Each week, the SB Nation NFL team sites explore a special theme. This week's theme is: “Who is the one player you can't afford to lose?”
Welp. I bet you can guess what prompted this week’s theme.
Carson Wentz’s season-ending injury had me so distraught that I just couldn’t even complete the usual “things we learned” post I do after every single Eagles game. Now that I’ve been able to gather myself, I’m going to give some thoughts on where this team stands after Wentz’s injury.
1 - Now’s not the time to give up hope
It was hard to know how to feel after the Eagles’ big win over the Rams. The Wentz news was just devastating. But advancing to 11-2 and winning the NFC East ... that’s certainly not nothing.
Now that I’ve had some time to vent, I’m feeling hopeful. So should you.
The impact of losing Wentz can’t be understated. He was the NFL MVP for a reason. The good news is this team still has a number of good things going for them. There’s still a lot of good talent and coaching on this team.
It very well might not be enough to win the Super Bowl, or even get there. But the season ain’t over til it’s over. And until then, we might as well hope for the best.
2 - Carson Wentz is our baby
In the words of Larry Poff: “Carson Wentz, baby, he’s our baby.”
I think Eagles fans already knew Wentz meant a lot to them. But his injury really puts things into perspective.
The news of the ACL tear was just so deflating. I’m willing to bet nearly the entire city would donate their ACL to him just so he could play out the season.
Wentz was our great hope. He was going to prove all his doubters wrong and not only win the NFL MVP, but the Super Bowl MVP as well. Or at least he had a real shot at that.
Wentz will get back there one day. He will. This guy is too special to fail. His talent. His work ethic. His leadership. His resolve. His faith. Everything he’s shown this season is the makings of a championship quarterback. Heck, he might even lead the Eagles to building a dynasty. He’s shown the capability of being that good.
The wait for his return will be long and arduous. But it’s impossible not believe him when he says he’ll be back better than ever.
Carson Wentz has thrown the most touchdown passes of any Eagles player in a single season with 33.— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) December 10, 2017
He’s only in his second year.#MVP
3 - The Eagles becoming NFC East champions is only the first step
Now it’s all about securing that first-round bye. The Eagles only need to win two more games to get it. Beat the Giants this week and Raider on Christmas in Philadelphia and they’re set.
Alternatively, it’s possible the Eagles could win this week and the Vikings drop a game to the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers in Lambeau next Saturday. The Eagles could clinch the No. 1 seed before even playing against Oakland.
Getting home field advantage in the playoffs is obviously crucial at this point. The Eagles are 12-2 at the Linc in the Doug Pederson era. One loss came down to the wire against a divisional opponent (Washington) and the other came to Rodgers. Playing at the Linc will be a tough challenge for the Eagles’ enemies. All they would need is two wins in order to get to the Super Bowl. It sure won’t be easy, but don’t you think they at least have a fighting chance?
4 - It’s Nick Foles time once again
I refuse to give up hope in the Eagles this season. But Foles is probably really going to test me in that regard.
Readers of the site will know that I’ve never been the biggest Foles guy. Even after 27-2, I still wanted the Eagles to hedge their bet on him by drafting a quarterback in 2014.
My problem with Foles is that I don’t think he’s particularly great at anything. Now, that doesn’t mean he’s not downright terrible at everything. But he just doesn’t wow you in any way. He can make some “good” throws but he doesn’t do anything special the way Wentz can.
Foles also leaves way too many plays on the field. People always talk about he “left the field with the lead!” in the Eagles’ playoff game against the Saints. That’s literally true, but it also ignores context. From my view in the press box, I could see all the wide open receivers that Foles was missing. I specifically remember him rolling out to his right and having both Brent Celek and Jason Avant open in front of him. He opted for a short throw to Avant instead of a wide open Celek 20 yards down the field. Foles also took a really bad sack in that game to put the Eagles out of field goal range at one point. Sure enough, the Eagles lost by only two points.
But I digress. My point here is that these are some big reasons why I wasn’t sold on Foles as a franchise quarterback.
The good news is the possibility of the Eagles being duped into thinking Foles can be a franchise guy is gone. Wentz is the franchise. Foles is just coming in here to do his best in Wentz’s stead.
The Eagles can’t realistically expect another fluky 2013 performance out of Foles. But it’s not out of the question he gives them a chance to win as long as a lot of other things are going well around him. Just like they were in 2013. Which is a nice transition to my next point ...
6 - It’s time to see what Doug Pederson is really made of
Doug Pederson has already shown me enough to convince me that he’s the Coach of the Year. But he can really solidify his case depending on how this team performs down the stretch.
The talk this week has been that the Eagles’ offense isn’t going to change with Wentz out. Here’s hoping that’s not the case.
Philadelphia really needs to rely on the running game more often from here on out. It’s not realistic for Foles to never be throwing the ball, of course, but it’s time for Pederson to pound the rock. Control the clock. Limit the amount of times Foles has to throw. Set up play action so that when Foles DOES have to throw, life is easier on him.
In limited action, Jay Ajayi has been really great for the Eagles this year. He’s averaging 6.9 yards per carry! The Eagles seemed to get away from him too easily in the Rams game. If I’m Pederson, I’m riding with the Jay Train until defenses prove they can stop it.
7 - This Eagles defense needs to be much better
Credit to where it’s due: the Eagles’ defense made some real key plays at the end of the Rams game. Chris Long had the big strip-sack. Rodney McLeod recovered that ball and made a key third-down stop at one point. Brandon Graham stealing a laughable lateral attempt from Tavon Austin and running into the end zone was a nice way to seal the game.
But there was a series in that Eagles-Rams game that almost really did the team in. It was after the Eagles went up 21-7. Philly allowed a third down conversion to Cooper Kupp, which isn’t the end of the world. But then they just did an AWFUL job of tackling and allowed him to turn that conversion into a huge gain.
That simply cannot happen from here on out. Jim Schwartz really needs to earn his paycheck. This defensive line has to continue to make life very hard on quarterbacks. The run defense, which has been historically dominant for most of the year, needs to get back on track as well.
This Eagles defense can play better than what they’ve shown lately. If the Eagles are going to win a championship, they HAVE to play better. It’s time for this unit to really rally around Wentz’s injury.
The offense should be able to do enough to give the Eagles a reasonable chance, at least relative to expectations. It’s up to the defense to dominate and take the pressure off Foles and company.
Something I didn’t mention in this post (until now) is the long-term impact of Wentz’s injury. To be honest, I don’t really want to get into that right now. I want to focus on the remainder of this season. We’ll have plenty of time to talk about the other stuff in the offseason.
But I’ll briefly mention there are long-term ramifications to Wentz’s injury. Such as the fact that his recovery could potentially last into the 2018 season. Or that this year could be a wasted opportunity in the sense that the Eagles have something special going on and it might not be so easily replicated. The Eagles might losing coaching assistants, such as John DeFilippo. There’s a lot of things to consider.
For now, it’s all about moving forward with this season. Taking care of business against the Giants this week is the first step.