Good morning. The Eagles practice Tuesday at 11:50 a.m. for the final time before Thursday's season opener. Doug Pederson has a 10:30 a.m. news conference, and Week 1 starting quarterback Nick Foles will have a post-practice news conference. (Yes, I wrote starting quarterback. More on that below.)
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— Zach Berman
The biggest question of the Eagles' offseason was officially answered when Doug Pederson said Nick Foles will start Week 1.
"It is about the football team and the best interest of the 53 and Nick Foles will be my starter Week 1," Pederson said.
Pederson will speak to reporters Tuesday, when there will hopefully be more information about the decision. It seemed clear when Carson Wentz was not cleared for contact that Foles would start, but questions remain about Wentz's status going forward and the work Foles is getting in practice.
Wentz is obviously the franchise quarterback, but the advantage of keeping Foles this offseason was always the possibility that Wentz might miss time. Foles lacks Wentz's consistency, although he's capable of reaching a level of few quarterbacks in the NFL. The Eagles will need that Thursday, and they can spend this week tailoring the game plan to Foles, similar to what they did during the playoffs. (You'll read more on what to watch in Foles' season debut later this week in Early Birds.)
I also don't think the Eagles lost a competitive advantage by announcing it now. It's not as if the Eagles offense is so radically different with the two quarterbacks or it's the first time the Falcons will be exposed to the Eagles. After all, the last meaningful game the Falcons played was against Foles and the Eagles.
As for the answer to the offseason-long question: I'll concede that I thought Wentz would start Week 1 since training camp opened. I thought this based on the way he looked in practice, how his teammates described the situation, and Wentz's optimism that he could return by Week 1. The hope that he could play the opener was not a media creation; it was the date set by Wentz back in January. The medical evaluation is what matters, and without clearance, he can't play.
There's no word yet on when Wentz will return. How much will change in the nine days between games? Only the doctors can answer that question. It would be imprudent for the Eagles if anything related to Foles' performance on Thursday factors into their decision on Wentz. This needs to be about Wentz's health. The week-to-week speculation will continue until Wentz takes the first snap.
The Eagles finished last season ranked No. 4 in the NFL in scoring defense (18.4 points per game). They were also No. 4 in total defense and No. 1 against the run. They were No. 3 in third-down defense and No. 4 in takeaways. The strides from the first year in Jim Schwartz's defense to the second year in Schwartz's defense were clear.
So what should be expected in Year No. 3? That question was posed to Schwartz on Monday.
"The biggest thing is just continue to win games," Schwartz said. "That's all we judge ourselves on. If we win games, we're happy. If we don't, we're not. Our job is to keep the score down. So points allowed are always going to be part of that job that help us win games and then the things that affect points allowed; third-down stops, takeaways, red zone. Those all contribute to getting off the field and keeping the score down.
"Then the other part of it that we did last year and again, you can't count on things carrying over, we had a big-play component to us. We were able to score the football or put the offense in really good field position so that they could score. That was a consistent theme. Those are all fundamental things that we do and that we ask the defense to do. If we are playing good defense, then we'll hit all those targets."
The Eagles return nine starters, although they're down Tim Jernigan for at least six weeks and Nigel Bradham for Week 1. Still, it's reasonable to expect this to be one of the best defenses in the NFL. And in weeks when the offense is undermanned or struggling, the defense can carry the Eagles.
Speaking of which, the defense was the catalyst in the Eagles' 15-10 postseason win over Atlanta last season. My guess is the defense will need to carry the Eagles if they beat Atlanta on Thursday. But I also expect the Falcons offense to be better this season than last year, especially in the red zone. The onus cannot be entirely on Schwartz's unit to win this game.
"We have to find some ways to get some points, and it's going to take more than 15, I would imagine, to beat them this time," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "We've got to keep doing the things that we like to do and have success, but we've got to find some new ways to do some things that they kept us from doing."
Groh mentioned how the Eagles moved the ball, but didn't get touchdowns. To his point, the Eagles drove into Atlanta territory six times. They had only one touchdown to show for it. There were a fumble, a punt, a touchdown, and three field goals.