Through eight games and four wins, the 2019 Philadelphia Eagles aren’t playing to the script prescribed for them before the season started. They’ve been uneven in the first half of the season, but also put themselves into position to make a two-month run thanks to Sunday’s 31-13 win in Buffalo.
So, just who are the Eagles? Let’s examine.
Sunday’s 218-yard rushing day against the Bills was promising, as the “Thunder and Lightning” backfield of Jordan Howard (Thunder) and Miles Sanders (Lightning) proved to be unstoppable. Howard had 23 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown, while Sanders provided a 65-yard touchdown sprint early in the second half.
“I try to wear the defense down and when he gets in the game, he has game-breaking speed and he can take it all the way,” Howard said.
That’s the plan. When it works, the rest of the offense opens. Quarterback Carson Wentz has the play-action passing game at his disposal, and the Eagles can make plays there. Explosive passing plays have been more difficult to come by with DeSean Jackson (abdominal injury) sidelined after playing, and starring, in one game. There is no timetable for Jackson’s return. The offense misses his vertical speed.
The rest of the receiving corps has been inconsistent. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert have been good, but not great. And with all of the slow starts and the on-and-off performance, the Eagles have scored 30 points in four of their first eight games.
Bottom line: If the Eagles can start faster and keep the running game going, they will be fine. If Jackson comes back and injects speed into the offense, the Eagles can be great over the final eight games.
Maybe the encouraging performance in Buffalo, during which defensive end Brandon Graham and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox dominated and cornerback Ronald Darby made his return to the lineup, is a positive one. The Eagles flew to the football and tackled as well as they have all season, which could be an indication of what’s to come.
Certainly, with games against Seattle and New England ahead, the Eagles need to play better on defense than they’ve generally been in the first eight weeks. The pass rush hasn’t been there, the coverage in the secondary has been spotty and when the Eagles needed the run defense to step up in Minnesota and Dallas, it didn’t.
Having Darby and Avonte Maddox healthy, along with Jalen Mills, makes a difference at cornerback. The pass rush needs to improve.
Bottom line: The Eagles don’t have to be dominating, but they need more consistency, they need to take the football away and they need to be really good in the red zone to make a playoff run.
Jake Elliott has missed only a PAT (in a windstorm in Buffalo) and has been perfect in field goals. Cameron Johnston is a fine punter. The return game has been OK, and the coverage teams – with the exception of the kickoff return for a touchdown against Detroit – has been solid.
Bottom line: Special teams isn’t the issue, but the stakes are higher down the stretch. Boston Scott is on the field returning punts and Sanders is the kickoff man, so there is big-play ability there. There is no timetable on Darren Sproles (quad) and his return from injury. ••