Better that Eagles' defense — not Foles — struggled vs. Giants

Better that Eagles' defense — not Foles — struggled vs. Giants

Just to recap, the Eagles won their last two games. Both on the road. The first victory came against a team that is tied for the NFL lead in points per game with the Eagles. They won despite losing their MVP candidate quarterback late in the third quarter. That same Rams team the Birds beat throttled the Seahawks on the road, 42-7, Sunday and has the third-best record in the league. 

That same day, the Eagles survived and beat the Giants. It was the third leg of a three-game road trip. Regardless of the opponent, not an easy task. The respective wins clinched the NFC East title and a first-round bye in the postseason. Heady stuff. But both wins felt muted a bit. The Rams game was clearly clouded by the Carson Wentz season-ending injury. The Giants win was all about how the game played out.

New York is a mess this season, that's been well-documented. Their stats and record heading into the game more than supported the chalk outline around their franchise. They stink. But despite it being a division road contest and the tail end of a grueling three-game road swing, fans and media expected the Eagles to crush the G-Men. That didn't happen; the Eagles more survived.

So now despite them having the best record in football at 12-2 and being one win or one Vikings loss away from clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, there is a lot of concern in Eagle-land. And rightfully so: Whenever you lose your starting quarterback, particularly one the caliber of Wentz, that's a deathblow to most teams. 

The 2017 Eagles could be the exception. They have overcome significant injuries all season to get to where they are. And Nick Foles has taken a team to the playoffs in the past. Coincidentally, the Vikings are a case study of riding a backup to great success. However, regular-season success and playoff success are two different animals. Time will tell. But Foles certainly played well enough against the Giants for his team to win in the playoffs.

The Birds' defense is a whole other concern. Through 11 games, they allowed 17.3 points per game. In their last three games, they are surrendering 29.3 per contest. You could justify giving up 24 and 35 points on the road to the Seahawks and Rams. But 29 points to a Giants team that averages 16.3 per game? The Birds' secondary got fried in the first half and their tackling that was so sure for most of the season has gotten very shaky. New York put up 504 total yards and was within a whisker of winning for just the third time this season. So there is trepidation with Eagles fans despite the team's lofty accomplishments.

You do wonder how much greater the anxiety would be if, hypothetically, the Eagles had won 13-10 instead of 34-29. Say Foles threw two picks, and he and the receivers were not on the same page but the defense bailed the offense out? How high would the fear factor be now if those tables were turned? Foles may be the least of the issues. Maybe the loss of Jordan Hicks, the quarterback on defense, was a bigger factor than people thought? Perhaps the secondary that had overachieved all season is finally coming back to Earth?  

There has been and will be much debate about sitting the starters in the last two regular-season games if the Eagles have home-field clinched. And most of that focus will center around Foles. But it may be the defense that needs the reps to get things corrected. Doug Pederson admitted Ronald "The Blocker" Darby is still not all the way back from the injury that cost him most of the season, and he is still learning the system.         

Despite all of these "issues" and concerns, the Eagles have lost just once since Sept. 17. Their greatest trait all season has been their resiliency. Time will tell if they can overcome all the players they've lost but for now, they've earned a little rope with the folks on the outside looking in.

Roob's 10 late-March Eagles observations

USA Today/AP Images

Roob's 10 late-March Eagles observations

Some random late-March thoughts on Michael Bennett, Cris Carter, Mike Wallace, Billy Brown and (of course) Nick Foles in this weekend’s 10 Random Eagles Observations!

1. I have no idea what Michael Bennett did or didn’t do on Super Bowl Sunday at NRG Stadium last February, but I do know this is a precarious situation for the Eagles. Team chemistry was the Eagles’ biggest strength last year, and that’s not easy to duplicate when the roster changes. What Bennett is accused of is truly terrible. But it’s a weird story. How is there no video of an incident that occurred at a Super Bowl? Aren’t there cameras everywhere? And why didn’t the cop who allegedly witnessed the incident arrest Bennett once he was assured the alleged victim was OK? Bennett didn’t go anywhere. The 14-month gap between incident and charges is odd. And how could the Eagles not know about the investigation? The bigger question is exactly what kind of person are the Eagles getting in Bennett, and is he someone they want in the locker room for the next year. Maybe the answer is yes. Doug Pederson, Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas seem to have a pretty good feel for this stuff. But this is definitely a major distraction and just about the last thing the Eagles need to deal with right now.

2. If the Eagles don’t sign a veteran tight end, keep an eye on Billy Brown, who had an impressive training camp last summer and spent the season on the practice squad. He’s 6-foot-4, 260 pounds with great hands. Yeah, he was an undrafted rookie. But remember, that’s how Trey Burton started out.

3. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you Mike Wallace isn’t a significant upgrade over Torrey Smith. Wallace last year had 16 more catches (52 to 36), 318 more yards (748 to 430), twice as many TDs (4 to 2) and a much higher yards-per-catch average (14.4 to 11.9). Over the last two years, the difference is more dramatic (124 for 1,765 to 56 for 697) with inferior QBs. And Wallace is cheaper. With Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Wallace, the Eagles are loaded at wideout.

4. I heard Cris Carter ripping Nick Foles the other day, saying he’s not an NFL-caliber starter and only had a handful of good games last year. He also only played a handful of games. And one of them was the Super Bowl, if I remember correctly? Foles may never get credit outside Philly for what he accomplished last year, but at this point, it doesn't matter. The Lombardi Trophy lives at the NovaCare Complex now.

5. Speaking of Foles, in the 2017 postseason on third down, he was 26 for 32 for 398 yards and four TDs and a 158.1 passer rating.

6. Read that again. Foles threw six incomplete passes on third down during the entire 2017 postseason.

7. The Eagles converted 71 and 62 percent of their third downs in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, respectively. They had only converted 62 percent of their third downs in consecutive games twice previously since 1991.

8. The conversations about whether the Eagles are better or worse than last year are silly, considering we're six months from opening day. The Eagles last year added Chris Long, Patrick Robinson, Tim Jernigan, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Graham and Ronald Darby later in the offseason than it is now. And Jay Ajayi during the season. The roster is a long way from being a finished product.

9. I’ve got Derek Barnett with 12 sacks next year. Interesting that from Week 6 on, Barnett had only one fewer sack than Brandon Graham (6 1/2 to 5 1/2). You could just see him getting better and better each week. Can’t wait to see the 2018 version of Derek Barnett.

10. And finally, we need to keep throwing out Carson Wentz stats so nobody forgets just how freaking talented he is: Wentz had 10 games last year with two or more touchdowns and one or fewer interceptions. Only four quarterbacks in NFL history have ever had more through 13 games: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tony Romo. Pretty good company. Except for Romo.

Thank Carson Wentz (and 1 other thing) for landing Mike Wallace

Thank Carson Wentz (and 1 other thing) for landing Mike Wallace

During the 2016 season, Mike Wallace thought his Baltimore Ravens were going to steamroll the Eagles, who had a first-year head coach and first-year quarterback. 

He was wrong. 

Sure, the Ravens were able to sneak away with a 27-26 win back on Dec. 18, 2016, but Wallace watched up close as the gutsy Carson Wentz had the Eagles one two-point conversion at the end of the game away from walking out of Baltimore with a win. 

A year and a half later, when Wallace was testing free agency, the veteran receiver thought back to that game and thought to himself, “I want to play with that guy.” 

So how responsible is Wentz for Wallace’s landing in Philly? 

“Ninety-nine percent. Ninety-nine,” Wallace said at his introductory press conference Friday afternoon after signing a one-year contract. “The other percent was the rest of the team. I’m impressed by the way he plays football, the way he moves in the pocket, the way he throws the football and his competitiveness. You can see it.”

Wallace, 31, continued to watch Wentz during the 2017 season, when the second-year quarterback was seemingly on his way to an MVP award before a serious knee injury landed him on injured reserve.  

Having been through changing teams before, Wallace said the most difficult part for him is learning the new quarterback. He hopes this process won’t take exceedingly long, but he and Wentz might be at a disadvantage. Wentz is still recovering from a torn ACL and LCL and might not be ready until the season opener, if that. 

“You can just work on that watching film and things like that, but until he gets out there, there’s no real way to simulate it,” Wallace said. “I think he’s a great young quarterback who’s fired up. Whatever extra reps we need to try to get up to speed, I’m all for it.”

Wentz is, of course, a part of the big reason Wallace decided to join the Eagles. Wallace has played nine seasons in the NFL with four different teams. He’s made money, but he hasn’t been able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. That’s what he wants. 

On Friday, Wallace said he turned down more money to join the Eagles. 

“I had options but I just wanted the best chance,” Wallace said. “I feel like this is my best opportunity to make a run. This is my 10th year. Can’t play this game forever. You don’t want to come out feeling empty. I want to get a ring.”

Wallace had been a free agent twice before this offseason and he admitted, that when he was younger, free agency was about money. He signed a five-year, $60 million deal in 2013 to join the Dolphins. 

But now, Wallace said, his family is secure. He’s made a lot of money in the NFL to make sure those close to him are well off. Now, he’s allowing himself to make a decision that benefits him. 

“I didn’t try to come into this game to leave empty-handed,” he said. “I had to secure the bag and I did that. Now it’s time to secure a ring.”