Rob Ellis

Eagles experience the best possible Sunday off in Week 6

Eagles experience the best possible Sunday off in Week 6

This was a very beneficial weekend for the Birds. 

While the Eagles' players and coaches enjoyed some well-earned rest, Week 6 was one of the stranger NFL cards we've seen in while and a lot of the wackiness aided the guys in midnight green.  

Let's start with the biggest news to come out of this weekend: Aaron Rodgers broke his right collarbone in the Packers' loss to the Vikings. It goes without saying that you never want to see anyone get injured, but this is especially the case with one of the all-time greats. The league is better with Rodgers playing, plain and simple. But from a practical standpoint, his loss affects the Eagles and their NFC conference chances greatly. With Rodgers' weekly magic acts now disappearing, Green Bay becomes just another team, at best.

Staying in the conference, the Redskins squeaked by a winless 49ers team at home. Granted, San Fran plays everyone tight. The Niners are the first team in NFL history to lose five straight games by three points or less. Washington barely escaped against a C.J. Beathard-led team. Kirk Cousins tried mightily to give the game away. Not the kind of performance you build off as you head to take on an Eagles that already beat you, on Monday night.

The defending NFC champs, the Falcons, lost a game at home Sunday to the Dolphins that they led 17-0 at the half. Atlanta is now 3-2 overall and 1-2 at home. Can you say Super Bowl hangover? 

The Buccaneers, another team thought by some to be a contender in the NFC, lost to the same Cardinals team the Eagles smoked in Week 5.

The Cowboys had a bye week, but the specter of Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension and how negatively that will impact them continues to loom. Dallas has as many losses through five games as it had all of last season. And not having Elliott to lean on to chew clock and keep the other team's offense off the field will expose their defense. 

The Birds own the best record in the NFC at 5-1, and now with Kansas City's loss to the Steelers, there are no longer any undefeated teams in the NFL. Granted, this is an "any given Sunday" type of league, as witnessed by underdogs' 10-2 record against the spread this weekend. 

You don't want to get too crazy just six games in, but it's hard to not feel optimistic about the way things are set up for the Eagles (see Super Bowl odds). They've been able to overcome injuries, mostly on the defensive side, and while teams like Green Bay and the Giants have suffered catastrophic casualties, the Eagles have not. In fact, they appear to be getting some serious firepower back, like Lane Johnson and Ronald Darby.

It's not false hope or viewing things through green-colored glasses to think the Eagles are one of the better teams in the league. They are. Do they need the requisite breaks like staying healthy to win a playoff game for the first time since 2008? Yes. But that applies to every team. The Birds are strong in the trenches on both sides. Their run defense makes opposing teams one-dimensional, and they have a budding star quarterback who gets better every week. 

It was indeed a nice Sunday off.

Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham deserve equal credit for Eagles' hot start

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USA Today Images

Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham deserve equal credit for Eagles' hot start

A lot of accolades are being distributed after the Eagles' gutsy road win over the Panthers. And there is a multitude of worthy recipients.

There’s Carson Wentz, whose skill and rapid understanding of the NFL game may be overridden only by his toughness.

Or the return of Fletcher Cox and the immediate impact he made from a calf injury that held him out the previous two games.

How about Doug Pederson, who continues to quiet the critics while he out-schemes opposing coaches on a weekly basis? 

Maybe you’re more inclined toward the rookie kicker who was plucked off the Bengals' practice squad and has gone 10 for 10 since his big left tackle threatened him?

When you start a season 5-1 with four of those games on the road, there is a lot of credit to be divvied up.

But how about a little love for those Eagles' linebackers? Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks were everywhere against Carolina. The duo combined to register a whopping 17 tackles, including two for losses and two passes defended. This was despite, or perhaps because of losing Jordan Hicks in the first half of the game (see injury update).

