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, at 2-2, we checked-in again. Through eight weeks, at 4-4, we took another look at the team. Most recently we checked in at 6-6 after twelve weeks. And now, the regular season is over. The Eagles are 9-7, the 6th seed in the playoffs, and set to face the Chicago Bears this coming Wild Card Weekend (kickoff is Sunday January 6th at 4:40pm). So…what are the storylines headed into the playoffs?
Nick Foles might be “The Future”
The QB storyline this season has been quite the rollercoaster ride between Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. Here’s how they evolved throughout the season in this column alone:
- Preseason: Carson Wentz, the Comeback Kid….or Nick Foles, Football Rocky?
- Week 4: Thanks Nick, but Carson Wentz is back.
- Week 8: Wentz has shaken off the rust, but can he return to MVP-caliber?
- Week 12: The Eagles go where Wentz’s Touchdown Rate Goes
Heading into the year, we wondered whose team it was – Foles or Wentz? At the time (and still for many), Wentz was widely considered the more talented player and future of the franchise. Nick Foles, on the other hand, was thought of by most as a journeyman who got hot at the right time. After this regular season, there might be enough evidence to re-think these narratives entirely.
Here are some brief facts:
- Carson Wentz went 5-6 in 11 games this year, completing 69.6% of his passes.
- Nick Foles went 4-1 in 5 games this year, completing 72.3% of his passes.
- Carson Wentz turned 26 the day Nick Foles, 29, led the Eagles to their second consecutive playoff birth.
- Carson Wentz hasn’t exactly been healthy these last few years – in 2015 (North Dakota State) he missed 8 weeks due to surgery on his throwing wrist, in 2016 he fractured his ribs and missed all of preseason, in 2017 he tore his ACL and missed the entire Super Bowl run, and now in 2018 he is out indefinitely with fractured vertebrae in his back.
- In his last two games, Nick Foles set an Eagles record for yards thrown in one game (471 vs. Houston) and tied an NFL record for consecutive completions (25 vs. Washington).
- It is not a rare occurrence for NFL quarterbacks to bloom in their late 20’s or early 30’s and sustain success into their mid-late 30’s. Just ask Tony Romo, Kurt Warner, Matt Hasselbeck, Jeff Garcia, Steve Young, Warren Moon, Trent Green, Vinny Testaverde, and Rich Gannon.
All of this is to say that Nick Foles may very well be the future of this team. With one Super Bowl MVP already under his belt, he’ll look to gun for another one beginning this week vs. the Chicago Bears.
Adams, Sproles, and Smallwood Getting it Done
While the emergence of Josh Adams’s ground game has been a long-running storyline this season, the injection of Darren Sproles into the running back corps has helped jump-start the Eagles success through the air. With Wendell Smallwood providing adequate spells for both Adams and Sproles in the running and pass-catching game, the Eagles running backs should continue to provide ample support to the Nick Foles / Doug Pederson “RPO” attack throughout the playoffs.
The Deep Ball is Back
Something sorely missing during the Wentz games was an adequate deep attack. Whether by play-calling or confidence, Foles seems unafraid to toss the ball deep for playmakers such as Alshon Jeffery or Nelson Agholor, putting them in positions to win one-on-one match-ups. This has made for some pretty exciting football over the last three weeks. With Zach Ertz, Golden Tate, Dallas Goedert, and Darren Sproles providing ample ability in the now opened-up short passing-game, the Eagles’s talented pass-catching unit is finally peaking…just in time for the playoffs.
Strength in Numbers
Although there have been injuries to both units, depth has been the story of success for both the offensive and defensive lines this season. Offensively, Halapoulivaati Vaitai has adequately filled in for the aging Jason Peters (who is constantly on and off the field with various ailments) and Stefan Wisniewski has been able to step in for an injured Issac Seumalo. Defensively, the only big loss up front this year was Derek Barnett. Now entering the playoffs, the leaders of the Eagles frontlines – Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks on offense and Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Chris Long, and Michael Bennett on defense – are healthy and poised for a playoff run. I look forward to another Jason Kelce speech atop the Art Museum steps in February 2019.
Getting healthier and figuring it out at the right time
Jordan Hicks is back. Avonte Maddox is covering holes wherever they crop up in the secondary. Rasul Douglas and Cre’Von LeBlanc have developed into positives as defensive backs. Corey Graham has been better at Free Safety. Malcolm Jenkins (SS) and Nigel Bradham (LB) have remained reliable. While pass coverage has been the weak-point of the Eagles all season, things have been getting better. If these units can continue to make stops at key moments in games, there is a roadmap to the Super Bowl.
Can Jake Elliot come through?
Over the last 4 weeks, Jake Elliot has missed two extra points and one field goal. That may not seem like much, but in a league where every point matters, Elliot’s ability to make kicks will be crucial against playoff competition. First up is the Chicago Bears, who boast one of the better defenses in the league. If needed to knock a 50+ yarder through the uprights, will Jake Elliot answer the call?
“No one wanted us. No one liked this team.”
Throughout the season, analysts, pundits, and fans jumped off the defending champs’ bandwagon…and they were continuously wrong to do so. Nobody gave Nick Foles a chance against the Los Angeles Rams. The Houston Texans had too much to play for. A team led by Kirk Cousins would somehow get it done in a do-or-die game and keep the red-hot Eagles out of the playoffs. How many times does this team need to prove people wrong? Give me the Eagles to beat the Bears, beat the Saints, and beat whoever shows up for the the NFC title game. Give me the Eagles to win the Super Bowl and Nick Foles to repeat as back-to-back Super Bowl MVP. Go Birds.