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Spadaro: Eagles need to turn around early-season miscues

At 2–3, tonight’s game against the Giants is a game the Eagles need to win.

By Dave Spadaro

Welcome to the Crossroads Moment, Part 1, in the Eagles’ 2018 regular season. Who in the world would have ever thought that a Thursday night game at the New York Giants in Week 6 of the season would mean so much? Yet, at 2–3, it’s a game the Eagles need to win.

They’ve been slogging along for five weeks playing the kind of inconsistent football that middle-of-the-road teams play. They have yet to find their identity. A myriad of penalties, lousy play in the red zone, dropped passes, missed tackles and blown mental assignments have frustrated the fan base, tested the head coach and sown doubt into the players’ down-to-down mental game.

A team that played with swagger last year has lost its mojo.

How do the Eagles get it back?

There are no instant answers here, and in the turnaround from the 23–21 loss to Minnesota and the Thursday nighter at New York was so rapid that the players, as beat up and physically hurting as they are, had no time to wallow in the despair of back-to-back losses for the first time since December 2016. The Eagles have a game to win against a 1–4 Giants team to open NFC East play, and it’s not going to be easy.

Nothing is going to be easy for the Eagles in 2018. They are a targeted team and they are playing as if they are weary from being the top dog. An offense that averaged 33 points a game in 2017 with Carson Wentz healthy at quarterback and returned virtually the entirely same group is puttering along at 21 points a game. The defense has had major trouble defending the pass, but generally has kept the Eagles in games with a bend-but-try-not-to-break performance — which is not at all pleasing to coordinator Jim Schwartz, by the way.

“We have to get back to basics and we have to start faster,” coach Doug Pederson said. “This year’s team is not last year’s team, from the standpoint of we’re not scoring points on offense like we were last year and we’re allowing the big play on defense. We need a little more of a sense of urgency. It can’t be just talk. We have to show it in our actions. We have to focus on our jobs a little bit better, players and coaches.”

Here are a couple of ideas that we could see blossom into reality for the Eagles on Thursday night. For the Eagles to start faster, Pederson could dial up the “Turbo Tempo” offense that is marked by no huddle and a relentless aggressiveness and confidence. The Eagles used it to open the game against Indianapolis, and Wentz took the offense right down the field for a touchdown. For whatever reason, the tempo offense works for Wentz and this offense.

Two, the Eagles need to run the football more — and more effectively. To do that, they need to sustain drives and they need to get out to an early advantage. Too often this season, the Eagles have played from behind, which skews the balance in the play calling.

Defensively, the Eagles need to be more effective reaching the quarterback. Everything starts there. The back end works much better when the front end is dominating.

Thursday night is an NFC East game and the division is wide, wide open. You hope that the Eagles stay afloat until they find their stride and then take off later in the year to prime for the postseason. The best way to reach the playoffs is to win the NFC East, and it’s there for the taking.

Make no mistake, though: Thursday is a meaningful game. The Eagles need to win the NFC East. They need to beat the Giants and get their confidence soaring. ••

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