Eagles offense leading the way; defense still figuring it out

The situation: Third and 10, season on the line in last Thursday’s game against the Green Bay Packers. The Eagles have the ball on the Packers’ 34-yard line, game tied 27-27 with only seconds remaining in the third quarter. One play after an incomplete pass to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, the Eagles go right back to him, with Carson Wentz delivering a strike, Jeffery making the catch and keeping the drive alive.

Then, from the Green Bay 18-yard line, running back Jordan Howard busted loose for 16 yards to the 2-yard line and then on the next play he got the call again and bulled his way into the end zone for his third touchdown of the game and the Eagles took the lead, for good as it turned out, 34-27.

Huge win. Signature moment, as the Eagles ended the first quarter of the regular season with a 2-2 record. And maybe, just maybe, a sign of what’s to come for an Eagles offense that hasn’t yet hit on every cylinder in an injury-plagued start to 2019.

“We’re going to build on this and keep it rolling,” said Howard after the Eagles rolled up 336 total net yards, converted five of nine third downs and scored touchdowns on all four inside-the-20-yard-line possessions in the victory. The Eagles ran for 176 yards, including a combined 159 yards and two touchdowns from Howard (15 carries, 87 yards, two touchdowns) and Miles Sanders (11 carries, 72 yards). Wentz threw three touchdown passes and didn’t turn the ball over, and the Eagles enjoyed their three-day weekend after the upset win. “I think this is just the start of what we can do as an offense.”

They may just have to be a monster offensively, at least in the foreseeable future, because the Eagles on the other side of the football have some major challenges. At cornerback, the Eagles have trouble fielding enough players to get through an entire game, the pass rush has been hit or miss and the grand vision of a dominating defense is blurred right now.

Is it possible the Eagles can outscore teams on the way to another deep playoff run this season?

“It’s still early, and we’re finding ourselves and creating our identity,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “The important thing is that we keep working hard, that we keep improving and fighting. We’re going to find ways to win and go 1-0 each week.”

The Eagles emerged from September a battle-tested team and one that has already incurred a season’s worth of injuries, mostly to the wide receivers (DeSean Jackson has played, really, in only one game before suffering an abdominal injury), defensive tackle (Malik Jackson and Tim Jernigan) and cornerback (Jalen Mills, foot, and Cre’Von LeBlanc, foot, are out for at least another month and Ronald Darby and Sidney Jones have hamstring injuries). It’s been a difficult go of it so far.

But the offense, boy, the offense looks like it could be something special. The running game has a chance to be great with the power of Howard combined with the big-play running of Sanders. The offensive line, when it’s playing its best, is as good as any unit in the league. The receivers are good without Jackson and great with him. Wentz has nine touchdowns and just two interceptions through four games, MVP-level numbers.

The Eagles are still “creating our identity,” yes, but it could very well be this: The offense has to lead the way, and lead the way with big numbers, until the defense can figure out the problems defending the pass. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s just the way it is right now for a football team that has had its blueprint altered, once again, because of injuries. ••