Big game on Sunday, playoff scenario or not. The Eagles need a win here, need some help from other teams, need to finish the regular season the right way. I, like you, have spent the last couple of days wondering why the Eagles are 8-6-1 rather than 11-4. I certainly expected this team to be better in the standings. The Eagles have stayed relatively injury free for much of the season. They rank, statistically, as one of the best teams in the league.
And yet they are 8-6-1 and on the outside looking in at the playoffs right now. Go figure ...
It isn't as easy as you think. The chorus calls of "Run the ball more" have some validity in the wake of a three-point scoring output on Sunday against Washington, when the play-calling was skewed, but that drumbeat really isn't accurate. The Eagles aren't wildly "pass happy," as they have been described. The league ratio of passes to runs is 55.7 percent passes vs. 44.3 percent runs. That stat includes sacks as passes, not runs, by the way. Quarterback scrambles count as runs, so there is some variance here.
But in the excellent Treatise prepared by PhiladelphiaEagles.com intern Joe Dolan, the numbers say the Eagles are among six teams in the NFL that throw the ball more than 60 percent of the time. And while the Eagles throw the ball more than the league average -- 60.8 percent of the time -- the different amounts to a measly 3.1 rushing attempts fewer by the Eagles than the league average.
The Eagles are among the league's best in total offense, scoring, big plays, etc. They haven't been consistent on third downs (they rank 13th in the league on third downs) and the red-zone touchdown percentage ranks tied for 23rd in the NFL.
It has clearly been a puzzling season. Those who point to one area aren't correct. There have been breakdowns at critical times that have hurt the Eagles -- a late fumble in Dallas, a lack of a touchdown from inside the 5-yard line in Chicago, a giveaway in Cincinnati -- that have left the Eagles where they are.
During the three-game winning streak that revitalized this season, the Eagles had good field position offensively, they controlled the clock, they converted third downs and they scored touchdowns (with the Browns blowout win an exception). How many dropped passes in those three wins? Any? Turnovers? Penalties on the offense?
Against Washington, the Eagles dropped six or seven passes. They turned the ball over and Washington converted the takeaway into seven points. The Eagles had a handful of penalties that stalled drives.
To beat Dallas, the Eagles need to play an "A" game. They need to keep that relentless Dallas pass rush away from Donovan McNabb. They need to establish the line of scrimmage. Yes, they need to run the football effectively.
How about the defense? It has played pretty darn well this season. The Eagles have had some breakdowns and some games they would love to re-do, but for the most part the D has been stout. If there is an area to continue to improve, it is the takeaways. The Eagles are better in that category, but they still aren't quite where they need to be. The pass rush has been consistent this season. The run defense is much, much better -- Chris Gocong had a strong game on Sunday and the tackles are doing a nice job allowing Stewart Bradley to run sideline to sideline -- and the Eagles have been pretty sound throughout with their assignments.
Special teams? Improved, no question. Sav Rocca has had trouble in the wind, and the punt return game hasn't been nearly as dynamic as it was early in the season, but from start to finish this year the Eagles have taken a step forward in Rory Segrest's second year.
Intangibles? I'm sure there are some to consider. I don't think the Eagles have played all that well when they have fallen behind by more than one score this year, but then again I'm not sure how many teams are better when they trail. I do know that the Eagles are just so much more confident and aggressive and effective when they come out smoking and take a lead.
It all adds up to a puzzling 8-6-1. The coaching staff will make its final analysis of the team after the season is complete, but for now, in the long days before the kickoff against Dallas, a lot of fans are spending time assigning blame to the pass/run ratio. The Eagles are among the teams that throw the ball more than others, but they aren't that far off from the teams that are winning divisions and marching toward the playoffs.
Even in that game on Sunday, the Eagles had chances. They had a first-and-10 snap at the Washington 12-yard line and couldn't get into the end zone. They had a couple of deep balls dropped that would have gone for big gains. They had a last-second catch that stopped six inches away from the end zone.
Against Dallas, the Eagles must do everything they did in the three-game winning streak. They need to play a great football game to win against their arch-rivals as the regular season ends with emotion, with the spotlight and with a whole lot on the line for both teams in many, many ways.