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Lawlor: Now The Hard Part Begins

Posted Jan 3, 2017

Any season that doesn't end in a trip to the playoffs is disappointing.

Every team is convinced in September that it will find a way to get to the playoffs, no matter whether it is the defending champs or a team in transition. The Eagles had a rookie quarterback and a rookie head coach. They had new systems for the players to learn. That's not the formula for getting to the postseason. Still, you always have that as your goal. You want your team playing deep into the month of January.

That didn't happen for the Eagles this year, but the team can feel good about what happened on Sunday. Carson Wentz threw a pair of touchdown passes and didn't turn the ball over. Zach Ertz had a monster game, catching 13 passes, including the two touchdowns. Rookie Byron Marshall ran the ball well and showed good promise. Terrell Watson played in his first NFL game and scored a touchdown. Brandon Graham spent most of the game in the backfield, causing all kinds of havoc. Jordan Hicks picked off two passes, with both of them being really impressive plays.

And all of this came against Dallas.

Beating the Cowboys is always a good thing. I don't care what the records are. I don't care what the circumstances are. Winning a game against the guys with the star on their helmets always makes you feel good. 2016 wasn't an ideal season, but the Eagles ended on a two-game winning streak and both of the teams they beat were playoff-bound division rivals. That's a good finish.

Wentz wrapped up his rookie season with a good performance. He started off red hot in the game. There were a couple of series where Wentz got into a funk. He wasn't making good decisions and was off target with his throws. The coaches made the adjustment to go to short, quick throws and that got Wentz back into a good rhythm. He played well for the rest of the game. Consider that Wentz was without his best runner, best receiver and had a new starter at left guard. That put a lot of pressure on him to make plays and Wentz got that done.

He used his legs to run once for 13 yards. He showed good movement in the pocket, making rushers miss a couple of times. Wentz had one pass catcher playing at a high level, Ertz, so he fed him the ball over and over. If the other team can't stop it, don't go away from it. Wentz made a good read and throw when he connected with Ertz for the 20-yard touchdown. Dallas blitzed and that left Ertz one-on-one with a defender in the end zone. Wentz put good touch on the ball and put it right where Ertz could make the grab.

The run game went for 114 yards. No one was spectacular, but Marshall was impressive. He isn't all that big, but runs hard. He has good burst. If you give him an opening, he will get through it quickly and into the second level. He could become a valuable role player in the future. Watson is 240 pounds. He ran behind his pads and got the best of a couple of tacklers. Watson showed good speed. He reminded me a bit of Dorsey Levens, the former Packer who played with the Eagles late in his career. Watson is a project, but he has NFL size and speed.

Isaac Seumalo got the start at left guard. He had started at right guard and right tackle previously, but that was his first chance to be the left guard. He played well. Seumalo looks like he will be a starter in the future, possibly as soon as 2017. Lane Johnson played right tackle once again and the Eagles improved to 5-1 with him in the lineup. It is incredibly frustrating to play the "what if" game when thinking about what his absence meant to this team.

The Eagles' defense limited Dallas to 195 yards, posted three sacks and a pair of interceptions. The Cowboys mixed in backups and that certainly had a major impact in the game, but they still had some star players on the field. There aren't enough players on an NFL team to rest everyone.

Graham dominated right tackle Doug Free, a Dallas starter. Graham beat him on both run plays and pass plays. Graham beat him off the edge and with inside moves. That had to be a bit concerning for Dallas coaches. Graham didn't have any sacks, but did have two tackles for loss and was disruptive all game long.

Hicks was the defensive star of the game. His two interceptions were terrific plays. He blitzed up the middle and picked off one that Mark Sanchez was trying to get by him. I thought Hicks had just batted the ball down, but he found a way to hold onto the ball. The other pick was a throw over the middle where Hicks undercut the tight end and made a great hands catch. He finished the season with five interceptions. That is a really impressive total for a middle linebacker.

2016 didn't go as the Eagles hoped, but when you see young stars like Wentz, Ertz and Hicks in action, it certainly gives you a lot of hope for the future.

The Eagles have a lot of work to do between now and August. The current players need to get better. That means lifting weights, working with JUGS machines to improve their hands, studying the playbook so they know it inside out and anything else that can be done in the offseason.

The organization must go out and find some talented players to add to the mix. There are some good pieces already in place, but not enough. The coaches, scouts and executives need to work together to find players to help improve the group that is already in place.

Wentz is the key to the future. The Eagles did a great job of finding their quarterback. Now, they must build around him so this team can get back to the playoffs and being a Super Bowl contender.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.

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