Why Nick Foles needs to play vs. Cowboys

Why Nick Foles needs to play vs. Cowboys

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.

The strange, sad tale of Sidney Jones grows even stranger

The strange, sad tale of Sidney Jones grows even stranger

The strange odyssey of Sidney Jones grows even stranger.

With Orlando Scandrick released, Cre’Von LeBlanc not eligible to return from Injured Reserve until Monday and Avonte Maddox still in concussion protocol, Jones is the only logical candidate to play in the slot for the Eagles Sunday against the Bills.

Yes, the same Sidney Jones who was benched Sunday in Dallas and never got off the bench.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz met with the media on Tuesday but declined to confirm that Jones will be the Eagles' starting slot corner Sunday in Buffalo.

We’ll see,” Schwartz said. “He can play that position. Obviously, Malcolm (Jenkins) can play that position … and then sometime we’ll ... get Cre’Von and Avonte back too, so we’ve got a lot of different players who can play in that position, but Sid started last year in that position and was able to hold that position, so we have confidence that whoever we put in there will be able to accomplish that role.

To recap:

—> Jones began the season rotating with Rasul Douglas opposite Ronald Darby.
—> He started three games after Darby got hurt.
—> He left the Packers game early with a hamstring injury.
—> He missed the Jets game with the hamstring.
—> He had a nightmarish game in the loss to the Vikings.
—> He was benched Sunday for the Cowboys.

Now he’s most likely your slot. Temporarily.

Jalen Mills and Douglas started outside Sunday night in Dallas with Scandrick in the slot. But the Eagles released Scandrick on Monday.

On Sunday, Mills and Douglas or Darby will start in Buffalo. Douglas and Darby don’t play in the slot, and Jones and Craig James are the only other healthy corners on the roster.

How far has Jones fallen in the Eagles’ cornerback hierarchy?

In the Cowboys game, it was James who got a handful of snaps outside while Jones — active and in uniform — stayed on the sidelines.

He was in a backup role,” Schwartz said. “We had an injury outside just for a couple plays. Craig was backing up the outside and he was backing up the inside, so he still had a role.

So Jones, the 43rd pick in the 2017 draft, is now behind an undrafted 23-year-old street free agent who has had two stints on the practice squad this year and has already been released once this year by the Eagles.

And after playing 175 snaps of outside cornerback the first month and a half of the season and 52 snaps outside just seven days earlier, he apparently suddenly lost the ability to play outside corner because he practiced inside during the week.

Jones wasn’t in the locker room on Tuesday while it was open to the media.

Jones is only 23. His career has been marked by inconsistency, injuries and now a benching. 

Now he’s a backup at a position where the Eagles’ two best options are about to return in the next couple weeks, and he’s not even practicing at the position he began the season.

This isn’t trending in the right direction.

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More on the Eagles

This has been Eagles' most embarrassing week since Chip Kelly's final days

This has been Eagles' most embarrassing week since Chip Kelly's final days

Had an Eagles team that entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations merely lost 37-10 in Dallas, people would rightly be pissed.

But this wasn’t just some blowout on the football field. It was the climax to the most embarrassing week for the Eagles organization since the Chip Kelly days — a humiliation felt inside the locker room, by the coaching staff and all the way up to the front office.

At least, you hope it was the climax. To recap, in the span of nine days:

• Zach Brown talked trash on Minnesota’s quarterback.

• The Eagles got dropped 38-20 by Minnesota.

• Coach Doug Pederson proclaimed “we’re gonna win” in Dallas.

• The Eagles cut Brown.

• After a weeks-long pursuit, the Rams, not the Eagles, traded for Jalen Ramsey.

• An anonymous Eagles player talked trash on Carson Wentz.

• The Eagles got crushed in Dallas.

• Lane Johnson claimed teammates are late for practices and meetings.

• A reporter claimed the anonymous Eagles player is Alshon Jeffery.

• The Eagles were accused of leaking the information to said reporter.

Am I missing anything? You could certainly point to some individual plays that stand out — the ridiculous fake field goal, blown coverage after blown coverage and whatever Sidney Jones was doing in Minnesota; or Malcolm Jenkins getting run over and Nelson Agholor’s “effort” in Dallas.

Blowouts happen, occasionally even to good teams. They can become rallying points, as we saw last season after the Eagles got smoked 48-7 in New Orleans, then proceeded to win six of seven games en route to a playoff rematch.

Blowouts in back-to-back weeks, on the other hand, are often a sign of far deeper fractures.

In the fog of everything else happening around the Eagles, the feeling at this very specific moment in time is more akin to Kelly’s final season in 2015, right after the team got rolled 45-17 by Tampa Bay and 45-14 by Detroit in consecutive weeks.

Jason Peters was pulling himself out of games left and right. DeMarco Murray was sliding rather than fighting for extra yards — and being criticized for it by an anonymous teammate. High-priced free agent cornerback Byron Maxwell was getting beat like a drum on the reg. Riley Cooper was still on the team despite using a racial slur two years earlier. Opponents routinely said they knew the Eagles’ plays before the offense ran them. And after winning an offseason power struggle with Howie Roseman, Kelly reshaped the team in his image, trading LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso and Nick Foles for Sam Bradford, among other head-scratchers.

Surely, that was a more embarrassing period of Eagles football than this. And yet, you don’t have to strain your eyes too hard to find some parallels.

That season ended with Kelly’s firing prior to the finale. I seriously doubt anything so drastic will happen here. Roseman and Pederson built a lot more cache after guiding the Eagles to a Super Bowl championship two years ago.

However, if the Eagles don’t turn things around on and off the football field this season, Roseman and Pederson will be facing some uncomfortable questions. And while it’s easy to make the cases that Roseman assembled an aging roster, that he hasn’t drafted well enough through the years, that it really shows when everybody keeps getting hurt, and that Pederson and his staff haven’t developed young players or properly used the “talent” at their disposal, there is potentially a much larger issue here.

How is it the core of a football team that went 13-3 and won it all with one of the most harmonious, accountable locker rooms you’ll ever see has become so unglued, with teammates ripping their own franchise quarterback going back to last season, and looks so unprepared to play on such alarmingly regular basis?

These seem more like the hallmarks of a Chip Kelly team, but for the last week-and-a-half, the only discernible difference is the Eagles aren’t being peppered with questions about their blatant disregard for time of possession.

NFL seasons are deceptively long, so it's plausible the Eagles plug the leaks and right the ship in the 10 weeks that remain, even reach the postseason. But if they don't, somebody will need to answer for this level of dysfunction.