Jalen Mills

The 5 biggest questions about the Eagles after the bye week

The 5 biggest questions about the Eagles after the bye week

The bye week is over and we’re about to really learn about this team.

The Eagles (5-4) return to work this week as they prepare for the shorter second half of their season. It all begins on Sunday at home against the Patriots.

Even after a rough start, the Eagles still have a chance to make it to the playoffs, but it won’t be easy.

These are the five biggest questions facing them:

1. Will receiver play get better?

DeSean Jackson is on IR after having core muscle surgery, so after weeks of everyone just waiting on his return, we now know that isn’t happening. Without Jackson, the Eagles’ receivers have been awful. Dropped passes, fumbles, overall lack of production. The only difference in talent is that Jordan Matthews is back and simply adding Matthews won’t be enough to turn everything around. The Eagles need Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor to play better. There’s just no way around that at this point. Both have been major disappointments this season.

2. Will the pass rush continue to get there?

In the last few games, we’ve really seen Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham come on. And now Tim Jernigan is back and Derek Barnett has quietly been very solid for much of the year. But this defensive line needs to be the backbone of the team. Sure, Jim Schwartz will mix in blitzes here and there, but the front four needs to provide most of the Eagles’ pass rush. If Cox, Graham, Barnett, Jernigan and the rotational players can get consistent pressure, it would go a long way.

3. Is the secondary really better?

The returns of Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby have seemed to solidify a secondary that was in a bad state not that long ago. But we’ve seen Mills and Darby have their good and bad moments in the last few years, so let’s see if their promising play continues. A starting trio of Mills-Darby-Avonte Maddox is probably the best the Eagles have to offer. A few coverage sacks could help that pass rush, too.

4. Late-season magic from Doug and Carson?  

In each of the last two years, it’s been Doug Pederson and Nick Foles taking the Eagles down the stretch. Now it’s time to see if the franchise quarterback can do it. Right or wrong, the credit or blame goes to Pederson and Carson Wentz. We’ve seen Wentz play at an All-Pro level and we’ve seen Pederson be one of the best offensive play-callers in the NFL. But can they both hit their strides to get the Eagles in the playoffs in 2019?

5. Will Eagles take care of business in their division?

Four of the Eagles’ last seven games are against NFC East opponents. While the game against the Cowboys at home in Week 16 could very well decide the winner of a playoff spot, the Eagles need to clean up against the Giants and Redskins too. The Eagles need to win both against the Giants and their one against the Redskins; just take care of business. If the Eagles sweep their four division games, I like their chances of getting into the playoffs.

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5 Eagles who need to get it going after the bye week

5 Eagles who need to get it going after the bye week

We’ve made it to the bye week, so it seems like a good time to take stock of the Eagles and some individual performances.

The Eagles are 5-4, which means they’re a slightly above average team. Overall, that’s disappointing, but they still have a shot at the playoffs.

Here’s a stock up, stock down at their Week 10 bye:

Stock up

Fletcher Cox: Early in the season, Cox’s stock was clearly down. He was still getting over his offseason toe surgery and wasn’t the same dominant player. Guess what? He’s back. In the last few weeks, Cox has returned to his old dominant self. He didn’t pick up a sack against the Bears, but don’t get it twisted, he wrecked the Bears’ offensive line. He’s going to be a huge key down the stretch. 

Brandon Brooks: What Brooks has been able to do this season, coming off an Achilles tear, and at 330 pounds, has been nothing short of amazing. The right guard position isn’t the sexiest, but he’s been arguably the Eagles' best and most consistent player this season.

Jalen Mills: Mills might not be an All-Pro, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the Eagles seem to play better when he’s on the field. In the last two weeks, he’s offered some real stability to the secondary. The PBU he made against the Bears was a great play. 

Jordan Howard: In the last couple of weeks, the Eagles have won behind a power ground game led by Howard. In wins against the Bills and Bears, Howard had 42 carries for 178 yards and two touchdowns. Through nine games, he has seven total touchdowns.

Brandon Graham: Cox has turned it on and so has Graham. He has six sacks in his last five games, including one against Buffalo and one against Chicago. This might finally be the year he hits double digits. That would be huge for an Eagles defense that lacked a consistent pass rush earlier in the season. 

Stock down

Alshon Jeffery: Even if you put aside his three drops against the Bears, Jeffery still hasn’t been productive enough. He’s played in eight games and has just 353 yards and three touchdowns.

Nelson Agholor: Without DeSean Jackson for at least 4-6 weeks, the Eagles are going to be relying on Agholor more and that could be a problem. He has seemingly regressed to the 2016 version of himself. He’s dropped passes, fumbled and struggled to track deep balls.  

Andrew Sendejo: The Eagles decided they were better off with a compensatory pick. Sendejo’s hit on Avonte Maddox earlier this year was unnecessary and dangerous and then his late hit on Mitchell Trubisky Sunday was boneheaded. They finally waived him on Tuesday.

