The Seven-Week Countdown to the end of the regular season begins now with the bye week over, the Eagles setting their sights on the New England Patriots and the NFL postseason. We’ve got a wild ride ahead, starting now …
1. The latest on the wide receiver picture is that the Eagles have not officially done anything to replace DeSean Jackson, who is on the Injured Reserve list. Something will be done, obviously.
The Eagles need help at wide receiver with the loss of Jackson, and they certainly need to have the entire room bring more production to the offense in the final seven games of the regular season. That said, remember this: The Eagles have played without Jackson in, basically, eight games this season. It’s not like the offense has to reboot for the stretch run. Doug Pederson and his coaching staff will play to their strengths – a good running game behind an outstanding offensive line, two terrific tight ends in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, and some position flexibility. Let’s not forget the role of Miles Sanders and, in spot situations, Darren Sproles in the passing game.
2. Pederson said last week that when Jason Peters is healthy and ready to go, he will step back in at left tackle in place of first-round draft pick Andre Dillard. It remains to be seen when Peters will be cleared, so the job is Dillard’s until then. He has made rapid improvement and is carrying so much more confidence now. Offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland vouched in a big way for Dillard during the 2019 NFL Draft and he’s done wonders with the highly athletic tackle ever since. Dillard has worked hard and gained strength and he’s shown his athleticism early in what should be a very bright NFL career. The Eagles, at this point and it’s early, appear to have hit big with their first two draft picks from the spring.
3. Carson Wentz (144 rushing yards) isn’t Lamar Jackson (702 rushing yards) but is mobile and can do some damage outside the pocket with his legs. So, would Pederson consider incorporating some designed quarterback runs into the equation? It’s going to be really, really interesting to see what wrinkles the offensive coaching staff adds to the scheme after some self-scouting during the bye week.
4. With Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty, the Patriots have an outstanding cornerback tandem, so it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they are playing man coverage against the Eagles on the outside and choosing to double-team someone else (Zach Ertz, maybe?) in Sunday’s game. This is going to be one of the most challenging and fascinating chess matches to watch with Bill Belichick and his staff against Doug Pederson and his staff.
5. Handling New England’s running backs in the passing game is going to be a prime challenge for Jim Schwartz’s defense. James White has 44 receptions for New England, averaging 9.2 yards per catch. How the Eagles match up against White and slot receiver Julian Edelman (63 catches, 663 yards, four touchdowns) is critical, and the addition of wide receiver Mohamed Sanu provides another option for quarterback Tom Brady as the Patriots look to get their offense, which has been off-kilter for much of the season, right for the stretch run.
6. Sunday is the Eagles’ Salute To Service Game. It’s a nationally televised game and it’s going to be a special late afternoon/early evening at Lincoln Financial Field.
7. Dillard is part of it, so for a moment let’s just applaud the Eagles’ offensive line which, as a group, has been great for most of this season. Having this bye week came at a perfect time for a group that should come back snarling and as fresh as can be expected for the final seven games. Really, having a full week off is a huge breath of fresh air for a veteran group that needed it.
8. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham have been dominating along the defensive line and are getting the deserved attention, but young ends Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat have also been productive and active and around the football. Add in Genard Avery, and the Eagles are going to have some juice at the line of scrimmage for New England.
9. Finally, don’t discount the importance of special teams on Sunday. New England has a fine punter in Jake Bailey, who has 21 punts inside the 20-yard line, but the Patriots are on their third placekicker, Nick Folk. As Pederson says, everything matters. And in a showdown like we expect on Sunday, where it could come down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the kicking game will be huge.