The Eagles pulled of another upset, this time knocking off the Vikings, the league’s last undefeated team. Here’s what we’ve learned. Or think we’ve learned. Or learned that we think.
1 This season is a roller coaster
You’re never as good as you look when you’re at your best, nor are you as bad as you look at your worst. We’ve probably already seen this Eagles team at its best in their 34-3 dismantling of the Steelers. We’ve also seen the offense and defense at its worst, but in different games. The defense was awful last week, outstanding the next. The offense played a terrible first half against the Vikings, but did enough in the second half against a defense that has made everyone they’ve faced look bad. With a rookie QB and little depth that is seemingly tested every week, this is probably going to be the identity of the 2016 Eagles. For a rebuilding year, it’s not the worst outcome.
2 Can the Eagles just play really good teams?
Twice this team has faced a Super Bowl contender, and twice they’ve won, and won with a comfortable lead. Maybe that’s good news as they face a tough schedule for the rest of the season. If this Eagles team makes it to the playoffs, and they are on track to, they’ll definitely have earned it.
3 Rodney McLeod is outstanding
Like his partner Malcolm Jenkins, we knew McLeod was a good signing that would be a boon to the defense, but he’s been even better than advertised. He’s second in the league in interceptions, he got a sack on Sunday, he’s forced a fumble and he leads the team in tackles, and not in a misleading “the defense is so awful that the ball usually winds up 15 yards downfield where safeties live” way that lets players like Landon Collins or Barry Church lead their team in tackles. After they let McLeod walk and drafted Jared Goff over Carson Wentz, we’re all Rams fans.
4 The offensive line massively rebounded
Last week was embarrassment for everyone involved with the offensive line. But you’re never as bad as you look at your worst. On Sunday, against one of the best defensive lines this season, they more than held their own. The Vikings entered the game as one of the best teams in the league at sacking the QB, and on Sunday they never took Carson Wentz to the ground with the ball. Just as everyone was to blame last week, everyone deserves credit this week. Halapoulivaati Vaitai had some struggles early on, but he wasn’t the total liability he was against the Redskins. Credit him and the staff for that improvement. And credit Carson Wentz for not holding on to the ball too long, which he’s been guilty of in the past.
5 Ron Brooks injury might be addition by subtraction
Ron Brooks was brought in as another guy who was familiar with Jim Schwartz’s system and to add some depth at corner back, where you can never have enough. Brooks definitely fit the former part, but his play this season has been lacking. When he went down with what looks to be a season ending quadriceps injury early in Sunday’s game, Malcolm Jenkins moved to the slot and Jaylen Watkins took over at safety. The defense seemed to play even better with that lineup. Jenkins, like Watkins, started his career as a cornerback, and has routinely played the slot as a safety both in Philadelphia and New Orleans. With McLeod playing lights out, the Eagles are probably better off “hiding” Watkins, who had a strong preseason, alongside him and getting Jenkins closer to the line of scrimmage and even more involved.
It’s a shame it had to be through injury, but the Eagles might have found an internal upgrade to already strong defense. Or maybe it was just that the Vikings don’t have a great group of WRs. We’ll find out next week.
6 Bennie Logan was also not missed
Last week the Redskins dominated the Eagles on the ground once Bennie Logan left the game with a groin injury. With Logan out against the Vikings, the fear that another bad running offense would have their way with a depleted Eagles defensive line arose, but it was completely unfounded. Beau Allen and Destiny Vaeao filled in admirably as the entire defense rebounded. The Eagles are not better off with Logan out, but after seeing how the loss of a single starter at CB or on OL can bring down a house of cards, it was reassuring that the team was able to weather a key injury at DL.
7 Ryan Mathews should get less touches
Mathews fumble in the fourth quarter was obviously bad, but his fumble rate so far this season is abnormally high, he should be fine going forward. But he’s struggling with literally going forward. Fumble against the Lions aside, he’s done a fine job with the tough, grind out the clock runs the Eagles ask him to do late in games. But he’s not getting the job done elsewhere. He’s averaging just 4.1 yards per carry on first down, which is a low average for a starter. The Eagles have options for who should get more early touches.
8 Darren Sproles needs more touches
Wendell Smallwood also needs more consistent playing time, but Sproles deserves a few more carries as well. In the last three games he’s been given just 12 rushing attempts, but 91 yards on them. Players like Sproles are more effective with limited playing time, but he’s only had 5, 4 and 3 carries in the last three games. Giving him 2 or 3 more a game isn’t going to negate his effectiveness and will likely improve the Eagles.
9 Jordan Hicks hasn’t been in hiding
In his five starts last year, Jordan Hicks looked like one of the steals of the 2015 draft. He had a sack, two interceptions including his pick six against the Cowboys, forced a fumble and recovered three fumbles... he was everywhere. But then he got hurt. This season he certainly hasn’t been bad, but he’d been fairly quiet. On Sunday he was the Jordan Hicks we saw in 2015: he had eight tackles and a sack, and was highly active all game. If he can keep that up, the Eagles defense is going to be extremely tough to beat.
10 Carson Wentz is unflappable
Wentz threw his worst pass of the season in his worst quarter of the season as the Eagles and Vikings traded turnovers. But then the quarter ended and Wentz rebounded. No one is going to mistake Sunday for a good game by Wentz, but the “it” factor that wowed the Eagles was on display. He another trademark “take a bad snap and make it a decent play” move, he showed off his other trademark move, a scramble for a nice pass play, and when Doug Pederson went for it on fourth down and went for two points, he kept the ball with his rookie QB on the ground. This season is all about the development of Carson Wentz, and he continues to repay the faith his coaches put in him.
11 Get your hate on
When the Eagles win this goes to eleven with a bonus point. We don’t have one for the Vikings game. We don’t need it. Because now it’s Cowboys week. Get hyped.