The Eagles kick off the second half of the 2020 season this Sunday in New York against the hated Giants, a match-up that could in large part determine who will wear the NFC East crown at season’s end.
Of course, the Eagles are 3-4-1, the Giants are 2-7, and the entire division is a joke. NEVERTHELESS, this weekend’s game is huge for both Joe Judge’s upstart Giants and Doug Pederson’s struggling underachievers, and the Birds enter their contest possessing the Giants’ number. New York has lost eight straight times to Philadelphia and dropped 12 of their last 13 meetings and 16 of the last 20. Yikes.
But the Giants have played tough football this season and Sunday’s game, despite the records, will be a battle. New York does not appear interested in tanking for a top-five draft pick this season (although that could still happen), but even so, the Eagles should thank their stars their second half begins with a divisional opponent whose number they’ve had over the last decade.
The Eagles may not need to go on an extended winning streak to take the NFC East crown and win the No. 4 seed in the NFC, but obviously Eagles fans want to see the team play well down the stretch and actually earn a postseason berth, so with that in mind, here are five keys to the Birds doing just that over the final eight weeks of the 2020 season.
Carson Wentz Stops Playing Like Jameis Winston
Sheil Kapadia did an outstanding deep dive into what’s happened to Wentz since his MVP-like 2017 season and, needless to say, there are a litany of issues. Read Sheil’s entire piece to get the skinny but, in short, Wentz has struggled with pressure, accuracy, mobility and confidence. Other than that, he’s been aces.
Sure, the offensive line has been in flux, but overall they’ve been OK this year. The running game has come and gone, with injuries to Miles Sanders taking some of the explosiveness out of the backfield, Carson’s had a rotating cast of skill position players and the coaching staff has not helped him get into any kind of a rhythm. It doesn’t seem as though Pederson, Rich Scangarello or anyone else knows what kinds of plays to dial up for Wentz, and he’s looked lost as a result. He turns the ball over way too much, he makes poor decisions, and he doesn’t trust what he sees. He plays hero-ball and forces the issue when he shouldn’t, and doesn’t make the big throws when he should.
That being said, everyone knows a good QB lies beneath the crust of mediocrity he’s worn this year, and the hope is the bye week allowed Wentz and the offensive staff to come together on a game plan that will utilize his skills to the best of his ability, which will in turn give him confidence and speed up his decision making. This must happen if the Eagles are going to do anything other than back their way into a playoff spot this year.
Better Injury Luck
Finally, it appears the Eagles are getting healthier.
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery appears ready to grace the team with his presence this week. Dallas Goedert, Isaac Seumalo and Miles Sanders will play. Lane Johnson is going to give it a go with a knee brace, and Jason Peters will be functional. Jack Driscoll and Craig James will be on the field, too.
For once, the Eagles appear to be winning the injury battle, which can only help them over the second half of the season. Of course, it’s unlikely the team will not suffer other injuries as the season wears on, but hopefully they will not occur at the catastrophic rate to which we’ve born witness over the last three seasons.
Fulgham, Reagor, Sanders & Goedert
Seriously, enough 12 personnel. The Eagles are bad at it. Let’s get these receivers on the field and see what they can do. Let Fulgham, Reagor and Goedert eat.
Keeping Miles Sanders on the field will be a big deal, too. The Eagles would do well to commit to the run a bit more than they have, especially against defenses that are known to be weak against it. In Fulgham, Reagor, Sanders and Goedert, the Eagles have four young and potentially dynamic options for Wentz to utilize, far more talent than he had over the final month of the 2019 season when the Birds went on their four-game winning streak. The coaching staff’s primary responsibility must be to protect Wentz and find a way for these four players to touch the ball as much as possible.
No NFC Juggernaut
Is there a team in the NFC that truly scares you? The Green Bay Packers have Aaron Rodgers and look very good at times, but they’re horrific against the run. The New Orleans Saints had a big game against the Tampa Bay Bucs, but Drew Brees has been up-and-down this season. The Seattle Seahawks have Russell Wilson and he’s always dangerous, but their defense is one of the worst of all time. The Bucs, again, just got destroyed by the Saints, and the Rams, 49ers, Cardinals, Bears or Vikings don’t truly scare anyone.
There are no Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFC. If Wentz can rediscover some of his late-season mojo and play like a top-10 QB again, there’s no reason the Eagles couldn’t go anywhere this fall and beat any NFC opponent.
The Eagles D-Line Continues To Eat
The Eagles have one above average player in the secondary, Darius Slay, and their linebacking corps, even with the emergence of T.J. Edwards as a competent run stopper/blitzer, is a huge weakness. Their biggest area of strength is the defensive line, which has been one of the best units in the NFL this year.
The Birds average 3.5 sacks per game, second only to Pittsburgh. Brandon Graham is having a career year, with 7.5 sacks through eight games, on pace for his first double-digit sack season, Derek Barnett has 3.5, and Josh Sweat looked great early and piled up three. Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson have been pretty good in the middle of the line, forcing pressure and stopping the run. You’d like to see more out of Javon Hargraves, and perhaps he’ll provide some production in the second half, too.
It would behoove Jim Schwartz to blitz a bit more often to mix things up, and certainly there will be third-and-longs where the defense makes you want to dunk your head in a vat of hydrochloric acid, but if the D-line continues to play well, it should be enough for the Eagles to keep teams out of the end zone and give the struggling offense a chance over the last eight games.
There is enough talent on this team to win the division, obviously, but if Wentz figures things out, could the Eagles actually become... good? At least good enough to win a game or two in the postseason?
The schedule in the second half isn’t easy, but it’s also not unreasonable. Here’s how I see it breaking down.
- W @ Giants - 4-4-1
- W @ Browns - 5-4-1
- L vs. Seahawks - 5-5-1
- L @ Packers - 5-6-1
- W vs. Saints - 6-6-1
- L @ Cardinals - 6-7-1
- W @ Cowboys - 7-7-1
- W vs. WFT - 8-7-1
Asking the Eagles to go 2-3 against the Browns, Seahawks, Packers, Saints and Cardinals isn’t too much to ask in order to secure a winning record, and I think they have the horses to do it.