I'm going to take a different approach this week in the face of an 0-2-1 Eagles record and negativity permeating: I'm going full-on optimistic as the Eagles prepare for the national spotlight and the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night. Look, 0-2-1 is completely unacceptable. Understood. The Eagles have certainly not played to expectations – theirs or the outside world's. It's been frustrating, painful (literally, with all the injuries), and disappointing.
So, why not some positivity?
Head Coach Doug Pederson said on Monday that he's considering a semi-radical overhauling of the offense given that, you know, half the group, it seems, is sidelined with injuries. While the offensive line has adjusted and played with new guards and a new (well, familiar, but new, if you know what I mean) left tackle, the skill positions are reeling. Wide receiver is hurting, collectively. Tight end Dallas Goedert went out of Sunday's game with an ankle injury and is going to miss some time, according to Coach Doug.
And that means the offense has to find a way to adjust. If it sounds a lot like 2019 when the NFC East stunk and the offense played "small ball" to win the division with four straight wins in December, so be it. That's the base. The NFC East is wide open and the Eagles do have to figure out ways to manufacture points. So here is my plan. Take it for what it's worth (spoiler alert: not much!).
Emphasize the running game
Lean on it. I mean, really lean on the ground game. Miles Sanders is in game shape now and he's had two productive games. Instead of 18 carries each week, find a way to get that to 23 carries. And use Boston Scott in space, creatively. Get him on the edge, if possible. Utilize Corey Clement between the tackles and in the passing game. This may not be pretty, but the Eagles have to be in move-the-chains mode until they can find some kind of rhythm offensively. They had the running game going early on Sunday against Cincinnati, went away from it for a spell in the second quarter, and then never got it back in the second half (111 of the team's 175 rushing yards were gained in the first two quarters).
And while we're on the subject of the running game, let's not restrict our vision to the running backs. The jet sweep didn't work with Greg Ward on Sunday – he had one attempt, for a loss of 6 yards – but let's not give up on the concept. Maybe it's not Ward who runs the jet sweep, or who takes an inside handoff, or who lines up somewhere beyond the traditional backfield spot and takes a handoff. Also, we're seeing some expansion in the use of Jalen Hurts, so why not explore that further? That sweep left Hurts ran on Sunday was good for 8 yards and a first down. Very nice. Both he and Carson Wentz are mobile and their talents should be used in the running game.
Use the no-huddle offense early and often
Wentz likes it. The offense likes it. Keep using it. I'm not necessarily talking full-on Chip Kelly, because that offense was limited and once teams caught up, Kelly didn't have a second act up his sleeve. Go "Turbo" and keep it that way. Pick up the pace. Do something to establish an identity with this offense, because through three games it's hard to tell what the Eagles are all about on offense. They have a lot of ideas and it just seems to come out as a bunch of plays. What are the Eagles trying to establish offensively, other than using a lot of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) looks? Well, without Goedert it's tough to have the same style. Richard Rodgers can block, so utilize his skills. Take what every player can do and use those skills to maximum him on the football field.
Move Zach Ertz as much as possible
Tight end Zach Ertz is the go-to pass catcher here. Get him the football. Exhaust him. Target him 15-20 times every week and to do that you're going to have to move him around the formation, because the double teams are going to be coming. Put him in motion. Shake off the coverage. Force the football to Ertz. Scheme to get him open and get him the football. Of course, it won't be as simple as that but the Eagles have some bright minds on the coaching staff and they know they have to be creative here. Like, really creative.
Get DeSean Jackson involved
This is one that just doesn't make sense through three games: Where is DeSean Jackson in the passing game? He has 10 catches (20 targets) for 121 yards? No way!! Yes, way. He left Sunday's game with a hamstring injury that, according to Pederson, will hopefully be OK for the 49ers. Take some shots to Jackson. A few, at least. Get him the ball short in the screen game, maybe, and see if he can use his ability the ball in his hands to make some plays. Just get him the darn ball more than the offense has gotten him the ball through three games. Does he still have the speed? Seems that way. Why he has only 10 catches is one of the early season's biggest mysteries.
Put Carson Wentz in motion
It's always seemed that Wentz is proficient when he's out of the pocket, and he certainly has the athletic ability to get outside and be a dual pass/run threat. I'm all for it. The Eagles seem to have stabilized the offensive line – Nate Herbig has done a nice job at guard and Matt Pryor, despite his costly false start penalty, is going to get better and better – so Wentz should find some success outside the pocket. Maybe the Eagles can scheme some high-percentage throw-and-catches for him and his receivers outside the pocket.
On defense, bring the heat
The eight sacks on Sunday against the Bengals were encouraging. Very much so. These things come in bunches so maybe the highly touted defensive line is ready to roll consistently. What the defense hasn't done is take the football away. Would Jim Schwartz consider upping the intensity in the blitz game? It's a tough proposition with starting cornerback Avonte Maddox out for some time with a lower-body injury, but why not take a chance here and there? The Eagles need takeaways. They've got to find a way to help the offense with some pressure and get their hands on the football and take it away from the offense!
Be aggressive, got to be aggressive …
More than anything, and Pederson is usually all about this, the Eagles have to play aggressive football. The remaining schedule isn't easy – the three-game stretch ahead of at San Francisco, at Pittsburgh, and home with Baltimore is brutal. But there are still five games remaining in the NFC East and the Eagles have to win all five of those games, no questions asked. This isn't a time to back down. The Eagles are, truly, underdogs, so why not embrace the concept and go full us-against-the-world and just keep bringing it aggressively.
The season is far from over. Yes, the start has been extremely disappointing and the Eagles are in a deep bind here. But it's not over. This is sports. Strange things happen. Pederson has to play it aggressively from the way he addresses his team to the way he's running practices and through the plays he's calling and the decisions he is making on gamedays.
At 0-2-1, the Eagles have little margin for error. But as long as they have a chance, they have to go for it. Really go for it and don't look back.