It was just eight weeks ago when the Eagles went into New Orleans and got their butts whooped by the Saints at the Superdome, 48-7.
That loss put the Eagles at 4-6 with two straight losses after the bye week, but they’ve rebounded, going 6-1 since that point to first make it into the playoffs and then take down the Bears on wild-card weekend.
So, you’ve heard it already: These Eagles aren’t the same team that got smoked in New Orleans on Nov. 18 (see story).
Here are the five biggest reasons why:
1. Nick Foles
I still think the Eagles will and should stick with their long-term plan with Carson Wentz, but it’s also impossible to not be impressed by what Foles has done since re-entering the Eagles lineup in the Rams game. Foles took over after that overtime loss in Dallas and since then, he’s helped guide the Eagles to a four-game winning streak that has them two wins away from another Super Bowl appearance.
During this four-game win streak, Foles has eight touchdowns to five interceptions, so aside from his record-breaking performance against the Texans, it’s not like he’s putting up huge numbers every week. But there’s just something about Foles, especially in high-pressure situations. Undeniable. Even though he threw two picks Sunday, he drove the Eagles down the field in the fourth quarter and left the field with the lead.
Sometimes, I think the Foles Magic factor is a little overplayed though. The team has improved since Foles took over, but it’s hard to quantify how much of that is a direct result of Foles’ being in there. It’s impossible to know, but he does have a calming effect on his teammates and he’s been a difference maker recently.
In the first meeting between these two teams, Wentz had a tough game playing catch-up. He threw for 156 yards and three picks.
2. Shored up secondary
Drew Brees threw for 363 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Eagles in November. It was one of the greatest performances any QB has ever had against the Eagles. But that was a different secondary. In that game, Brees kept picking on an injured Sidney Jones and De’Vante Bausby and Chandon Sullivan, who have both since been cut. And you’ll also remember, Avonte Maddox got hurt in that game.
Since then, the Eagles have figured out a secondary that seems to work. A much-improved Rasul Douglas and a healthy Avonte Maddox are the starters outside. Cre’Von LeBlanc, who has been a revelation and who might have saved the Eagles’ season according to Jim Schwartz, is the nickel corner. And at safety, Malcolm Jenkins is the mainstay, but Corey Graham and even Tre Sullivan have been playing better.
Some of the improvements in the secondary are health-related, some of them are probably experience-related and maybe some of them are ski-mask related. Through the 10 games, including the Saints game, the Eagles had just seven takeaways. In the seven games since, they have 10. They have their black ski mask, a silly thing that has pumped some life into this defense.
3. OL is balling
The Eagles’ offensive line, which was supposed to be a strength of the 2018 team, is finally living up to that potential. They’re healthy and dominant right now. The entire OL and starting quarterback played all 68 snaps Sunday in Chicago and controlled that dominant defensive line.
Jason Peters is finally fully back from the ACL tear last season and is managing everything else. Isaac Seumalo, Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce have also gotten healthy. Johnson has been a monster ever since he got snubbed from the Pro Bowl, when he showed up at the building at 2:30 a.m. to stew.
During this winning streak, the Eagles have faced some of the best pass rushers in the NFL — Aaron Donald, J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Ryan Kerrigan, Khalil Mack — and they have pretty much shut them down.
4. DL is getting pressure
The Eagles’ offensive line is supposed to be their strength on that side of the ball and their D-line is supposed to be their strength on defense. Guess what? Both lines have been playing their best football when the games matter most. If you’re wondering about that shored-up secondary I mentioned earlier, it probably has a ton to do with the defensive line getting much more pressure.
Fletcher Cox and Michael Bennett have been absolute monsters. Brandon Graham is starting to heat up. Chris Long too. They got Tim Jernigan back and he’s been able to stay healthy. Even Haloti Ngata has been much better recently. For as well as some other players have been at linebacker (Nigel Bradham) and in the secondary (Jenkins, Douglas), the defensive line is still the key.
5. Darren Sproles is back
It’s hard to believe that a 35-year-old running back who missed most of the season with a hamstring injury has changed things, but Sproles absolutely has. He played 56 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps against the Bears and has made big play after big play since getting back in the lineup. In a few weeks, he’s gone from fans wanting him to retire to them wanting him to prolong his career for one more season.
The Eagles are still going to pick their spots with Sproles, but he just gives their offense one more dynamic, but also dependable, option. He still has some magic left in him as he heads back to New Orleans, where he had his best pro seasons.
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