Let us all understand a few things as we settle into the bye week and digest the first half of this 2020 season and chart a course for the final eight games leading into the postseason. The Philadelphia Eagles, at 3-4-1, are not a perfect product. The Eagles are also not a finished product. Head Coach Doug Pederson is banking on a series of factors that can come together in the weeks ahead to push this football team into prime playoff position when December rolls around.
The point: It isn't necessarily as much about what the Eagles have accomplished in an uneven opening eight games – they're 3-2 in the last five, with only tough losses at Pittsburgh and home against Baltimore as blemishes – as what they can accomplish when they return from the bye week.
That is the optimistic view. That is the view of a head coach who knows a thing or two about turning a season around and priming a team for a playoff run.
"We understand we have to get better. We know that, that's – myself included, we all have to – we are all towing the line in the same direction, and we have to get better there," Pederson said. "But you look at the tape today, and there's some things – and I tell the guys all the time. We're not going to use the excuse anymore that these players are young, right? Jalen Reagor just came back for the first time. Was it perfect? No. But there's room to grow. Travis Fulgham has been a bright spot on the perimeter and (John) Hightower has been a bright spot on the perimeter, and these are guys that are getting better each week.
"You go back to 2017 in that championship run, and if you remember back a couple years ago, there was consistency and there was stability around our offense. We had the same three receivers. We had the same three tight ends. We had the same running backs. The offensive line was intact and so we had continuity and things were flowing. With so many moving parts, offensively, right now with the amount of injuries, so many guys are shuffling in and out of the lineup that it's hard to get continuity and rhythm and timing and flow. It makes it look really bad on the outside when, quite honestly, from – you probably don't believe it, but it's encouraging from our side that, yeah, one, we won the game, right? We're a game and a half up in the NFC East. We have a chance to get healthy here at the bye. We have a chance next week against the Giants to hopefully get some more starters back and see what happens and correct some of the things that are going on.
"It's about how we – the season, it's a marathon. It's long, right? It's not a sprint. You don't sprint to the finish. Are we where we want to be? Yeah, we're first place in the NFC East, but at 3-4-1, it could easily be the other way, right? It could be 4-3-1 or 5-3 or whatever it could be. But there's a lot of positives that we see as coaches on the inside that give us the encouragement and the opportunity to get better as a team."
There is a lot to unpack in that long quote, but the essence of it is this: The Eagles have been a week-to-week collection of changing parts due to an injury situation that has been, to say the least, constant and intense and, in some positions (offensive line, cornerback), debilitating. Instead of wallowing in the past – and yes, it was an unsightly first half of the season – permit me to list some reasons for optimism for the remainder of the regular season.
1. Pederson said no major injuries came from the win over Dallas, so cornerback Darius Slay (ankle) and defensive tackle Malik Jackson (quad) should be fine moving forward. Neither of them finished the Dallas game, lending concern that, you know … Anyway, right tackle Lane Johnson will benefit greatly from not playing on Sunday and taking treatment all week. Tight end Dallas Goedert played, but was targeted only one time (one reception, 15 yards) as he gutted out 53 snaps on an ankle that was good enough to play, but not 100 percent healthy. Left tackle Jason Peters limped off the field a few times but hung in there and went the entire game. Huge. He will love the bye week. Tight end Zach Ertz is on the mend and will be back soon. Running back Miles Sanders should be available for New York after the bye week.
2. The offense, so inconsistent in eight games, will surely be improved with the return of Johnson and Sanders and Ertz, right? And how about wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who joins a young and talented group of receivers that has been productive. Jeffery looks around and he sees that Travis Fulgham has been balling – 29 catches, 435 yards (15 yards per reception), and four touchdowns on only 44 targets in five games. Jalen Reagor is going to be a big part of things moving forward as the Eagles incorporate him into the screen game, put the ball in his hands on jet sweeps, and generally find creative ways to use his explosiveness. John Hightower is a burner who is a threat in the vertical passing game. Jeffery doesn't have to carry the receiving game. He just needs to get healthy and do his thing – overpower smaller cornerbacks with his size and be an asset in the red zone.
3. When the offense is as whole as it can be, the expectation is that quarterback Carson Wentz will return to the quarterback who threw only seven interceptions in each of the 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons. What Wentz is doing now is unsustainable – the 12 interceptions and 16 giveaways are terrible numbers, as everyone agrees – and the belief is that when Wentz has some stability around him, he's going to have less of a "I have to do it all" feeling.
4. The defense has been powered by a front four that dominates and that enters the second half of the season healthy and on top of its game. Brandon Graham is having an All-Pro season. The tackle rotation is excellent. The depth at defensive end is impressive. The Eagles know the defensive line is going to show up every week.
5. In the secondary, Slay has been banged up all year and he will benefit from the bye week. Same with Avonte Maddox, who is two games returned from an injury. Cre'Von LeBlanc should be back in the post-bye days. There is depth in the secondary to allow the Eagles to interchange their personnel.
6. The final point is an intangible, but it is important: The Eagles have made second-half runs in each of the last two seasons after winning the Super Bowl in 2017. They understand what it takes. Now, it's not going to be easy with a schedule that includes a road game at Cleveland, home against Seattle, at Green Bay, home with New Orleans, and at Arizona before finishing against NFC East foes Dallas (road) and Washington (home), but I'm quite sure that none of those teams are unbeatable. The Eagles have some work to do, no doubt. But they know how to handle these moments.
So, in the end, Pederson is right. There is a lot to look forward to with this team. And as everyone exhales, that's exactly what Pederson and his coaching staff are going to do as they explore ways to make the Eagles better, more efficient, and more potent in the final eight games with the NFC East title very much in their reach.