Part of a new campaign the SB Nation NFL blogs will be participating in during this 2014 season involves answering questions posed by Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk. Faulk, who is also an analyst at NFL Network, asked his latest question in the video below:
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To be GMC Professional Grade you must build upon your strengths. Look at your team now and assess what it does best. Is it running the football? How about pass defense? How about throwing the ball deep? Do they find creative ways to win? Let me know how you would build on that success to get your team into the playoffs.
This question comes at an appropriate time given the recent injury to Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. Head coach Chip Kelly did not offer an official time-frame regarding the third-year quarterback's injury, but he did confirm that Foles' clavicle is "cracked". Multiple reports have indicated that Foles will be out at least four to six weeks and possibly even longer. While a Foles return certainly can't be ruled out, his status for the remainder of this season is quite unclear.
With Foles out, Mark Sanchez now steps in to fill his place. The veteran quarterback, who will turn 28 next week, has plenty of starting experience in the NFL with plenty of ups and downs along the way. There's no question Sanchez looked red hot in the season, but that was when he was playing low-pressure summer football against backups. Now Sanchez faces a tough slate of upcoming games for the Eagles. Can the much-maligned New York Jets castoff rise to the challenge?
There's certainly room for optimism if the Eagles stick with what they do best: run the ball. It's no secret that Philadelphia's success in 2013 was predicated on the rushing attack, starring NFL leading rusher LeSean McCoy. Of course, the Eagles haven't been able to have that same kind of success this season due to injuries up front on the offensive line as well as general struggles from McCoy himself.
But things are looking bright for the run game. All-Pro left guard Evan Mathis is returning this week and starting center Jason Kelce returned this Sunday. Veteran right guard Todd Herremans seems likely to be out of the lineup but second-year offensive lineman Matt Tobin has flashed potential. Not only will the Eagles have their blockers in place, but the talent at running back goes beyond McCoy as the starter. Darren Sproles has proved to be an incredible change-of-pace offensive weapon and Chris Polk is a bruiser who can run through contact (when he's healthy, that is).
If the Eagles can lean on a rejuvenated run game, I don't see Sanchez holding the team back in any great way. The defense has certainly taken a significant hit with the loss of inside middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, but it's not as if will suddenly revert to a bottom of the league unit. The defense merely needs to be good enough if this offense can get going. And then there's always the fact the Eagles have one of, if not the, best special teams units in the league.
Looking at the remainder of the Eagles' schedule, and assuming Foles won't return in this hypothetical, Philadelphia still appears to be capable of winning four to six more games. That puts them somewhere around or between 9-7 and 11-5 to finish the year. Depending how those games shake out, especially the Eagles-Cowboys games, that should be good enough for a playoff berth. At that time, Foles might even be ready to return. If Philadelphia is playing well and winning at that point, Kelly might not even opt to switch back given Foles' early season struggles.
Sanchez played relatively well while filling in for Foles against Houston. He was far from perfect; he threw two interceptions and almost threw two more. But in Sanchez's defense, some of those errors looked like a result of miscommunication or timing errors rather than just poor decision making or bad mechanics. It will interesting to see if those are the kind of mistakes that can be eliminated by Sanchez shaking off some rust and taking a full week of starter's reps in practice.
With eight games left to be played in the regular season, a lot can happen. But for now, the Eagles certainly appear to be in good position despite the absence of Foles. Some would argue they're in an even better position. Either way, a playoff bid is very much within reach.
But for every optimist out there, there are certainly a fair number of skeptics. So let me ask: how confident are you in the Eagles with Sanchez starting at quarterback? Assuming Foles misses the rest of the season, which may or may not happen, how many of the Eagles' remaining eight games would Philadelphia win with Sanchez?