You can’t fault Eagles executive vice president/general manager Howie Roseman for failing to pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline. It sounded like teams were asking for an awful lot in return, and the only thing worse than doing nothing is swapping a high draft pick for a rental who doesn’t truly make a difference — see Golden Tate, 2018.
Now the Eagles must somehow improve with only the talent already on the roster. Fortunately, this is not out of the realm of possibility! Most everybody associated with the franchise has been more productive or performed at a higher level at some point within the last two years, which suggests there are members of this squad who have the capacity to play better.
The Eagles need more from the following people if they’re not only going to make the playoffs, but to have any prayer of winning another Super Bowl.
It goes without saying the quarterback is imperative to most any team’s success. In this case, he’s also way, way down the list of what’s wrong with the Eagles in 2019. Still, Wentz has been a B-plus player for much of this season, and this squad needs him to be an A.
It seems like Schwartz is the scapegoat whenever something is amiss with the Eagles’ defense when, truth be told, he hasn’t been given much to work with the first half of this season. Nevertheless, the defensive coordinator needs to find a way to generate a consistent pass rush and figure out which group of cornerbacks can actually cover.
On the bright side, he’s done it before. Schwartz took a secondary with Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox and Cre’Von LeBlanc at cornerback and Tre Sullivan and ancient Corey Graham at one safety spot and transformed it into a playoff-caliber unit almost overnight in 2018. Even this season, the Eagles won games with players who are no longer on the roster.
Schwartz’s job doesn’t even seem that difficult this time around as key players continue to get healthy. Now he needs to figure out how to tie it all together, because allowing 24 points per game is not good enough.
I was beginning to believe there might be some truth to the theory the rest of the NFL was catching up to Pederson. Maybe he caught lightning in a bottle with the run-pass option or RPO-based offense at a time when it was still somewhat innovative, or maybe the schemes weren’t evolving quickly enough from 2017, which is an eternity in the NFL.
The Bills game appeared to prove that wrong. Pederson not only made adjustments but showed imagination with his play designs. The latter was never more evident than Miles Sanders’ touchdown run out of a two-back formation that utilized Jordan Howard as a lead blocker (see film review). Even just the sheer amount Wentz lined up under center on Sunday showed an adjustment on the part of the head coach.
There are times Pederson needs to scheme guys free or outcoach the other sideline. Last week, he looked up to the task, but his job will only get harder in the playoffs against opponents arguably more talented than the Eagles.
Ronald Darby/Jalen Mills
Say what you want about the Eagles' cornerbacks — the team won a Super Bowl with Darby and Mills as the starters, right? And based on what we’ve seen from the rest of the group, they’re probably still the best options the defense has on the outside.
No, they’re not exactly Jalen Ramsey and Darius Slay, but Darby and Mills are NFL-caliber players when healthy, which is more than can be said for some of the corners who have been rostered this season. If they’re healthy, there’s no reason to think they can’t contribute, either, as both are only 25 years old and should be motivated in contract years.
But it also comes down the alternative. The Eagles are relying on Darby and Mills because Rasul Douglas is slow, Avonte Maddox is inexperienced and Sidney Jones looks lost. Darby and Mills don’t even have to be great to be better than the guys the Eagles have been trotting out there since the middle of last season.
The Eagles need Jackson back on the field in the worst way. The offense simply isn’t as dynamic without a vertical threat, and the same was true last season.
Torrey Smith didn’t post great numbers in 2017 but his speed kept defenses honest, the impact of which was felt by the other receivers. Alshon Jeffery averaged 13.8 yards per reception in ’17 (with a bum shoulder), compared to 13.0 yards last season and 10.6 so far this season. Nelson Agholor averaged 12.4 in ’17, 11.5 last season and 9.0 this season. Heck, Sanders, a running back, is second on the team right now with a whopping 14.4 yards per catch.
The Eagles lacked the ability to stretch the field on a consistent basis for quite awhile, and nobody is better at doing precisely that than Jackson, who trails only Jerry Rice for the most touchdowns over 50 yards in NFL history. Who knows what the story is with the mystery “abdomen” ailment — just keep your fingers crossed it’s healed, because he’s a difference-maker.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Eagles' defense the previous two seasons and in particular last year compared to 2019 is Cox. Sure, the line received more production from Michael Bennett and Chris Long than it has from Derek Barnett (though he isn’t playing poorly), Vinny Curry and Josh Sweat, but in part because of all the disruption up the middle.
Cox finished 2018 with 10.5 sacks and was second in the NFL with 34 quarterback hits. And that was largely while playing alongside the likes of Haloti Ngata, Treyvon Hester, Destiny Vaeao and Bruce Hector, so while it will be nice to get Tim Jernigan back, the injuries are no excuse.
Cox needs to dominate. When he’s pushing the pocket, the ends get home because the quarterback has nowhere to go, and the linebackers and defensive backs aren’t in coverage as long. The good news is Cox is improving, with 2.5 sacks in the Eagles’ last two games, but he’s still nowhere near the force he’s been in previous seasons, which is what this team has really been missing.
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