1 - The Eagles are NFC East champions
Pretty impressive how the Eagles have reached the playoffs after dropping to 5-7 with a Week 13 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
At that point in time, the Eagles were a team that had lost three in a row and hadn’t won more than two consecutive games all season long. A majority of Eagles fans polled here on BGN didn’t even want to see the team make the postseason:
Fans were reasonably disappointed back then. But now they obviously have reason to feel much better about the team’s outlook after four straight win and a playoff berth.
By clinching the NFC East, the Eagles prevented the Dallas Cowboys from becoming the first team to repeat as division champions since the Eagles last did it in 2004. Feel free to revel in some historical Cowboys failure:
The Cowboys will clinch the NFC East with a win and an Eagles loss. If they miss the playoffs, the 2010s will be the only decade in franchise history in which they made the playoffs three or fewer times.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 26, 2019
The Cowboys finish the season with a +113 point differential.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) December 30, 2019
They join the 1989 Bengals as the only teams in NFL history to have a point differential that high without a winning record.
206 of the 208 teams with a point differential that high finished with at least 9 wins.
The Eagles’ clinch also marks the third straight year the Eagles are going to the playoffs. The last time that happened was from 2008 through 2010.
The 2019 Eagles were previously defined by disappointment. Expectations were sky high heading into this season and the team regularly failed to live up to the hype. The Eagles simply weren’t likable or very fun to watch.
It’s crazy how quickly things have changed. This team is suddenly hot heading into the postseason. Even if they fall short in the playoffs, at least the Eagles prevented the season from being as big of an embarrassment as it could've been.
Winning the division — albeit a relatively weak one — is still a notable accomplishment.
2 - The Eagles have a strong foundation with Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz
This is the most important takeaway from the 2019 season.
I wrote this after the Eagles’ loss to the Dolphins:
This kind of game raises questions about the big picture. Is Doug Pederson really the answer at head coach? Is Carson Wentz really the answer at quarterback? Is Howie Roseman really the answer at general manager? It’s hard to believe we’ve reached this point less than two years after the Eagles’ SUPER BOWL WIN but here we are. Or, at least, here I am. I’m hardly “out” on these guys and I’m not suggesting the Eagles should replace them immediately. I do think changes need to be made at a smaller level first.
We’ll get to Roseman later on in this post but as for Pederson and Wentz ... they’ve eliminated all doubt that they’re the right head coach and quarterback combination for this team. What they’ve done in the final quarter of the season is pretty remarkable.
Just look at what the Eagles’ offense has accomplished despite missing two Pro Bowl offensive linemen, one Pro Bowl tight end, the team’s top five wide receivers entering the season, the team’s previous leading rusher, and anything else I possibly forgot to include:
Overall, the @Eagles' 4 consecutive games with 400+ yards of total offense is tied for the 3rd-longest streak in franchise history:— John Gonoude (@john_gonoude) December 31, 2019
6 (3-3) - 9/9/13-10/13/13
5 (5-0) - 10/25/53-11/21/53
4 (4-0) - 12/9/19-12/29/19
4 (2-2) - 10/2/11-10/30/11#FlyEaglesFly
The Eagles put up 436 yards and 32 points in the season opener with a healthy offense. They put up 400 yards and 34 points today with Carson Wentz and the practice squad. Just amazing.— Tommy Lawlor (@lawlornfl) December 30, 2019
How?! How are they doing this?!
Playing some poor NFC East defenses has helped, for sure. But Pederson and his coaching staff (yes, even Mike Groh!) still deserve a lot of credit for out-scheming their opponents. The Eagles’ game-planning and play-calling has been pretty on point. It’s not like the Birds are winning by merely being much more talented than their opponents.
Pederson’s ability to motivate his players also deserves praise. The Eagles looked left for dead at one point last year and the same could be said when they were down 17 to 3 against the Giants back in Week 14 this season. But in neither case did the players pack it in. Instead, they showed tremendous resiliency, which has been a hallmark of Pederson’s teams.
The new norm under Doug is overcoming adversity.— PLAYOFF SZN (@Damon089) December 30, 2019
They've done it 3 straight seasons now. Finished '17 as Super Bowl champions despite injuries at key positions. '18 with a playoff win under the same circumstances. And now '19.
It wasn't Nick Foles and this season proves it.
Now, I will say it’s frustrating that the Eagles have waited to play their best football after giving themselves such little margin for error. It’d be nice if they could actually live up to expectations and not always have to rely on thriving as underdogs.
But for all his faults, Pederson has consistently stepped up when it’s mattered most. His teams are 12-2 from Week 15 on over the past three seasons. Few are more dangerous than December Doug.
It’s comforting to know the Eagles are in good hands with Pederson leading the way.
It’s also pretty comforting to know the Eagles have a legitimate franchise quarterback. Look at his numbers from the final four games and consider he was working with a bunch of former practice squad players as he tried to keep the season alive:
117/173 (67.6% completion), 1,199 yards (6.9 average), 7 TD, 0 INT, 100.8 passer rating
Wentz’s strong finish to the 2019 puts him in some elite company. He’s the first player in Eagles franchise history to go over 4,000 yards passing. He’s the first NFL player ever to go over 4,000 without a single wide receiver with at least 500 receiving yards. He’s the first NFL player ever to throw 20 or more touchdowns and seven or fewer interceptions in three straight seasons, per Reuben Frank.
Wentz successfully elevated a lesser supporting cast to help the Eagles make the playoffs. That’s not only an exciting feat to be enjoyed the rest of this season; it also bodes incredibly well for the team moving forward.
