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Reality Check For Eagles: Season Is On The Brink

If you believe that is it my primary purpose to put a "positive spin" on all things Eagles, then you can certainly appreciate the difficulty of this moment.

The Eagles opened the second half of this regular season with a clunker on Sunday night, losing 27-20 to the rival Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field to fall to 4-5 on the year with a road trip to 8-1 New Orleans ahead.

Worse, the word came down that starting cornerback Ronald Darby suffered a torn ACL in the loss and will miss the remainder of 2018. The Eagles will again be taxed in the defensive secondary on Sunday playing against quarterback Drew Brees with Darby out for sure, and with fellow starter Jalen Mills possibly out for the next week or two or more with a foot injury. Brees has a ridiculous 21 touchdown passes, only one interception, and a league-leading passer rating of 123.8 guiding an offense that averages an NFL-best 36.7 points per game.

So, yeah, the Eagles are in a deep ditch here. They've lost three straight games at home, which is a 180-degree reversal of the last couple of seasons when the Eagles had the second-highest winning percentage (.773, 17-5 record) since 2016 heading into Sunday night's game.

While inconsistency and a lack of execution and sustaining momentum have marked the season to date, injuries have absolutely ravaged the roster. What happened last season was extraordinary, in that the Eagles overcame injuries to some key players – left tackle Jason Peters, quarterback Carson Wentz, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, and running back/return man Darren Sproles, along with safety/special teamer Chris Maragos. Darby suffered an ankle injury and missed half of the season, and placekicker Caleb Sturgis was hurt and lost after Week 1. The Eagles replaced those players and, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl.

But what's happened this year is beyond ridiculous. Darby, when he officially goes on Injured Reserve, will join the likes of running back Jay Ajayi, wide receiver Mike Wallace, defensive end Derek Barnett, and safety Rodney McLeod, all starters. Starting defensive tackle Tim Jernigan has yet to play a down since the Super Bowl, though he's closing in on a return. Backup receiver Mack Hollins was expected to play a part in the passing game but instead has been sidelined with a groin injury. Sproles hasn't played since Week 1 because of a hamstring injury. Right tackle Lane Johnson missed Sunday night's game with a knee injury. Peters has missed snaps with a variety of ailments, the latest a biceps injury. Running back Corey Clement hasn't been the same since he suffered a quad injury. Wentz didn't play until Week 3 and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (rotator cuff) didn't play until Week 4.

The list goes on and on. Injuries are part of the game … and they've had a crippling impact on the Eagles this season.

But there are plenty of other reasons why the Eagles are 4-5, and we've discussed them throughout the season because they've been apparent all year and not corrected. The slow starts have stalled the offense and added pressure to the defense. The lack of takeaways on defense has been directly the opposite from the Super Bowl season. Poor play in the red zone, a myriad of self-inflicted wounds, and, honestly, mistakes on the coaching end have kept the Eagles grounded.

Where is the urgency? While head coach Doug Pederson speaks highly of his team's "resiliency," he also says the team has shown urgency "in spurts, a little bit" and that's just not going to win football games down the stretch. The Eagles must show urgency for 60 minutes of every game because every week is a "must-win" situation. There are just too many things not in sync with this team right now to point to one or two areas. Does the defense play too passively? Yes, at times, but if you were coordinator Jim Schwartz and you looked out and saw Rasul Douglas and Chandon Sullivan – and no disrespect to those two, but they are backups forced into starting roles – would you take risks in coverage? Has the offense taken a step back from last year? No question about it, but there is no easy answer to fix the attack other than to keep working and improving the running game, involving new wide receiver Golden Tate more, and hoping that something clicks, and in a hurry.

The positive spin is that seven games are remaining and the NFC East is still there – the Eagles trail Washington by two games, with two games remaining against the Redskins – and the Eagles are going to fight. They are going to be "resilient," and that's a good thing.

But let's also be real here: The Eagles blew a terrific opportunity on Sunday night to establish themselves in the NFC East to open the second half of the season. The loss was telling in so many ways. How can this team allow the Cowboys to take command at Lincoln Financial Field? Where was the fire? Where was the passion? The urgency?

These are questions that Pederson and his coaching staff and the players will have to wrestle with as they prepare for New Orleans. This football team is in a tough spot, and that's just the way it is right now. The only way to improve the narrative is to go out and shock the world and beat the Saints. A tall task is ahead, then, for a team that has its season hanging in the balance with seven games remaining.

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