The Eagles are back at work after their much-appreciated bye week knowing the second half of the season offers every kind of possibility. The Eagles control their playoff destiny in an NFC East that on Sunday became tighter with Washington’s blowout loss at home against Atlanta. It was an eye-opening loss for Washington, but to be fair the Redskins are banged up and they missed three starters along the offensive line, among others. Washington will be heard from the rest of the way.
Of course, the Eagles have five of their final eight games against the division, and so it’s right there. We knew that already. Sunday night’s game against Dallas represents the next huge game in an eight-game stretch that is testing, to say the least.
Something else was reinforced on Sunday as the rest of the league played: To win big in this NFL, you have to score big points. New Orleans rang up 45 points to beat the Rams, who scored 35 points in a losing effort. Atlanta scored 38 points to whip Washington. Kansas City scored 37 points to put away Cleveland. Carolina scored 42 points to stave off Tampa Bay. Chicago put up 41 points in a blowout win over Buffalo. San Francisco scored 34 points against a lifeless Oakland team on Thursday night. New England pulled away from Green Bay in the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s game and ended up with 31 points.
Points are being scored at a record pace in 2018 – the league average for each team more than 24 points per game – and those numbers aren’t going to decrease anytime soon. The Eagles rank 21st in the NFL with a 22.3 points-per-game average.
Is that enough to win the NFC East? Is that enough to make a deep playoff run?
There is no question that defense wins championships – it will stay true until proven otherwise – but in today’s NFL, it’s vital to have the means to put points up in bunches. Look at the top teams in the league and where they rank in points scored: Kansas City (8-1) leads all 32 teams with 36.3 points per game. New Orleans (7-1) averages 34.9 points per game. The Los Angeles Rams (8-1) are scoring 33.2 points per game. New England (7-2) averages 30 points per game. Chicago (5-3) is scoring at a 29.4-points-per-game clip.
Get the idea?
The leaders in points allowed – Baltimore, Dallas, Tennessee, Seattle, and Washington – are borderline playoff teams. Think back to February 4 and Super Bowl LII, a 41-33 Eagles win over New England. Yes, Jim Schwartz’s defense made the big play late in the game when Brandon Graham recorded a strip-sack of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, but that game was a precursor to the 2018 season: Offenses rule.
All of this makes last week’s addition of wide receiver Golden Tate all the more intriguing. The Eagles clearly felt they couldn’t say no to adding a difference-making player, and Tate is certainly that kind of receiver. He will help in terms of matchups, he’ll give head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Mike Groh opportunities for more creativity, and Tate will bring a run-after-the-catch element that every team needs.
Tate will make the Eagles more explosive, and that’s something this offense definitely needs. After last season’s offensive excellence – the Eagles led the league with 33 points per game while quarterback Carson Wentz was healthy and then moved the ball at will in the NFC Championship Game win over Minnesota and the Super Bowl victory with Nick Foles running the show – this year’s offense has had so many pieces in and out of the lineup that consistency has been difficult to achieve. The Eagles have had to work hard for their points.
Tate makes all of that easier.
There are going to be some defensive struggles in the final eight games, and Schwartz has his group playing, generally, good football. There have been some breakdowns, yes, and the takeaway numbers aren’t where the Eagles want them to be – the Eagles have just seven, ranking near the bottom of the league in that category – but the Eagles have battled on defense and they’ve had a ton of injuries and the thinking is that the defense has a chance to improve down the stretch. The Eagles can win a defensive game, as they did in the opener against Atlanta and, really, as they did in London against Jacksonville and even in the tight win over Indianapolis.
Can the Eagles win a shootout? They might find out when they hit the road in two weeks at New Orleans and then when they play at the Rams in December. Tate’s addition to the offense gives the Eagles a much better chance at lighting up the scoreboard.
On a Sunday when the Eagles didn’t play, they gained ground with Washington’s blowout loss to Atlanta. The NFC East is going down to the wire, and to win it the Eagles have to make hay in these final five division games. First things first, though. It’s Dallas Week. It’s a special time.
The bye week came at the perfect time and the front office added some juice and a very fine player by trading for Tate. As the Eagles return to the NovaCare Complex a rested and hungry team, they do so knowing they control everything in front of them. The second half of the season, then, is here. It’s going to be a fun, frantic race to the finish in the NFC East.