Three consecutive wins have pushed the Eagles to the top of the NFC East with a 6-5 record. Players are scattered now, catching some down time at just the right time as the stretch run arrives.
How good are the Eagles? How does a young team perform with pressure-packed games on the schedule? What will head coach Chip Kelly learn about his players and himself with five games to go in the regular season?
Let's take a look at the Eagles as they enjoy the weekend off and peek around the rest of the NFL. I say the Eagles are in a very good position because ...
- The offensive line has made steady improvement. Having all five starters healthy is a great thing as December arrives, and knowing that Allen Barbre is a reliable backup at either tackle or guard is extremely reassuring. As long as the line plays well -- and there are major challenges ahead with games against Arizona and Detroit -- the Eagles are going to have success offensively.
- Will Nick Foles go through the entire season without throwing an interception? It's a lot to ask, but Foles has played disciplined football at the quarterback position. He's reached a nice balance of aggressiveness and restraint. The game has slowed down for Foles, who believes in the system and in the players around him, is playing confident football and, as he has demonstrated to date, is ready for what's ahead.
- Bill Davis and his coaches have done an outstanding job with the defense and the players have responded. The defense is sound, the tackling is much improved and the mentality is one of confidence and trust. Having a young and healthy front -- the Eagles are rotating six players along their front defensively -- is going to pay off in December. Having this bye week allows the young players to get themselves right mentally, and the fresh legs will provide energy in the five remaining regular season games, and beyond.
- The Eagles are in pretty good shape on the injury front. They have a chance to get linebacker Mychal Kendricks and cornerback Bradley Fletcher back shortly after the bye. Safety Earl Wolff is working hard on his knee rehab. Quarterback Michael Vick continues to make progress in his recovery from the hamstring injury. In the meantime, the Eagles have developed some depth at linebacker and cornerback and they're reached deep into the safety rotation, with good results.
- Three of the remaining five games are at home against an Arizona team that will come off a tough game on Sunday against the Colts and then a Detroit team that is heading East to play outdoors in December. Chicago has had major injury problems. How many wins of the remaining five will it take to win the NFC East? The goal, of course, is to win all five.
- I love how the Eagles are using all of their weapons on offense. They've been able to incorporate wide receiver DeSean Jackson into the mix early and keep him involved. Riley Cooper's emergence has been huge. The tight ends are all able to contribute, and the use of the screen game to every pass catcher has been extremely effective. The offense certainly has a good thing going, and the feeling here is that the Eagles have only scratched the surface.
- In case you haven't noticed, the kickoff coverage and punt coverage has been excellent. Alex Henery's kickoffs have been deep and largely unreturnable, and Donnie Jones is in a groove at punter. Brandon Boykin, Roc Carmichael, Brad Smith, Colt Anderson, Chris Polk and Najee Goode have been outstanding racing down the field in coverage. The return game needs a boost, but it's clear that when DeSean Jackson lines up as a punt return man, teams are kicking away from him and losing yardage that way. Now, Patrick Peterson is the next return man to cover, and while he's averaging just 6.7 yards per punt return, we all know how much he can turn a game around.
- On that note, the only winter weather to consider is what the conditions will be like at Lincoln Financial Field. The road games are at Minnesota and at Dallas. It's sometimes very windy at Lincoln Financial Field, but the conditions do not appear daunting at this point, for the month of December.
- The rise of linebacker DeMeco Ryans this season cannot be understated. He has delivered in every way on and off the field. He's a great leader and has played to a Pro Bowl level. Having someone like that, with playoff experience in a young locker room, is invaluable.
- Another reason for optimism is, naturally, Chip Kelly. He has a great relationship with his players and they are totally committed to his program. Practicing all season with that loud music? Think that's maybe a reason the Eagles are 5-1 on the road with so few false-start penalties and mental errors? Is it a coincidence that the Eagles are relatively healthy? The Eagles have shown a lot of high-character traits coming back from the 3-5 record, so the goal is to play aggressive, loose and focused football in December and to see where the team is in the standings on December 29 in Dallas.
For the rest of the weekend, though, it's rest-and-relax time for the players and coaches. They have the time to use wisely to come back firing on December 1.