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A 5-1 Start And Some Of The Reasons Why

Posted Oct 14, 2017

You would have been pleased with a 4-2 record after six games. At 5-1? Pure joy, right? The Eagles are off to a great start to the 2017 season, and now as they take off for the weekend, not to return until Tuesday, we pause to assess just how the team reached this point.

You would have been pleased with a 4-2 record after six games. At 5-1? Pure joy, right? The Eagles are off to a great start to the 2017 season, and now as they take off for the weekend, not to return until Tuesday, we pause to assess just how the team reached this point.

The Eagles have overcome some serious injury adversity, four road games in the first six weeks, and the integration of some key, new faces to take the best record in the NFC into their mini-bye weekend.

It feels great, no doubt. Head coach Doug Pederson and his coaching staff have done a wonderful job of teaching "situational football" through six games. Here are some points to consider …

  • It wasn’t too long ago when wide receiver Nelson Agholor was considered by some a long shot to even make the roster. He had a poor 2016 season. The Eagles went out and added Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency. They used draft picks on Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson. Where would Agholor fit in with the new-look wide receiver group? Would he fit in at all?

It’s really been a remarkable story. Agholor showed up in the spring in great shape and caught everything. He followed it up throughout the Organized Team Activities and then into Training Camp with more consistency and he just looked like he was playing faster. Well, he was. And he performed so well as the Eagles worked him into the slot position that the team traded wide receiver Jordan Matthews, one of the most productive receivers in his three seasons of any player in franchise history.

Agholor’s turned out to be great at the slot position, with four touchdown catches in the first six games. Agholor brings quickness and explosiveness to an offense looking for more of both. He’s earned the trust of quarterback Carson Wentz and the coaching staff. Agholor has been a revelation.

  • Linebacker Mychal Kendricks was in a similar situation throughout the spring and summer. His playing time had diminished each season from 2013 to last year and many wondered if and when the Eagles would trade Kendricks. Now look at him.

Kendricks had 10 solo tackles and 5 assists last night from the line of scrimmage. He added two tackles on special teams. Kendricks is playing about half the team’s snaps on defense – he is not a regular piece of the team’s nickel package – and he’s making them count with confident, sure tackling. He knows his assignments. And coordinator Jim Schwartz is using Kendricks and playing to his strengths.

  • The improvement of quarterback Carson Wentz has fueled this whole great start, of course. He’s simply taken over games and befuddled defenses with his great preparation, his fearlessness, and his intelligent play. Wentz is a star already in his second season with 13 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. He’s spread the ball around to his receivers and he’s avoiding forced passes. Wentz has been dominating on third down, leading the league in all major categories there.

It has obviously helped him that the offensive line has played so well and that the Eagles have developed a physical running game, but Wentz’s game has really grown with the added firepower around him and having a second year of knowledge in the system that allows Wentz more freedom to change plays and make calls at the line of scrimmage. He may never complete 67, 68 percent of his passes, simply because of the nature of the way Wentz plays the game, but he’s got the "it" factor to lead this franchise for the next dozen seasons.

  • It’s interesting to take stock of the veteran free agents the Eagles added and the roles they’ve played in this great start. Both Jeffery and Smith have been instrumental in boosting the passing attack. LeGarrette Blount has been the power running back the Eagles have long lacked, and he’s been far more explosive than most expected. Chris Long has been a great contributor in the defensive end rotation. Patrick Robinson is having a terrific season at cornerback, both in the nickel and outside. The trade to acquire defensive tackle Tim Jernigan was a master stroke, as Jernigan has fit in perfectly with this defense.

The Eagles also re-signed offensive guard Stefen Wisniewski, and all he has done is emerge as a stable, starting left guard ahead of free agent signee Chance Warmack and second-year man Isaac Seumalo. Both Warmack and Seumalo are valuable backups. Quarterback Nick Foles is a veteran backup to Wentz who can win games if he is needed to play.

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Those solid moves, combined with a rookie class that has brought in immediate contributors defensive end Derek Barnett, cornerback Rasul Douglas, wide receiver Mack Hollins, defensive tackle Elijah Qualls, and running back Corey Clement, have given the Eagles a roster that is contributing from all corners. Beyond that, the Eagles struck gold by plucking placekicker Jake Elliott from the Cincinnati practice squad after Caleb Sturgis was injured and then smartly signed Kenjon Barner to replace Darren Sproles in the punt return game and in the offense.

A series of smart moves that were aggressive and very well thought out has helped elevate the quality of talent on the roster in a short period of time. The Eagles can compete with any team in the league now. They’re winning at home and they’re winning on the road and they are clearly playing with a ton of confidence.

The coaching staff has worked the personnel beautifully and developed the talent from one week to the next. This team has won games in a lot of different ways, with different “heroes” emerging each week.

The first six games have been remarkable, frankly. There is a long way to go in the season, but there are also many reasons for optimism. The Eagles are going to get their injured players back in the next handful of weeks – with the exception of Sproles, of course – and they’re going to have some necessary depth going down the stretch for a post-season run.

These are the good times. Enjoy them. The Eagles are building the right way, and they’re doing it quickly. Once the long weekend ends, the focus turns toward Washington and a key NFC East showdown on Monday Night Football in front of a home crowd that has loved the ride so far.

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