For the final regular-season game of the 2016 season, the Dallas Cowboys face their nemesis, the Philadelphia Eagles. Philly is having a down season but always battle the Cowboys tough. Let’s see what’s going on with them by talking to Bleeding Green Nation.
Blogging The Boys: Now that you have had a whole year of Carson Wentz at quarterback, give us your evaluation of where he is today and what you expect from him in the future.
Bleeding Green Nation: It's been a weird year for Wentz, from third-string to starter, to 3-0 starter, to multi-interception-game starter, but it seems like he's improved as the season's gone along, which is all you can ask for from a rookie quarterback. He's starting to use his scrambling ability more as he gets a better grasp of the speed of the pro game, which is exciting both because watching him run is literally exciting, and because it shows his comfort level as an NFL quarterback.
That said, he's thrown 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, not exactly the ideal rate. He's completed 352 passes, an Eagles franchise record, but is only averaging 6.3 yards per attempt, which is startlingly low. And, of course, he's only piloted one game-winning drive this season. So there are a few holes in his rookie season that need to be plugged up.
What I'm more excited to do with Wentz is see how he improves after an entire offseason as the team's established starter, and with hopefully at least a couple of weapons from free agency and/or the draft. We have, from this season, a sort of baseline test: this is Carson Wentz's talent level with a misshapen offensive line and essentially no offensive weapons on the outside. He's looked good, not great. And if that's his baseline, then the future holds plenty of good.
BTB: What's you take on Doug Pederson as a head coach?
BGN: Doug is... a rookie head coach. He's earned the respect of his locker room, which is important. He's game planned pretty well, especially in division games, which is concerting. But he's also made his fair share of mental lapses, including ill-advised challenges and a few clock management issues, as well as floundering in the media more than a few times.
I think he most certainly has earned another go-round, and the fact that some sensational Philadelphia media were discussing the idea of him being fired after one season is absolutely ridiculous. Pederson inherited an offense with a black hole of playmaking ability and a rookie quarterback, and has won six games. He might win seven. And he hasn't made any glaring, egregious mistakes that make you question him as a coach.
Good things come to those who wait. What Doug Pederson has shown -- his aggression in fourth downs and two-point conversions, his game plans and play calling in crucial situations, and his work with Wentz -- is that he can hold his own, and in a first year as an NFL head coach, that's all you can ask for.
BTB: Name a couple of huge roster issues the Eagles must fix this offseason to get back on the winning track.
BGN: The Eagles need skill on the outside, on both sides of the ball. Their wide receivers are porous -- only the Browns have as few wide receivers with at least 400 yards this season -- and their cornerbacks can't stick with any of the top-flight receiving talent in the NFC East, much less the league writ large.
They also need a running back, because it is becoming increasingly obvious that Ryan Mathews won't be back on the roster next season. It would also be helpful to have defensive ends who can actually get to the quarterback; at this time, only Brandon Graham fits that mold, and even he's been worn down as the season's gone along.
There isn't just one fix to these problems, either. It's going to have to be a mixture of free agency and good drafting.
It appears as though a reunion with DeSean Jackson is imminent, but the Eagles should still eye up rookie wide receivers in the draft. There should be a few game-changers on the board when they pick in the first round. The same goes for cornerback, in what many believe is a historically deep draft for starter-level corners.
So, there should be opportunities to fix these problems. The question is whether the Eagles will take advantage of each opportunity that's presented.
BTB: What's the team's mindset coming into the game? Are they just finishing out the season, or is there a sense they would love nothing more than to hand Dallas a loss?
BGN: The Eagles very much want to win this game. There was a sense around the team, after the woeful, apathetic loss to the Bengals, that Pederson had lost the ability to motivate his team in a season with waning postseason prospects.
But the way they nearly toppled the Ravens, losing by just one point and nearly winning with a gutsy two-point conversion at the buzzer, and then beat the Giants one week later while looking pretty good, changed that sentiment. Having Lane Johnson back at right tackle after missing 10 games lifted the team's spirits (he's a big jokester), and has the players much happier than one would expect with one meaningless game left.
Plus, the Cowboys' sensational rookie duo has been the talk of the league all season long, and that kind of echo chamber breeds contempt in locker rooms. The Eagles' defense would like nothing more to silence Ezekiel Elliott and the greatest offensive line in world history, even if the Cowboys have nothing to play for.
BTB: The Cowboys win in Week 8 seemed to be a turning point for both teams, for the Cowboys it showed they (and rookie Dak Prescott) could be resilient and pull out a big comeback win late in a game. Does that loss stick out as one that changed the Eagles' fortunes, or were they just living on borrowed time already and doomed to a poor ending to the year?
BGN: It certainly didn't help things. The Eagles were 4-2 and had a 10-point fourth-quarter lead on one of the three best teams in the league, and they ended up losing to the Cowboys in pretty brutal fashion. Including that game, the Eagles lost seven of eight and spiraled dramatically out of the playoff picture.
I think what that game showed -- on top of, as you said, the Eagles living on borrowed time -- was that they were going to miss Lane Johnson immensely. They ran 24 times for 97 yards, a fair if not great line, but with a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter the Eagles weren't able to hold on to the ball and run the clock out the way would be with Johnson at right tackle.
It showed that the Eagles were a team with holes. Teams started attacking them as such, and the Eagles started playing as such. I don't know if it was necessarily the tipping point, but it certainly gave them a good first shove off the mountain.
Thanks for the knowledge Bleeding Green Nation.