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State of the Eagles: Midway Musings

The Eagles lead the NFC East after 8 games but continue to turn in uninspired performances. Is there any hope they can actually look like a competent team?

Baltimore Ravens v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Happy Veterans Day! If you have served for our country in any capacity - thank you! Veterans deserve more acknowledgement and I hope you get yours on this holiday.

We’re halfway through the 2020 NFL season and the Eagles have dragged themselves to a paltry 3-4-1 record, posting a 2-2 mark since my last post. In a year where nobody in the NFC East seems to want to make the playoffs, that is good enough to lead the division. We are now facing a reality where winning the NFC East and being an actually competent football team are two separate topics. Since winning the division seems much more possible than being good, that’s what we’ll focus on here - what are some of the things beneath the surface driving their struggles, and is it even worth trying to fix them this season?

In this article:

  • Dissecting what the Eagles really have in Doug Pederson
  • How should we feel about this weird season?
  • Game picks and score predictions for games 9-12

Doug Pederson, Enigma

Much of the focus on the Eagles’ struggles has been (rightfully) directed at Carson Wentz. But Doug Pederson deserves some of the blame as well, as his head coaching performance this season has been, at best, inconsistent. Pederson is easily not the biggest problem the Eagles have this year, but he has been a liability at times, and this needs to be addressed in one way or another. So what exactly is Doug Pederson to the Eagles? Let’s break it down.

Doug’s most visible impact on the team is that he is the team’s offensive playcaller. For a long time, this was a strength, as his creative play designs and aggressive style helped make the Eagles into one of the NFL’s more formidable offenses (when they were healthy). Now five seasons in, his “creative” designs have traveled into the dreaded “cute” territory, with complicated end-around and draw plays called in critical situations (like fourth downs or two-point conversions) that inevitably fail. He has also played for a tie against the Bengals and has now turned in 2 terrible game plans against awful division opponents. One can look at this offense and only wonder what it would be like if they had managed to hire a more promising candidate to be offensive coordinator (like USC’s Graham Harrell) and just let him call the plays.

But beyond that, it’s really hard to find much to complain about Doug (maybe he isn’t great at press conferences but honestly who cares about that). Yes, the team has been a M*A*S*H unit under his tenure, but I’m not sure how much you can pin that on him. The offseason program was as light as it’s ever been this year because of the pandemic and the Eagles are still banged up. On the front office side, they’ve brought in different doctors almost annually, to no avail, while somehow keeping the same strength and conditioning coach they’ve had since 2013. If anything, the injuries are more of an indictment of Howie Roseman than they are of Doug.

The one thing that should be obvious about Doug is that the players love to play for him. For a jarring parallel, just look at the Cowboys - with a laundry list of injuries and a starting quarterback on injured reserve, they are dealing with a situation that has largely been “business as usual” for the Eagles over the past 3 seasons. And yet it only took the Cowboys players 1 terrible game to start blasting coaches anonymously to reporters. While the Eagles may occasionally quit on the team during horrific blowout losses (the Saints game in 2018 comes to mind), they’ve never quit on Doug, always finding something within them to rally around, even when the season seems lost. This is a significant, intangible quality in a coach that’s almost impossible to pin down and find. For as much as Doug is responsible for the team’s mediocre performances over the last few years, he’s also responsible for their 3 straight playoff appearances, and appears to be in good position to give them a fourth with 8 games left on the schedule. Considering just how much he’s managed to squeeze out of a roster often made up of practice squad players, I’d say he deserves more than the benefit of the doubt - I think you have to ride with Doug until it becomes obvious he’s lost the locker room.

But, if Lurie could convince him to give up playcalling duties, I wouldn’t be terribly upset about that.

Being an Eagles Fan in 2020

We’ve talked about Carson Wentz’ struggles ad nauseum already, so I felt like taking this post in a fresher direction. Like many things in life, 2020 is a strange year for Eagles football. After 8 games, the team is firmly in first place in the division with a 1 game lead over the Washington Football Team (due to WFT owning the head-to-head) and a 2 game lead over the Giants and Cowboys (due to the Eagles owning the head-to-head). And they’ve accomplished this mighty feat... with 3 wins, 2 of which are against division opponents, and looked bad in both. They looked passable (if you can call it that) in their win over the 49ers, “encouraging” in losses to the Steelers and Ravens, and downright horrific in all of their other games. It’s hard to feel good about the team, even if they are in the “driver’s seat” of a division that, if it were an actual car, would be the Bluesmobile immediately after arriving at the Cook County tax office.

