Two steps forward, one step back. One plus, two minus. Seven games into the season the Eagles are an uneven collection of parts, a developing team that took a step back with a loss in Carolina on Sunday night.
Head coach Chip Kelly is right when he says there are no specific areas to address, because the teams that come close but don't win games can point to the penalties here, the dropped passes there, the misses in the red zone collectively. If you believe that the NFL is an 8-8 league, then the Eagles, as they are presently constructed, fit that mold.
But there is a chance to turn it all around, and the Eagles will find out over the course of the final nine regular season games if they are good enough to take advantage. Nobody is pleased at 3-4, but nobody is turning away from the opportunity this season still presents.
There are areas to improve, of course. And as the Eagles enter their bye week -- the players were at the NovaCare Complex on Monday for meetings and now have the rest of the week off, with only those players who need treatment hanging around -- the to-do list is significant.
1. OFFENSE MUST GET THE PASSING GAME ON TRACK
Yes, there have been too many dropped passes. The running game has only recently gotten untracked. Quarterback Sam Bradford has shown improvement, but he's got a ways to go. The offensive line has suffered some injuries.
The bottom line here is that the Eagles are averaging 22.9 points per game, 17th in the NFL. They are tied for 24th with an average of 5.1 yards gained per play. They are ranked 29th in the league with a third-down conversion rate of 32 percent.
In four of the seven games the Eagles have not scored a touchdown in the first half, and the week-after-week slow starts have put the team in a hole.
The solution? This week is important for Kelly and his coaching as they take time to evaluate every facet of what's happened in the opening seven games. This isn't vacation time for the coaching staff. These are days to provide critical analysis of what the Eagles have done well and what they need to improve. It's the only time during the season when there is enough breathing room to take a look back at what has been.
This passing game has not come close to the team's expectations. The red zone offense is ranked 22nd in the league with a touchdown percentage of 47.62 percent, actually down from 2014's 49.15 percent. A look at the plays being run in the red zone is important this week. Where have the breakdowns been? What can be modified?
No doubt it has been disappointing to see so many drops and botched opportunities. The Eagles need to find some go-to passing plays and lean on them. Can rookie No. 1 draft pick Nelson Agholor get healthy and help in the second half of the season? Is Jordan Matthews just going through a sophomore slump with his drops? Will Josh Huff develop consistency?
2. LEARN EVERYTHING ABOUT QB SAM BRADFORD
The Eagles acquired Sam Bradford with the idea that he could become a long-term solution at quarterback here, and seven games into his starting job, do we really know his long-term picture as an Eagle? Bradford is in the final year of his contract and the Eagles dealt Nick Foles and a 2016 second-round draft pick to St. Louis for Bradford, so the team needs to find out about No. 7. Everything about him. And then they have to figure out if/how he fits into the future.
He's improved week over week, showing more comfort in the pocket, better mobility and a more confident sense of the scheme. It hasn't been enough, but we'll see how a week off heals Bradford's body and refreshes his mind for the final nine games of the regular season.
At the end of the season the Eagles need to know exactly who and what Sam Bradford is. Since the days of Donovan McNabb, the team has not had a stable, many-seasons solution at quarterback and you see how it has impacted the team on the field. The Eagles haven't won a playoff game since 2008 and they haven't had quarterback stability, really, since that season, or maybe 2009 when McNabb started 14 games and tossed 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. That can't be a coincidence.
3. TEAM NEEDS TO GET HEALTHY
This is a given, and it should be possible. Running back Ryan Mathews is staying in Philadelphia during the bye week to get treatment on his groin injury. Same with Agholor, who is recovering from a high ankle sprain. Linebacker Kiko Alonso could very well be back for the Dallas rematch. Same with DeMeco Ryans, who missed the Carolina game with a hamstring injury. Left tackle Jason Peters should be fine after suffering back spasms in Carolina.
The Eagles have some bumps and bruises, like every team, so the bye week comes at a good time for this team. Health shouldn't be a problem when the Eagles return to training next Tuesday.
4. FIND A SPARK AND RIDE THE WAVE
I'm not looking ahead. Promise. But the facts are the facts and the next four games are these: at Dallas (2-4), home against Miami (3-3), home against Tampa Bay (2-4) and at Detroit (1-6). Those are extremely winnable games. Those are games that a playoff-bound team wins to get to 6-4 and build some real momentum.
If you believe that a spark can carry a team a long way, then this is the opportunity for the Eagles to turn the season in the right direction. Go out to Dallas and score early and beat the Cowboys with a solid, 60-minute effort and see what that means for this football team.
The Eagles need to get hot. Starting by getting warm will help, and this four-game stretch is the right time to turn around the fortunes of an inconsistent team.
5. TIGHTEN UP THE DEFENSE
By and large the defense has been the backbone of this team through seven games, forcing 19 turnovers and doing a good job against the run. But the Panthers pushed the Eagles around, rushing for 204 yards and scoring on all three trips inside the 10-yard line. Is that smash-mouth approach the blueprint against the Eagles' defense? Not all teams have that personnel, of course, but it's worth a try.
The Eagles held Carolina to two conversions on nine third downs, and the defense ranks 17th in the NFL in third-down efficiency. That's a number (38.8 percent) that could be better and that is, in fact, a tick worse than last season's number of 37.9 percent.
The takeaways are impressive, 19, which until Carolina helped the Eagles win games. The offense used 16 of those takeaways in the first six games to score 54 points, but converted three turnovers on Sunday night into just six points.
A more consistent pass rush, better efficiency in the red zone -- the Eagles rank 12th in the league in touchdown efficiency in the red zone -- and more effectiveness on third downs are the goals for this defense emerging from the bye week.
6. CUT DOWN ON THE PENALTIES
Of the 1,051 snaps the Eagles have had on offense, defense and special teams in seven games, they've been whistled for 51 penalties, including 20 of the pre-snap variety. That computes to more than seven penalties per game, and that's far too many.
The Eagles need to play with more discipline. That begins in their training sessions and it's important that the number improves right out of the box at Dallas.
There's not much more to say here. The yellow flags have to slow down. The Eagles are among the worst in the league in total penalties called -- fewer than only eight teams -- and they've been equal-opportunity offenders -- 25 against the offense, 22 against the defense and four against special teams.
7. DEVELOP THE RIGHT KIND OF CHEMISTRY
It's hard to build camaraderie and chemistry with so many changes to the roster. The Eagles made significant moves and promptly opened the season 0-2. Tough draw. The Eagles need to, and this sounds cliché to all, "come together" as a team and have an us-against-the-world mentality. The locker room has been great so far, has not pointed fingers and the players have worked hard through seven games.
To win in this league there needs to be trust and value and partnership. The Eagles are still coming together. They are still developing. It's a lot easier to do that when the team is winning football games.