It’s Sunnier in Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Maybe you should have listened to the Super Bowl-winning coach when he insisted the sky wasn't falling.
Eagles fans who went to bed early Sunday night awoke to a Veterans Day surprise when the Dallas Cowboys came up just short against a Minnesota Vikings team that typically struggles on the road against any representative opponent.
The result means the Eagles and Cowboys are tied atop the NFC East at 5-4, although the latter is still technically in front due to an earlier win in North Texas. The good news is the path forward appears easier, at least on paper, for Philadelphia.
The teams remaining on the Eagles' schedule have won at just over a 41 percent clip and that's skewed by the next two home opponents -- New England and Seattle. Philadelphia's final five games feature two games with a poor New York Giants team, another with an organization trying (and sometimes failing) to lose in Miami, and moribund Washington. The only outlier in that stretch is a Week 16 affair at Lincoln Financial Field with Dallas, a contest that figures to serve as essentially an NFC East Championship Game.
If that wasn't sunny enough from now until the end of the regular season, the Eagles will step on an airplane exactly once the rest of the way, to South Florida for that aforementioned game against the talent-challenged Dolphins.
Dallas, meanwhile, faces a seven-game closing stretch where its scheduled opponents have been winning at a 51 percent pace.
Favorable circumstances aside, the Eagles still have to finish with that potential leg up and it all started with the bye-week self-scout on both sides of the football.
On offense, it starts with figuring out how to get more out of the disappointing wide-receiving corps where the underachieving Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor have to right things and Jordan Matthews, back for a third go-round in town, will presumably be he Band-Aid for the overmatched Mack Hollins and the not ready for prime time J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
Doug Pederson must also continue to lean on the strength of the team, which remains the offensive line, and build on what the Eagles have found with the Jordan Howard/Miles Sanders split in the backfield.
Defensively, integrating Tim Jernigan more and more should only help the defensive front, while getting Nigel Bradham, the team's only real somewhat established second-level defender, back from an ankle injury should make things easier there.
In the secondary, Jim Schwartz has to figure out if the get backs of Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby and Avonte Maddox from injury have really made things that much better or is it a mirage built of the foundation of Josh Allen and Mitchell Trubisky incompetence?
Finally, Howie Roseman's decision to cut bait on veteran safety Andrew Sendejo in exchange for what will likely be an extra fourth-round pick next April will force Schwartz to decide what he wants to do with one of his favored packages -- the big nickel. The DC could go traditional dime with Rasul Douglas joining the three starting CBs on the field or he could move Maddox back to safety which becomes more likely if and when Cre'Von LeBlanc is back from injured reserve.
There is plenty to do but all of it becomes easier to accomplish without those threatening skies.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen