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State of the Eagles: Midseason Review

After 8 games, the Eagles once again sport a mediocre record. What does that really mean, and what can we expect of them moving forward?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles once again find themselves at .500, like they were for my first quarter season review. This is one game worse than I predicted at the time, although I feel like most fans probably accept 4-4 given just how poorly the team played against Minnesota and Dallas. What’s wild about all this is that, even with the tumultuous play and broiling locker room controversy, this team finds itself just a half game outside of first place in the division with half the season to go. For as bad as they have looked at times, a division crown is still in the conversation - although a first round bye is likely not, as the NFC East is clearly the weakest division in the conference. But is this team really good enough to make that kind of noise? Or are these big wins against competitive teams just fool’s gold? We’ll get to that - and more - in our midseason edition of State of the Eagles!

In this article:

  • Thoughts on the Eagles’ activity at the trade deadline
  • Quick hits on some midseason narratives, including locker room drama, passing vs. running, and the state of the coaching staff
  • Looking ahead to games 9-12

The Trade Deadline: Disappointing or Relieving?

A week ago today, I offered this thought:

Lo and behold, the Eagles traded a 2021 fourth round pick to Cleveland for Browns defensive end Genard Avery and then did not pick up a cornerback or wide receiver (although it was reportedly not for a lack of trying). While I’m sure a lot of fans were disappointed, I’m more or less indifferent. As I stated briefly in my tweet - and as our own Michael Kist and Benjamin Solak have touched on in their wonderful podcasts - what have Corey Undlin or Carson Walch done for our secondary and receivers? Douglas and Jones have not developed. Darby, Jeffery, and Agholor have all regressed. JJAW can’t get on the field and Mack Hollins doesn’t even want to play the position. What’s the guarantee that any promising talent we bring in at those positions will become positive contributors? What’s the guarantee they won’t be busts? Until we see some changes at the coaching level, I don’t consider any additional talent at those positions a valuable use of resources. (None of this even mentions Groh, by the way, who infamously “had difficulty” integrating Golden Tate into the offense.)

As for Avery, it seems like a headscratcher to bring in another defensive end with tackle so thin. My guess is that the Eagles want a deeper rotation there so they can move Brandon Graham inside more often.

Narrative Checkdown: Games 5-8

Here I’ll briefly offer my own takes on the various narratives that have been going around about the team:

  • Team chemistry has completely unraveled. This has been put to bed (for now) after the Eagles’ big win over the previously 5-1 Bills this past Sunday, but it’s still worth discussing as I imagine we will hear more reports of infighting at the next bout of adversity. Losing in frustrating fashion is always going to cause some discontent, and things got bad enough in October that I was being reminded of how things were at the tail end of the failed Chip Kelly experiment. The big differences, of course, are that Doug is a bit more mentally equipped to handle this kind of adversity, and the team now has a franchise quarterback that really makes this issue black-and-white: you either rally around Carson, or you can pack your bags and leave. Personally, I would go as far as to not even care how good the player was or how much dead money he would be owed, but I doubt the organization feels the same way. Regardless, while he hasn’t always been perfect, Wentz has shown that he will consistently be the bright spot on the team even when others are failing. That alone is enough to give the front office the direction they need to handle players who prefer to speak to the media over their teammates, especially when they’re bashing the quarterback.
  • To pass, or to run? I find this discussion fascinating because ever since Andy Reid was hired we have long bemoaned the Eagles’ avoidance of the run game (with the exception of the ill-fated Chip Kelly years, of course). And now that Doug is trying to run the ball, we want him to pass! I know, I get it - the NFL has changed and you’ll have more success passing the ball. (That, and the fact that they are paying Wentz $128M to hand the ball off.) I think the coaching staff got inspired by the Green Bay game to “establish the run” to control the clock and conjure up the dynamism the offense lacks without a deep threat. And with that offensive line, leaning on your strengths is not the worst idea, but the stubborn adherence to it in all situations is maddening. Not only are the “run, run, run, punt” game-opening drives extremely uninspiring, but also taking all three downs to convert every single time is painful to watch. Sure, be a run-heavy team if you want Doug, but for goodness sake don’t be afraid to open a drive with a pass once in a while.
  • Doug Pederson, Figurehead? Much has been made of Groh’s incompetence as offensive coordinator, so I won’t beat a dead horse there. But I would like to speak to the idea that a lot of Doug’s genius came from Frank Reich. Yes, Frank is doing well in Indianapolis with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, but he also has something the Eagles have lacked during the majority of Doug’s tenure as head coach: a bonafide deep threat, in T.Y. Hilton. It’s been fairly apparent that Doug’s offense needs a deep threat to reach its maximum potential, as he’s only had a legitimate one in 2017 (Agholor, with some Torrey Smith sprinkled in, and before Groh got Peter Principle’d), and they won the Super Bowl that year. And yet Hilton has been a consistent presence for the Colts, save a few games missed here and there to injury (I should note the Colts lost the one game he missed so far this year). Additionally, the offense we’re seeing from Frank is the one he’s designed after spending 2 seasons under Doug’s tutelage. We don’t know how much he picked up from Doug and how much are his original ideas - it’s important to remember that he flamed out as offensive coordinator for the Chargers. Doug is definitely a collaborator, Frank Reich is a great coach, and Mike Groh needs to be replaced, but I think that any ideas that Pederson is overrated as a curator of the offense is misplaced.

