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November 03, 2019

Eagles are trending up, but they are far from reliable contenders

Philly's lack of consistency has been maddening, and it makes it hard to believe they're legit

5_11032019_EaglesvsBears_Jordan_Howard_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

The last time we saw Jordan Howard on the field was back in Week 9 against the Bears. But don't worry, he's been trending in the right direction for almost a month.

Have the Eagles finally turned the corner?

It's tough to say, but key victories over the Bills and Bears in the last two weeks have the Birds feeling good about themselves before next week's bye.

But can we, for sure, proclaim that the Eagles are a good football team?

Prior to Sunday afternoon's 22-14 win at the Linc to lift Philly to 5-4, the Eagles were statistically the least consistent team in the entire NFL, according to Football Outsiders' variance metric.

The stat measures the deviation in performance for all 32 NFL teams, and through their first 8 games the Birds had a 23.3 percent variance, five percentage points worse than the 31st team on the list, the unpredictable Browns, and 19 percentage points behind the consistent Texans.

The Eagles' closer-than-it-should-have-been win in Week 9 may have helped them in the standings, but it likely did little to take Philadelphia out of the bottom few teams in terms of consistency.

Twice in the red zone on their first two drives, the Eagles failed to cross the goalline, settling for a pair of early field goals. They also squandered back-to-back possessions to end the first half and begin the second, keeping the clearly less talented Bears in Sunday's game for way too long. 

Penalties and drops (including three key drops by Alshon Jeffery vs. Chicago) also continued to plague the Eagles, just as they did in losses earlier this season. Unforced errors are not the end of the world when Mitchell Trubisky or Luke Falk are on the other sideline. But against Tom Brady and Russell Wilson — the Birds' next two opponents following the bye — don't expect them to go unpunished.

"Football is a complete team game. You need all 11 people doing their jobs every play," Dallas Goedert, who had four catches for 39 yards Sunday said. "When one person doesn't, it's a terror. But the last coupe weeks we have done a better job."

The Eagles have lost nail-biters (to the Lions and Falcons). They've also won nail-biters (over the Packers and Redskins). They have lost in blow outs (to the Cowboys and Vikings), and have won in blowouts (over the Jets and Bills). And, of course, they beat the Bears by just eight points this weekend despite holding them to just nine total first half yards.

The back-to-back wins, regardless of the process that got them there, couldn't have come at a better time.

"We could have easily folded and started pointing fingers at each other, there was so much media stuff going on," Brandon Graham said, citing both the Eagles' most recent win and their recent off field issues. "So many distractions, but we never stopped believing and we need to clean up some of the little things. In the first half, lights out. In the second half, I don't know what happened, but I am glad we finished well."

On offense, the Eagles have run for both 200 yards and for 49 yards. On defense they have allowed just 128 total yards, as well as nearly 500 yards.

Running the ball seems to be the ingredient that makes everything else click. The Eagles average around 30 rushes per game, a top 10 mark in the NFL and in their two biggest wins of the season they've pounded their opponent with the football on the ground (176 yards vs. the Packers and 218 yards vs. the Bills). 

They are 4-1 when they run for over 120 yards — and nearly missed that mark vs. the Bears.

They would wind up running for 147 yards (on 34 attempts) as the squad was able to run the clock out on the Bears late in the second half. 

"We have one of the best O-lines in the league," Goedert said. "We have some great running backs. They're running people over, they run through arm tackles. They're tough to bring down that makes it tough on the defense."

The lack of consistency over the course of just nine games is something that makes it hard for Eagles fans to maintain confidence. Part of it can be blamed on bad luck (injuries, officiating), but not all of it. And certainly not most of it.

Which team will show up in back-to-back games against the Patriots and Seahawks in Weeks 11 and 12? Will they be able to beat the Cowboys and take care of business against the rest of the NFC East?

The trend in recent games obviously shows reversion toward being an above average, or even a playoff team, and returning players like Timmy Jernigan and DeSean Jackson add veteran elements the team has lacked as it fought injury woes in the season's first half. 

The Eagles technically have the seventh easiest remaining schedule — they have some cupcake opponents in the Dolphins, Redskins and Giants ahead — to help give them a path to a reasonably attainable postseason berth.

Your 2019 Philadelphia Eagles are a good-but-not-great team that doesn't really know who it is. Let's hope they emerge from their week off not only healthy, but with a true identity.

"You are going to make mistakes, but you have to just shake it off and play the next game," Graham said.

Words of wisdom from a Super Bowl hero. They'll face the Patriots in a rematch two weeks from Sunday.

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