The Eagles can sprint into the postseason. Why? They're getting better.
A 6-2 record in the second half will put the Eagles at 10-6, which should be good enough to win the NFC East, because that would make Washington a five-loss team at best. Anybody think Washington can win all six of its other games? Why 6-2? Because the Eagles should run the five-game table against the NFC East. A win over Houston in Game 15 on Dec. 23 would help them absorb likely losses at New Orleans on Nov. 18 and at the Rams on Dec. 16.
How can the outlook be this rosy? Because the Eagles are a better team now than at any other point this season, and they're coming off a bye.
"We needed that," Fletcher Cox said about the bye. "It came at the right time."
They traded for receiver Golden Tate. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan is revving up for a late-November return. They thought they would have Darren Sproles for the second half of the season, but his hamstring reportedly didn't make it through his first practice back. And the banged-up defensive backfield has to survive the next couple of weeks. But, there are still five solid reasons the Eagles can make it deep into January. Again.
Wentz's passer rating of 109.6 ranks sixth among quarterbacks with at least six starts. That's 7.7 points better than his passer rating in 2017, when he was the MVP favorite until he blew out his left knee and ended his season in Game 13. He has thrown 13 touchdowns and two interceptions, the second-best six-game ratio of his young career; he was 18/2 from Games 6 to 13 last season. He has been this good despite missing the first two games of the season after no preseason and little training camp. He has done this while wearing a heavy brace on his knee. He has done this despite losing his No. 2 receiver, Mike Wallace, and his top two running backs, Sproles and Jay Ajayi, to injuries. He has done this behind an injured, mediocre offensive line.
By some measures, Wentz is a more worthy MVP candidate this season than last.
>> READ MORE: Eagles have the X-factor in Carson Wentz
That is according to Pro Football Focus.
Cox has only four sacks, which ties him for 10th, six behind Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is the best player on the planet, so there's no shame there.
The website credits Cox with 14 hits and 30 hurries, but Cox's value exceeds his quantifiable results. The Eagles' overall defense ranks 17th in yards allowed, but in the most important category — points allowed — it ranks fifth, despite a rash of defensive injuries. The most significant: safety Rodney McLeod, who, with Malcolm Jenkins, formed the league's best safety tandem since it formed in 2016. Everything was built around Cox.
Full disclosure: Pro Football Focus also contends that Eagles end Brandon Graham, who has two sacks, is playing better than J.J. Watt and Myles Garrett, who have 10 sacks apiece. So, there's that.
For the first time this season, the Eagles have a complete receiving corps. No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffery missed the first three games because of offseason shoulder surgery, and Wallace — a clear upgrade over traded widget Smith — broke his leg in Game 2, so Wallace and Jeffery never played a down together. The team tried to patch and fill as best it could, but the materials — Shelton Gibson, DeAndre Carter, Jordan Matthews — simply aren't viable solutions. That's why the Eagles surrendered a third-round pick to rent Tate for eight games. None of them comes close to giving the Eagles what Tate gives them.
"It adds some explosive opportunities for us," coach Doug Pederson said.
The instability at receiver could be a blessing for the Eagles, because otherwise they wouldn't have acquired Tate, 30, who is on pace for 88 catches, which would be his fifth consecutive season with at least 88 catches. No Eagles receiver has ever caught more than 88 passes in a season.
Thirty-six-year-old left tackle Jason Peters has fought a strained quadriceps and a torn biceps, but, as he said, "my biceps feels way better … . It [the bye] definitely helped me."
Jason Kelce needed some downtime, too, since he still has an issue with his left knee. He's been wearing a brace since he injured it in Game 1. Kelce, however, is the highest-rated center in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
The biggest break of all, though, happened for Lane Johnson. He tore the MCL in his left knee in Game 8 against Jacksonville in London and was expected to miss a month, but the right tackle returned to practice Wednesday, wearing a brace and taking reps.
The most perplexing aspect of this Eagles season has been Jim Schwartz's continued reluctance to blitz. Granted, his entire defensive philosophy leans on pressuring the passer with four defensive linemen, where, he believes, defensive draft picks and dollars are most-wisely spent. He prefers to line up his ends a little wider than is typical. This philosophy works well when elite, pedigreed linemen — which he has — work in concert with competent, disciplined pass defenders — which he lacks.
Nonetheless, Schwartz held fast in this stance. He blitzed only five times on the 88 passing plays in Games 6 (Giants) and 7 (Panthers) and was blitzing just 16.8 percent of the time this season, which was among the league's lowest rates. But, in Game 8, against Jacksonville, in London, Schwartz blitzed on 12 of the first 29 passing plays. The Eagles finished with four sacks.
He offered this specious explanation: "The field was so difficult to get any traction on that it really made it hard to generate pass rush."
Eagles fans should pray for rain.
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