The Eagles head into their bye week with many questions that need to be addressed if they are to make a run to defend their title.
By Al Thompson
The Eagles ended the first half of the season at 4–4 after defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars 24–18 in London on Sunday.
They head into their bye week with many questions that need to be addressed if they are to make a run and get into the playoffs and defend their title.
Injuries have been a burden for this team since the beginning of 2017. It never seems to end.
Wide receivers Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins, tight end Richard Rodgers and running back Darren Sproles have been out all or most of the season, and it remains to be seen when they will return.
Safety Rodney McLeod and running back Jay Ajayi, both starters, are gone for the year with injures.
All-Pro offensive tackle Jason Peters is in and out of the lineup each week.
Currently, the Birds are dealing with new injuries to cornerback Jalen Mills and All-Pro offensive tackle Lane Johnson. As of Monday afternoon, coach Doug Pederson said he had no idea how long either of these players would be out.
The coach was asked if he had any news about players who have been on the injured reserve list for a while.
“We’ve got a couple guys that we’re going to evaluate here in the next couple of weeks,” Pederson said. “Richard Rodgers is one of those guys. He got hurt in preseason, and so he’s getting close. Mack Hollins is there. Mike Wallace is going to be a little bit later because of the lateness of his injury. And then, of course, being on the active roster is Sproles. Sproles is another one that we’re going to continue to monitor each day, each week.
“These guys are doing a heck of a job with their rehab,” Pederson continued. “Obviously, they want to get back out on the field. We’ve got some time this week to get them ready and see where we’re at next week.”
While quarterback Carson Wentz has thrown only two interceptions in the six games he has played this season, he has fumbled seven times, losing six of then.
Against the Jaguars, he ended two drives with turnovers. On the bright side, the Birds offense produced 395 total yards, including 133 rushing yards. The offense scored 24 points on a good defense.
“We moved the ball well,” Wentz said. “That’s the thing. That’s the positive sign. Obviously, those drives that ended with turnovers are on my part. Those are things we’ve got to clean up. The interception (Jalen), Ramsey made a heck of a play. He kind of came out of nowhere. That’s a good player making a play. I’ve got to make a better read. The fumble, that was unfortunate. The positive sign is we were moving the ball, we knew we were capable of it right away and we just built off of that.”
On Monday, Pederson was asked if he talked to his quarterback about keeping his grip on the rock when he is under pressure.
“Obviously, the ball security thing, you can see with his mobility and being able to move in the pocket and stuff like that,” Pederson responded. “Yeah, we keep talking about that and yesterday we had the fumble and, of course, he had the pick — listen, we keep shooting, man. We keep shooting. It’s hard to take away the aggressiveness because you don’t want to. He knows he’s got to protect the football. We talk about it. We just have to keep on it.”
With the depleted running back corps, it looked like the Eagles were starting to abandon the running game. Against the Panthers, the Eagles rushed for just 58 yards. Against the Jaguars, the running game was a big part of the win despite all the injuries to the offensive line.
Wendell Smallwood’s 10-yard run for a first down late in the fourth quarter iced the game for the Eagles.
The rumors have been out there for a few weeks that the Eagles were in the market to trade for a running back. Smallwood and Josh Adams want to make that a difficult decision for the front office.
Against the Jaguars, Adams rushed nine time for 61 yards. Smallwood had just 28 yards on eight carries but caught two passes for 42 yards, including a screen pass that turned into a 36-yard touchdown.
Pederson was asked about last year’s running back corps that included LeGarrette Blount, a player at 247 pounds who gave him a strong, short-yardage, force kind of guy. Does Pederson think he has that type of back now? Is Adams, at 6 feet 2, 225 pounds, the right back for that role?
“I think we have that guy,” Pederson said. “If you go back and watch the game, I called a few more third-and-two, third-and-three runs that we converted, and, of course, Josh was in the game at the time. Wendell had some tough runs. He had a tough run at the end of the game to ice the game, basically. So, we’re very comfortable. Corey [Clement] is another one that can get us those yards. And really, a lot of that starts up front. ”
Wentz said the key is spreading the ball to more players was the key, not personnel.
Against the Panthers and Tennessee Titans, the Eagles failed to hold big leads. The offense simply stalled in the fourth, and the defense looked gassed. Wentz said he was glad to see that did not happen against Jacksonville.
“We finished, at the end of the day, we finished,” Wentz said. “We still didn’t finish the way we wanted to. Offensively, we had that chance to seal the deal (in the fourth quarter), but we went three-and-out which was unfortunate. But defense stepped up. At the end of the day, we finished well this week, obviously, last week, we didn’t.”
Wentz said going into the bye week with a win and a 4–4 record certainly beat the alternative.
“Huge difference,” Wentz said. “Being .500 again, still not where we wanted to be or where we had hoped to be, But going into the bye week knowing that the real meat of our schedule, the NFC East, is ahead of us when we come back from this bye is huge momentum heading into this.”
Wentz said the break in the schedule came at the right time this year.
“I think everyone needs a week off,” Wentz said. “This is the National Football League. Guys are getting hit and beaten up all year long. Fortunately, ours falls right in the middle of our season, which is nice. But that week off is huge for people’s minds and their bodies, to heal up and get away from the game for a couple days. We need to get our minds right, come back and make this run.”
Wentz, for one, seems to know what needs to be done to accomplish that. ••