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December 17, 2018

Handing out 10 awards from the Eagles-Rams game

The underdogs are back. No Carson Wentz, no problem. Rallying behind Nick Foles, the Philadelphia Eagles beat a very, very good Los Angeles Rams team, 30-23, in something of a potential playoff picture-altering game.

As always, win or lose, we hand out 10 awards.

1) The 'Robbing Season' Award: The Eagles' defense

The 2018 Eagles have struggled to come up with takeaways all season long. Through their first 12 games, they produced a paltry nine turnovers. Over their last two games, they have taken the ball away six times, and really it should have been seven, if not for one of the worst officiating sequences I've ever seen.

So what has changed? Well, in the same way the 2017 Eagles used dog masks as their symbol of motivation, the 2018 team is trying to use ski masks to do the same. Please just go here to see what I mean, and if you do indeed listen to the Eagles and wear a ski mask to the next Eagles game, please don't make ski masks synonymous with Philadelphia for the next 50 years like snow balls and Santa Claus have for the last 50.

2) The 'Just Chuck It Up' Award: Alshon Jeffery

On the night, Jeffery had eight catches on 8 7.5 targets for 160 yards, many of which came on 50-50 balls. Nick Foles is more willing than Wentz to give Jeffery the chance to go up and make a play on his own, and on Sunday night, Jeffery more than rewarded him.

In my view, Jeffery is going to be a more relevant player over the last two weeks of the season than he was during the first 13. 

This perhaps isn't the best example of what I'm referring to, but we obviously have to include it:

I've never seen two receivers get five-plus yards behind the defense and have to out-jump each other for a reception.

3) The 'QB Controversy!' Award: Nick Foles

Foles was pretty good. He was certainly better than many expected. I know Philly sports talk radio is fired up. Let's not lose our minds, though. Deal?

4) The 'Hundy' Award: Zach Ertz

Ertz was quiet against the Rams, but his accomplishments this season are still worth noting. Ertz only had 3 catches for 22 yards on 7 targets, but he went over the century mark for receptions in a season. Only three tight ends have ever achieved that in any one season:

 Year PlayerTeam Receptions 
 2012Jason Witten Cowboys 110 
 2004Tony Gonzalez Chiefs 102 
 2018Zach Ertz Eagles 101 
 2009Dallas Clark Colts 100 

Ertz needs nine receptions to tie Jason Witten for the all-time single-season receptions record, and 10 to pass him. (I conformed my math with NASA, and it checked out.)

5) The 'Villain in a Bad Horror Movie' Award: Wendell Smallwood

I also considered the 'Nine Lives' award, but this works better, I think.

Smallwood has been written off countless times, but he just... survives.

10 carries, 48 yards, 2 TDs.

6) The 'Beast' Award: Fletcher Cox

Cox has been a beast all season long, but it really did seem like he had something extra in the tank tonight. Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic pointed out during the game that Defensive Player of the Year favorite Aaron Donald was of course standing on the opposing sideline:

I buy it. I mean...

Cox played 79 snaps last week against the Cowboys. I don't know how many he played against the Rams, but he emptied the tank on all of them.

7) The 'Young Stud' Award: Avonte Maddox

The Eagles have a find in Maddox, a fourth-round rookie defensive back, who has played slot corner, outside corner, and safety, and has looked good playing all three spots. On Sunday night, Maddox picked off Jared Goff on what was a great catch:

And in the fourth quarter, he was able to tackle Todd Gurley in bounds on a crucial play that caused the Rams to squander precious time on the clock.

Going forward, the Eagles have themselves a movable piece who can they can feel good about starting at two different positions -- slot corner and safety -- while also knowing he can play outside in a pinch. That is a great luxury to have.

8) The 'Out-Coached' Award: Sean McVay

Jim Schwartz has been out-coached a few times this season, but on Sunday night he had Sean McVay's number. He dialed up blitzes at the perfect moments, and helped fluster and confuse Goff all game long.

McVay, the (cough) 2017 NFL Coach of the Year, had some questionable moments. To begin, he messed up clock management late in the fourth quarter:

And worse, he didn't go for two with the Rams down eight after they scored a touchdown to draw within one score. 

Earlier in the season, Doug Pederson was in the same situation, and he explained the bulletproof logic in going for two in that scenario.

"If I make it, a touchdown wins the game," he said. "Or if I don't, I know what I need to do. I've got to go touchdown, two points to tie, or to win and then to tie at the end. I think that's right, right? That's a pretty simple calculation right there."

OK, so that wasn't super-clear, but here's what Doug meant.

9) The 'Home Away From Home' Award: Los Angeles

Last season, Eagles fans overran stadiums in both L.A. games against the Rams and Chargers. While it wasn't quite as drastic Sunday night, Eagles' fans' voices were certainly heard. It's impressive, frankly, that so many Eagles fans showed up to this game despite the season that the team has had, to date. If you were one of them, a tip of the cap.

The Eagles are 3-0 in L.A. the last two seasons.

10) The 'Still Need Help' Award: The Eagles' playoff hopes

There are scenarios in which the Eagles can still lose one more game and eventually get into the playoffs, but those odds are somewhere between slim and none. More realistically, if the Eagles can win out -- which won't be easy, obviously -- they are likely to get into the playoffs. They essentially have to jump two of three teams -- the Vikings, Panthers, and Seahawks -- to earn a wildcard berth:

• They would need the Vikings to lose one more game to jump them. The Vikings play in Detroit Week 16, and at home against the Bears Week 17. With the Eagles' win over the Rams, the Bears are now only a game behind the Rams for a first-round bye, meaning that the likelihood that the Bears will rest their starters Week 17 just plummeted.

• The Panthers play tomorrow on Monday Night Football. The Eagles would need Carolina to lose one of their next three games. They play the Saints twice, so that one loss is very likely.

• The Seahawks would have to lose both of their remaining games against the Chiefs and Cardinals, both of which are at home.

The other possibility is that if the Cowboys lose both of the their two remaining games, and, again, the Eagles won both of theirs, the Eagles would win the NFC East.

Yes, yes, there are other scenarios involving ties and whatnot, but that's for another day. I think the overall message, as we've posted before, is this:

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