Last week wasn't an easy one for the Eagles. They were emotionally challenged after an overtime loss to Dallas. They learned on Tuesday night of stress fracture in the back of starting quarterback Carson Wentz, necessitating a change at the position. Then they boarded the team charter on Saturday for another long trip, this time to Los Angeles to play the 11-2 Rams. There was some turmoil. There was some controversy.
Above all else, the Eagles showed maturity, leadership, and their love for head coach Doug Pederson.
Sunday night's 30-23 win over the Rams was the best one of the season. This was the game the Eagles weren't "supposed" to win. It became a signature victory in an inconsistent season that maybe, just maybe, has turned the corner for the good with two weeks remaining and playoff hopes still alive.
"My hat's off to coaches and players. It was just a great emotional win in all three phases," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday prior to his NovaCare Complex press conference. "Things are beginning to come together for us here at the end of the year."
Nick Foles stepped in for Wentz on Sunday night and delivered a professional performance, throwing for 270 yards and moving the offense up and down the field for three quarters (the fourth quarter was another story, which we'll talk about below). Foles will start Sunday against Houston in another must-win moment for the Eagles.
Pederson expects the same kind of performance from his No. 2 quarterback.
"A veteran player, he's seen a ton of games, Nick knows how to manage the offense," Pederson said. "He's one of those guys who's going to be efficient as a backup should and I can sort of live vicariously through Nick a little bit being a backup. The team around him … really, truly a collective effort. It's exciting."
While Wentz remains the starting quarterback here – and there is no gray area at all in Pederson's mind – the short term (meaning Sunday against Houston) belongs to Foles. The Texans are powerful up front defensively with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney on the edges, so Foles and the offense will see a whole new set of challenges against a 10-4 team. The long term belongs to Wentz – if the Eagles make the playoffs and Wentz is healthy, he likely starts, and he's certainly the starter in 2019 and for many years after that.
But in the short term, and all the team is focused on is Sunday and the Texans, Nick Foles is the guy.
- A well-deserved shout out goes to the offensive line, which did a terrific job on Sunday night against an excellent Rams front, particularly tackle Aaron Donald. Stefen Wisniewski had the primary responsibility for Donald, who entered the game with 16.5 quarterback sacks and left with the same number after recording a measly two total tackles and a quarterback hurry. The Eagles gave Wisniewski some help, moving Foles around the pocket and sliding protection Donald's way, so credit the coaches some, too. It was a team effort keeping Foles clean. He was not sacked and was hit only on a few occasions.
- We're not going to know for sure about the 2018 Rookie Class for another year or two, but some of the early returns are promising. Tight end Dallas Goedert has the makings of a beast to team with Zach Ertz and, by the way, keep an eye on the way Goedert is blocking as a rookie. The Eagles used quite a bit of 12 personnel – one running back, two tight ends – sets against the Rams, with Goedert seeing action on 39 of 64 total offensive snaps. Running back Josh Adams has been productive, although it's clear that defenses know to keep him from bouncing outside when he has the football, so he has to be more of a downhill running back until the outside opens up again.
And cornerback/safety/nickel corner Avonte Maddox is a player. A flat-out player. Where he plays down the line remains to be seen, but he's done a good job for the Eagles inside at corner in the nickel, at safety, and on the outside at corner, where he played for much of Sunday night. He's talented, he's versatile, he's a worker, and he's got heart. Good, good football player who made an immediate impact on Sunday night in his first game back returning from the knee and ankle injuries he suffered in New Orleans.
- Is there any doubt that if the Eagles featured Alshon Jeffery each and every week he would be one of those 85-to-95-reception, 1,200-yard, 12-touchdown wide receivers? It makes you think, doesn't it? Jeffery had eight receptions on eight targets on Sunday night, gaining 160 yards. He now has 57 receptions for 702 yards and five touchdowns in just 11 games this season. Last year, in 16 games, Jeffery caught 57 passes for 789 yards and nine touchdowns. He's not the conventional speedy, down-the-field receiver, but Jeffery gets the job done. Keep feeding him the ball. He's that good.
- Rasul Douglas has come a long way, and the more playing time he gets, the better player he's going to be. Douglas was in on a team-high 14 tackles on Sunday night, and while that isn't always a great indicator for a cornerback, he's shown a willingness to stick his nose into the action and tackle. He's a physical guy. He flies to the football. Douglas has to refine his technique because he is still giving up some completions, but he's made nice progress, as has Cre'Von LeBlanc as the nickel cornerback. The defensive secondary has a huge challenge this week playing against wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who has 94 receptions, 1,321 yards, and 11 touchdowns. He's maybe the best receiver in the NFL, even if you don't know it.
- Now, about that fourth-quarter offense. It was not good at all. The Eagles had possessions of three plays and 12 yards before Foles threw a red zone interception (1:30 off the clock), five plays and 18 yards (3:06), four plays and -2 yards (1:15), and four plays and 1 yard (1:43). The offense could have made things a lot easier with a better fourth quarter.
- A key stat in Sunday's win: Foles averaged 8.7 yards per passing attempt. That's a strong number.
- And a final stat to consider: The Eagles' defense, even as undermanned as it was, held the Rams to two touchdowns in six red zone trips. Jim Schwartz's defense has been strong in the red zone all season, ranking third in the NFL (behind Tennessee and Minnesota) in red zone defense with a 43.4 touchdown percentage allowed.