Now that was a crazy season.
The Eagles’ 2018 season ended a few weeks sooner than they would have liked, but it was a wild ride. They came into the year with huge expectations, got off to a horrific start riddled with missed opportunities. They read their obituary in the morning paper and came back to life with an improbable run just to get into the playoffs. Then they won a playoff game and came damn close to winning another one in the same stadium where they were crushed a couple months earlier.
It was wild. But now it’s over.
We are leaving this season with a few lessons under our belts. Here are 10 things we learned from the 2018 Eagles:
1. This team won't give up under Doug Pederson
Remember when everyone thought the Eagles' season was done and some uninformed folks even claimed the locker room was giving up on Pederson when the team was 4-6. Well, that didn’t happen. That’s never going to happen. The scene after the Eagles’ 20-14 loss in New Orleans is the best example of who Pederson is as a coach and as a man. He stood outside the visitor’s locker room door and greeted every player as they slumped inside. He has earned the respect of every single player on the team.
2. It's hard to embrace the target
We should all have a greater respect for what the Patriots have been able to do over the past two decades now. It’s damn hard to defend a Super Bowl title and the Patriots have themselves in the mix every single season. Everyone knows the defending champion has a target on its back, but there’s something to just how exhausting the Super Bowl run can be. Guys don’t get their normal offseason and that can be a problem. That was a problem.
3. Fletcher Cox is even better than we thought
He isn’t going to win the Defensive Player of the Year. He’ll fall short of that goal, but he made his first All-Pro team and raised his level of play to a zone where only a few select players can get to. Cox had 10½ sacks, but he was even more disruptive. He’s going to go down as an all-time great Eagle and they’ll have him in his prime for the next few years. It’s going to be fun to watch.
4. 3rd-and-longs can be killers
One of the themes of this season came back to bite the Eagles in their loss to the Saints. The Eagles gave up first downs on 3rd-and-10, 3rd-and-16 and 3rd-and-13. The Eagles did that a ton this season. The Eagles gave up 19 first downs on 3rd- or 4th-down-and-10+ this season. That was second in the NFL behind just the Houston Texans, who gave up 22. The one that really stands out still was the 4th-and-15 against the Titans. If Corey Graham doesn’t have a momentary lapse, the Eagles win that game. All things considered, the defense was actually pretty good this season, but there were more than a few brutal plays.
5. Injuries really can kill a season
The Eagles overcame so many injuries during their Super Bowl run last season, we probably all got a little false sense of confidence. Injuries can absolutely destroy a season and this year, it seemed like it was a lot harder to overcome them without momentum already running downhill. Just look at the list of players who were on IR this season: Mike Wallace, Rodney McLeod, Corey Clement, Jay Ajayi, Derek Barnett, Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Josh Sweat, Jordan Mailata.
And then think about all the guys who didn’t hit IR but missed significant time: Carson Wentz, Darren Sproles, Alshon Jeffery, Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Tim Jernigan, Haloti Ngata, Jordan Hicks, Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, etc. It was hard to overcome all that.
6. Scouts work during the season too
Because of all the injuries, the Eagles kept adding players throughout the season. Some didn’t work. There was Dexter McDougle and T.Y. McGill. But there was also Cre’Von LeBlanc, Treyvon Hester, B.J. Bello. Every NFL team has pro scouts who are charged with scouring the bottom of NFL rosters and practice squads to find talent that might be available. It’s a mostly thankless job, but they might have found a gem in LeBlanc and a real role player in Hester. Good work from them.
7. Zach Ertz is a baller
We knew Ertz was a good player, but he just went out and had one of the best seasons a tight end has had in NFL history. It’s a shame he got snubbed by the All-Pro voters, but there happened to be two other tight ends who had great seasons too. Ertz finished his season with an NFL record for tight ends in catches with 116, for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns. He was already a consistently great tight end, but he took his game to a new level this season.
8. We couldn't avoid a QB debate
The Eagles drafted Wentz at No. 2 to be their franchise guy, but couldn’t get through this season without a serious quarterback controversy. That’s really a credit to Nick Foles and how well he played in Wentz’s absence. People in this town love the backup quarterback; they love him even more when he’s the Super Bowl MVP. Unfortunately, it seems like Foles’ time in Philly is done, but he’ll be a legend here forever. The Eagles are sticking with Wentz, who played OK this season. They’re expecting more as he gets further away from his ACL recovery.
9. The lines are key
Howie Roseman always harps on it and we realized why this season. The Eagles need to build on their offensive and defensive lines. When the offensive line got healthy late in the season, the whole offense started to go. When the defensive line got consistent pressure, it hid the decimated secondary. The Eagles have some questions to answer about their lines but will bring back talent on both of them too. Aside from the quarterback position, building in the trenches is the hallmark of this team.
10. Don't count out Darren Sproles
We don’t know yet if Sproles will change his mind about retiring and come back for another season. What we do know is we counted him out just a tad too early. It was a real shame that hamstring injury lingered for so long, but once he came back, he was a catalyst for the Eagles’ late-season run. How much can they rely on him if he does come back? Not sure. But he can probably be a nice complementary player if he doesn’t decide to hang ‘em up.
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