sign of a great game plan, then I don’t know what is.
2.) This offensive line deserves a lot of credit.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team suffer so many injuries to key players and continue playing as well as the Eagle have this season, it’s truly remarkable. With their best offensive lineman out for the season, this Broncos’ game looked like a clear mismatch for the birds up front. Despite the odds being stacked against them, the Eagles’ offensives line dominated the Broncos’ front-7. The Eagles racked up an astounding 197 yards on the ground against a defense that only allowed an average of 72.9 yards per game coming into the weekend, along with a total of 419 yards overall. The line opened up holes all day for each running back that toted the rock. Newly acquired running back, Jay Ajayi, got his first touchdown of the season due to the outstanding blocking of the line.
The hole Ajayi runs through could probably fit another three Ajayi’s in it, and they still wouldn’t have gotten touched. The blocking on this play was perfect, the line took care of the first level of the defense (the defensive line) and they effectively got to the second level (linebackers/defensive backs) to block down field. Brandon Brooks, in particularly, does an outstanding job getting down field to block.
Brooks took out two defenders with one block on this play, as you can see in the picture above. You really can’t ask for much else out of an offensive lineman. Ajayi ran up the sideline and wasn’t touched until he dove into the end zone, perfect execution by the big guys up front. This happened all game for the birds, play after play they dominated up front. As for the vaunted pass rush of the Broncos, Lane Johnson was tasked with handling their biggest threat coming off the edge; Von Miller. Miller was a non – factor in the game, which is something rarely said after a Denver Broncos game. Johnson completely shut down the All-Pro and once again proved that he is among the best offensive tackles in football. Not only did Johnson not let up a sack during the contest, he didn’t even let up a single QB hit.
3.) The Eagles are the deepest team in the league.
Like I said at the beginning of the last section, it’s truly remarkable how the Eagles have not missed a step despite numerous injuries to key players across the board. Vitai has stepped up and played very well in Peters’ absence, the defense is still playing at an elite level without their anchor, Jordan Hicks, and the special teams is still elite despite missing their ace, Chris Maragos. Players have stepped up everywhere, at almost every position it seems like. Remember Darren Sproles? Pretty good player, right? Believe it or not, the Eagles have played better offensively without him, and that’s not taking anything away from Sproles because he is a talented player and has been great for us the past few seasons. It more so speaks to the depth the Eagles have and the ability of Coach Pederson to gameplan around the players he has at his disposal. The Eagles haven’t run nearly as many running back screens since Sproles has been out, and that’s simply because they don’t have a running back with the receiving ability of Sproles. Clement has stepped up in that role somewhat that past couple of weeks, but the offense isn’t being run through Clement like it was with Sproles at times. These injuries have forced Pederson to game plan differently and more effectively, rather than lean on his playmakers to bail him out of bad play calling or lazy game planning.
4.) Is Smallwood the odd man out in the crowded backfield?
Coming into this season, I expected second year back Wendell Smallwood to step up and eventually become the workload back for the Eagles. Boy, was I wrong on that one. If it wasn’t for the preseason injury and him missing an extended period of playing time, that prediction may have come somewhat into fruition. But with Smallwood’s injury, undrafted rookie Corey Clement got most of his preseason carries and proved that he could be a serviceable back if called upon. Smallwood missed the first three games of the season, so after Sproles went down in week 2, Clement was called up from the practice squad. Once Clement started to get carries, Smallwood’s playing time gradually decreased every week. Now with the acquisition of Jay Ajayi, it seems that Smallwood’s days in Philly are numbered. In the first game with Ajayi in the backfield, Smallwood didn’t see the field until garbage time late in the 4th quarter. Not to mention Clement found the end zone three times against the Broncos, Smallwood has never even had a two-touchdown game before. There just doesn’t seem to be a role for Smallwood at this point. Barring an injury in the backfield, don’t expect to see much of Smallwood for the rest of the season.
5.) Still two weeks away, but man I am excited for the Cowboys game.
It’s been awhile since the birds have had a truly meaningful game against the Cowboys, the season finale in 2013 is the last time I can remember one. But two weeks from now we’re going to witness arguably the two best teams on the NFC go at it on national television and I cannot freakin’ wait. The biggest fault the Eagles have had this season, and it’s not even their fault, is that they haven’t really beaten any playoff teams yet. The only two playoff caliber teams they’ve faced were the Chiefs and the Panthers. Personally, I believe if we played the chiefs right now we’d beat them handedly, but hindsight’s always 20/20. For the Eagles, this game against the Cowboys is going to prove to everyone who the best team in the NFL really is. The Eagles are going to win this football game. Coming off the bye they’ll have more than enough time to devise a game plan for Dak and company, and I even hope that Zeke plays in this game too. I don’t want any excuses from the Cowboys when they lose in front of a national audience on Sunday night. The anticipation is killing me, I wish it was Sunday night already. This is going to be one helluva game, and it’s going to prove to everyone that Philly is here to stay.