Everyone is blown away by the Eagles and their 3-0 start and the way they have dominated Cleveland, Chicago and Pittsburgh. The bye week comes at a time when the team is soaring, and it would have been nice to keep it rolling, but you take rest when you can get it and, well, this is the time for the players and coaches to rest.
Then it’s a 13-game season with a postseason run as the goal. Amazing how a few weeks changes the landscape, isn’t it?
So, what are the Eagles? How did a team go from zero to 100 mph so quickly? How much of this is real? What adjustments are ahead? Some thoughts from The Inside …
- Quarterback Carson Wentz is the real deal. There is no mirage here. Now, he’s going to go through some ups and downs. He’s going to throw interceptions and make poor decisions and lose games. How he reacts to those down moments will be his next challenge, because we know he isn’t going to be blown away by the magnitude of the stage and he’s not going to go into a game unprepared and his physical gifts, combined with his mental capacity for handling the looks that NFL defenses will offer, won’t change. We start there. The Eagles have a franchise quarterback in place, keeping fingers crossed for good health, for the next decade. The window to win a Super Bowl is open as of now.
- As remarkable as Wentz has been – and this whole thing is jaw dropping – what is just as 180-degrees different from many on the outside thought leading into the season is the variety in the offense and the quality of the playmakers here. The wide receivers, who struggled so much in the summer, have created separation and have made big plays down the field. There are still too many drops, yes, but the mistakes are being minimized. The tight ends have been banged up through three games but the Eagles are getting good mileage out of Brent Celek and Trey Burton, and Zach Ertz is expected back for Detroit. Having three tight ends healthy adds to the variety of the scheme. The running game, which has provided touches to all four backs, has been solid. Running backs coach Duce Staley has done an excellent job keeping everyone fresh and involved.
- The way the Eagles are handling left tackle Jason Peters is helping him stay spry and energetic. He’s getting a day off when the team works in pads during the week. The Eagles want him right on game days and he’s been playing good football.
- Now, if right tackle Lane Johnson is suspended, the offensive line will have a major adjustment. This won’t be easy. This is worthy of concern. Johnson has played extremely well for three games. Losing him means that Allen Barbre goes from left guard to right tackle and, while Barbre has plenty of experience there, he’s not the same level of athlete that Johnson is. Stefen Wisniewski would then play left guard, and he will do a fine job there. If you watch the Eagles sidelines on game day you see Wisniewski taking reps on air, a ball of energy. He is going to play fine. The Eagles will have their depth tested if Johnson is suspended, and there is no telling how that will impact Wentz and the offense. It’s a big deal.
- Head coach Doug Pederson, offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo put together the game plan and Pederson calls the plays each week and the group has done wonders with an innovative, ever-changing scheme. That won’t change. The Eagles have a lot more in the playbook to show. This is going to be fun.
- On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles are legit. They have the front four to dominate the line of scrimmage. It’s going to be interesting to see how Jim Schwartz schemes things up against a Lions offense that is really dangerous, featuring premier pass-catching running back Theo Riddick and a deep group of good receivers. Schwartz was fired by the Lions, so he’s going to have his game razor sharp. But the tests will come for the secondary. Detroit and then Washington and then Minnesota are on the docket. The schedule is rough. The defense, with excellent play up front, with a good fit at linebacker, and with outstanding safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, has the ability to continue to play at a very high level.
- Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox are game-changing defensive linemen. The Eagles have what we hoped they would have up front – great front-line talent and a lot of depth. Keep an eye on rookie Destiny Vaeao, who has contributed already. He has a chance to be pretty darn good.
- Have you noticed that the draft class has four major contributors? Wentz, running back Wendell Smallwood, cornerback Jalen Mills and Vaeao are getting important reps. Some of those young offensive linemen are improving every day, even though they’ve been inactive on game days.
- Are there potential roadblocks ahead? Sure, starting with Johnson’s situation. That looms large. Defenses will probe for ways to attack Wentz and find his weaknesses, because every player has them. A team like Minnesota thinks it can cover every team’s receivers in single coverage and win at the line of scrimmage, which is exactly how the Vikings beat up on Carolina last week. The defense is going to be challenged by some of the excellent receiving groups ahead, including Washington and New York in the NFC East.
This has been a dream scenario for an Eagles team that has a lot of young talent playing well, a quarterback who has been nearly flawless, and a bright future with a good supply of draft picks and room to maneuver within the salary cap. The window is open. Enjoy the view.