The numbers alone don’t tell the story. Both players made game-altering tackles. The kind that stops the opposition from scoring a touchdown, like Bradham’s takedown of Christian McCaffrey just shy of the end zone on a 3rd-and-Goal in the third quarter. Instead of an 18-17 game, the Panthers settled for three points to make it 18-13. There were countless form tackles that prevented third-down conversions and forced punts. Game-changing plays.   

This really has been the case all season with this unit. Kendricks seemed destined for a ticket out of town after a couple of lackluster seasons in which his playing time had dwindled. But since training camp, he has been a man possessed and mirrors the playmaker the Eagles gave big bucks to in 2015. Bradham had a good year last season — his first with the Eagles — and despite a bit of a slow start this year, has come on strong of late. The two lead the Eagles in tackles this season. Not far behind on the list is Hicks, whose skill and versatility have never been in question, only his ability to stay on the field. This is a strong group.

Finding yourself near the end of the receiving line when it comes to praise — because there are so many other positive developments through six games — is a good problem to have. The kind of first-world problems Eagles fans would have signed up for on the spot prior to the season.

5 reasons why Eagles won't repeat last season's script

5 reasons why Eagles won't repeat last season's script

Last season, the Eagles started off 3-1. They proceeded to lose eight of their next 10 games, en route to a 7-9 season. The 2017 club is now 4-1, tied for the best record in the NFC, with its lone loss to an undefeated Chiefs team. Two good starts in consecutive seasons, so what’s to make us believe that 2017 won’t end in flames the way 2016 did?

Carson Wentz
Wentz's numbers are solid in his sophomore season, ranking in the top 10 in passing yards, touchdowns and quarterback rating. And his third-down conversions are off the charts (see Roob's stats). He's completed 37 of 52 passes (71 percent) with six touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 137.8. Wentz's growth from Year 1 to Year 2 cannot simply be measured by metrics. Wentz is a leader in every sense of the word. He’s first in and last out of the building, and that is not lost on his teammates. They want to play for him. You also see his development in the things he doesn’t do. Like throwing ill-advised interceptions or challenging a linebacker in the open field to gain two more yards. He’s smarter because of experience, and that bodes well as we head down the stretch.

Doug Pederson
Head coaches can be stubborn creatures, and Pederson certainly had his moments in his rookie season and into the early portion of the 2017 campaign. But since the Chiefs loss, we’ve seen a coach much more willing to adapt and be balanced (see story). The result: three straight wins, less heat on his quarterback and an offensive line that has rediscovered its mojo. The fact he played at the NFL level gives him a built-in cachet with his players. And unlike his predecessor, Chip Kelly, he has a good feel for when to take his foot off the pedal during the week in practice with his veteran players.

Lane Johnson
It’s no secret Johnson's 10-game suspension was a crushing blow last year. Because of a concussion, Johnson’s status is up in the air for the Panthers game, but his presence in the early going and having him for the long haul is a major boost for this team.

Depth
Nowhere has the Eagles' depth shone through greater than on the defensive side of the ball. From a deep and talented rotation along the front four to having rookies or free agents that can step in when players go down in the secondary, the front office has given Jim Schwartz more tools. The Eagles are 4-1 despite missing No. 1 corner Ronald Darby most of the season and Fletcher Cox the last two weeks. This unit will only improve as it gets troops back.

NFC Least
Let’s be honest, the division isn’t what we thought it would be. The Giants haven’t won a game and resemble a MASH unit. I think Ben McAdoo’s mustache is day to day at this point. The Cowboys are not getting the production out of Ezekiel Elliott they did his rookie year. He’s averaging less than four yards per carry. After a Week 6 bye and a Week 7 game vs. the 49ers, their next four games see them go to Washington, home against the Chiefs, at Atlanta, then in Jerry World against the Eagles. Not easy by any stretch. Washington is still a bit of a mystery, but the Birds beat the Redskins in their barn and are 2-0 in division and 3-0 in conference. Better team and weaker competition should make the road to avoiding last year’s collapse much easier.