The 2018 season is half in the books. The Eagles are 4-4 in what has been a strange couple of months. Things have not gone according to plan.
The good news is that the Eagles have eight games left to right the ship and get back to the postseason. Five of the games are against division rivals, so the Eagles truly control their destiny. Win those games and you've got a good chance to win the NFC East.
Let's talk about some of the questions facing the Eagles as they head into the second half of the 2018 season. The most obvious question is whether the Eagles can get and stay healthy. The team overcame some key injuries last year, but this season has been crazy. Players are coming and going from the roster and practice squad each week. If the Eagles can get some players healthy, that will make a tremendous difference. Darren Sproles' return would help both the offense and special teams.
Sidney Jones is more important than Sproles. Jones' return to the slot would bring stability to a beat-up secondary. Not only does Jones cover well, but he is also a good tackler and run defender.
The Eagles would love to get Mack Hollins, Mike Wallace, or Richard Rodgers back. Hollins might be the closest. He is a big, strong receiver who can use his speed to stretch defenses. Hollins is also a good blocker and can help the run game. Wallace is a speedy veteran. It would be great to add his speed to the attack. Rodgers would give the Eagles an outstanding trio of tight ends.
Beyond getting help, can the Eagles avoid losing any more key players? This team would be in a world of hurt if anything happened to Carson Wentz, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Zach Ertz, or Alshon Jeffery. The 2018 Eagles have suffered enough. This team needs to have better injury luck if they are going to make something of this season.
The defense has a couple of key questions. First, can they get critical stops? When you look at the overall stats, the defense seems to be having a solid season. Jim Schwartz focuses on wins and losses so he would tell you the defense of a 4-4 team has been average.
One of the big problems has been that the defense can't make enough critical stops to put games away. They did that in the opener against Atlanta and also in the Colts game. They failed to do that in losses to the Titans and Panthers.
If the defense comes up with a couple of fourth-down stops, the Eagles are 6-2 and the outlook is very different right now. Unfortunately, the defense didn't do that, and the Eagles lost both games. There will be more close games in the coming months. The Eagles must come up with stops at critical moments in those games.
Of course, those games might not be so close if the defense could come up with takeaways. Where have the turnovers gone? The Eagles had 31 takeaways in 2017. They are on pace to have just 14 this year. That is a considerable drop-off.
Turnovers are often the difference between winning and losing. Think about the impact a takeaway has. If your opponent is in scoring territory, you keep them from putting points on the board. If they're backed up, you give your offense the ball in scoring territory. Those are game-changers. If the Eagles can start taking the ball away, they can start a winning streak and change the season in a hurry.
Let's shift over to the offense. If I told you last summer that Wentz would have a passer rating of 109.6, Ertz is on pace to catch more than 120 passes, and that Jeffery is playing the best football of his career, would you believe that the offense only has one 30-point game all year?
You would say I'm nuts. That doesn't make sense in any way, shape, or form. Unfortunately, that's reality. The players are putting up good numbers, but the team isn't.
Can the offense start scoring more points?
The key to this is red zone efficiency. The Eagles are currently 17th in the league when it comes to scoring touchdowns in the red zone. They average four red zone trips per game, but only convert them into touchdowns 55 percent of the time.
If you can fix that issue and get one more touchdown a game, you go from scoring 22 points per contest to 26. The Eagles led the league in red zone offense last year, so we know they have the potential to excel at this.
The Eagles can't rely on long drives and red zone efficiency for all their points. They need more explosive plays. The Eagles had 12 plays of 40 or more yards in 2017. They have four this year, and none of them are runs.
The number of plays of 20 or more yards is similar from this year to last year so those medium gains are happening. The Eagles need more of the explosive plays where they really get huge chunks at a time.
Adding Golden Tate to the mix will help that, as well as the red zone offense. He is great on screens, an area where the Eagles are solid, but need to be better. Tate can also turn a quick throw over the middle on a drag route into a big play. His ability to make plays after the catch is something the Eagles desperately need.
Improved play from Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams can help the Eagles in both red zone efficiency and big plays. They have shown promise in the past two weeks. Getting Corey Clement truly healthy would also help both areas. He is at his best in the red zone, as both a runner and as a receiver.
The Eagles face some tough questions as they head into the stretch run, but this team has Doug Pederson, Carson Wentz, Fletcher Cox, and a lot of other talented players and coaches. Add in Golden Tate and I'm excited to see what this team can do.
They control their own destiny and that's all you can ask as you prepare for the second half of the 2018 season. The Eagles don't need lucky breaks. They don't need help. They need to win the games on their schedule. With this group of players and coaches, I like their chances.