During the course of the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles season, a lot of people said a lot of things about the team that would eventually go 9-7 and reach the NFC Divisional round of the playoffs. Some of the stuff made a lot of sense and turned out to be true.
Carson Wentz was clearly dealing with something that sapped his mobility and play-making ability. That something turned out to be a back fracture that forced him to miss the final three games of the regular season and two playoff games as well. There were some locker room issues with Wentz and Wentz himself admitted he might not have been the best teammate at times last year due to his focus on returning from his knee injuries the previous season. The team struggled on offense until they switched to a two-tight end, 12 personnel, unit. Injury worries at the beginning of the season never went away. The defensive line remained a strength all season and, yes, there was a Super Bowl hangover.
But there were also a number of myths peddled before and during the 2018 season that just proved to be either untrue or unfounded. Below are six myths about the Philadelphia Eagles that need to be debunked.
CARSON WENTZ WAS OVER-RELIANT ON ZACH ERTZ
Our own Dave Mangels tackled this in-depth previously, but it bears repeating — Carson Wentz did not target Zach Ertz to any great degree more than Nick Foles did.
In 11 games, Ertz was targeted by Wentz on 26.4% of pass plays, compared to 24.4% by Foles. Wentz went Jeffrey’s way 20.3% of the time, compared to 19.0% for Foles, and Wentz targeted Nelson Agholor 15.0% of the time, while Foles was a bit higher, at 17.3%.
Ertz was targeted by both QBs because he was simply that good at getting open and caught everything thrown his way. Wentz wasn’t any more in love with Ertz than Foles was, and the numbers bear that out.
NICK FOLES RAN THE EAGLES OFFENSE BETTER THAN WENTZ
Foles averaged 22.1 points per game in five regular season starts and two playoff starts, while Wentz averaged 22.0 in his 11 starts. Of course, two playoff games are tougher draws for an offense, so that should be considered, but while Wentz averaged nearly 15 passing first downs per game during his time as starter, Foles averaged just shy of 13. Carson Wentz had seven performances with a passer rating over 100, while Foles had two. Foles certainly came through late in games and helped the team win two huge contests with last minute drives against the Texans and Bears, but Wentz had a 4th-quarter passer rating of 102.4, while Foles’ was 67.5.
The biggest difference in Wentz’ ability to put points on the board and Foles’ time in the starting lineup wasn’t what they were doing on offense, it’s what the defense was doing to help out. The defense allowed an average of 23.3 points per game when Wentz was in there, as opposed to 18.1 points per game for Foles.
Having your defense get a few turnovers here and there late in the season helped as well.
JAKE ELLIOTT WAS UNRELIABLE
I wrote about Jake Elliott back in late December because there were a number of people who felt Elliott was too unreliable to be the team’s kicker long-term.
Sure, it was infuriating when his missed extra point against the Cowboys in Dallas proved to be the point that could have helped the Eagles avoid their overtime loss to the ‘Pokes last season. And missed PATs have been an issue for him, for sure.
Elliott has missed five extra point attempts in his regular season career and two more in the playoffs. In all he has made 69 out of 74, good for a PAT percentage of 93.2%. This year, he went 33-for-35 on PATs (94.3%), which ranked 20th out of 30 NFL teams, so certainly, that’s an area where Elliott could improve. But two missed extra points during an entire season is certainly something one can stomach, given the sheer volume of clutch kicks Elliott has made in his short career.
This season, Elliott made 26 out of 31 field goals for an 83.9% rate that ranked 18th in football. Again, not world beating, but consider three of his five misses were from 50 or more yards away. From inside 50, he went 24-for-26, with 7 of 8 made from 40-49 yards out.
Even more important, Elliott has ice water in his veins and has made some of the biggest kicks in franchise history. He kicked a monster field goal at the end of Super Bowl 52 that put the Eagles up by 8, had a walk-off 61-yarder against the Giants in Week 2 in 2017, and last year kicked the game-winning field goal against the Texans in the closing seconds that kept the Birds’ playoff dreams alive.
