At the quarter pole, the Eagles have a 2-2 record and a three-day weekend to exhale, rest, and squeeze every bit of recovery from a mini-bye break. The excitement of the 34-27 win over Green Bay has not faded nor should it for the next couple of days. It was that kind of a victory.
"Every year, yeah, you kind of have signature moments," head coach Doug Pederson said on Friday. "We'll see if that's one of them. I sure am proud of the way the team played and the resiliency we showed."
Let's discuss where the Eagles are four games into the season and what they need to do to get where they want to go in 2019. Obviously, there's a lot going on with this football team …
1. The offensive line reminded us of just how dominant it can be with a great performance on Thursday night, and when you dig into the four-game sample entirely, you come away understanding that the unit has played probably a bit better than given credit for during that two-game losing streak. The Eagles are averaging 118.8 rushing yards per game, ninth in the NFL. That's a full 26.5 yards per game higher than last season, and it's only just started. Both Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders are new to the team. Once they are fully integrated into the scheme and their respective roles – and it's obviously very much there as we saw on Thursday night – the running game should be a consistent part of the offense.
"I believe it's a little bit of a recipe for our offense," Pederson said. "Not having DeSean (Jackson) out there to have that deeper threat down the field, you kind of rely on the running game a little bit. Even with DeSean, I think that's how we can play and utilize that run game. It does open up some things for us in the play-action game and last night was kind of an indication of that."
Keep it coming, Coach.
2. The receiving corps remains a work in progress. Alshon Jeffery returned to action on Thursday night and contributed a gigantic touchdown catch even though he did not appear to be 100 percent with the calf injury. This weekend is going to help him immensely. Jackson remains out with an abdomen injury and Pederson had no update on his status. I love the way Mack Hollins has progressed in his third season after missing last year. He had a clutch 13-yard grab on a second-and-10 play and has been a consistent pass-catcher who is getting open. Nelson Agholor remains a big-play threat. He'll use this weekend to get away and enjoy some down time.
3. Along the same lines, the tight end duo of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert is just going to get better and better. Goedert did a great job blocking as part of the 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) and he caught a touchdown pass and is going to be a big part of the passing game. "Dynamic" is the word to use when describing this picture at tight end, and Alex Ellis has helped with his blocking and is another young tight end for coach Justin Peelle to develop.
4. Maybe a bit lost in this whole 2-2 start is the impact the special teams have had. Yes, the 100-yard kickoff return allowed against Detroit was a group-wide mistake and it was a costly one. But the Eagles have been outstanding in all other areas of special teams. The coverage on punts is great – Rudy Ford is as good as I've seen as a gunner and Mack Hollins is right there as well, helping Cameron Johnston average 44.8 net yards on his punts – Jake Elliott has made every one of his kicks and the return game has juice with Sanders on kickoffs – his 67-yarder against Green Bay sparked the comeback – and Darren Sproles is a threat to go to the house every time he touches the ball in the punt return game.
5. OK, so there needs to be some improvement in pass defense and the Eagles know it. The overall health of the cornerbacks is not at all good. Ronald Darby and Sidney Jones have hamstring injuries. Jalen Mills remains on PUP and is eligible to return in Week 7 and Cre'Von LeBlanc (foot) is on Injured Reserve and is eligible to return in Week 9. In other words, the Eagles have weeks to go before Mills and LeBlanc are eligible to return. Meanwhile, Avonte Maddox was healthy enough to travel home with the Eagles with a concussion and a neck injury. When will he be able to play again? No word. At this very moment, the only true cornerbacks the Eagles have who are healthy are Rasul Douglas, Craig James and Orlando Scandrick, who agreed to contract terms on Friday. Malcolm Jenkins played nickel cornerback against the Packers. This is an area the Eagles will work on throughout the weekend as they set their roster for the New York Jets next Sunday.
6. The Eagles are third in the NFL in run defense, allowing just 62 yards per game. That's nasty stuff right there. The goal is to make offenses one dimensional, and the run defense is doing that. When you look down the road and see games against Minnesota and running back Dalvin Cook and Dallas and Ezekiel Elliott, you understand the importance of a stout run defense.
7. Winning in the red zone is critical and the Eagles are doing just that. The offense scored touchdowns on all four trips inside Green Bay's 20-yard line on Thursday night and held the Packers' offense to just three touchdowns on seven red zone visits. For the season, the Eagles' offense is seventh in the league with a 68.75 touchdown percentage, a big jump from last year's touchdown rate of 59 percent. Defensively, the Eagles are eighth in red zone defense.
8. More on this over the weekend – the NovaCare Complex is emptying out as of mid-day Friday for a rare day or two off – but let's discuss quarterback Carson Wentz. He's thrown nine touchdown passes and just two interceptions in the first four games and if you project that through 16 games, it adds up to 36 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Those are MVP-type numbers. Wentz is playing great football despite missing some of his top targets for pieces of this first quarter of the season.