What the Eagles continue to search for, at the quarter pole of this 2018 regular season, is an identity. Who are these Eagles? Super Bowl Champions? That's last season's story. A flawed team? There are areas that need improvement, no doubt, so it's fair to say there are flaws. Head coach Doug Pederson basically said that very thing on Monday when we spoke in the studio of the NovaCare Complex. I asked him how he felt about being 2-2 at this point.
He was honest and accurate in his answer.
"I feel like we could easily be 0-4 and I feel like we could be 4-0. It's just a matter of a couple of plays," Pederson said. "Honestly, I think it's exactly where we expected ourselves to be and at the same time, we've got a lot of things to fix. The exciting part of it is that there's still three-quarters to go of this football season. Obviously, nobody makes the postseason in September.
"You try to figure out who you are as a football team usually in that first month."
The Eagles are still very much in the NFC picture as everyone agrees. At the same time, they've been an inconsistent team in every phase in the first month and there is a line-item list that must be addressed, such as …
- Protecting quarterback Carson Wentz is a front-burner issue. For whatever reason, defenses are getting to Wentz and disturbing the flow of this offense. Teams aren't backing away from the line of scrimmage. They aren't sitting back in coverage and allowing Wentz to pick them apart. Defenses are mixing up their looks, bringing stunts and well-timed and well-executed blitzes and getting to Wentz. Now, what can be done? The communication along the line of scrimmage can improve, the backs helping in pass protection can be better, and the Eagles can identify fronts and hit blitzes for big gains and back them off the strategy. The Eagles were just 5-of-15 on third downs and 1-for-4 in the red zone on Sunday in Tennessee. That's not good enough. "We've got to fix the protection, obviously," Pederson said. "We have to detail our work a little bit more."
- All of a sudden, the dropped passes statistic is accumulating. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor had a tough game in Nashville with a few drops. Wendell Smallwood had a drop. Jordan Matthews had a drop.
- The offense continues to try to get on the same page with continuity. Injuries have stunted the growth of the offense to date, so hopefully good health moving forward takes the offense to a new level. Wentz started just his second game of the season on Sunday. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery played in his first game. Left tackle Jason Peters missed most of one game. Running back Jay Ajayi missed a game. Corey Clement wasn't out there on Sunday, and he's maybe the backfield's best in pass protection. Darren Sproles has played in only one game. "We've had some pieces not there to generate some continuity, so that's affected the offense just a little bit," Pederson said.
- Losing a game after leading 17-3 is shocking. It's been a long while since the Eagles failed to win after holding a two-touchdown advantage. The point is this: Teams are going to give the Eagles, the defending Super Bowl Champions, their best shot every minute of every game. Nothing has been easy this season and nothing is going to be easy the rest of the way. Expect no cakewalks. "We know we're going to get everybody's best each week and that's the thing I think as a team we have to understand," Pederson said. "We have to expect everybody's best each week."
- Defensively, the Eagles are excellent against the run, although there were many instances on Sunday when the Eagles missed tackles that could have been 4-yard losses and instead turned into 2-yard losses or a small gain. There were plenty of missed open-field tackles. As perhaps unfair as it is to say, even though the run defense has been outstanding, it could be even better with more precise tackling. The pass defense is another story. The pass defense has holes. The pass defense needs improvement. "We've got to shore up our pass coverage. We've got to shore up the back end," Pederson said. "We've got to make sure guys are in the right spot whether we're playing man or zone, just understanding that, and then generating a pass rush and getting to the quarterback."
- The red zone defense has been a story of day and night. The Eagles have been great at home in the red zone, limiting the Falcons and Colts to two touchdowns in 10 red zone trips. On the road, it's a totally different story. Tampa Bay and Tennessee combined to score touchdowns five times in six trips inside the Eagles' 20-yard line. As Pederson said, the Eagles could be 4-0 or 0-4 at this point. That's how slim the margin for success has been through four games.
- At his Monday press conference, Pederson stopped short of saying there would be personnel changes but he said the coaching staff would evaluate everything in the next couple of days. If changes are forthcoming they would likely happen in the secondary. Tennessee recognized the absence of safety Rodney McLeod and attacked the deep middle of the secondary. Quarterbacks are throwing at Jalen Mills. The coverage on the edges has not been up to par, and the Eagles face a Minnesota team on Sunday that is going to have quarterback Kirk Cousins get the ball out of his hands quickly and into the possession of talented receivers like Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Laquon Treadwell along with tight end Kyle Rudolph. Running back Dalvin Cook is a dangerous player in the open field. The Eagles have their hands full defensively on Sunday.
- The special teams were terrific on Sunday and have the ability to dominate. Rookie punter Cameron Johnston has been outstanding. Placekicker Jake Elliott is six for eight on field goals and perfect on his extra points. The coverage has largely been solid and the return game, when given a chance, has produced even with Sproles on the sidelines.
The big picture? Pederson said it best prior to his press conference.
"We've just got to get back to Eagle football," he said. "I feel like we're a little disconnected, just not everybody is on the same page. That obviously starts with me and my messaging but making sure that we stay focused as a group, as a family. There's no panic. A lot of football is left. We just need to continue to work and grow."