What’s wrong with the Eagles? At 4-5, plenty. A distressing 27-20 loss to Dallas (the team’s third consecutive loss at Lincoln Financial Field, for two seasons one of the league’s most pronounced homefield advantages) opened the second half of the regular season on a down note. A big-time down note. Now it’s off to New Orleans to face the 8-1 Saints and, well, it’s gonna take a titanic performance to beat quarterback Drew Brees, he of the 21 touchdowns-and-only-one-interception season.
With seven games remaining, the Eagles probably have to go 5-2 to win the NFC East and capture the division – by the way, no team has repeated as NFC East winners in back-to-back seasons since the Eagles from 2001-2004. There’s a reason. We’re finding out. The Eagles have a lot of broken parts, so let’s count the ways …
THE OFFENSE ISN’T KEEPING PACE
In a season in which the NFL is scoring points at a record pace, the Eagles are ranked 21st in the league with a 22-points-per-game average. That’s not going to win games in the fast-break NFL. In 2017, the Eagles scored points early and often. This year, they’ve been zeroes in the first quarter and for most of the first half. On Sunday in the loss to Dallas, the Eagles were loudly booed as they ran off the Lincoln Financial Field turf on the way to the locker room, trailing 13-3. There are reasons for this. The run/pass option game has been limited, as defenses have caught on to the scheme. The offensive line hasn’t been nearly as dominant. The running game has been largely unproductive, so any kind of play-action passing game has lagged. There is a clear lack of speed in this offense.
Twenty-two points a game isn’t cutting it. This week in New Orleans, 22 points is a first-quarter benchmark for the Saints. The Eagles may need to score 35 points to win.
INJURIES ARE MOUNTING
OK, so the Eagles overcame significant injuries last year to left tackle Jason Peters, running back Darren Sproles, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks and quarterback Carson Wentz. This year, the injuries are three times as large. Running back Jay Ajayi, wide receiver Mike Wallace, safety Rodney McLeod, defensive end Derek Barnett and now cornerback Ronald Darby are on Injured Reserve. Additionally, the Eagles have large handfuls of players – cornerback Jalen Mills, Sproles, right tackle Lane Johnson, Wentz, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, running back Corey Clement, cornerback Sidney Jones and others – who have missed games with injury. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan is close to playing his first snap of the season.
URGENCY IS LACKING
The Eagles aren’t playing urgent, desperate, scratch-your-eyes-out football. It’s as simple as that. Head coach Doug Pederson has admitted that he hasn’t seen the urgency there for sustained periods of time. Why that is, nobody can really figure it out. But it’s a problem.
DOUG PEDERSON’S GAMBLES AREN’T PAYING OFF
Pederson is a gambler. Has been since Day 1. Last year, his fourth-down risks paid off. This year, not so much. He’s not going to change. He wants his players to know he has confidence in them. He’s going to stay aggressive. But that doesn’t mean his go-for-it gambles are going to pay off. They haven’t nearly at the rate this year as in 2017.
REPEATING AS CHAMPIONS IS HARDER THAN IT SEEMED BACK IN SEPTEMBER
Sure seemed like the Eagles would be right in the mix after that opening-night win against Atlanta, huh? The defense hung tough, and the Eagles rode the emotion of the crowd to beat the Falcons. Now? Three straight losses at home. An offense that scores sporadically. A defense that can’t stop the pass. A team that refuses to sustain any kind of momentum.
A lot can happen in the next seven weeks, but this much is certain: The Eagles have little margin for error. These are tough times. Repeating as Super Bowl champions seemed like a reasonable goal way back when. Now? The Eagles are just trying to right the ship and gain confidence. Tough times, indeed. ••