Why Nick Foles needs to play vs. Cowboys

Why Nick Foles needs to play vs. Cowboys

This should have been a no-brainer. 

This should have been Nick Foles playing for three quarters and Nate Sudfeld getting some mop-up touches to close out a meaningless game while Carson Wentz holds a clipboard with a ski cap on. And off the folks of the Delaware Valley would go into 2018 with visions of a Super Bowl title dancing in their heads. But life doesn’t work that way and neither does sports. 

So let’s deal in reality: With everything wrapped heading into the playoffs, the Eagles may have more questions than any 13-2 team ever. Nick Foles' performance on Christmas night was downright frightening. He was that bad. Bad enough that it erased a solid game the week before vs. the Giants, fair or not. Back was the inaccuracy, the kind that could get a pass catcher killed and nearly did. The holding the ball too long, the seeing ghosts in the pocket, the back-pedaling, the gift interceptions. The Eagles were fortunate to play an awful team with a quarterback, Derek Carr, who is a shell of his 2016 self. 

If you’re looking for solace, the defense played better than it did against the Giants. But is better good enough? Jalen Mills is a mess right now and opposing coaches smell blood. He wasn’t alone, by the way, on that uncovered Amari Cooper touchdown. Rodney McLeod also took the cheese. Also alarming was the Birds’ run defense that has been so good all season. They allowed the Raiders 137 yards on the ground (4.2 average). To the defense’s credit, it gave up only 10 points. But the teams — and in particular the quarterbacks — the Eagles will be facing in the postseason will exploit these issues in a big way if they are not corrected. 

And really that’s what this is all about — what lies ahead. To a healthy degree, it sounds like classic fan nit-picking to be so critical of a team that has accomplished so much. What the Eagles have achieved this season is nothing short of spectacular. Best record in the NFL, division title, bye, home-field advantage throughout. They’ve done this despite significant injuries. It’s been a thrilling season when most optimists thought 10 wins was the ceiling. The front office, the coaches and the players deserve every accolade thrown their way. But that’s in the rearview. It’s not about what could have been had Wentz still been working his magic under center with Jason Peters protecting his blindside. Or if Jordan Hicks was still patrolling the middle on defense. This is about playoff readiness now with what you have.

With that said, Foles needs to play against the Cowboys. He demonstrated he’s not playoff-ready. Even a game with no real stake for either team is much more of a proximity than him wearing a red shirt in practice. This also means the other healthy starters on offense need to play so they can get on the same page. Same goes for the Eagles' corners. 

Is there an injury risk? No question. But if this team performs in the playoffs the way it did the last two games against inferior opponents, it will be one-and-done. The Eagles' wideouts totaled five catches for 40 yards against the 23rd-ranked Raiders pass defense. Alshon Jeffery was a ghost of Christmas present — two targets, no receptions. Again, this will not cut it. Foles and his receivers need to get near the same page. Going 1 for 14 on third down is a recipe for a first-game home loss in the postseason. 

So Doug Pederson needs to roll the dice Sunday against Dallas and do whatever it takes to get these guys better. 

Not the way they would have drawn it up, but the way it is.

How Eagles could shut down Vikings' receiving duo

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How Eagles could shut down Vikings' receiving duo

When you think about the best wide receivers in the NFL today, names like Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and DeAndre Hopkins come to mind and rightfully so, but the Minnesota Vikings have a pair of wideouts who have given opposing secondaries fits.

This season, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have been the perfect complement to each other. Thielen finished the regular season with 91 receptions (eighth-best in the league), 1276 yards (fifth-best) and his 20 catches for 20 or more yards tied for fifth-best overall. As for Diggs, he finished with 64 receptions for 849 yards.

Together, Thielen and Diggs accounted for 54 percent of the Vikings' receiving yards this season. They also combined for 12 touchdowns. In the Vikes' miraculous playoff win over the New Orleans Saints, they accounted for 66 percent of the passing game. They have been the safety valves for Case Keenum all season long.

Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has the rare luxury of lining up either one of them on the inside or outside on any given play. Both are excellent route runners — whether it's doing deep or intermediate routes or crossing routes, and both are excellent blockers.

So how should Jim Schwartz defend against these two? Some believe help over the top on Thielen and playing single coverage on Diggs is the way to go. We may see that concept occasionally in the NFC Championship Game but I have a feeling Schwartz will come up with some variation we have not seen before. The Eagles are not going to completely shut these two down, but their damage can be minimized. Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson and the other DBs will put in a full day’s work shadowing these two.

Howie Roseman honored for his tremendous offseason

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Howie Roseman honored for his tremendous offseason

As the Eagles practiced on Thursday afternoon, just a few days before hosting the NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field, vice president of football operations Howie Roseman stood next to owner Jeff Lurie and watched the team he created. 

Of the 53 members on the Eagles' roster heading into this championship game, 25 weren't on the active roster last season. Roseman had a very busy offseason, molding the Eagles into a Super Bowl contender. 

For his efforts, the 42-year-old Roseman, who began with the Eagles as an intern in 2000, has been named the NFL Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America. 

Roseman helped turn over a roster that went 7-9 last season into a team that went 13-3, earning the first-overall seed in the NFC. He built the team with enough depth to survive major injuries to Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, Chris Maragos and Caleb Sturgis. 

Never afraid to make a trade, Roseman came back from his time away from football operations more aggressive than ever. He claims his year away from GM duties while Chip Kelly took over was both humbling and eye-opening. 

For this season, Roseman traded 25 spots in the third round to bring in veteran defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, traded away Jordan Matthews and a pick to bring in cornerback Ronald Darby and pulled the trigger on a midseason move to bring in Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi. 

In free agency, he signed Alshon Jeffery, Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount, Nick Foles, Patrick Robinson and Chance Warmack. He brought in several of those players on one-year prove-it deals, and for the most part, the team has gotten more than their money's worth out of them. 

He also helped hire VP of player personnel Joe Douglas to revamp the scouting department. That hire of a top personnel man was one of the conditions when Lurie reinstated Roseman to power following Kelly's dismissal. 

Roseman and Douglas spearheaded drafting a class that included Derek Barnett in the first round, an injured Sidney Jones in the second and some other contributors in the next five rounds. 

Aside from just bringing players in, Roseman has been able to manipulate the salary cap better than anyone in the league. It's been a strength of his since his arrival in Philly, so that should be no surprise. 

You could actually argue that Roseman's 2016 was more impressive. That's when he laid the groundwork for this playoff season by moving up and drafting Carson Wentz. But 2017 is when it all came together.