At 4-4, the Eagles reach the midway point of the 2019 season a team with everything still in front of it, in control of its playoff chances, and optimistic that the best is yet to come. After a three-game road trip, the Eagles return home on Sunday to play the 3-4 Bears, the start of a month-long stay in Philadelphia that includes three games and a bye weekend.
Where do the Eagles stand after eight games? What's ahead in the next nine weeks? Let's discuss …
1. Does the running game lead the way offensively? It's no coincidence that when the Eagles run the ball effectively, the rest of the offense falls into place. And the combination of Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders is a dynamic one that offers Howard's power with Sanders' explosiveness running behind an offensive line that, when it is operating at high efficiency, is one of the best in the league. Some have suggested that the Eagles should be a "run-first" offense. I like the idea of the Eagles being a "run-capable" offense, meaning that when the Eagles need it, they dial up the running game and it works.
Said head coach Doug Pederson of the rushing attack: "I do believe it is sustainable. I think that what you're seeing from Jordan is what we anticipated as coaches when we picked him up in the offseason. He's selfless. He's one of these guys who gives of himself to the team. He had that lead block on Miles' long touchdown run on Sunday and for him to get carry after carry and take the punishment from the Bills' defense, I think it just shows the type of person that he is and the type of character that he has. We have to keep him coming."
2. Much of the outlook for the passing game hinges on the return of wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who hasn't played since Week 1 when he was so dynamic (I don't count the 11 snaps in Atlanta). The hope is that Jackson ramps up his practice activity this week … so maybe after the bye week? That's just a guess. Jackson is not a savior, but he's a big piece of what the Eagles envisioned with the offense this season. And his down-the-field speed and the way he impacts the defense cannot be dismissed. But the Eagles still have other weapons and the bye week will give the coaching staff an opportunity to evaluate and look forward with the scheme. Speed kills and at times the offense has needed more in Jackson's absence. "Having DeSean on the field makes a difference," Pederson said. "Hopefully we can get him into practice this week and see where he's at."
3. In case you haven't noticed, the Eagles' first- and second-round draft picks are making an impact. Andre Dillard has two starts under his belt at left tackle and, of course, Sanders continues to make big plays at running back and in the passing game. On Dillard, Pederson said, "Number one, he's highly talented. That's why we drafted him. Second, he's smart. He pays attention to detail. He takes hard coaching, obviously, from Stout (offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland). He just keeps getting better and better and we saw it through Training Camp and the first portion of the year, but now that he's starting, you thought that after the first start there might be a step back, but he's gone the other way. He's gone forward. That's really positive to see. He's had two good games now and we're looking for a third against the number one guy that we'll see all year long (Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd for Chicago). He's got his work cut out for him. I've been impressed with the way he's prepared each week."
4. The focus is on beating the Chicago Bears on Sunday, not on the playoff picture. The Eagles need to get to 5-4 against a team that is smarting after a heartbreaking loss to the Chargers on Sunday. The Bears ran the ball well with David Montgomery and they're experiencing the continued ups and downs with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The defense, despite the loss of tackle Akiem Hicks, remains stout and filled with playmaking veterans. A win gets the Eagles to 5-4 and puts them in position to make a run after the bye week. That's what matters.
5. I know you know, but the 4 p.m. trade deadline passed. Nothing on Tuesday for the Eagles after acquiring defensive end Genard Avery on Monday.
6. The returns of cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby are stabilizing presences for the defense, clearly. The Eagles are hopeful of getting Avonte Maddox back for the Bears game, and Maddox could fit right into the nickel spot if the Eagles think he's ready. Add in Cre'Von LeBlanc, who is eligible to practice, and the near future looks much brighter for the cornerback room after a spate of injuries through the first half of the season.
7. There are seven defensive ends on the roster. That's as high a number of defensive ends on a 53-man roster that I've ever known with the Eagles. The defense needs a few of these young ends to emerge for this year and for the future.
8. The Eagles' offense is sixth in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage, at 65.38 percent. That's a very important number the offense needs to sustain and it will make a difference in the final eight regular-season games.
9. Fifty-four receptions, four touchdowns, and 606 yards in eight games isn't bad at all for the tight end position, right? Zach Ertz doesn't care about receptions or stats, just wins. Same with Dallas Goedert. They're both ultra-talented players who are team-first guys and as the Eagles continue to play with more 12 personnel, one running back and two tight ends, they're going to split statistics. That's just the way it has to be.
10. How has Carson Wentz played through eight games? He's been very, very good. With the exception of the Dallas fumble, Wentz has improved greatly with his ball security in the pocket. He's not forcing throws. Getting the ball down the field more is a goal and a need, and that's a work in progress. It's just wonderful to see Wentz on the field, moving as he is, playing with so much competitiveness and guile. Good things are ahead for Wentz and this offense.