As the bye week continues, here are 11 things to ponder with a marquee showdown with New England on the horizon …
1. DeSean Jackson is on Injured Reserve after having surgery to repair a core muscle injury, and the Eagles have a hole. The Eagles have work to do at wide receiver. They need production. Doug Pederson and Mike Groh have done well adjusting and using more two-tight end personnel packages and taking advantage of matchups with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. The running game is strong. And, let’s look at this realistically, the Eagles have played without Jackson for all but the opening game of the season. Clearly, though, there is a roster spot to be filled in Jackson’s absence. And there is a speed need in this passing game. So, the bye week is here at a very useful time.
2. At safety, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are the starters and they’ve done a nice job this season. Andrew Sendejo was waived on Tuesday, so the Eagles have to fill that void. There are some options on this roster. Rasul Douglas has played as a third safety from time to time, Avonte Maddox has range and can play safety as he did last season – especially with Cre’Von LeBlanc hopefully coming off Injured Reserve soon – and Rudy Ford is on the roster and should have enough of a working knowledge of the scheme to fit in. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz values flexibility with his players and he’s got some in the secondary.
3. Looking forward to seeing where linebacker Nigel Bradham is with his health when the players return to the NovaCare Complex on Monday. His return would be a nice boost for the defense. Bradham has missed the last three games with an ankle injury.
4. What a great chess match for this Patriots-Eagles game in two Sundays. Baltimore defeated New England by playing smart, ball-control, physical football. It’s a great formula for success – keep the New England offense off the field. So, you’re thinking that Pederson will have the offense dialing up the ground game over and over and over again. Could be. What’s fascinating is that New England has a bye week as well and you know how well the Patriots figure things out.
5. The Eagles rank 13th in the NFL in rushing yards per game offensively and at 127.3 yards per game are averaging 35 yards per game more than a season ago. That’s a credit to the job offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland has done with his group and, of course, to the playcalling and to the players themselves. The Jordan Howard trade has been terrific for the Eagles and the development of Miles Sanders has been a huge positive. Yes, I expect the Eagles to lean on the running game more in these final seven regular-season games.
6. I love this statistic: In four home games in 2019, quarterback Carson Wentz has combined for 1,000 yards (250 yards per game), seven touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 100.0 rating on 90-of-143 (62.9 percent) passing. With crucial games against New England and Seattle ahead, Wentz has to be on point.
7. What more can Brandon Graham do to gain some league-wide recognition? He’s got six quarterback sacks, 25 total tackles, and that big forced fumble and recovery against Buffalo in his last five games. If this isn’t a Pro Bowl season for Graham, c’mon …
8. There is absolutely no doubt that the return of Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, along with Maddox, have stabilized the secondary. Now for a step up in class against quarterbacks Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. This is going to be so interesting and exciting to see how it all goes down against New England and Seattle, and then in a five-game December that starts in Miami and finishes with four games against the NFC East. The playoff push begins!
9. Winning football means playing with great precision and few errors, so it’s no surprise that in this modest two-game winning streak the Eagles have turned the ball over only once, on the Boston Scott fumble returning a punt in the extreme wind in Buffalo. In the five wins, the Eagles turned the football over just twice – once on the Scott fumble and once against the Jets when Corey Clement muffed a punt return. If you’re looking for a statistic that tells the entire tale in the NFL, there you have it.
10. The Eagles will soon have their team vote for the Ed Block Courage Award, a prestigious one for every NFL team. It would be hard to argue against guard Brandon Brooks, given his recovery from the Achilles tendon injury from this past January. What’s he’s done, with work from the Eagles' athletic training staff, is nothing short of remarkable.
11. It will be interesting to see how the Eagles employ Genard Avery from game to game. The Eagles think he can rush the quarterback from a lot of different angles from a stand-up position. Avery recorded a half sack in his first snap on Sunday with inside pressure. He can also come off the edge. Avery could end up being an X-factor for a defense that has clearly had an improved pass rush the last few weeks. I like the development Josh Sweat has made as well. He’s been durable and productive with his effort.