With the Eagles 2016 season ending earlier this week, I thought we’d look back at how the Eagles did relative to our (well, my) expectations. A lot happens over the course of 17 weeks, and looking back to early September gives us a bit of perspective on the season.
1 It ain’t saying much, but the Eagles are division title contenders
With Tony Romo injured, the Redskins being the Redskins and the Giants looking like they just paid a fortune for a lousy defense, the NFC East looked like it was going to be a bad division again. We were wrong. The Cowboys stormed to the division title and the Giants defense was one of the best in the league. At least the Redskins were still the Redskins though.
“Granted, the Eagles have Carson Wentz throwing to wet paper bags, but the Eagles defense and special teams will be good enough to win the division. The offense doesn’t have to do as much as the rest of their rivals to get to 9 wins. Probable? Maybe not. Possible? Absolutely.”
What actually happened: Both totally wrong and not too far off. They were inches away from beating the Giants in New York and Baltimore and getting to that 9 win goal. Nobody saw the NFC East being so strong this year, but even then the Eagles defense didn’t hold up it’s end of the bargain over 16 games anyway. In their wins, the offense didn’t have to do too much, but too often for a team with a rookie QB it did.
2 Don’t sweat the numbers on Carson Wentz
“I’ll be the first one to tell you that statistics are important, that the eye test isn’t enough. But we have to keep in mind that the skill position players on this team and the game plan built around them are going to handcuff Wentz’s production. Focus on his ability to extend and make plays. Those are things that can’t be taught and are recipes for success.”
What actually happened: Exactly that. Carson Wentz finished 18th in yards, 25th in touchdowns and passer rating, and with the 9th most interceptions. But do we really care? As expected, it was clear that his supporting cast handcuffed him, and the volume of screen and short passes as he started his career had people shouting from the rooftops about air yards (which ceased as the season progressed). Wentz’s ability to extend plays with his legs was ridiculous, his elusiveness reminiscent of (yeah, I’m going there) Randall Cunningham.
In his rookie year, he showed a lot of promise, and as the talent around him improves, we will expect him to deliver on that promise. For 2016, it was a relatively good season that passed the eye test.
3 People are looking at the linebacker situation wrong
“Jim Schwartz has four veteran linebackers of varying skillsets that he will mix and match, and most of the time half of them are going to be on the bench together. Get used to it.”
What actually happened: Half right. Stephen Tulloch didn’t play as much as expected after getting $2.5 million, but Mychal Kendricks played 28% of snaps in the 15 games he played in.
4 I think Fletcher Cox is going to have a monster season
“But there’s another reason I think he’s going to have a truly great year in addition to the playbook suiting Cox: Schwartz seems to get every last ounce out of his star DTs.”
What actually happened: Fletcher Cox didn’t have a bad year by any means, but he never approached the career year that he was set up for. He led the team in sacks, which wouldn’t have been a surprising statement in August, but it was with 6, which was.
5 I think the fear of Jim Schwartz leaving is without merit
“I can’t see how teams will be lining up for him after one good season. After two, maybe, but the Eagles will cross that bridge when they get to it.”
What actually happened: There’s still time, but so far Schwartz has been mentioned as an interview candidate for one team, the Bills, who seem to be interviewing guys just to kick tires before hiring interim head coach Anthony Lynn.
6 I think that Carson Wentz just might be the man
“I don’t know if anyone can actually tell if someone has it. But if they can, the Eagles coaching staff has guys who have seen it up close many times.”
There were some serious red flags with Carson Wentz coming into the league. He only started 23 games, which is a small amount for any quarterback at any level. He did it in the FCS, a lower level of competition. And he did it on a team that was loaded, NDSU won three straight FCS titles before he was the starter. There were legitimate reservations about if he could be an NFL player. He shined at the Senior Bowl, and the Eagles coaching staff fell in love with him as they got to know him. I’ve joked this season that Frank Reich wants his kids to marry Carson Wentz. Doug Pederson wants to be his dad. They were right.
What actually happened: Carson Wentz hit the ground running and showed that yes, he can play in and handle the NFL. His ability to handle the transition from small school QB to starting QB of the Eagles was nothing short of impressive.
7 I think Zach Ertz isn’t going to get that breakout season he’s primed for
“Doug Pederson’s offense, the lack of skill at WR, the lack of a strong running game and a rookie QB all set up a TE for a strong season. But I don’t think it’s going to give him the breakout season we have been waiting for.”
What actually happened: We didn’t get the breakout season we have been waiting for, but not quite for the reasons anticipated. Ertz missed two games with a rib injury then played through it. In his last eight games though he (#LastEightGames) he caught 55 passes for 569 yards (10.4 yards per reception) and 4 touchdowns.
It’s a broken record, but with good health, maybe we’ll get that full season break out next year.
8 I think the offensive line is better than we think
“The Eagles have four legit starters and the 79th pick in the draft waiting in the wings to take that fifth spot. It’s not the best OL, but it’s a situation a bunch of teams would gladly be in.”
What actually happened: The depth was tested, as eight different players started on the offensive line this season. And it came through. There were some rough patches, and the suspension of Lane Johnson certainly hurt, but overall the offensive line was more a strength than a liability this season. And the fifth spot, which was implied to be Allen Barbre... he had a strong season.
9 I think I’m kind of getting excited for Doug Pederson’s offense
“This doesn’t mean Pederson is a good coach, we’re going to need to see real games to make any kind of determination. But after watching Chip Kelly’s frustrating dogmatic player usage and loyalty, and concerns that Pederson is in over his head, it’s encouraging to see pragmatism from him before the season has even begun. It’s okay to get your hopes up a little.”
What actually happened: Every year before the preseason we say it doesn’t matter, every year after the preseason we read too much in to it, and then every year after the season ends we remember that the preseason doesn’t matter.
Doug Pederson used three tight end sets quite a bit in the preseason, and then the real games began and he didn’t really use them. He continued to give Nelson Agholor a huge amount of playing time he didn’t deserve. Trey Burton would make some first downs and then go back to the bench, similar to Chip Kelly using Josh Huff. Bryce Treggs showed he could give defenses something to think about deep, which no one else on the roster could do, he played 7 snaps in a three game span. Pederson had the worst group of skill position players in the league, evidenced by the fact that in the second half of the season we were fretting about a 1st round pick getting playing time over rookie UDFAs. Let’s see what Pederson does with actual talent next season.
10 I’m definitely excited by the aggressive front office
After years of just waiting for a QB to come to them in the draft or bringing in known mediocrities, the Eagles went after one in the draft. It was aggressive, it was bold, it was risky. And it was exciting, because they’d either succeed and the Eagles would be set, or they’d fail miserably and they would probably get rid of everyone and bring in new blood.
What actually happened: Carson Wentz sure looked like the real deal this year. He had his fair share of rookie mistakes, but he also had his fair share of plays that made you stand up and pay attention. He has his whole career ahead of him, but this offseason is exciting because the Eagles got a QB to build around. Job done.
11 I think everyone should relax
“Everyone likes a good origins story. Hopefully the 2016 season is one for the Eagles. If not, everyone also likes a good bad movie. You’re bound to get one of the two. Enjoy the ride.”
Similar to above, the Eagles got their guy. Instead of Spider-Man, which gets rebooted every few years, they got something much closer to Iron Man.