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Bye week primer: 5 storylines to follow in season's stretch run

Now, the bye week. A chance to exhale for a football team that has been hard at it since Training Camp opened in late July at the NovaCare Complex. The Eagles have played 13 games and welcome the week ahead like a deep gulp of oxygen and energy. It couldn't have come at a better time for a team that finds itself in the middle of the NFC playoff picture with four division games, three at Lincoln Financial Field, remaining in the regular season.

The playoff chase ... something not a whole lot of people would have seen coming when the Eagles lost in Las Vegas on October 24 to fall to 2-5. A first-year head coach has kept the team together, stayed true to his convictions, and adapted to his personnel and here the Eagles are, winners of four of their last six games and feeling like the world is in front of them.

"These next four games are crucial," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "A lot is going to be decided in these games. We have a chance to get rested up this week and get ready for what's ahead. It's exciting. It's going down to the last few games in the division. We have a lot in front of us. Let's get some guys healthy and go out and get in the chase. That's kind of the way it's been in the last few years, so we'll be ready."

Where do the Eagles stand right now? They've got Washington at Lincoln Financial Field in two weekends, then host the Giants, then play at Washington, and conclude the regular season at home against Dallas. The Washington Football Team, 6-6 at the moment, is in the third and final Wild Card playoff spot in the NFC, hosts Dallas on Sunday, travels to Philadelphia, plays at Dallas, hosts the Eagles, and finishes the regular season at the Giants. It's not an easy schedule for Washington, but it really doesn't matter: The Eagles need to handle their business and not pay a lick of attention to what any other team is doing.

With that said, here are some things to consider as the Eagles break for the week and enjoy the time off ...

1. The injury factor

It's significant, but every team is dealing with the same thing. Quarterback Jalen Hurts missed Sunday's game with a sprained ankle, so he will spend a lot of time with the athletic training staff getting healthy for Washington. Running back Miles Sanders left the game against the Jets with a sprained ankle that he will treat all week, and center Jason Kelce will do the same with his foot injury. Head Coach Nick Sirianni said the team received good news regarding Kelce on Monday. Running back Jordan Howard has missed two games with a knee injury. Cornerback Steven Nelson has a shoulder injury that forced him out of the Jets game, but Sirianni added that he should be good after the bye week.

Truthfully, there are a dozen other players – if not more – who are banged up in the locker room. This week will do wonders for getting the Eagles healthy and primed for the final four games.

2. Assessing the offense

The Eagles learned that they've got a strong two-deep situation at quarterback. It's something they felt really great about before the Jets game, but having Gardner Minshew go out and play such solid football affirmed their beliefs. The offense didn't skip much of a beat at all with Minshew at the helm as the Eagles scored on their first seven possessions, didn't turn the football over, and combined a potent passing game – Minshew completed his first 11 passes and threw two touchdown passes to tight end Dallas Goedert – with a running game that churned out 185 yards.

With an offensive line that continues to perform at a very high level – Nate Herbig deserves credit for stepping in at right guard for the injured Jack Driscoll and playing well against the Jets – the Eagles feel they will win every week in the trenches. That's absolutely huge.

"Those guys keep doing it and making things much easier for us," said Sanders, who gained 120 yards rushing against New York and was a factor with 3 receptions for 22 yards in the passing game. "They're dominating. They're moving defenders and that's going to make everything go for an offense."

Sirianni has leaned on the running game for the last two months with great success. But the Eagles have also shown they can inflict damage in the passing game, so the balance and the ability to take it to the defense in a variety of ways give the Eagles an advantage down the stretch.

"We can hurt you in a lot of ways," Goedert said. "We all have confidence that whatever the coaches call, we're going to execute and make it work."

3. Taking stock of the defense

An overarching philosophy of the defense has been to limit big plays and the Eagles have done that very well, ranking in the top 10 in the NFL in fewest yards per play allowed. They've also been able to come up with takeaways at key times since the turnaround began, and the run defense has been stout – the Eagles rank 13th in the NFL allowing 109.4 yards per game this season, and they've been dominating in the last three games, permitting just 83 yards per game.

Things are coming together for the defense at exactly the right time.

"We feel it and we see it in the results," linebacker T.J. Edwards said. "We had some learning moments early in the season but we all knew that once we got on the same page and executed what the coaches were calling and what they were teaching us, that it would come together. I think we're moving in the right direction. We just want to get better week after week. That's the goal. That's what we intend to do."

4. Special Teams: Weather will play a role in final month

Jake Elliott is on a great roll – he's made 22 of 24 field goals, including 15 straight. Elliott has also been perfect on his 33 point-after attempts. He's as locked in as he's ever been in his outstanding five-year Eagles career.

"I'm just trying to be consistent every time I go out there and make great contact on every kick," Elliott said. "The operation is great with Rick (Lovato, long snapper) throwing it back and Arryn (Siposs, holder) doing a great job. We just want to keep everything the same."

Siposs has done a nice job in his first year as a punter, so the kicking game is in fine shape heading into what we all expect to be a weather-interesting final four games. The Eagles are continuing to work on the return and coverage game, an ongoing process for every team.

5. Overall, how ready are the Eagles for the stretch run?

A lot depends on health, of course, and that's why this bye week is so huge. The Eagles are a team that wins at the line of scrimmage, with an offense that can run the ball and make timely plays in the passing game, and a defense that can stifle the ground game. Ball security is going to be extremely important. Every game is going to have a postseason feel, and is there any better situation for a team that is young at head coach and young at quarterback? What a great learning experience!

The Eagles entered this season with a whole lot of questions. They've answered those questions in a very positive manner and the team has rebounded from a tough start to put itself in position for a playoff push.

Rest up, everyone! The best is yet to come for a football team that has its destiny in its control.

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