It is business as usual at the NovaCare Complex on Monday, as business as usual as you can get with Michael Vick appearing on SportsCenter on ESPN, with the national media clamoring for a piece of DeSean Jackson, with the Eagles' comeback win over New York the sports talk of the country. Andy Reid, though, knows full well that the Eagles have two games to play in the regular season and that they need to take care of business.
So, while there is euphoria and there is great confidence, there is also the realization that the win over New York, the amazing win over New York, there is also the understanding that all the Eagles have done is put themselves in a position to do great things. Beat Minnesota and Dallas, coupled with a loss by Chicago in one of their final three games, and the Eagles are the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. Simple as that.
The memory of last year, however, is very clear. The Eagles were 11-4 heading into Dallas. A win over the Cowboys would have propelled the Eagles to the NFC East title and a second seed in the playoffs. Having that carrot out there, that delicious possibility of a bye week and a home playoff game, wasn't enough to beat Dallas. So instead of a bye week and a playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles turned right around and went to Cowboys Stadium for the Wild Card playoff game.
We know how that turned out.
So, yeah, everybody feels great today. Why not? The Eagles had an historic win over the Giants on Sunday. They have now beaten their NFC East rival six straight times, and the Eagles are in prime position to win the division and, at the very least, earn a home playoff game. The magic number for clinching the sixth NFC East title and ninth playoff appearance in Reid's 12 seasons.
But there is more at stake here. And to realize the goals this team has, the Eagles must play better football. There are some serious issues to discuss ...
**WHAT TO DO AT FREE SAFETY?
Nate Allen suffered a torn patellar tendon and is gone for the rest of the season. He has a long, difficult rehabilitation ahead, joining first-round draft pick Brandon Graham in the athletic training room in the offseason.
Minus Allen, the Eagles will turn to rookie Kurt Coleman to start alongside Quintin Mikell. Coleman is a fine player who has impressed this season. He knows the defense. He runs well enough to cover sideline to sideline. He is a tough guy, a good tackler. And while he isn't a big guy and he will always have to answer questions about this size, Coleman should be a fine fit for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.
Colt Anderson moves into the third safety spot. He is a great tackler, a heady player, and he seems to be a good fit here. Anderson runs well enough to get down the field first on kick coverage, so he has some speed and some athletic ability. Again, though, he is not a big guy. The Eagles have become smaller in their secondary without Allen.
The Eagles will add a fourth safety in the next day or so, someone to come in and fill a role, play special teams and learn enough of the defense to help in a pinch. General manager Howie Roseman is prepared. He has an emergency list. The Eagles work out players all the time and keep tabs on available talent off the street.
HOW CAN THE DEFENSE IMPROVE, IN GENERAL?
No doubt the defense is struggling. The Eagles are allowing too many points. The red-zone defense is the worst in the league. The pattern of third-and-long conversions by opposing offenses is scary. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott made some marvelous adjustments on Sunday to limit the Giants to one touchdown in the second half and to get off the field a couple of times late in the fourth quarter for some key stops, but it is certainly concerning how the defense is playing.
The pass rush from the front four is spotty, at best. Cornerback Dimitri Patterson has a large target on his back. To his credit, he keeps fighting and pushing. Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley is out for at least another week.
What are McDermott's options? He can increase the blitz count and have a high risk/reward kind of defense. Certainly, the blitz increased the tempo of the defense and caused Eli Manning to have a very, very poor final series on Sunday. McDermott can tinker with personnel, but outside of giving Derrick Burgess a look, and maybe increasing some reps for rookie cornerback Trevard Lindley, what more can McDermott do?
This is a week-by-week proposition, folks. The next team in, Minnesota, has been an inconsistent passing team all season. We don't know who is playing quarterback for the Vikings on Sunday. The Vikings are fueled by running back Adrian Peterson, and the Eagles have been able to play quite well against the run this season.
But the pass defense is alarming. Having Asante Samuel on the field is huge. The Eagles either need to improve the pass rush or clamp down more in coverage to gain that little extra edge heading into the final two games of the regular season.
**HOW HURTING IS THIS TEAM?
The injury factor is large here, but it is that way with every team. That is why the bye week is so crucial. Can the Eagles get to that second seed? It would be so huge if they can. Chicago plays at Minnesota tonight and then hosts the Jets before playing at the Packers to close the regular season. That is a very tough schedule, and it would be a major surprise if the Bears won all three games.
The Eagles need to take care of these two games and then enjoy the rest. They could have Bradley back for Dallas. It may be a reach, but it is a possibility. Everyone else who is on the active roster is fine and will be ready to go for Minnesota. That includes Samuel, who played the entire game with his knee injury. That includes DeSean Jackson, who has a sprained foot.
Everyone is hurting these days in the NFL. The Eagles will get their rest on Monday and Tuesday and come back ready to play on Sunday.
WOULD THE EAGLES GET TOO HIGH ON THEMSELVES?
They better not feel that way. Reid will remind his players about last year and how it went south so quickly. This is no time to celebrate. It's a time to have great confidence, but you understand how the mental approach makes all the difference. The Eagles have to play desperate football. Minnesota won't be an easy game. Dallas certainly won't be an easy game. Would the Cowboys love nothing more, at this stage of their season, than to come to Philadelphia and take a bye week away from this team?
Hey, this young team has handled the ups and downs of a long season very well. They have great energy and they have tremendous maturity. This season isn't over. There is a lot of football to be played. Last year is all the proof you need to understand how quickly fortunes change in the NFL.