As the Eagles got to enjoy their bye week, they were able sit back on Sunday afternoon and watch Washington get spanked by Atlanta 38-14. That dropped Washington’s record to 5-3 and the Eagles aren’t far behind at 4-4.
With half of the season to go — and with two games against Washington left on the schedule — the Eagles are poised to make a run at the NFC East. Especially because they’ll get the Cowboys at home on a short week Sunday night.
Sure, the Eagles have some tough games left (at New Orleans, at Los Angeles), but they have really winnable division games still on that schedule too. The division is there for the taking.
But they’ll need to do these four things better if they want to get to the playoffs:
Score more points
This one is pretty simple. The Eagles averaged over 28 points per game in their 2017 Super Bowl season. They’re scoring just 22.3 this season, which ranks 21st in the NFL. The scariest part of this is that Carson Wentz has been statistically great over the last four games and the Eagles are still floundering some offensively. Wentz has had a passer rating of over 115 in each of the last four games, but the Eagles are just 2-2 in that stretch. They eclipsed 30 points just once this season and that came against the Giants, who they will get one more time down the stretch.
To put this offensive drought in perspective, the Eagles have reached 30 points once in eight games this season. They did it in 11 of 19 games last season, including the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl.
The Eagles clearly understood they needed to get better offensively and Howie Roseman delivered. Now, it’s up to Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Mike Groh to figure out how to use Golden Tate. They should be able to; and adding a big-time player on offense ought to help things get going.
Protect the QB
Wentz has been playing great, but it’s hard for him to make plays from the seat of his pants. In six games this season, Wentz has been sacked 21 times (3.5 per game). He was sacked just 28 times in 13 games (2.15 per game) last season. After getting sacked just once against the Giants, he’s been sacked eight times in the last two games. This can’t continue.
Obviously, a lot of blame needs to go to the offensive line, but they’re not alone. Some of it falls on Wentz and some of it falls on the running backs, who need to do a better job of pass protecting when they’re back there.
Now, this won’t be super easy to fix, especially because right tackle Lane Johnson will likely be out at least a couple weeks as he heals from an MCL sprain. And on the other side, 36-year-old Jason Peters is playing through a partially torn biceps after already playing through a groin injury. That’s not ideal. But if Darren Sproles really is close to returning, he’ll be able to help. He’s the Eagles’ best third-down back and is a very good pass protector.
Prevent big plays
The Eagles have the fourth-best red zone defense in the NFL, giving up touchdowns just 41.4 percent of the time once opponents pass the Eagles’ 20-yard line. That’s great. But where the Eagles’ defense needs to improve is preventing big plays. They’ve given up seven plays of 40-plus yards this season; three have gone for touchdowns. Jalen Mills has given up several big plays this year and you’d think teams in the second half have seen the same tape we all have; they’re going to target him.
The bright spot here is that without Rodney McLeod I thought these big plays were going to become even more frequent. McLeod, of course, was the deep centerfielder in this defense. But I’ve been incredibly impressed by rookie Avonte Maddox, who has taken over that role.
Finish games stronger
The Eagles have lost four games this season. Two of them came after collapses where the Eagles had a two-touchdown lead in the second half. And it felt like they nearly gave up a lead in London to the Jaguars before the bye. The good news there is they didn’t.
But finishing games doesn’t fall on just the defense. Sure, you’d like to see them clamp down late in games, but it’s a team effort in those situations. The defense has to be stout, but the offense has to score or at least get first downs and kill the clock and the coaching staff needs to figure out the right balance of staying aggressive, winding the clock when possible and not giving up big plays.
It was pretty telling in that Jacksonville game that it kind of felt like the Eagles were going to blow it until the clock hit zero. That’s a feeling we didn’t have last season. When they got up, they finished games. This team needs to get back to that.
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