Given all the shenanigans that went on with kickers this season, Elliott was not the problem people made him out to be. He was good.
JIM SCHWARTZ’ DEFENSIVE SCHEMES NEED ADJUSTMENT
Jim Schwartz did not suddenly forget how to coach a defense this season. In fact, by the end of the season, it was that defense that was the strength of the team.
As mentioned above, Schwartz’ D averaged 23.3 points per game allowed when Wentz was the starting quarterback in there, as opposed to 18.1 points per game for Foles. But none of that had to do with Wentz or Foles. It all had to do with fill-in players suddenly starting to feel comfortable being on the field, specifically in the secondary.
Consider the players lost to injury for significant stretches of the season and you tell me if any defensive coordinator could have accomplished what Schwartz did: Derek Barnett, Ronald Darby, Jordan Hicks (four games), Timmy Jernigan, Sidney Jones, Rodney McLeod, and Jalen Mills. At one point, four-fifths of the secondary depth chart was out of action, forcing players like Rasul Douglas, Cre’von LeBlanc and Cory Graham into emergency service.
Early in the season, the loss of McLeod was a killer, resulting in ridiculous failures of execution that were simply mind-blowing. Graham’s inability to handle his responsible on a 4th and 15 play in OT down in Tennessee was particularly galling and unforgivable.
But as LeBlanc began to assert himself, and Avonte Maddox and Douglas got a few games under his belt, the secondary had solidified into a unit that played well enough for the team to finish on a 4-1 run into the divisional round of the postseason.
It’s also fair to point out that Schwartz did make some adjustments, such as simplifying the defensive playcalls in the second quarter of the Eagles’ huge comeback win against the Giants in Philly.
Yes, the Eagles allowed too many 3rd and long conversions in key spots in 2018, but in the grand scheme of things, they were actually one of the best defenses in the league at stopping 3rd and long conversions, allowing a 36.2% conversion rate that was 8th-best in the NFL.
At the end of the day, Schwartz and his schemes were just fine last year.
DOUG PEDERSON IS NOTHING WITHOUT FRANK REICH & JOHN DIFILLIPO
It’s amazing how we ignore injuries as a reason for the stagnation of a team. Sure, the 2017 Eagles offense ran like a swiss watch last year with Pederson calling the plays, ably assisted by offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterback coach John DiFillipo. And yes, we weren’t happy with the playcalling and lack of ingenuity of new OC Mike Groh for much of the ‘18 season.
And sure, Wentz didn’t play as well as last year. But he didn’t suck. In fact, Wentz was quite good for much of the season and Pederson worked magic with Foles once again. Some regression in the red zone and on 3rd downs was to be expected this year, but to hear some fans in the regular season tell it, you’d have thought Pederson had little to do with last year’s Super Bowl run.
But it’s clear Wentz wasn’t healthy this year. There was never any semblance of a consistent running game, Alshon Jeffrey missed the first few games and the team had no deep threat with Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins lost for the season.
Despite all that, by the end of the season, Pederson had outcoached Sean McVay, Bill O’Brien (no big feat there) and the 2018 NFL Coach of the Year Matt Nagy during the team’s late run, proving he remains one of the elite coaches in the league.
YOU CAN’T CUT MYCHAL KENDRICKS
Prior to the start of the 2018 season, some Eagles fans were flipping out when the team cut Mychal Kendricks. If you’re forgetting that happened, check this out.
Kendricks’ salary made him un-keepable and un-tradeable, so the Eagles had to release him. But at the end of the day, no one missed him. While Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham didn’t exactly set the world on fire, Kendricks barely played after he was signed first by the Cleveland Browns and then by the Seattle Seahawks because of a suspension for criminal charges filed against him for insider trading.
He didn’t play again until Week 14, a game in which he broke his leg and missed the rest of the season thereafter, so even if the Eagles had kept him, he would have provided absolutely no value whatsoever.