After two consecutive losses, Eagle fans are mashing the panic button en masse—as is custom. A dire picture is being painted of the destitution of our play and our inevitable demise. I even heard a few radicals calling for the firing of Doug Pederson.
These reactions need to stop. Although I realize that this plea will fall on deaf ears for many, please try to recognize the Eagles’ current situation for what it truly is: not – that – bad.
Here are 5 reasons why the sky isn’t falling in Philadelphia:
1. The division is absolutely terrible
The NFC East is the worst division in football—in both record and eye-test.
I think it’s fair to say that the best case scenario for either of Washington, Dallas, and New York is a 7-4 finish to the season (7-5 for WAS)—and even that feels a little generous given how inconsistent those teams look. Taking this into account, the winner of the division could easily be a 9-7 team, if not worse.
Even with how poor the Birds are playing at the moment, an 8 or 9-win season feels like a pretty low bar to clear.
What does this mean? It means that the Eagles have a lot of time to right the ship and return to a championship level.
If there were a 3 or 4-win team in our division then I would argue that we need to turn it around immediately in the name of making the playoffs, but at the risk of sounding redundant, that threat simply isn’t there—at least not right now.
The simple truth is, winning the Super Bowl isn’t about a season long performance, it’s about getting hot and peaking at a championship level at the right time—so long as it’s not too late—and with the mediocrity of the NFC East, the Eagles have the luxury of time on their side.
2. The rush defense is still dominant
I want to start by saying that it doesn’t matter if our rush defense is historically dominant as long as our pass rush and secondary continue to struggle. But the reason I point this out as a positive is because it serves to emphasize just how great our defense can become if the secondary or pass rush are able turn their play around.
As I’ve mentioned persistently, the Eagles continue to ride a league leading rush defense through five weeks; a trend that continues from last season’s historically dominant run defense. There’s no reason for that to change (regress) either, as Cox and Graham are elite against the run along the line, and the duo of Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks has quietly been one of the top linebacker pairs in the NFL.
The advantage this created was evident last season, as the opposing offense was forced to drop back on nearly every down, our pass rush was able to pin their ears back and tee off—which somewhat masked our secondary concerns.
The difference this season is that our pass rushers aren’t putting as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Which leads me to my next point…
3. The pass rush is bound to pick up pressure
The Eagles have the third-lowest pressure rate in the NFL through five weeks—a far cry from last season. To suggest that this trend could possibly continue would require ignoring several relevant factors. The first of which being injury.
Last week, both Barnett and Ngata were out due to injury, and with Timmy Jernigan already out indefinitely this defensive line hasn’t been at full strength all season. This past Sunday saw just 5 defensive lineman on the field for more than 11 snaps, which is in stark contrast to the 8 and 9-man rotations of last year. This lack of depth is severely hurting the line’s ability to stay fresh late in games and generate pressure with the front-four.
The defining characteristic of a Jim Schwartz defense is a deep rotation, and asking his front to generate pressure with just five bodies rotating in is a losing strategy.
The good news is that Barnett is already back at practice, and Ngata doesn’t figure to be out long. While Jernigan doesn’t yet have a timetable to return, coaches are hopeful that it will come at some point this season.
As long as the core seven lineman who make up our rotation can stay healthy, there’s no reason to expect the poor pass rush numbers to continue. And if Jernigan is able to return at some point, I would expect the pass rush to return to the dominance that characterized 2017.
4. Carson Wentz is elite
I’ll just go ahead and state the obvious: Carson Wentz is an elite quarterback. Each and every week he has the potential to transcend a bad team around him and carry the Birds to a win. That was almost the case last week.
This is largely the reason why I think the Birds can continue this inconsistent play and still back their way into a 9-7 season—reinforcing the long timetable that this team has to return to a championship level.
Since returning from injury Wentz has posted impressive numbers.
3 games: 914 yds, 5 TD, 1 INT, 99.6 QB rating
These stats extended over a full season are basically the same as from last year, when he was the heavy favorite for league MVP until the injury. His play hasn’t translated to a win in either of the last two games, but I feel like he deserves more credit for playing so well in the face of what can only be described as an adverse situation for someone coming off an ACL injury.
5. History, Precedent, etc…
In 2014, after a similarly disappointing 2-2 start, and fresh off an ass-whooping from Kansas City, the Patriots looked dead in the water. It was the “on to Cincinnati” game. New England finished the season 10-2 and went on to win the Super Bowl over Seattle.
Even last season, while the Patriots didn’t go on to win the Super Bowl, they wound up going 13-3 after another disappointing 2-2 start. (The Patriots are the poster child for not-panicking in the face of early season struggles).
Hell, if you’re looking for a Birds example, the Eagles started 2-3 in 2003, went on to go 12-4 and make a run to the NFC championship game.
Precedent is there for teams—perceived Super Bowl-caliber teams—to start the season slow and still go on to win double-digit games, even Super Bowls. Honestly, the fact that this needs to be spelled out is pretty ridiculous, but apparently the sky is falling in Philadelphia, so here we are.