Nothing is going to be easy or simple or paved for the Eagles on the path to the postseason. A vivid example happened on Thursday night when Dallas defeated New Orleans, 13-10, behind a stout defensive effort, overcoming penalties, and playing the fourth quarter with confidence. To set the NFC East picture for you, the Cowboys are now 7-5, winners of four straight games. They lead the pack.
The Eagles just have to win, baby. That's all there is to it. We can't look for help from other teams. We shouldn't expect fortunate bounces. We're not in position to think the officials are going to miss a call on the Eagles' behalf.
It's December. It's time to peak down the stretch.
And one area that must improve, pronto, is the turnover ratio for this team. Washington, at plus-9, has the fourth-best giveaway-takeaway ratio in the league. Washington has just 12 giveaways, impressive considering the offensive line injuries they've had the last few weeks. Three of those giveaways, however, came in the form of interceptions last Thursday when new starting quarterback Colt McCoy had his troubles against that tough Dallas defense.
On the flip side, Washington has 21 takeaways, including 10 fumbles to rank tied for second in the NFL in that category. Washington gets after the football. With an outstanding front, aggressive linebackers, and an experienced secondary, Washington's defense is the strength of that team.
For the Eagles, well, it's been a struggle. At minus-8, they are tied with the Jets for 27th in the NFL in turnover ratio and above only Arizona, Jacksonville, San Francisco, and Tampa Bay. All four of those teams are having woeful seasons. History says that the Eagles have to improve or buck the numbers to reach the postseason.
How to do that? Ball security is huge, of course. The Eagles want to be an aggressive offensive, but they also want to play smart football. Turnovers turned New Orleans, a dominating, up-and-down-the-field offense this season, into a mortal attack on Thursday night. The Saints failed to score on a fourth-and-goal play in the first half – and while that wasn't a turnover per se, it had the same impact – and then quarterback Drew Brees threw an ill-advised, off-his-back-foot interception in the final minutes of the game to kill any chance New Orleans had to win.
Turnovers destroy offenses. The Eagles have given the ball away 16 times – seven interceptions, nine fumbles – and they've had only eight takeaways. There are many factors for the disparity – the Eagles haven't started well offensively and, unlike last season, the defense hasn't been able to pin its ears back and get up the field is one – and all of them matter.
But what truly matters is what happens starting Monday night. The Eagles want to run the ball on offense, of course, but they know they need to take some shots down the field. They need some chunk plays. They need to find a few drives a game where they don't have to work so hard to score points.
Maybe an early lead would give the Eagles' defense the boost it needs. It happened in the road game against the Giants when a takeaway on New York's first possession led to an Eagles offensive touchdown and, eventually, 14 points in the first quarter. The Eagles have scored 21 points in the first quarter of games this season – zero in nine of 11 contests.
Anyway, it's all about the turnovers. Dallas won on Thursday night despite losing the giveaway battle, and that's an anomaly. From 2007 to 2016, in fact, teams that won the turnover battle in the NFL won 78 percent of their games, according to FootballPerspective.com. Makes sense, right?
We've got a lot of football ahead of us in the next five weeks. The Eagles have a very small margin of error. There's no sense looking back on why the team is 5-6. We know the reasons. What matters is how the team plays in the month of December. Nothing, we know, is going to be easy. The Eagles are going to have to earn the postseason and they're going to have to focus and play the best football of the season for five straight weeks to make it.