Head coach and quarterback are obviously two of the most critical spots in the NFL and there’s no doubt the Eagles have the answers there.
3 - The injury frequency is unreal … and yet it almost doesn’t matter?
It felt like there was a new player getting hurt after every single play in Week 17. Brandon Brooks, Miles Sanders, Avonte Maddox, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Brandon Graham, Craig James, and Daeshon Hall were among those to suffer injuries.
And this is on top of all the Eagles players already missing the game: Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, Jalen Mills, Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Ronald Darby, Malik Jackson, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Hassan Ridgeway, etc.
Despite all this carnage, the Eagles continue to win anyway. It almost feels like the injuries don’t matter.
Of course, they do. The Eagles will greater feel the absences of key players against tougher opponent(s) in the playoffs. Even so, there’s a feeling that this team isn’t doomed and might actually be able to overcome the injuries. It’s just part of their resilient identity.
4 - Boston Scott among unlikely heroes worth highlighting
Scott was the fifth running back option on the team to start the season. With Sanders getting hurt and Jordan Howard unprepared to play much, Scott was essentially the Eagles’ only running back against the Giants. The man had three touchdowns and 138 total yards from scrimmage. Scott outproduced 2018 No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley in that regard. Scott’s been a great piece for this team down the stretch.
Some other players worth mentioning from the Giants win:
- Sidney Jones began the game on the bench despite Ronald Darby (IR) and Jalen Mills (inactive) both being out. He only came on the field after Maddox got hurt. After previously stepping up big in small sample sizes in Week 14 and Week 16, Jones answered the call again with three passes defensed and one interception in Week 17. It wasn’t a perfect game from Jones. He did get bailed out by some bad Daniel Jones throws and he also played a part in failing to stop Barkley’s 68-yard touchdown run. But the Eagles’ 2017 second-round pick is showing some flashes and that’s encouraging to see after it looked like he might just be a bonafide bust.
- Deontay Burnett, the Eagles’ ninth wide receiver option, was only added to the practice squad three weeks ago. He was only promoted to the roster on Christmas Eve. And yet he had a huge 41-yard catch against the Giants.
- Joshua Perkins, the Eagles’ fourth tight end option, had four receptions for 50 yards and one touchdown.
- Cre’Von LeBlanc — STRAP! — made multiple big defensive plays in this game. He broke up a pass to force a punt, broke up another pass to force a turnover on downs, and then tackled Barkley for no gain to force another turnover on downs. LeBlanc didn’t even play a single snap for the Eagles in Week 16 despite being active for the game! This is the second year in a row where Strap is stepping up down the stretch. Cre’Von Clutch.
It’s really something how a bunch of unsung guys are helping the team win.
5 - Jim Schwartz’s defense continues to play well
The Eagles have now allowed 17 points or fewer in seven out of their last nine games. They’re allowing just 18.7 points per game on average in that span.
Outside of the Miami debacle (37 points) and some struggles in Washington (27 points), Schwartz’s defense has played well. His unit got off to a strong start against the Giants by allowing just three points on New York’s first five drives. The Eagles’ defense also ultimately helped break the game open when Malcolm Jenkins knocked the ball out of Daniel Jones’ hands to set up a Fletcher Cox recovery near the goal line.
It was encouraging to see the Eagles effectively able to generate pressure. The Birds finished the game with four sacks and 10 quarterback hits ... plus 11.5 tackles for loss (!) in the run game. Daniel Jones is wont to hold on to the ball forever, so that helped the Eagles. They were able to take advantage.
The Eagles are going to need to continue to dominate in the trenches both on defense and offense in order to win in the playoffs.
6 - Howie Roseman’s role in the turnaround
There’s been talk about how much credit Roseman deserves for the Eagles turning things around. I think it’s an interesting discussion.
On one hand, Roseman deserves some level of credit for identifying some worthwhile practice squad contributors such as Scott, Burnett, Greg Ward, etc. Sanders has also been looking like a pretty great draft pick.
On the other hand, Roseman is guilty of some mismanagement. The Eagles clearly could’ve afforded to get guys like Scott and Ward involved sooner. And they could’ve been if they weren’t blocked by Darren Sproles (who shouldn’t have been re-signed) and Nelson Agholor (who should never have been kept at a ridiculous $9.4 million cap number). Not to mention a guy off the street like Burnett has more receiving yards in one game than a struggling JJ Arcega-Whiteside has in his last three combined.
Roseman obviously deserves credit for two of the most critical pieces to the team’s success: Pederson and Wentz. Can’t overlook that.
But I don’t believe it’s nit-picking to say Roseman could be doing a better job. I think his mismanagement in certain areas has contributed to the Eagles narrowly winning a weak NFC East as opposed to more seriously contending for a first-round bye.
I’ll save a more expansive review of Roseman for after the Eagles’ season is over.
7 - The Seattle rematch is on
The Eagles will host the Seahawks at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, January 5 at 4:40 PM Eastern. It’s a rematch of the Week 12 game between these two teams. The Eagles previously lost to Seattle 17 to 9 with Philly’s one touchdown coming at the last minute in garbage time.
As we all know, the Eagles have never defeated Russell Wilson, so the Eagles have their work cut out for them.
And yet, I really believe the Eagles are going to win this wild card game. The injuries are troublesome on paper but we’ve seen this team overcome adversity time and time again. The Pederson and Wentz combination inspires a lot of confidence, as does a defense that plays their best football at the Linc.
Doubt the Eagles at your own peril.