Win-Loss Predictions: Games 9-12

  • Week 9, vs Chicago Bears: The Bears will certainly be motivated to win after dropping 3 straight games en route to a lackluster 3-4 record. Their defense is also no joke, ranking 7th in DVOA through 7 games played. That being said, Philadelphia has shown they can move the ball against talented defenses, and Mitchell Trubisky doesn’t scary anybody. Except, well, his head coach, who has time and again shown that he is terrified to put faith in his offense. The better coach – playing at home – gets the win here. Eagles win, 23-17
  • Week 11, vs New England Patriots: I’m really tempted to stick with my original prediction that the Eagles beat the Patriots. While New England has been absolutely dominant on defense, they’ve also had the historically good fortune of playing putrid offenses that feature a bad offensive line, a bad quarterback, or both. The Eagles have both a great offensive line and a great quarterback, and should serve as one of the biggest tests Bill Belichick will face so far this season, with both teams fresh from the bye week. However, I get the feeling that this game comes down to one question: Can the Eagles stop Julian Edelman? I don’t think they can, and so the Patriots eek out a close one, although my opinion can be swayed based on how New England fares against the feisty Ravens this week and Jackson’s availability. (Keep him out of the Bears game to limit his game tape, Doug!) Eagles lose, 28-26
  • Week 12, vs Seattle Seahawks: The Eagles end their three-game stretch of home games against the Seahawks, who have had Philadelphia’s number for the past decade. Considering that MVP candidate Russell Wilson is Wide 9 kryptonite, and that this is easily the worst defense Schwartz has fielded during his tenure here, I can’t in good faith pick the Eagles here. I’ll believe they beat Seattle when I see it. Eagles lose, 31-24
  • Week 13, at Miami Dolphins: A reprieve! The Eagles’ schedule breaks WIIIIDE open for December after an absolutely brutal stretch of six games. They kick things off with the hapless Dolphins, who have been keeping games close as of late before eventually floundering in the fourth quarter. We all like to be afraid of trap games but the Eagles have managed to largely avoid those under Doug Pederson. With a real chance at the division crown in sight, Dougie P keeps his guys focused as they cruise to an easy victory in south Florida. Eagles win, 33-10

Yet another 2-2 four-game stretch for the Eagles leaves them exactly where they are now: .500, at 6-6. While that adds more urgency for the team moving into the last quarter of the season, they will be in prime position to steal the division out from under the Cowboy’s nose. During the same stretch, Dallas is at the Giants, hosts the Vikings, travels for both the Lions and Patriots, and then hosts the Bills on Thanksgiving. Not a murderer’s row by any means, but 3-2 or even 2-3 seems like a very real possibility there, especially if the Vikings continue to play well and the Bills right the ship on defense. And even if they manage to go 4-1, they still have dates with the Bears and Rams before traveling to the Linc for what should shape up to be the de facto NFC East championship game. If the Eagles can at least keep treading water until December, a home playoff game could be theirs for the taking with four games left to play. Anyone else remember a team that once tore off 5 straight wins from 5-6 to seize the division title? It can be done.


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