This summer, while we were reveling in the afterglow of the Eagles’ first ever Super Bowl win, we took a look at some of the positional storylines for the upcoming season. After four weeks, we checked-in again. Here’s where we’re at the season’s midpoint:
He’s Shaken Off the Rust, but Can He Return to MVP-Caliber?
Since taking over in Week 3, Wentz has gone 3-3 with wins vs. Colts, at Giants, against Jaguars (London) and losses at Titans, vs. Vikings, and vs. Panthers. In those 6 games, he’s steadily improved and has started to look like the guy we saw last year. Particularly, in the last 3 games (Jaguars, vs. Panthers, at Giants) he’s posted both high completion percentages (70%, 81%, 72%, respectively) and QB ratings (119.6, 119.6, 122.2). Other than the Giants blowout, Wentz has been in a lot of tight games this year and on the losing end of 3 of them. I’m tepid to say “he’s back” to where he was last year until he’s routinely leading the Eagles to 30+ pts of offense and comfortable win margins. Wentz is good right now – if he can return to being great the Eagles have a good a shot as anyone at the title.
Frustrated and Hurt – Who Can Step Up?
With Jay Ajayi out for the year, Sproles still on the mend, and so-far lackluster performances from Clement and Smallwood, this unit is in trouble. Josh Adams has shown some promise in limited a sample (5.4 yards/carry avg. on 20 attempts), but it’s too early to tell if he will provide the needed boost to a middling Eagles rushing attack. While the Eagles favor the pass at about a 60%/40% split, they’ll need a reliable run game to sustain drives and keep defenses honest. With no move at the trade deadline, Sproles, Clement, Smallwood, and Adams are the guys we’re going with – so who will step up?
Ertz Taking Advantage and WELCOME GOLDEN TATE!
I mentioned at the four week mark that the return of Alshon Jeffery has opened up the rest of the field for all other WRs and TEs on the team. Nobody has benefited more than Zach Ertz, who is not-so-quietly putting up one of the best seasons ever for a TE. Add in former Pro-Bowler Golden Tate and Wentz has one of the best fleets of pass-catchers in the league. I shudder for defenses trying to defend Jeffery at WR1, Tate in the slot, Ertz up the seam, and Agholor down the sidelines and am looking forward to see what Wentz can do with this talented group.
The Pain of Injury, the Value of Depth
Every season in the NFL is a war of attrition as teams pile up injuries in key spots. The best way to preempt the inevitable is to have a stocked cupboard. The Eagles are well-prepared to combat injury on the defensive line, but a little less-so on the offensive line. With Lane Johnson set to be out for several weeks (and possibly the year) with an MCL sprain and Jason Peters continuing to be on-and-off the field with various injuries, immense pressure falls on Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Issac Seumalo, and Stefen Wisniewski to pick up the slack. On the defensive side, the Eagles are better prepared for the loss of Derek Barnett – Michael Bennett has continued to play well, Haloti Ngata is back, and the Eagles are rumored to be reaching out to Timmy Jernigan to further bolster a unit that already boasts Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Chris Long.
More Blitzing on the Horizon?
This observation is more Jacksonville-specific, but I loved the blitzing strategies that utilized Bradham and Hicks a lot this past week to help force one-on-one match-ups for our pass rushers against a bad QB. Fran Duffy has a nice breakdown on Twitter of how this higher risk strategy can yield rewarding results. With two games against Dak Prescott and one game against Eli Manning left in the season, I’m curious to see how aggressive Jim Schwartz will be with the blitz – especially as the secondary continues to struggle.
Still the Weak Link
The Eagles are currently 27th in the league against the pass, which has been perhaps the largest limiting factor for the team this year. A shotty secondary can be a nightmare for a fan, as it’s hard to trust that the team will win if they don’t hang 30 pts on their opponent and provide some room for what feels like inevitable defensive errors. Avonte Maddox has shown some promise at safety, but it will be crucial for Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, Malcolm Jenkins, Corey Graham, Dexter McDougle and Sidney Jones to continue to tighten their play up to take pressure off of the offense.
Missing Darren Sproles
The Eagles are in the bottom half of the league for kick returns and the bottom third for punt returns. More importantly, they have yet to score a return touchdown. Sproles has been mentioned as “day-to-day” with hamstring woes for a while, but Coach Pederson seems to believe he’ll hit the field again sometime this year. It can’t come soon enough for a struggling return game.
“No one likes us. We don’t care.”
At the mid-way point, Jason Kelce’s iconic rendition of this song comes to mind. At 4-4 and with five division games left, the Eagles control their own destiny. I like them to win the division at 10-6 and, if this talented group can gel and either 1) tighten up on defense or 2) consistently score enough points to where that won’t matter, they have a shot at another Super Bowl. Not many people like the Eagles to repeat at this point – but we don’t care.