The easy narrative for the Philadelphia Eagles’ past year would be the story of an impressive turnaround. After losing to the Saints 48-7 in Week 11 the Eagles sat at 4-6 and looked out of the divisional race. But after winning 5 of their last 6 regular season games they sneaked into the playoffs only to be beaten in the divisional round, once again by the Saints. But this time only barely.
But some things that should be pointed out before we talk of comebacks and underdogs – the Eagles were never a bad team.
Even at the start of the season.
Of the 5 games that Philadelphia lost before their drubbing by New Orleans, the highest margin of defeat was only by 7 points.
By 2 points in overtime against the Titans.
By 2 points after a failed onside kick against the Vikings.
By 4 points against the Panthers.
Many of those games should have, and could have been won.
But the main setback that this team overcame was not due to a lack of ability to generate competition on the field, but to be able to man said field.
Injuries were the greatest enemy of the Eagles with key contributors such as Jay Ajayi, Mike Wallace, Rodney McCloud, Corey Clement, Derek Barnett, Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills and Josh Sweat confined to IR, as well as others such as Darren Sproles missing significant time also.
In fact the best turnaround for the Eagles this season was that of their secondary. With the injuries to McCloud, Darby and Mills the unit suffered early on, but with the late season emergence of Rasoul Douglas and Cre’Von LeBlanc at nickel cornerback, the position group finished strong and in a much more hopeful place for next year.
Talking about defense I would be remiss if I didn’t mention stud defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. If not for Aaron Donald, Cox would be firmly in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. The First Team All-Pro posted 10.5 sacks and was disruptive and dominant in the trenches, even when double or triple teamed.
On offense the stud that is more than worthy of a mention despite being snubbed by the All-Pro voters is tight end Zach Ertz. Ertz posted 1,163 yards and 8 scores whilst breaking the NFL record for receptions by a tight end. But he is part of a solid receiving corps with Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery both looking likely to return next year as well as late season acquisition Golden Tate set to feature more heavily, and hopefully make more of an impact for his new team in the new year.
Under center the quarterback controversy was over before it started with the Eagles committing to Carson Wentz for next year.
Despite Nick Foles once again stepping in late and leading the Eagles to the playoffs, it seems his role in Philadelphia will be consigned to legend status for the rest of time. Doubters of this decision will point to a side by side comparison of the quarterbacks which shows very little difference between them, and even a slight nod to Foles, especially when you consider the portion of his games and touchdown log that have come during the postseason.
This is notably a feat that Carson Wentz is yet to experience, which concerns some with regards to Philly’s choice. Can he win it when it matters? It seems time will tell.
Despite the potential of the existing team, and the wealth of players returning from injury next year, the upcoming draft will provide the Eagles an opportunity to address various needs. The two areas of concern for the team moving forward from this season have to be their defense on big plays and 3rd downs, and the future of their offensive line. I think with the players coming back from injury and the additions of Douglas and LeBlanc, the secondary is the less of the need.
The offensive line however, looks shaky with injuries or potential retirements from various key members in Brandon Brooks, who tore his Achilles during the Saints game, the aging Jason Peters and the anchor in the middle, Jason Kelce.
I expect the Eagles to go after an offensive lineman early in the draft, and with the various new additions plus an offseason of recovery, hope to see them repeat their playoff run next year.
But unlike this season, let’s try not to act too surprised when it happens.
This is an improving team that was already good.
Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo
Our NFC East reporter is Chris Milner who covers Redskins, Eagles, Cowboys, and Giants. Chris is a Washington Redskins fan who has followed the game since 2011. He is one of our fantasy football correspondents and also co-hosts the ‘Same Level Fantasy Football’ podcast. Follow him on Twitter @chrismilner