And so we find ourselves in familiar territory since the NFC East has not been very competitive since 2017. Do we really want to win this division, or would we rather tank for a better draft pick?

Allow me to humbly answer this question: We want to win the division. Full stop. No matter how ugly it is. Balls to the wall, we want that playoff game in January.

Why, you ask? Let’s answer that by looking at our friends to the Near West in the AFC North. In that division you have the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns. If we wind the clock back 9 years to 2011, there isn’t a huge difference between how both teams’ seasons ended. Sure, the Steelers have won 3 playoff games in that time span (3 more than the Browns, and 1 fewer than the Eagles), but neither team has made a Super Bowl, let alone won the big game. You could say, in the grand scheme of things, both teams have endured the same fate over that time.

Even still, ignoring all history prior to 2011... What team would you rather be? What team would you rather follow?

Anyone who would rather be the Browns - tanking for draft picks and burning through coaches - is insane, in my opinion. Yeah, the Steelers have been bullied by the Patriots (and Broncos, to a lesser extent) for the past decade, but at least they’ve been relevant. You can certainly argue that the Eagles would be the worst team to make the playoffs ever if they manage to win the NFC East this year, but can you really argue that a team playing in the postseason isn’t relevant? After all, when people talk about the 2010 Seattle Seahawks, what do they talk about first? It’s the Beastquake, with the fact that team was 7-9 and beat the 11-5 Saints following as a funny afterthought.

Given the choice between being relevant and winning a draft pick sweepstakes I’ll pick being relevant every time. As for the draft, no matter your position it’s still a crap shoot. The same people arguing for a draft pick now are the same people who will be complaining about how terrible Howie is at drafting in May. So, I’ll pass on the “draft pick” angle. PLAYOFFS OR BUST!

Win-Loss Predictions, Games 9-12

The Eagles missed out on the 3-1 record I predicted (again). I would have been perfect had I given that loss to the Steelers, but they did come within 2 points before Pittsburgh pulled away. They also came much closer to beating the Ravens than I would have guessed, turning in an inspiring performance that they promptly betrayed with some of the ugliest wins I’ve ever seen versus the hapless Giants and Cowboys.

So here we are again, fresh off a bye week with eight games to go. How are the Eagles going to fare over their next 4 games?

  • Week 10, at New York Giants: In all honesty, the Giants should have won the first game, if not for a pass off the fingertips of a wide-open Evan Engram (I think it was a little too far to be catchable, but that’s just me). One might think that New York will close out this time, but I’m not buying it. The Eagles will be healthier after the week off and they know the division is theirs for the taking if they can just get focused. I’m saying (praying?) that Doug did some self-scouting during the break and comes back much better prepared to take on what is a beatable foe. Eagles win, 24-17
  • Week 11, at Cleveland Browns: The Eagles could easily lose this game, but the Browns are in disarray with Odell Beckham Jr out for the season and Baker Mayfield stuck on the COVID list. Mayfield will probably be ready to go for his bout against the Birds, but will he be rusty? In a season where wins will be hard to come by, this is a winnable game that the Eagles need to have to give them some breathing room in a universally terrible division. Eagles win, 27-24
  • Week 12, vs Seattle Seahawks: Five wins in a row? During this kind of season? COULD IT BE? No. It can’t. The Seahawks aren’t perfect, but there is no stopping Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett, and DK Metcalf (friendly reminder that this team could have possibly wound up with Metcalf and Fulgham). The Seahawks have had the Eagles’ number for several seasons, and there’s no reason to believe that stops now. Eagles lose, 35-17
  • Week 13, at Green Bay Packers: Beating Rodgers in Lambeau is a tough ask, but beating him in Lambeau twice in 2 years? Almost impossible. I know the Packers are far from perfect, but this will be the Eagles’ third road game in 4 weeks. I’m not smelling upset with this one, although I think Philly keeps this closer than outsiders might expect. Eagles lose, 31-26

Here the Eagles go a modest 2-2, which will probably feel generous to some people. This record will have them at 5-6-1, and on track for a 7-8-1 record if they can close out wins versus the Cowboys and WFT later in the year (that’s a big if). That will probably be good enough to win the East and host a playoff game. And from there... who knows? Any given Sunday? Maybe??

Go Birds.


How will the Eagles fare over their next 4 games?

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