Step one was a win. By defeating the New York Giants on Sunday, the Eagles moved to 5-6 to draw within one game of NFC East leaders Dallas and Washington. Everyone is encouraged by the victory that, while flawed, demonstrated fight, grit, and determination as well as an offense that leaned heavily on the running game and a defense that dominated at the line of scrimmage and stood tall in the secondary.
Step two is next.
The task doesn't get any easier for the Eagles with five games remaining in the regular season. Washington comes to town for a Monday Night Football game and then the Eagles take to the road to play at Dallas and then at the Los Angeles Rams before the regular season ends with a home game against Houston and a road game at Washington.
"We just have to take it step by step," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. "Sunday was a good one. We showed a lot of resiliency and I'm proud of the team. But that was just the beginning. We have another tough game on Monday against Washington, a good team that has some rest and that plays good, sound football."
As the players take a few days off – they don't hit the practice field again until Thursday – here are some early thoughts on Monday night's game …
- Washington star defensive end Ryan Kerrigan has been a career-long Eagles killer. In 14 games against the Eagles (7-7 record), Kerrigan has recorded 10.5 quarterback sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 18 quarterback hits, six forced fumbles. and two fumble recoveries. He's registered 55 total tackles, including 45 solo stops. Kerrigan's quickness, his strength, technique, and relentless pursuit give the Eagles fits. You can be sure that the Eagles' offensive coaching staff is scheming to minimize Kerrigan as much as possible for Monday night. Right tackle Lane Johnson has his hands full, and he knows it. Should be a great matchup.
- With the Eagles running the football very well on Sunday and Washington struggling in the run game defensively – Washington has allowed more than 100 net rushing yards in each of the last four weeks, and have allowed an average of 129.3 yards on the ground the last three weeks, might the Eagles keep pounding it on Monday night? We'll see, but the offense could certainly benefit from a balanced attack. Washington started the season playing great football against the run, but injuries and missed assignments and poor gap discipline have hurt the defensive performance.
- What does the defense prepare for with Washington's offense led by quarterback Colt McCoy? He's going to get the ball out fast and while he doesn't have a big arm, McCoy is going to throw it to spots. In his first start of the season in place of the injured Alex Smith, McCoy completed 24 of 38 passes against Dallas for 268 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. The Eagles need to dominate inside, as defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan have an advantage against Washington's interior offensive line, which has been decimated by injury. Left tackle Trent Williams is battling a rib injury which required him to stay after the game in Dallas to receive some medical attention rather than fly back with the team. X-rays taken were negative, so Williams appears to have escaped any kind of long-term injury that Washington just cannot afford.
- Zach Ertz's 84 receptions for 895 yards and six touchdowns give him statistics that rank among the best in the NFL, and that are the very best for league tight ends. Ertz is on pace for, get this, 122 receptions. He's averaging 81 yards receiving per game, a pace that would give him 1,301 yards on the season. Ertz is a complete tight end who is doing the dirty work in the red zone and has become a solid blocker at the line of scrimmage. He's on the road to his second Pro Bowl, among other things, in this historic season.
- Quarterback Carson Wentz has compiled a passer rating of more than 100 in six of his nine games and has a passer rating of 100.8 for the season. He had a clunker in New Orleans, for sure, but Wentz bounced back on Sunday and led the offense on a field goal drive late in the fourth quarter to produce Jake Elliott's winning field goal. The offense has not yet hit on all cylinders and we're waiting for that to happen, but in the meantime appreciate what kind of season Wentz has had coming back from a serious knee injury and surgery. His bounce back was encouraging.
- Will the defense have any reinforcements for Washington? Sounds like it might be a stretch. Cornerbacks Jalen Mills (foot) and Sidney Jones (hamstring) along with safety Avonte Maddox (knee) are "day to day," according to Pederson. We'll know more about them later in the week.