November 16, 2020
The Eagles fell to 3-5-1 with their 27-17 loss to the Giants on Sunday and now face a stretch of five games against opponents who are a combined 32-13 on the season, with none of those teams boasting a record worse than 6-3.
In other words, by the time Christmas arrives, the Eagles have a real shot at being 3-10-1 on the season with just matchups against Washington and Dallas remaining to close out the season. Somehow, they could still find a way to win the division in that scenario, which may actually do this team more harm than good.
Why? Well, aside from the fact that it would seriously hurt their draft position — first place in the NFC East will likely pick around 19 if they are eliminated in the first round, while second place will likely have a pick somewhere in the Top 8-10 range — it may give them a false sense of confidence regarding their season. And that might be the bigger problem.
Should the Eagles — currently the NFC East leaders and favorites, according to TheLines.com — win a hollow division title, they're much more likely to take the lipstick-on-a-pig approach to the offseason, making small cosmetic upgrades but not really addressing any of the root problems that have gotten them into this mess to begin with. It's often hard for a team to look in the mirror and realize it needs wholesale changes, and that becomes even less likely if you're adding another division title to your record books and believe the biggest reason for your shortcomings was something that can fix itself, like bad injury luck.
But aren't we at the point where we realize it's more than just the injuries that's holding this team back? They were arguably the healthiest they been in months against the Giants on Sunday, and still managed to lose to a team that hadn't beaten anyone other than Washington in over a year — and hadn't beaten the Eagles since Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson's first season in Philly.
When that happens, especially in the way it did, reports come out like the one from NFL insider Michael Silver on Monday, where he suggests that the Eagles could "be blown up" (metaphorically, of course) if they are unable to turn this thing around and at least look to be trending in the right direction when the season ends. On a macro level, they've been trending in the wrong direction for three years, and that's unlikely to change when the dust settles on the 2020 campaign, but simply stringing together a few wins — or, at this point, simply looking like a decent NFL team for 60 straight minutes — down the stretch could be enough to save some people their jobs.
There have been issues up and down the roster this season, in all three phases, but there are two that have been harped on more than any — inconsistent quarterback play and inconsistent coaching. Even before the loss to the Giants, when the Eagles were on the bye, former running back Brian Westbrook pointed to both of those as two of the three biggest issues with the Birds (injuries were the other).
And now, Silver is suggesting if the trend line doesn't begin moving in the opposite direction, the Eagles could decide to move on from their franchise quarterback after the season.
"Carson Wentz this season is a far cry from the guy who was tearing it up in the first part of 2017. There's some sloppy practice habits that he's been allowed to perpetuate that have carried over, not checking the ball down or knowing when to give up on a play, forcing the ball to pre-determined receivers, and maybe over-estimating his once-elite athleticism," Silver said on NFL Network on Monday morning. "Look, they drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round. That was clearly a signal that they are not necessarily standing pat at that position, so I think organizationally they would like to continue to build this around Carson Wentz, but I think if this downward spirals, there's a sense that it could all be blown up."
Of course, the Eagles just signed Wentz to a massive contract extension last season, but by signing it when they did and keeping the cost down compared to what quarterbacks will likely be asking for next offseason, trading him probably wouldn't be that hard, even with his 2020 struggles.
During his day-after press conference on Monday, Pederson was asked about Silver's report, specifically the part about Wentz's practice habits.
"Well first of all, I did not see the report. And, secondly, you guys are only out there for a short period of time, so I don't know where the information is coming from," Pederson said. "Practice is where we perfect our craft and we do the things, with all of our players, to detail their work, whether it be fundamentals in the individual periods all the way through to even, for me sometimes, stopping practice and repeating a play because we've made a mistake. So, I don't understand where that's coming from. And we're just going to continue to coach and make sure we're holding everybody accountable."
After not really answering the question that was asked and just denying the report — of course reporters aren't there for the full practice, but that hasn't stopped info from leaking out before — Pederson was pressed on Wentz's practice performance, with Les Bowen asking point blank if he's been sloppy throughout the week leading up to games.
"No," Pederson responded, without elaborating.
Answers like that have become more and more common during Pederson pressers this year, perhaps a symptom of this team losing more frequently than it ever has under his watch. But it could also be a sign that Pederson realizes the pressure to win (and keep his job) isn't just on his quarterback, but on the head coach as well. Of course,
"Doug Pederson is extremely well-liked in that building, but the facts are facts. They've been starting slowly, the offense lacks rhythm or cohesion, seems to be in a rut. And if continues, all options are on the table," Silver said. "There's a feeling that Pederson may be listening to too many voices. There are a lot of offensive assistants on that staff. If Pederson is amenable to their suggestions, the gameplan doesn't necessarily fit together. Even the voices in his headset on the analytics side — you saw today they got to within 21-17 in the third quarter and they went for two, which seemed to be an analytics decision, didn't make it, and all the sudden were down more than a field goal. So, a lot of frustration swirling in the air in that building."
Perhaps the Eagles part ways with some of those offensive assistants, maybe they bring in a quarterbacks coach who can actually hold Wentz accountable, or they could try turning play-calling duties over to someone else (although that seems like a long shot at this point, since their reluctancy to do that very thing likely prevented them from luring in any top OC candidates last offseason).
Either way, whether it happens naturally on the field or takes an intervention from above, something is going to need to change.
Jeffery Lurie, like pretty much every professional sports team owner, is a very successful man. And typically, you don't attain that kind of success by settling for mediocrity (or worse). And you certainly have an eye for when things are trending in the wrong direction, like the Eagles currently are. Fans might think it's too soon for Philly to pull the plug on the Wentz/Pederson Era just three years removed from their Super Bowl win, but maybe Lurie learned his lesson by sticking with Andy Reid for a year or two too long.
You know another sign of a successful person?
They don't make the same mistake twice.
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