When Eagles fans enter Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday for the home opener, they would do well to remember that they are entering a construction site. As a matter of fact, they would do well to remember that all this week.
They might not want to hear that; not after beating Washington on the road in the season opener, then hanging with the Chiefs for 50 minutes Sunday at Arrowhead. It is, however, the truth.
And it is, without question, outstanding news.
In March, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie admitted that 2017 would be a retooling year. About 12 days ago, Lurie said, “The expectation this year is that we have improved the team.”
This team, at this moment, might be playing its best football since the end of the 2015 season. Even the home wins in 2016 over the Steelers and Falcons seemed like outliers compared to the way the Eagles dismantled Washington on the road to open the season, then stayed with the Chiefs on Sunday. The Chiefs had demolished the Patriots in New England to begin the season, and staked an early claim as the AFC’s best team.
So far, the 2017 Eagles seem solid; competent; dependable. They don’t yet run the ball well, and they don’t run it often enough, but there is substance to this group.
The Eagles took their work in progress to Missouri and made a game of it. They lost by a touchdown simply because they remain incomplete in many areas: quarterback, receiver, running back, cornerback, offensive line, and head coach.
Sunday marked Doug Pederson’s 18th adventure as chief sideline entity, which, in his system, includes calling the offensive plays; generally, the types of plays that do not involve running backs. Through two weeks Pederson, who has no respect for rotator cuffs, has called 97 passing plays and 33 runs. The ratio was 56-13 on Sunday.
If Scott Boras was Carson Wentz’s agent, he’d make the Eagles shut him down by Thanksgiving.
Pederson admits this is “unacceptable,” and painted a picture of himself sitting on the plane back to Philadelphia, tray table down, watching film on his iPad. You can imagine him wincing as he second-guesses a failed pass play; wishing he’d call a running play; and wondering if he left LeGarrette Blount back in Philly.
Nevertheless, both because of Pederson and in spite of him, the Eagles are 1-1 in a season that could have started 0-3. Instead, they look like the best team in the NFC East, with a possible 3-1 start to the season and a 2-0 start in the division. They’re at .500 … which, to be perfectly honest, puts them about .500 above where one prognosticator predicted they would be (he shall remain both nameless and wrong). They’re deep and tenacious and inventive on defense. They’re brimming with potential on offense. Somehow, this is true even though top cornerback Ronald Darby and top safety Rodney McLeod are hurt. They also lost their kicker in Washington.
Still, they hung with the best team in the AFC. The Chiefs might be the best team in the entire NFL, if the Falcons aren’t for real.
This moral victory supplies little comfort in this moment. It’s tempting to look at the Eagles’ roster and see Malcolm Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Jason Peters and Lane Johnson and expect to beat the Chiefs, even in that hostile atmosphere, even in Kansas City’s home opener. But when you look at the Eagles’ roster and also see Jalen Mills and Wentz and Isaac Seumalo, bless his overmatched heart, those expectations seem unrealistic.
“We have some young guys that are playing a lot of football, which down the road, is going to pay off for us,” Pederson said.
Veteran guards Stefen Wisniewski and Chance Warmack aren’t “down the road” investments. Seumalo, a third-round pick last year, is. Without question, Seumalo also is the weakest link on the least cohesive unit, which is completely understandable.
In college, Seumalo played every position on the offensive line except left guard, which he tried for the first time in the last game of 2016. Injuries to right guard Brandon Brooks and Peters, the left tackle, limited the starting offensive line to a total of 15 minutes together in the preseason, which, in turn, impaired the process of cohesion.
“I don’t want to push any panic buttons at this time,” said Pederson, who clearly grades on a curve: “Isaac has done an outstanding job, really.”
Remember, this is about tomorrow as much as it is about today: “As of right now, we’re not going to make any changes,” Pederson said.
The quarterback needs to get comfortable with his newer receivers, too. That’s happening. At Washington, Wentz favored Nelson Agholor, who played with Wentz last season, and rookie Mack Hollins, with whom Wentz worked extensively over the summer, because they share an agent.
As a result, free agents Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith combined for four catches at Washington. They had 11 at Kansas City. This is progress.
General manager Howie Roseman upgraded the receiving corps with Jeffery and Smith but he neglected the running backs — at least, it appears that way now. Certainly, Pederson is reluctant to use them. They were a few plays from winning: a missed sack, an interception, a missed field goal. A good team doesn’t miss that sack, or that field goal.
A quarterback on a good team doesn’t throw an interception off a pass rusher’s helmet at his own 31-yard line. The Eagles are better than they were. They’re alarmingly close to being good.
That still might make them the best in the East.