The Philadelphia Eagles are coming off their bye week with roughly half of their regular season games in the books. It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far with some incredibly frustrating losses along the way. Still, the team sits at 5-4 and is tied with the Dallas Cowboys for 1st place in the division. So while they haven’t looked like the Super Bowl contending team that a good portion of the fan base and media had hoped they would be before the season started, there’s still reason for optimism. The next 2 games are going to be difficult, but the rest of the schedule beyond that is favorable.
The following are the biggest keys for the Eagles going forward:
=== 12 & 21 ===
The biggest letdown so far has arguably been the absence of DeSean Jackson due to injury. He looked like a God-send in Week 1 but has essentially been out of the lineup since then, aside from short stints early in the Week 2 and 9 games. Without him, the passing game has struggled as a result. Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor look like shells of themselves compared to how good they were in 2017. Mack Hollins has contributed less than nothing as a receiver. And rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside has essentially ridden the bench since his heartbreaking drop at the end of the Detroit Lions game.
Not all of the weapons have been disappointments though. The saving grace for the offense has been the tight ends and running backs. Despite a bit of a slow start to the season, Zach Ertz is still one of the elite receiving tight ends in the league and the top target for Carson Wentz. Not to be outdone, Dallas Goedert continues to showcase his talents as one of the best up-and-coming tight ends in the league. He may not be the receiver that Ertz is (yet), but he’s provided Wentz with a reliable target in the middle of the field and the red zone. Rookie RB Miles Sanders has been the most explosive receiver in Jackson’s absence, making several big catches downfield and creating yards after the catch on screens and passes in the flat. And while Jordan Howard isn’t used a ton in the passing game, he’s been consistent almost all season and gives the offense a physical presence on the ground.
It’s possible that Jeffery and Agholor start playing better after the bye, which would obviously help this offense a lot. However, the proven playmakers on this team right now are Ertz, Goedert, Sanders, and Howard. Teams in today’s NFL love to spread the field and use 11 personnel a majority of the time, but for the Eagles’ offense it would be better to have their best players on the field as much as possible. In other words, use a hefty amount of 12 and 21 personnel. Good things seem to happen when they have both Ertz and Goedert in and when they have both Sanders and Howard in. Doug Pederson and the rest of the coaching staff would be smart to keep that going.
Ladies and gentlemen, Eagles fans everywhere…. we FINALLY have some 21 personnel!!! Not a lot, but it’s something. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come. #FlyEaglesFly #MilesSanders #JordanHoward #DallasGoedert pic.twitter.com/kgTmwLfoD1
— Charles “Chux” Maranan (@ChuxMaranan) October 22, 2019
— Charles “Chux” Maranan (@ChuxMaranan) October 29, 2019
=== The Best Ability Is Durability ===
It seems like an obvious statement to say that the team needs to stay healthy; that’s a key thing for almost every team. However, it’s especially important for a team like the Eagles at this point of the year. For the 3rd straight season, the roster has been ravaged by significant injuries to several key players. The past 2 years they’ve been able to overcome them and make the playoffs, including winning the Super Bowl in 2017. This year we’d like to say that they’ll have similar results, but there’s little margin for error for that to happen.
They’ve gotten some key starters on the defensive side of the ball back the past couple of weeks in Avonte Maddox, Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, and Timmy Jernigan. As a result, the defense has played better recently and they’re looking to go forward with some much-needed stability. But if they were to sustain more injuries, especially with 2 difficult matchups ahead, you can’t deny that it would be especially demoralizing. It would be difficult to gain any type of momentum with guys repeatedly being lost and out of the lineup.
Staying healthy isn’t necessarily something players and coaches can control. Several major injuries that occur around the league are just freak accidents and can happen to anyone. But that’s what the Eagles must avoid; they need some good luck and fortune to give them a break and keep their players on the field.
=== Backed Into A Corner(s) ===
Speaking of Avonte Maddox, Jalen Mills, and Ronald Darby…
When all was said and done there were no acquisitions of any cornerbacks from other teams before the trade deadline hit. Therefore, the Eagles are rolling with the two cornerbacks that started on the outside for them in the Super Bowl and a young slot corner who has shown some serious potential since being drafted in 2018. That may not excite many fans, and understandably so. But when it comes down to it, the 3 of them could be all the team needs.
Mills isn’t a great corner by any means, but he is a solid one who is physical, great in the red zone, and has no shortage of confidence in himself. His intangibles, leadership, and “swagger” have been missed in this secondary so far this season. Ronald Darby had his struggles early in the season, but there’s also reason to believe that he wasn’t 100% healthy. He didn’t have his signature speed that he has always relied on. But now that he’s back and seemingly full healthy, we should expect the same corner we saw in 2017 and 2018 that has shown to be good when he’s dialed in. And as for Maddox, don’t let his one bad game against the Packers mislead you; he’s been a very good corner since taking over as a starter late last season. His versatility and ability to play at any spot in the secondary makes him a valuable chess piece type of player. Not only will he continue to excel as the team’s slot corner, but he should be used a good amount as a 3rd safety now that Andrew Sendejo has been released.
This CB corps overall isn’t great, but they’ve shown that the team can win with the 3 of them as starters. If the defensive line continues to play better and provide more pressure, the trio of Darby, Mills, and Maddox will get the job done.