November 11, 2017
This weekend, the Eagles can sit back, relax, and watch the rest of the NFC jockey for postseason position. It has to be a nice feeling for the 8-1 Birds, who currently have the best record in all of football.
But as we mentioned on Friday, Carson Wentz and Co. aren't patting themselves on the back just yet. They're not getting ahead of themselves because they know how important next week's matchup against the 5-3 Cowboys in Dallas will be in determining how the rest of the season unfolds.
That being said, the Cowboys have a game to play before hosting the Birds; they face the Cowboys on Sunday without Ezekiel Elliott, who had his suspension reinstated earlier this week.
Will they be a half-game closer to the Eagles in the standings come Monday? Or will they fall to three games behind their NFC East counterparts as Philly gets set for Dallas Week?
Just like the players and coaches, Eagles fans can only sit back and watch. In the meantime, here's a look at what they're saying about the Birds:
A few weeks back, Jon Gruden was in town for a first-hand look at the Eagles as they faced Washington on Monday Night Football. And they left quite an impression on the former coach, who believes the only thing standing between the Birds and a February trip to Minnesota is injury.
"Yeah, they’re the best team I’ve seen. You can talk about [Tom] Brady and all the other great quarterbacks right now, but in the first half of the season, Carson Wentz has lit it up. And he has made some unbelievable scramble plays, some audibles at the line of scrimmage. He can run any play you can think of. And they’ve added some players. Getting [Jay] Ajayi to go with LeGarrette Blount is impressive. Their receiving corps went over a huge makeover, getting Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery.
"You can say one thing about Philadelphia: they will rush the passer and they will hit your quarterback. And when you get a lead, they can protect it with that pass rush […] I don’t know. You look at this league, there are a couple injuries here, a couple injuries there that can really impact you. If they stay healthy, I would bet on Philadelphia to be the representative of the NFC this year, you bet." [h/t bleedinggreennation.com]
So, injuries aside, who could possibly stand in the Eagles’ way? Aaron took a look at each of the six NFC teams with winning records (and one 4-4 team), and a few of them still remain on the Birds’ second-half schedule. In fact, four of their remaining seven games come against these teams.
One of them will be the surprising 6-2 Los Angeles Rams:
The Rams morphed their offense from one of the worst in the NFL in 2016 to one of the best this season. Quarterback Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft (Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was the second selection), has emerged as a steady hand under center for first-year coach Sean McVay. Running back Todd Gurley provides the offense balance and physicality, while Donald and linebacker Alec Ogletree are bona fide stars on defense. [pennlive.com]
The Eagles have had a relatively easy schedule thus far. That's not meant to take anything away from what they've done in their first nine games – after all, you can only play the games on your schedule. But down the stretch, those games are about to get a little tougher.
It should be pointed out, however, that in those first nine games, only two of those teams currently have a winning record, the Chiefs and Panthers. Certainly not the Eagles' fault — they've contributed to the fact that the Redskins are 4-4, handing them two of those losses. But the schedule gets tougher down the stretch as they face 5-3 Dallas twice, the 6-3 Seahawks and the aforementioned 6-2 Rams. Three of those games come on the road.
And while the Eagles themselves have suffered some major losses with season-ending injuries to Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks and Darren Sproles, the teams they have coming up over their final seven games will be without some big-time firepower as well. [nbcsports.com]
The opponents may be tougher and the stakes may be higher, but that doesn't mean the Eagles are suddenly going to start losing. Brandon went game-by-game through the rest of their schedule – and even into the postseason – and, well, I' m not going to ruin it here.
All I'll say is that he doesn't see the Birds winning out – their first loss, according to BLG, will come in Seattle:
It’s not easy for me to pick an Eagles win in this situation. I know the Seahawks haven’t look like the vintage Seahawks this year. I know their offensive line is in shambles (Matt Tobin was playing at left tackle when Duane Brown got hurt last night!). I know they just lost Richard Sherman for the season.
But Seattle is such a tough place to play. The Seahawks are 42-7 in their last 49 home games. Only three of those seven losses have been against non-NFC West teams. [bleedinggreennation.com]
Consider the matchup in Week 3 between the 0–2 New York Giants and 1–1 Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles won on a last-second, 61-yard field goal and haven’t lost since. Meanwhile, the loss all but ended the Giants’ postseason dreams, and New York has since collapsed to 1–7.
Although that long field goal received most of the attention, Philadelphia wouldn’t have been in a position to win the game without some aggressive early game decisions. In the first quarter, the Eagles had fourth-and-1 from their own 47-yard line. Quarterback Carson Wentz took a quarterback sneak 2 yards up the middle for the first down, keeping alive an eventual 18-play, 90-yard touchdown drive. In the third quarter, with Philadelphia still leading 7–0, the Eagles went for it on the Giants’ 45-yard line, with Wentz again sneaking ahead for the first down. Four plays later, the Eagles were in the end zone. Those two touchdown drives only happened because head coach Doug Pederson—with the support of an owner, Jeffrey Lurie, who has expressly supported such aggressive tactics—made the right decisions on fourth down. [slate.com]
OK, this one gets a little technical – and you might need to click over and read the full story before what’s below makes total sense – but it’s worth checking out.
In the chart below, there is a positive correlation over the past two seasons between the number of personnel packages a team uses per game and that team's scoring. The relationship is most pronounced at the low end, with the NFL's five lowest-scoring teams this season (the Bengals, Giants, 49ers, Browns and Dolphins) all ranking 22nd or lower in packages used per game (defined by combinations of positions, e.g., 11 or 12 personnel, as opposed to specific players).
However, what jumped out to me were those three dots at the top left -- outliers that seemed more significant when NFL Media researcher Ethan Young told me they represented (from highest down) the 2016 Atlanta Falcons, the 2017 Los Angeles Rams and the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles…
I sent this chart to a bunch of NFL people, including several respected coordinators. And I came away believing it's no accident the Rams and Eagles are following some similar principles when it comes to getting their young QBs playing fast, in much of the same way Kyle Shanahan got Matt Ryan playing by far the best football of his life last season on the way to an MVP. [nfl.com]
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