First-Place Eagles Have Reasons for Optimism Despite Record
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Eagles reached the midpoint of their season with a losing record and a spot in first place.
Only in the NFC East.
The Eagles (3-4-1) won two straight games entering a bye to take control of the weakest division in the NFL. They struggled to earn both victories over the Giants (1-7) and Cowboys (2-6), but they have reasons for optimism.
“We understand we have to get better,” coach Doug Pederson said. “But there’s a lot of positives that we see as coaches on the inside that give us the encouragement and the opportunity to get better as a team.”
First, the Eagles have played better after going winless in September. They are 3-2 in the last five, starting with an impressive victory at San Francisco. The offense scored 57 points in the two losses against Pittsburgh (7-0) and Baltimore (5-2), with the outcome decided late in both games.
Second, some of the injured players are closer to returning. Right tackle Lane Johnson, running back Miles Sanders, tight end Zach Ertz and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will bolster the offense when they come back.
Third, rookies and younger players gained valuable experience getting more action than expected. Wide receiver Travis Fulgham emerged from the practice squad and has become a legitimate go-to target for Carson Wentz. Offensive tackle Jordan Mailata, a former rugby player from Australia, has developed into a solid starter. Linebackers T.J. Edwards and Alex Singleton have shown promise.
“With so many moving parts offensively right now with the amount of injuries, so many guys are shuffling in and out of the lineup that it’s hard to get continuity and rhythm and timing and flow,” Pederson said. “It makes it look really bad on the outside when, quite honestly, you probably don’t believe it, but it’s encouraging from our side. We’re 1 1/2 games up in the NFC East. We have a chance to get healthy here at the bye. We have a chance next week against the Giants to hopefully get some more starters back and see what happens, and correct some of the things that are going on.”
Injuries depleted the offense in the first half, forcing the Eagles to start 10 offensive linemen and backups at wide receiver, tight end and running back. Wentz and center Jason Kelce are the only starters on offense who’ve played each game.
Wentz has struggled with turnovers, tossing 12 interceptions to go with four fumbles. He had only thrown seven picks in each of the previous three seasons, so the rapid increase is surprising and alarming. All the turnovers aren’t his fault, but quarterbacks get too much credit when things go well and too much blame when they don’t.
Pederson fielded questions about benching Wentz for the first time since the two arrived together in 2016. Rookie Jalen Hurts moved ahead of Nate Sudfeld into the No. 2 role and has been used sparingly with Wentz split wide on several plays.
Pederson pointed to when he was Kansas City’s offensive coordinator under Andy Reid in 2015 and the Chiefs started 1-5. They stuck with quarterback Alex Smith and won the final 10 games and a playoff game.
“Coach Reid and I made a decision not to bench Alex. He was our starter, and we were going to get it fixed, and we did,” Pederson said. “Not saying that we are going to win 11 straight here, but what I’m saying is, we are going to work through our issues. We are going to work through our problems.
“Carson understands that we’ve got to hold everybody accountable, and it starts with me, and I’m going to look at myself in the mirror. I’m going to look at some of the decisions and calls I’ve made in the first eight games and that’s part of what this week is about, and it’s about getting better. The only way we get better, especially with some young players on offense that are playing, who are getting valuable reps, is to continue to work and they have to work with Carson. That’s what we are going to do, and that’s our focus moving forward.”