On to Dallas, and the ways the Eagles can make corrections and improve to win a road game and claim first place in the NFC East. Nobody is looking ahead. It’s hard to look behind. The focus is on the present. The Eagles had a bad loss in Minnesota, they’ve got more injuries to deal with, and they have a division showdown against a team – THE team, THE archrival – on Sunday night in front of a prime-time television audience.
On to the issues …
1. Starting faster
This is a recurring theme dating back to the 2018 season. The admission by head coach Doug Pederson on Monday that he is considering, strongly it seems, taking the football first when the Eagles win a coin toss is a testament to how troubling this is to the overall approach during the course of a game. The Eagles are being outscored 37-24 in the first quarter of games this season, but it’s not even really that close. They have scored points in just two first quarters – against Detroit and the Jets (and that Jets game is almost a total anomaly, it seems) – and so they’ve been playing from behind for much of the last two seasons.
To compound the issue, the Eagles have been outscored 57-51 in the second quarter of games, so they’re really spending a lot of time this season playing at a deficit.
In the games, they’ve lost, the Eagles trailed at halftime 10-6 in Atlanta, 20-10 against Detroit, and 24-10 at Minnesota. The Eagles led against the Jets and Packers at halftime and, yes, they trailed against Washington in the opener and came back to win, but that is not the template to follow, as we’ve seen.
Is there a solution? Yeah, score points. The Eagles have looked at the script for the first 15 plays, they’ve looked into everything. It’s not just the offense, either. The Redskins scored a touchdown on the game’s opening drive in the opener. Atlanta scored three points on the game’s first drive in Week 2. Detroit returned the kickoff for a touchdown after an Eagles opening drive and came back with a touchdown drive on its first possession. Green Bay went 89 yards on five plays on its first offensive possession at Lambeau Field. The Jets game, c’mon. Luke Falk isn’t even a quarterback in the league right now. Minnesota took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards for a touchdown.
It’s a problem on both sides of the ball – and on special teams in the Detroit game.
2. The ‘X’ plays are killing the defense
Quarterback Kirk Cousins averaged 10.8 yards per pass attempt on Sunday, a critical number. Case Keenum threw touchdown passes of 69 yards and 48 yards in the opener. Matt Ryan took nine deep shots against the Eagles’ secondary and the Eagles actually held up OK. Aaron Rodgers completed four passes of 25-plus yards.
This is a big problem and it’s happening because the Eagles aren’t putting enough pressure on the quarterback and because they’re giving up too much on the back end. What’s the solution? It’s a whole lot better to play with a lead and force an opposing offense to be one dimensional. That’s one. Finding a pass rush, that’s two. Getting some players back at cornerback will help – it sounds like Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby are at least a possibility to play in Dallas.
Better communication is needed, too. The Eagles blew some assignments in Minnesota and it cost them.
3. Needing more “chunk” plays in the passing game
Yes, the Eagles miss DeSean Jackson and his big-play skills. He is working to return to the lineup, but there is no timetable for his return. In the meantime, the Eagles have to figure this thing out. They’ve got talent with Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor and great tight ends. Miles Sanders is a weapon coming out of the backfield in the passing game.
Throughout the offseason, the Eagles looked forward to creating favorable matchups and now they’re struggling to do that. Somehow, they’ve got to figure out some better ways to attack defenses. What is the personality of this offense? What is the go-to series of plays when the Eagles have the football? When they need to score in a hurry, how are they doing it?
The pass catchers are dropping too many passes and they’re not coming up with those “special” catches when quarterback Carson Wentz needs some help.
It doesn’t help that left tackle Jason Peters left Sunday’s game with a knee injury and didn’t return. That’s generally not a good harbinger for his situation for Dallas, but we’ll see. Is rookie Andre Dillard ready to protect Wentz’s blindside? The Eagles need to push the ball down the field at times with what they have, and not wait for Jackson to return. He isn’t the savior. He’s a valuable piece of the offense. The Eagles have to make do with what they have.
4. Contributions from recent draft classes
Injuries aren’t helping a roster that was so heralded entering the season, and the Eagles need some young players to step up. Dillard is potentially the starter at left tackle, pending on Peters and his knee injury. Nigel Bradham is hurting at linebacker, so Nathan Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill, along with, potentially, T.J. Edwards, are going to have to make plays. Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas are playing and having their ups and downs at cornerback. Clearly, opposing quarterbacks are testing Douglas and his ability to run with fast wide receivers and they’re going after Jones and forcing him to tackle in the open field. The Eagles are giving up a lot in the passing game.
The Eagles traded Michael Bennett and then Chris Long retired and the Eagles hoped young defensive ends like Josh Sweat and Daeshon Hall and Shareef Miller would replace that production. Hasn’t happened yet. Derek Barnett plays hard and is around the football, but he’s not changing the game getting to the quarterback.
The young players aren’t developmental guys. The Eagles need players like J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Miller and some of the recent draft picks to contribute.
5. With all that, a win in Dallas means first place
I love head coach Doug Pederson, who maintains a positive, teaching-oriented, learn-from-our-mistakes approach. He’s not pleased to be 3-3, but that’s the reality. The Eagles are like most of the league – still trying to find out who they are, navigating through a bunch of injuries and playing extremely inconsistent football.
This is Dallas Week. It’s a special week that happens twice a season. And it happens to be extremely important. As frustrating as 3-3 is for all of us, we have to remember that there are 10 games to go in the regular season and that a win on Sunday night puts the Eagles in sole possession of first place in the division. If you win the division, you make the playoffs, and if you make the playoffs, anything can happen.
So, just beat Dallas. Go 1-0 this week. The Eagles have to figure out a lot of things here, the most important of which is how to get a win in Dallas. That’s all that matters, and a win thrusts the Eagles to the top of the NFC East.
The page is turned. It’s on to Dallas now.