Sidney Jones: The former second-round pick was a healthy scratch on Sunday because he doesn’t play special teams and lost the nickel corner job when Avonte Maddox returned. Jones is in his third season in Philly and might end up being one of the bigger busts in recent draft history.

Howie Roseman: It’s time to point some fingers at Roseman. No, he couldn’t have foreseen the Malik Jackson injury or some others, but he built a team that was relying on several aging veterans and hasn’t been able to supplement them with enough great draft picks. The Super Bowl hangover is definitely over and it’s now fair to question Roseman’s moves in recent years.

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How long has it been since Eagles' secondary was healthy?

How long has it been since Eagles' secondary was healthy?

Jalen Mills was thinking back, trying to remember the last time the Eagles had their full secondary together.

It had to be Jacksonville last year, right? Before I got hurt?” he said. “No wait. Rodney (McLeod) got hurt Week 3. Has to be the Colts game, right? That’s when Rod got hurt. He got hurt Week 3, I got hurt Week 8, (Ronald) Darby got hurt Week 9. We haven’t all played together since the Colts game.

Bingo.

It’s been more than 13 months since the Eagles had a healthy secondary.

They’ve played 23 consecutive games with one of their starters missing.

At least one of their starters.

On Sunday, when the Eagles face the Bears at the Linc, the band will finally be back together.

I just think it’s always good to have your best guys out there,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “And those guys, they’ve battled for us, they give us a lot of flexibility on defense, so it’s good to have those guys back out there. It’s been a while since we had the real full group out there. So I think it’s exciting because at this point in the season we need it.

Since McLeod’s knee injury against the Colts started this unbelievable avalanche of secondary injuries, the Eagles have used 18 different starting lineups and 16 different starting defensive backs.

In 23 games.

They haven’t used the same starting secondary more than two games in a row during that span.

But with Mills and Darby at corner, McLeod and Jenkins at safety and Avonte Maddox expected to be avalable to play in the slot, the Eagles are finally at full strength.

It is a good feeling,” McLeod said. “It’s been a long time coming since we’ve all been out there. We shared a lot of moments together, been in a lot of battles with one another and the bond and the familiarity is there. It’s good to have all of us back healthy first and foremost to be able to help out this defense and help out this team. It’s crazy that it’s been a year and a half since we all touched the field together. It’s such a good feeling.

Mills made his 2019 debut in Dallas, Darby returned from a four-game layoff Sunday in Buffalo and this Sunday at the Linc Maddox should be back for the Bears after missing four games.

Cre’Von LeBlanc, the slot in the postseason last year, is the only remaining injured defensive back. He’s been out since suffering a foot injury early in training camp and won’t be back any time soon.

It was the quartet of McLeod, Jenkins, Darby and Mills — along with slot Patrick Robinson — that was in place during the Super Bowl run two years ago.

We’ve got that chemistry,” Mills said. “We’ve played on the big stage together. Then you add Avonte, who’s so versatile, can play corner, nickel or safety, and it’s definitely a comfort level having us all together. It makes a difference.

Of that group, only Jenkins has started more than 13 games over the last two years. Only Jenkins and Rasul Douglas haven’t missed multiple games with injuries.

The rash of defensive back injuries over the last two years has been unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

McLeod, Mills, Darby, Maddox and Sidney Jones have missed a combined 62 games over the last two years.

It’s left the Eagles with guys like De’Vante Bausby, Chandon Sullivan, Jonathan Cyprien, Dexter McDougle, Tre Sullivan, Josh Hawkins and of course Orlando Scandrick playing meaningful reps.

Now they’re all back. No more excuses. They need to play like the big-time secondary we saw two years ago.

Here’s a look at the 18 different starting secondaries the Eagles have used since last year began:

3    Maddox / Douglas / LeBlanc / Jenkins / Graham 
2    Darby / Mills / Jenkins / McLeod
2    Darby / Mills / Jenkins / Maddox
2    Jones / Douglas / LeBlanc / Jenkins / Graham
2    Maddox / Douglas / Jenkins / Graham 
2    Darby / Jones / Maddox / Jenkins / McLeod
2    Douglas / Jones / Sendejo / Jenkins / McLeod
1    Darby / Mills / Graham / Jenkins / McLeod
1    Darby / Mills / Jenkins / Graham
1    Darby / Mills / Jones / Jenkins / Maddox
1    Darby / Mills / McDougle / Jenkins / Maddox
1    Darby / Douglas / Maddox / Jenkins / T. Sullivan
1    Jones / Douglas / Maddox / Jenkins / Graham
1    C. Sullivan / Bausby / Jenkins / Graham
1    Darby / Douglas / Maddox / Jenkins / McLeod
1    Douglas / James / Jenkins / McLeod
1    Douglas / Mills / Scandrick / Jenkins / McLeod
1    Darby / Mills / Jenkins / McLeod

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