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December 01, 2020

Five reasons for Eagles fans to have hope

Eagles NFL
Miles-Sanders_010620_Kate-Frese Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Eagles running back Miles Sanders.

Just remember the last time it felt like this. The year was 2015. The coach was Chip Kelly. The GM, too, was Chip Kelly. 

The state of the Eagles was grim, and a disastrous Kelly-led regime eventually propelled Howie Roseman back to the top of the Eagles front office flowchart. And that led, just two years later, to Philadelphia’s first Super Bowl.

A quick disclaimer: We are by no means saying this dire situation will lead to a similar result. But in football, as in life, you can only know true joy if you know true pain first. Eagles fans are in pain right now and we hear you.

The Birds looked disjoined, at times unmotivated and their imperfections totally revealed Monday Night in a loss to the hated Seahawks. The Eagles went from first to third in the space of less than one week while you were devouring your Thanksgiving leftovers. There is a full-fledged quarterback controversy and few things to feel optimistic about, as the Eagles couldn't even find a way to scrape up four wins in 12 tries while playing in one of the worst divisions in the history of the NFL.

But there will be brighter days. They may not be in the near-term — as our own Jimmy Kempski so eloquently explained Monday — but they are there.

And so, as you feel your anger subside and set aside your hatred for the current version of your beloved Eagles, we've uncovered five reasons for optimism following Week 12's 23-17 loss:

1. They're (hopefully) getting a really good draft pick

As alluded to earlier, a few days ago when you first started roasting your turkey, the first place Eagles were in position to draft 19th in the 2021 NFL draft. But now, with the Eagles in third place, their 3-7-1 record slots them the sixth pick in the upcoming draft — and all the accoutrements that come with it (like having very good picks in subsequent rounds). The draft capital the Eagles will have if the avoid finishing in first place in the NFC East is incredibly valuable. Not only will it allow them to net better players than they are typically in line to select, but it also gives them valuable ammo to help them dump salaries or acquire different kinds of players for the next Eagles era.

Concerned about the team correctly expending that draft capital you say? Well, that's where No. 2 comes in. 

2. Losing means a shake up is coming (I mean, it has to, right?)

It would be hard to justify standing pat — assuming the Eagles fall victim to upcoming uphill climbs against the Packers, Cardinals and Saints and finish with a top 10 pick while losing the most winnable-division in the history of the NFL. And if a new regime comes in, it could be the change that is needed in Philadelphia. It's already done wonders for the Sixers, after all.

Will team owner Jeffrey Lurie take a 180-degree turn like he did when he went from Andy Reid to Chip Kelly back in 2013? Will he stay with the familiar and give someone in-house like Duce Staley a chance to coach the team? Will a Roseman replacement have a better knack for drafting and help the Eagles build a young core while shedding their old one? Either way, new is exciting, and it would be hard to fail worse than the 2020 Eagles have, from top to bottom.

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3. The defense 

The Eagles defense kept them in it Monday against a very talented and intimidating offense in Seattle and it was a reminder that not everything on the field each week is crap. The unit entered Week 12 with the 11th ranked defense in total yards allowed (342.7 ypg) and allowed just 301, (171 of that was created by D.K. Metcalf...) continuing to dominate opposing running games as well. 

Though the turnovers just don't seem to be coming, the defense had two huge early stops on fourth downs, including one with their backs against the goal, to help lift the offense which started with four straight three-and-outs. Fletcher Cox has been playing and still has some juice left in the tank. Derek Barnett made big plays, Darius Slay remains a top cover corner and pass rushers like Malik Jackson and Javon Hargrave continue to make an impact. It's likely some longterm pieces, like Brandon Graham, who has been great this season, could be on the move as they continue to age, but there are some solid NFL starters to build around slated to return and hopefully be better a year from now. 

4. The NFC East isn't going to be great any time soon

Notice we said great, not good. Sure, the Giants have a solid collection of weapons for young Daniel Jones in Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, Darius Slayton and others. And yes, Dak Prescott will presumably be healthy next year and sling the ball to Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Ezekiel Elliott. But neither defense is elite, both offenses and front offices have major flaws, and the Washington Football Team is lacking a franchise quarterback. 

The NFC East could be wide open yet again in 2021, and the Eagles could potentially face a weaker schedule and avoid playing a pair of returning division winners, as they had to face in 2020.

5. The run game

The Eagles led the NFL in yards per rush attempt — 5.0 — prior to Week 12's tilt against the Seahawks (Miles Sanders was fourth in the NFL at 5.7), and averaged exactly five yards per try, despite running the ball just 14 times Monday. They will return Sanders, who is just 23. They will also get Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson back on the right side, potentially Jason Kelce back at center and it really looks like the run game, with the proper coaching and scheme, could be a centerpiece of the team in 2021. And that's not even including Jalen Hurts, who could see an expanded role next season.

For various reasons we explored a few weeks ago, the Eagles — and their five yards per carry — have run the ball the sixth fewest times of any NFL team and have scored just 10 times on the ground, a number in the bottom half of the league as well. Spending as much time as this team has trailing accounts for some of it, but as was shown Monday, Doug Pederson has no desire to play to his team's strengths this season. The future of the ground attack is a reason for optimism.

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