Even after eight games, we really don’t know who the Eagles are or how they’re going to treat the final eight games of this season.
By Dave Spadaro
Fill in the blank: At 4–4, the Eagles are ……. It’s not that easy, is it? Even after eight games, the truth is that we really don’t know who the Eagles are or how they’re going to treat the final eight games of this 2018 regular season.
A year ago, it was easy to complete the sentence. They were a dominating 7–1 team. Quarterback Carson Wentz was carving up defenses working with a league-best offensive line and the Jim Schwartz-led defense danced its way to continual punishing football. By the time the midway point of 2017 rolled around, the Philadelphia Eagles were recognized as a definite Super Bowl contender.
One season later, as the Eagles have time off for the bye week, it’s much more muddled. The offense is nowhere close to where it needs to be. Wentz has been outstanding in the six games he’s played since returning from ACL knee surgery, throwing 13 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. Making those numbers even more impressive is the fact that he’s done it playing behind an offensive line that isn’t playing at its 2017 level and with a running game that ranks in the bottom half of the league and with a receiving corps that lacks a true deep threat.
The defense has been bending all season, breaking in late-game losses to Tennessee and Carolina, but generally doing just enough to keep the Eagles close each week. But injuries to safety Rodney McLeod and defensive end Derek Barnett cloud the long-range prospects that the Eagles can turn it up a notch defensively.
Maybe the best answer is this: At 4–4, the Eagles are … still in the game in the NFC East. They’re two games in the loss column behind Washington, but the teams play twice in the final weeks of the season. In all, the Eagles have five games remaining against NFC East opponents, so they certainly control their playoff destiny.
But other than that, there’s just no telling where the Eagles are headed. They have yet to establish an identity, particularly offensively. The line of scrimmage faces injury concerns to tackles Jason Peters (biceps and other weekly concerns) and Lane Johnson (knee injury suffered in win over Jacksonville). Even with the mini-emergence of rookie running back Josh Adams, a Warrington, Pennsylvania native and Central Bucks South High School graduate, the running game is inconsistent at best to date. Who is the deep threat?
“We’re feeling a lot better at 4–4 with a whole half season ahead of us,” said tight end Zach Ertz, who is having the best season of his career with 61 receptions, tied for second-most in the NFL. “But we know we have a lot of work to do. We know we can play better than we’ve played. I think the important thing is to enjoy this bye week, rest up and get some players back and then take charge in the second half of the season and play Philadelphia Eagles football.”
Eight games in, this isn’t exactly “the new normal” that head coach Doug Pederson envisioned in the day following the win in Super Bowl LII. There is certainly time for the Eagles to gain some rhythm, yes, and with Wentz improving week by week, it’s possible the Eagles will go on a tear in the season’s second half.
More likely, though, it’s going to be a grind the rest of the way, and that’s OK. Last year’s ride was, maybe, once in a lifetime the way the Eagles steamrolled teams week after week. The “old normal” can still work if the offense gives Wentz time to make his magic. He’s the one to lead the Eagles and in his third NFL season, he’s carrying the weight of expectations on his broad shoulders very capably. ••