Good morning. It will be a happier Monday in Philadelphia than it was last week after the Eagles' 20-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts to advance to 2-1. Carson Wentz survived his debut and the Eagles can finally begin a week without any quarterback intrigue. Doug Pederson has a noon news conference on Monday, and the players return to work Tuesday to begin preparing for the Tennessee Titans.
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— Zach Berman
Doug Pederson's message to his players in the locker room after the Eagles' 20-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts was that "good football teams find ways to win." The Eagles qualify as a good football team. During the past 13 months, they've found ways to win these types of games.
Just like they did in Week 1, the Eagles were able to eke out a close game. As Malcolm Jenkins said, "we ended up making one more play than they did." Jenkins added that in the NFL, one play can often be the difference. You've probably heard the cliché that the margin for error is thin in the NFL, but it's true. Look what happened in Minnesota on Sunday. Look what happened to the Patriots on Sunday night. There's no Rutgers on the NFL schedule. The Eagles spoiled fans during that November run last season when they dominated opponents. Their Super Bowl season was built on these types of wins, though. That's how they survived during the first month of the season before they found their groove.
The same could happen this season. Carson Wentz is back, and the offensive potential was clear on Sunday. Look how well they moved the ball on the opening drive, and then look at the skill-position players. The Eagles didn't have Alshon Jeffery, Jay Ajayi or Darren Sproles. Those players are coming back. (Mike Wallace, Mack Hollins and Richard Rodgers were also absent, but it's less clear if/when two of them will be back.) Credit to Pederson for being creative with the three-receiver sets. Dallas Goedert can give the offense a new threat. But the key piece is Wentz, whose work at the line of scrimmage also helped the running game have a big day. Wentz had a solid debut. He'll get better with more games and better players around him. There's a lot of upside for the offense.
On defense, you've seen this movie before – especially at home. Jenkins said what the Eagles do between 10-yard lines is irrelevant if the Eagles play the way they do in the red zone. That's where they're best. Think about this: In their two wins, the Eagles kept opponents out of the end zone on eight of 10 trips to the red zone. They won those games by a combined 10 points. That's the sign of a good defense. There are areas they can clean up, but situational football is critical. The Colts entered the game as the best third-down offense in the NFL. They converted only 2 of 12 on Sunday. They were 1 of 5 in the red zone. That's a winning formula for the Eagles.
There's much for the Eagles to work on this week. They won't get many pats on the back in the facility. Penalties were an issue (10 for 110 yards), especially on special teams. Wentz had two turnovers in Eagles territory, and the defense couldn't take the ball away. The offense needs more firepower; it's hard to put together 17-play drives on a consistent basis. But it's better to fix these areas after a win. The Eagles survived another close September game. They moved to 2-1, and they're not yet close to hitting their stride.
I don't think it was the weather and I don't think it was jitters. You can say there was rust, but I didn't see it like that. It was just one of the "decent-not-great" games, as you put it. Carson Wentz had a strong start to the game. I think the injuries at the skill positions were a factor, because the Eagles didn't have much explosiveness at wide receiver. Alshon Jeffery's return will help. The turnovers were the blemish on Wentz's performance. He knows he needs to play cleaner. Wentz didn't think rust had anything to do with them, though.
"Just decision-making," Wentz said. "The interception – the guy made a great play. It's a route we throw to [Zach] Ertz all the time and he just read it well and I just have to be smarter with that one. The other one was unfortunately stepping up in the pocket getting the hit. You have to clean up those things. Obviously you never want interceptions, fumbles, especially when you're backed up like we were. [We] put our defense in a couple tough situations, but they stepped up and played a good football game."
It wasn't a bad game, but he can play better. Wentz had a passer rating of 84.9. He only had two games last season with a lower passer rating. But he did enough to win, and he made two critical third-down conversions in the fourth quarter. You should be confident in Wentz.
I expect Dallas Goedert's role in the offense to grow as the season progresses. The Eagles were undermanned at skill position spots and they liked the matchups with the tight ends against Indianapolis' base defense, but it was clear after the first two weeks they needed to get their second-round pick more involved. In fact, Doug Pederson said as much after the game.
"He's earned it, obviously," Pederson said. "He's smart. He's talented. We see it in practice. It's just time to play and cut him loose a little bit and don't keep him back. It was part of the game plan again to do that with two tight ends, three tight ends, but at the same time, as he gets more and more comfortable with the offense and find specific plays for him, he's just going to get better and better. It's a combination, really, of all those comments."
Goedert came through with seven catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. He won't do that every week, but he must play more than 23 percent of the snaps. My guess is the Eagles will make sure he's on the field more in the coming weeks.
I wouldn't be surprised if Alshon Jeffery plays next week against Tennessee. He's progressed in practice during the past two weeks and was even listed as questionable entering this week's game. As far as I know, he still must be cleared for contact. The question will come up in Doug Pederson's news conference on Monday. But I think Jeffery is back this week, and his return will be huge for the Eagles offense. His presence should help out the entire wide receiver corps.