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Even At 5-1, Eagles Know They Must Improve


The goal is perfection, and it is unattainable, but it remains the reach for every football team. So the Eagles are 5-1 and they have put themselves in good position in mid-October, and with four of the next five games in the raucous confines of Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles have a chance to create a solid playoff scenario for themselves.

But …

We're only six games into the season. The Eagles sit atop the NFC East. They've got the best record in the NFC with four wins in the conference and four games on the road already in the books. Pretty, pretty, pretty good.

The message from the head coach, as they went off and enjoyed this long mini-bye weekend, was to enjoy, and to breathe, and to come back ready to be a better football team.

"You don't want anybody reading the press clippings and listening to the hype," head coach Doug Pederson said. "There are always areas to improve upon and we have plenty of them."

Where can the Eagles improve? Let's take a look.


Carolina had some success early on Thursday going after Carson Wentz, loading up over right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai's side and bringing some extra bodies. Throughout the game the Panthers blitzed and forced the Eagles' running backs to work in pass protection. Carolina won some of those battles, so you can expect in this copycat league teams to blitz the running backs in the future.

Look, this is nitpicky stuff. The offense has been really good, wonderfully balanced, and explosive in both the running game and the passing game. But we all wince when Wentz gets hit, and he's been taking some shots (and giving out some, too). Teams are going to blitz the Eagles. That means the running backs have to help in pass protection. The tight ends have to help. At times the wide receivers will be asked to chip and then get out into their routes. It's going to be a team effort, and as the season gets into the stretch run, Wentz needs protection on a consistent basis.


This is an area in which the offense has improved a bunch from 2016, but you always want more, right? And, look, this is really splitting hairs because the Eagles have converted 53 percent of their visits to the red zone into touchdowns, sixth best in the NFL. Success in the red zone is a constant area to improve, and scoring a touchdown versus kicking a field goal is going to make the difference between winning and losing big games in November and December and certainly in the playoffs.

Tight end Zach Ertz and wide receiver Nelson Agholor have emerged as legitimate threats in the red zone. LeGarrette Blount has been very good in tight areas. The offensive line is the key here. That group has played great football, and Wentz has been efficient.

Get better, and this team is going to realize the benefits in the long run.


A compliment to start here: The defensive backfield has survived some hardship in the form of injuries to put together a strong first six games. Think about this: The Eagles are starting a second-year man in Jalen Mills and a rookie in Rasul Douglas at the cornerback positions. The nickel cornerback is Patrick Robinson, whose career was stuck in neutral after an injury-plagued past prior to signing as an unheralded unrestricted free agent here.


 , 28 yards against Giants; Jalen Mills, 21 yards and 40 yards against Carolina). Only one other pass interference penalty, against Rasul Douglas in the Chargers game, has been called.

It's something to tighten up. And you figure that when Ronald Darby returns in the next few weeks – fingers crossed – the big plays will be reduced. In the meantime, the cornerbacks continue to improve and they'll have a tough matchup on Monday night against an explosive Washington passing game.


The outlook is optimistic. Cornerback Jaylen Watkins should return from a hamstring injury this week, just in time to step up on special teams with safety Chris Maragos sidelined with a knee injury. Offensive tackle Lane Johnson should return this week after missing Thursday's game with a concussion. Linebacker Jordan Hicks is expected to return to practice this week after missing key time against Carolina because of an ankle injury. He needs to get that injury right and stay on the field.

The outlook with Maragos and his knee injury is not yet completely clear, but there is optimism that he'll be back before too long. Running back Wendell Smallwood shouldn't be too far from returning after missing the last couple of games with a knee injury.

For the most part, then, all good. Losing Darren Sproles for the season was a blow, but the Eagles have done an excellent job replacing his production. They're going to be fresh and ready to go on Tuesday when they return from the long weekend.


Hey, look, 5-1 is really nice and Eagles fans are on fire and the team is brimming with confidence. But those players who were here in 2014 remember when the Eagles entered December 9-3 with home games ahead. And they promptly lost three straight games. And the season was over.

Do not believe the hype if you are a player. This is a long, long season with many twists and turns. The Eagles are off to a great start in 2017 and the best could be yet to come. This football team has won five of its first six games by focusing on the task at hand, so keep it that way.

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