Merrill Reese sat across the table in the NovaCare Complex cafeteria and looked as serious as could be between bites of a sandwich, thinking about this Sunday's game against the New York Jets.
“This game, David, is just as much a must-win game as last week in Green Bay,” he said, voice booming as always. “The Eagles have to win this game.”
Life is always better when the Voice of the Eagles chimes in on the importance of a game, and I understood the point: With a challenging three-game road trip immediately ahead, followed by a difficult-on-paper November, the Eagles certainly can’t afford to trip up against an 0-3 team at Lincoln Financial Field.
Point taken, even if we didn’t get into the specifics of a true must win.
Sunday’s game against the New York Jets is one the Eagles need to get. It’s time to get on a roll, and maybe that thrilling win at Lambeau Field points the Eagles in the right direction after an uneven 1-2 start. New York is playing its backup quarterback, Luke Falk, and has absolutely no momentum with an 0-3 start and other injuries that will take key players off the field.
This is a different kind of challenge for the Eagles, different than going into Green Bay as a team few thought could win and pulling it out on a short week on the road. This is a game that the Eagles need to play well in to do something they haven’t done this season: Re-assert themselves at Lincoln Financial Field.
“Defending our home turf, we’ve got to be better at that,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “We had to come back and beat Washington in the first home game and then we lost to Detroit. We need to win at home. It’s that simple. That’s our turf.”
Beyond that, there are some question marks here for a team looking to hit a midseason stride. Some things to consider …
1. The offense scored 10 points in the first quarter of the Detroit game, its only points in the first 15 minutes of any game this season. Yes, it’s a recurring theme. No, there aren’t any magical answers. The Eagles are hopeful to start fast against New York, a team that has a good defense even with star linebacker C.J. Mosley listed as doubtful with a groin injury. The matchup to watch here is standout safety Jamal Adams likely working against tight end Zach Ertz. With wide receiver DeSean Jackson out with the abdominal injury, and with Ertz in a battle against Adams, quarterback Carson Wentz might look for other options, including wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, along with tight end Dallas Goedert. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Eagles play this one.
2. The cornerback position remains a battle of attrition. With Sidney Jones questionable after limited practice work as he comes back from a hamstring injury, the Eagles have some kind of combination of Rasul Douglas, Orlando Scandrick, and Craig James, along with Ryan Lewis, a veteran of 10 NFL games who was signed to the practice squad this week and added to the 53-man roster on Friday. With the way things are going at cornerback and with all the injuries, Lewis may get some playing time in this one. We’ll see. How the Eagles handle cornerback moving forward when the quality of the wide receivers and the passing games improve is going to be critical.
3. There are going to be games during the season that the Eagles are “supposed” to win and others that they are not “supposed” to win. Of course, from the team side, you go in expecting to win all of them. This is one of the games the Eagles are “supposed” to win. The team downplayed the notion of a letdown all week, but we’ll see how the intensity is when the ball is kicked off. Are the Eagles ready to dominate?
4. Le’Veon Bell has struggled in an offense that has been pretty bad all season, but he’s still a force and he’s coming off a bye week and the Jets just might give Bell the football 35 times in the running game and passing game. How will the Eagles strategize against Bell, who is so great as a receiver? We’ll get a peek at Jim Schwartz’s strategy as the Eagles play their first top-tier all-purpose back of the season. With Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott ahead, Bell serves as a good opening test.
5. Finally, as uplifting as that win in Green Bay was, the Eagles have had 10 days to hear good things about this team. How do they respond? Football is such an emotional game. You could feel the intensity all week as the Eagles prepared for the Packers. This week? We’re going to see. This is where the leaders have to make sure that every player detailed his work throughout the week.
The Eagles can’t afford a letdown. It may not be a “must-win game” in the truest sense (sorry, Merrill), but it’s extremely important the Eagles take care of business, play inspired and urgent football, and get to 3-2 before they take to the road for three straight games.