The Eagles are 3-2. Teams who start 3-2 make the playoffs 50 percent of the time, so the result of their season is quite literally a statistical tossup. These are four things I think about this team as it sits at a crossroads:
1. Jim Schwartz is fine
Yes, the Eagles’ defense has looked more like a Billy Davis unit than most Eagles fans would like over the past two games. 51 points and 737 yards allowed in two games? Not great, Bob. Still, I’m not terribly concerned about the defense. If they continue to look awful over the next few weeks, I’ll be a little more worried, and you can all yell at me about how wrong I was.
When you lose a guy mid-game, it really hampers the way your game plan plays out. McKelvin left early against Detroit, and Bennie Logan — kind of a key part of the defense! — left early against Washington, which was certainly one of the reasons Washington piled up over 200 rushing yards.
Schwartz has made a couple of iffy decisions, including the way he handled his linebackers in the first half against Detroit, but when he corrected those failures in the second half, the Eagles held the Lions to three points in the final 30 minutes. The game against Washington felt, to me, like a defense simply not coming to play. There were tackles and chase-downs there for the taking, and they weren’t executed not necessarily because guys were out of position due to Schwartz’s scheme, but because guys simply didn’t make plays.
Give Schwartz a few more weeks before you sound the alarm. He’s a smart guy, and he has talent at his disposal. Things should be fixed in due time.
2. Wendell Smallwood needs more touches
Look, I know what I’m going to get in response: you don’t give more touches to running backs like Wendell Smallwood and expect them to keep up their averages. I get that. I’m not saying Smallwood is the Eagles’ future at running back. What I’ve seen from him, however, suggests he should be doing more. He’s got incredible burst, a la Darren Sproles at Smallwood’s age. His kickoff return on Sunday was yet another example of what we’ve seen from the rookie running back: more often than not, when he gets the ball with ample space in front of him, the kid makes plays.
If Ryan Mathews were doing more when he touched the ball, I wouldn’t be suggesting this. Smallwood’s rushing load has been about what I expected for the rookie through five games. But Mathews is averaging 3.9 yards per attempt behind a line incapable of giving him the room he needs to pick up a head of steam. It might result in the same frustration, but I think giving Smallwood more touches is warranted, especially after the way he’s consistently made plays.
3. How about Caleb Sturgis, huh?
Looks like the coaching staff nailed the kicking decision. Caleb Sturgis, bemoaned when he debuted in Week 4 against Washington last season and missed an extra point and a field goal, has sort of turned into a rock. After a rocky first two weeks with the Eagles, Sturgis has been the picture of consistency, converting 43 of 44 extra points (97.7%) and 26 of 30 (86.6%) in his last 16 games with the team. Considering 16 games represents a season’s worth of kicking, that’s more than large enough a sample size to warrant calling Sturgis a very good kicker. We’ve reached the point where I expect him to make every kick he attempts.
Dave Fipp has turned a man who kicked 76.5% and 78.4% in his first two years in the league, respectively, into a stud. What can’t that man do?
4. All that matters is Carson Wentz playing well, anyway
There’s plenty to get hung up on from the past two weeks. There always is in two losses. Offensive line troubles, awful showings from receivers and cornerbacks alike, and more.
But, and this is going to sound like some unabashed glass-half-full optimism, literally the only thing that matters about this season is that Carson Wentz is playing well. The fact that they have him on the cheap for the next few years would seem to beg Howie Roseman to find a way to put enough talent around him to legitimately compete before he’s due for a pay raise, but that’s fine.
The Seahawks are still very good after paying Russell Wilson. What matters is that they identified the franchise-stabilizing talent they had at the quarterback position, and what the Eagles have done in just five games this season is the exact same thing. They have their answer to the next decade-plus at quarterback. That can’t be over-valued. It’s the most important position in the game. Through five games, Wentz has completed 65 percent of his passes and thrown seven touchdowns versus just one interception with arguably the worst wide receiving corps in the entire league.
Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman have to be pinching themselves every day, and Eagles fans should be doing the same thing. It was fun to dream about the Super Bowl after three weeks, but the last few weeks have reminded us this is still very much an Eagles team with gaping holes. All that matters, though, is that the biggest hole in the roster is finally filled.