January 02, 2018

Eagles must use Carson Wentz injury as a motivation, not an excuse

Opinion Al Morganti
010218_wentz_usat Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Carson Wentz and Jason Kelce walk off the field after the opening coin toss before a game against the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field.

With Carson Wentz down and out, the Philadelphia Eagles’ best approach might be to run the old down-and-out-in-Philadelphia approach to whichever team they face next at the Linc.

LeGarrette Blount has already used Twitter as a bulletin board to pump up his teammates, urging the Eagles to block those fans that don’t think the team has a chance without Wentz.

It’s actually a pretty good tactic, the problem being that the Eagles have to carry this chip on their shoulder through an entire bye week. They don’t have to grind their teeth and “show ‘em” this weekend.

Instead, they get the added value of rest and practice, and it sure appears they can use the practice more than the rest. The offense under quarterback Nick Foles was so inefficient in the final regular-season game against the Cowboys that some fans are already calling for third string QB Nate Sudfeld to be put into action.

Indeed, that is actually a real question being tossed around Philadelphia.

It is a crazy idea to think about starting Sudfeld. It might not be crazy to think that if things go wrong in that first game a desperate switch may be in order. However, going into these weeks of practice in that sort of panic mode is that last thing the Eagles need as they try to win their first home playoff game ever at the Linc and their first in Philadelphia since 2008.

If you looked around the NFL on the final Sunday you could see that in a must-win game the Atlanta Falcons could only score one touchdown against Carolina, and as for Panthers, quarterback Cam Newton looked dreadful.

No matter who the Eagles play, they will stand a chance – and a very good chance on their home field as long as the defense plays well, and the running game produces chunks of yardage.

In a weird sort of way, the Eagles have to use Carson Wentz as a tool to fuel their pride. The Eagles have to use the fact that many people think they can’t win without Carson Wentz as a driving force to prove they are so much more than just a “bunch of guys” playing on a team with Wentz.

These next few weeks will be a real test for coach Doug Pederson, and a staff that might very well be dispersed around the NFL when this season is finally over.

They have earned plenty of time to redefine the way the Eagles will play the game. The offense can make the required adjustments to get the best out of Foles, while the defense under Jim Schwartz can use the time to sharpen its teeth.

The defense has every ability to earn a victory on its own terms. Especially in playoff scenarios, a turnover can destroy a team’s hopes. The Eagles have players very capable of forcing those turnovers and combined with the emotional lift a defense gets from a rabid home crowd, that should be a huge advantage.

Despite the legitimate critical reviews of the Dallas game as a mess of a contest, the Eagles defense did not surrender much to the Cowboys who had running back Ezekiel Elliott back in the lineup. No doubt the defense can carry much of the load.

Meanwhile, the offense needs to find some level of timing with Foles as the quarterback. The obvious difference has been the club’s inability to convert on third downs since Wentz left the lineup.

Then again, better yardage on the first two downs would do as much to rectify that situation as some third-down magic. Simply put, Foles does not have the same bag of tricks on the third down that Wentz brought to the field.

Well, neither do most other quarterbacks in the NFL, so the best call to action would be to bully the opposition with a top-notch running game, which is why Blount and Jay Ajayi were brought to Philadelphia.

It would have been nice to go into these playoffs with expectations that a kid from North Dakota was going to lead a charge through the playoffs and then dethrone either Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger as king of the Hill at the Super Bowl in Minnesota.

Instead, that smooth highway to Minnesota has turned into a playoff road of gravel and potholes. It is hardly the easiest route, but suggestions that the Eagles are unable to navigate the road are a discredit to what this team has accomplished over the regular season.

Although Blount and his teammates might not want to see any social media that discounts their chances to advance in the playoffs, they might be better off using those suggestions as fuel to drive them into January.

In a way, this should feel comfortable for the Philadelphia Eagles. No matter what the eventual odds will declare, the Eagles have gone from entering the playoffs as a heavy favorite to get to the Super Bowl, to a real underdog.

They will be the team that most people will check off as the most likely top seed to fail – and they should use that to their advantage.

Doug Pederson, Nick Foles, LeGarrette Blount and all the rest – cue the Rocky music and use the chip on your shoulder pads as a weapon.