The Eagles’ 34-13 romp over the Giants was both relieving and fun, and it was also a microcosm of why despite a rough start, the Eagles should be in good shape for the rest of the season. A few key things were happening at unsustainable rates, it was only a matter of time before they regressed to normal levels. In other areas, the season being a marathon rather than a sprint is starting to benefit the Eagles.
In their first five games the Eagles lost seven fumbles. 11 teams didn’t lose that many all of last season, and only three teams in the past five years have lost more than 15 in a season. Not once in their first five games did they have fewer turnovers than their opposition, entering Thursday with a -4 turnover rate. Against the Giants, that luck turned around. For the first time all season the Eagles didn’t turn the ball over, and for the first time all year they were in the black on turnovers. And it’s no coincidence that for the first time all year, they blew the other team out. Yes, the Giants stink, but last season, including the playoffs, the Eagles went 11-0 with a +155 point differential (14 points a game) when they had a positive turnover rate.
The Eagles have been one of the more penalized teams under Doug Pederson, 8th in penalties per game in 2016 and 13th in 2017, but this season has been ridiculous. Entering Thursday night the Eagles were 3rd in penalties per game, averaging 8.6 calls against, and 4th in yards at 79 a game. Against the Giants they had just 4 for 25, and one of them was a “good” penalty, Jason Peters’ hold probably saved a sack.
If it felt like the Eagles just couldn’t get into another gear this season, the stats back that up.
They entered the game 23rd in 3rd down conversions, converting 37.9% of their attempts. Against the Giants they went 9 for 16, and three of the failed conversions were the 4th quarter of a game that was already decided.
In his first three games, Carson Wentz was sacked 12 times on 128 drop backs, a sack rate of 9.3%. That’s not an unsustainable rate compared to other QBs, but for a QB who was sacked on 5.2% and 6% of his drop backs in previous seasons, it’s a rate that should come down. It already has. The Giants sacked Wentz just once on 37 drop backs.
The Eagles defense was allowing a ridiculous 75% of passes to be completed on the road, for an equally absurd 9.5 yards per attempt. Eli Manning has been toast all year, but on Thursday he had a season low 55.8% of passes completed, while the Eagles gave up just 6.5 yards per attempt.
The division stinks
You can chalk a good portion of the Eagles win to the opposition being terrible, but that’s yet another reason for optimism. As Joe Buck and Troy Aikman talked about last Sunday, the Eagles-Vikings game wasn’t “must win” for either team because their divisions stink. The Eagles are in first place for the time being, and with the Redskins playing the Panthers on Sunday, they might stay that way. The Giants are awful, while the Redskins and Cowboys have various levels of QB panic: only the Bills have fewer passing TDs than the Redskins, while Dak Prescott has the 8th worst passer rating among starting QBs. Pat Shurmur is defending his players after a blowout loss while Jason Garrett is getting criticized by his boss.
The Eagles face some tough teams the rest of the season: back to back against the Panthers and Jaguars, and they also visit the Saints. But they also have five games—half of the rest of the season—against the NFC East.
Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson
Meanwhile, the Eagles are sitting pretty with their QB and head coach. Carson Wentz picked right up where he left off last year, he’s playing at an elite level. Doug Pederson hasn’t been at his best to start the season, but the injuries and coaching departures that were forced upon him will make for tough sledding for anyone. The core of what makes Pederson great, the aggression, the play designs, the play calling, and the command of his locker room are all still there. As we’ve seen during his tenure, that might mean a few short term setbacks, but over the long term they’re a huge benefit.
A great coach/QB combo is lethal in the NFL. After Week 3, the Miami Dolphins were 3-0 while the Patriots were 1-2, coming off ugly back to back losses. Was this the end of the Patriots reign of the AFC East? No. Fast forward two weeks and both teams are 3-2, and once again declarations of the Patriots demise were premature. Twice in the previous four seasons the Patriots started 2-2, both times they went to the Super Bowl.
The Eagles are in a similar situation. Sure, nobody wanted to be 2-3, but when you have the coaching and QB advantage that the Eagles have, you have an excellent chance to weather the storm.