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Lawlor: What Do We Know About The Eagles?

Posted Oct 3, 2017

The NFL season is such a long grind that many coaches like to break it down into four-game segments. They want to see how the team does in each segment, not only in terms of winning but also how it plays. Let's take a look at how the Eagles are doing a quarter into the season.

The Eagles are 3-1 and alone atop the NFC East, so obviously things are great from that perspective. Beyond the numbers, the Eagles are passing the eye test. The Eagles were also 3-1 a year ago. They had beaten a pair of bad teams in the Browns and Bears and then played a flawless game in a blowout win over the Steelers. The Eagles then had a bye week and returned from that to lose a very sloppy game at Detroit, blowing it with some critical fourth-quarter mistakes.

The team is better this season. They are already 2-0 in the division. They went 2-4 last year, with both wins coming late in the season. The Eagles are 2-1 on the road, winning at Washington and on the West Coast. In 2016, the team was 1-7 on the road, with the only victory coming over the Bears, who finished 3-13. The Eagles' only loss thus far was a wild affair at Kansas City, which is currently undefeated and might be the best team in the league.

The Eagles haven't come close to matching the level they played at against the Steelers last year. This team has won with a consistent, methodical approach. There will be a game or two when things really click and the Eagles blow the doors off some opponents. It's good that the team is 3-1 and those performances have yet to happen.

This team has played well in tight games. The season opener was tight until the Eagles scored a defensive touchdown late in the game to seal the deal and win 30-17. The Eagles trailed the Giants 21-14 and again 24-21 before rallying to win 27-24 on a last-second field goal. The Chargers scored a touchdown to cut the Eagles lead to 26-24 on Sunday. The Eagles got the ball back with 6:44 and ate up the rest of the clock. Three tight games. Three Eagles wins.

This team shows good balance. The defense made the huge play to seal the opener. Special teams made the critical play to beat the Giants. The offense finished off the Chargers. You love when a team shows the ability to make key plays in all three phases.

The coaching staff is off to a good start in 2017. I worried about the Eagles' ability to put the dramatic Giants win behind them. Going on the road to play a winless team on the West Coast in a soccer stadium isn't a normal situation. Pederson had the team locked in from the opening kick and the Eagles completely dominated the first half. Pederson made the switch at left guard and that has worked well. Coaches have had to deal with all sorts of injuries, but replacements have stepped up to get the job done. The assistant coaches are getting their guys prepared to play.

Think about Dave Fipp for a second. He's established himself as the best special teams coach in the NFC, quite possibly the entire league. Fipp is breaking in a new long snapper this season. Fipp lost his kicker and punt returner to injuries. The Eagles surprised people by signing some kid named Jake Elliott to be the team's kicker, but he's been great. He hit the 61-yard bomb to beat the Giants and then was 4-for-4 on Sunday. Fipp has had to deal with a lot this year and his special teams unit continues to perform at a high level.

Carson Wentz has taken a big step forward. You could see that from the opening drive in Washington. He eluded rushers, stayed in the pocket, and then made a good throw to Nelson Agholor for a 58-yard touchdown. He doesn't make that play a year ago. Wentz is protecting the ball better. He had issues with fumbles and interceptions last season. He threw costly picks in the first two weeks, but none in the last two. Wentz is making some great throws. He hit Zach Ertz up the seam for a big gain on Sunday. You couldn't ask for a better throw than that. Wentz is making plays with his feet each week. He can elude pressure and buy time or take off down the field. He's had key runs in each game so far. Wentz has proven to be valuable on quarterback sneaks. The Eagles aren't afraid to go for it on fourth down, in part because they trust Wentz to get a yard.

Being good at situational football is a key part of being a good quarterback. The Eagles are one of the best teams in the league in the red zone and on third down. Wentz understands the situation and seems to be at his best in those moments. He also led his first game-winning drive against the Giants. His throw to Alshon Jeffery for 19 yards put the team into a position where Elliott could attempt his miracle field goal.

Ertz has emerged as one of the best tight ends in the league. He gets criticism for starting slow, but that hasn't been the case this year. Ertz is red hot. He's already got 26 catches, putting him on pace to have more than 100 for the season. He is a weapon whether you match him up against a linebacker, safety, or even a cornerback. Ertz has great hands and he's become a tremendous route-runner. He is the team's key receiver.

The offensive line is coming off a great couple of games. The Eagles ran for 407 yards over the past two weeks. Those teams have some big-time defensive linemen, but the Eagles controlled the line of scrimmage in each game. Wentz had time to throw and the runners had room to run. The line got off to a slow start, but it seems to be in a good place now. The players are building good chemistry, which is critical to good line play.

Losing Darren Sproles hurts in a big way, but the running backs stepped up and played their best football of the season without him. That's encouraging for the rest of the year. The wide receivers are making critical plays. Wide receivers had eight touchdown catches for all of 2016. They already have four this season, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor each with a pair.

The defense has looked dominant at times. Kirk Cousins struggled mightily in the opener and then Alex Smith took a beating in Week 2. Fletcher Cox missed most of the next two games and the defense wasn't as dominant up front.

The Eagles are second in the NFL in run defense and might be number one if they hadn't given up one long run to the Chiefs. The front seven has been stifling against opposing runners. There just isn't any room, up the middle or to the outside.

The secondary remains a work in progress. They have made some big plays and some key stops, but have also given up big plays. There are a lot of young players and injuries have caused all kinds of lineup changes. That is tough on the secondary, where communication and teamwork are critical.

There are plenty of things Jim Schwartz would love to get fixed with this defense, but he would be the first to point out that they've played well enough for the team to win three out of four weeks. That's the key stat.

There are definitely issues for the players and coaches to work through, but to be 3-1 after dealing with some adversity in the first month is pretty impressive. We have yet to see this team play up to its full potential. That's actually a good thing. The 2016 squad peaked in September and that's not what you want to do. You want to get better as the season goes along. It's going to be exciting to see what this Eagles team does the rest of the way.

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

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