This should have been a no-brainer.
This should have been Nick Foles playing for three quarters and Nate Sudfeld getting some mop-up touches to close out a meaningless game while Carson Wentz holds a clipboard with a ski cap on. And off the folks of the Delaware Valley would go into 2018 with visions of a Super Bowl title dancing in their heads. But life doesn’t work that way and neither does sports.
So let’s deal in reality: With everything wrapped heading into the playoffs, the Eagles may have more questions than any 13-2 team ever. Nick Foles' performance on Christmas night was downright frightening. He was that bad. Bad enough that it erased a solid game the week before vs. the Giants, fair or not. Back was the inaccuracy, the kind that could get a pass catcher killed and nearly did. The holding the ball too long, the seeing ghosts in the pocket, the back-pedaling, the gift interceptions. The Eagles were fortunate to play an awful team with a quarterback, Derek Carr, who is a shell of his 2016 self.
If you’re looking for solace, the defense played better than it did against the Giants. But is better good enough? Jalen Mills is a mess right now and opposing coaches smell blood. He wasn’t alone, by the way, on that uncovered Amari Cooper touchdown. Rodney McLeod also took the cheese. Also alarming was the Birds’ run defense that has been so good all season. They allowed the Raiders 137 yards on the ground (4.2 average). To the defense’s credit, it gave up only 10 points. But the teams — and in particular the quarterbacks — the Eagles will be facing in the postseason will exploit these issues in a big way if they are not corrected.
And really that’s what this is all about — what lies ahead. To a healthy degree, it sounds like classic fan nit-picking to be so critical of a team that has accomplished so much. What the Eagles have achieved this season is nothing short of spectacular. Best record in the NFL, division title, bye, home-field advantage throughout. They’ve done this despite significant injuries. It’s been a thrilling season when most optimists thought 10 wins was the ceiling. The front office, the coaches and the players deserve every accolade thrown their way. But that’s in the rearview. It’s not about what could have been had Wentz still been working his magic under center with Jason Peters protecting his blindside. Or if Jordan Hicks was still patrolling the middle on defense. This is about playoff readiness now with what you have.
With that said, Foles needs to play against the Cowboys. He demonstrated he’s not playoff-ready. Even a game with no real stake for either team is much more of a proximity than him wearing a red shirt in practice. This also means the other healthy starters on offense need to play so they can get on the same page. Same goes for the Eagles' corners.
Is there an injury risk? No question. But if this team performs in the playoffs the way it did the last two games against inferior opponents, it will be one-and-done. The Eagles' wideouts totaled five catches for 40 yards against the 23rd-ranked Raiders pass defense. Alshon Jeffery was a ghost of Christmas present — two targets, no receptions. Again, this will not cut it. Foles and his receivers need to get near the same page. Going 1 for 14 on third down is a recipe for a first-game home loss in the postseason.
So Doug Pederson needs to roll the dice Sunday against Dallas and do whatever it takes to get these guys better.
Not the way they would have drawn it up, but the way it is.