With the Cowboys taking on the Eagles on Sunday night, it’s time to get some information on the enemy from some experts. Here are five questions and answers with our friends over at Bleeding Green Nation.
Blogging The Boys: Since the Cowboys have collapsed, do you guys feel like the favorites in the NFC East, or do you think one of the other two teams could still challenge for the crown?
Bleeding Green Nation: Yeah, I think the Eagles feel like the favorites. They’re certainly not good. But I think they can be the least worst of the worst.
At a very basic level, the Eagles have the best quarterback and head coach duo in the division. Carson Wentz has struggled on the whole but he’s generally trending in the right direction after an abysmal start. Doug Pederson has also been far from perfect this year but at the very least his players always fight for him and show resiliency. That’s obviously not to be taken for granted when you look at what’s going on with Mike McCarthy down in Dallas right now.
The Eagles are still incredibly injured but they’re at least getting some guys back in the near future. If they beat the Cowboys this week and the New York Giants after their bye, they’ll be 4-4-1 with seven games to go. They probably only need to hit six or seven wins at that point to become the first NFC East team to repeat as division champions since 2004.
The Football Team could position themselves to be playing for the division crown against Philly in Week 17. Washington’s win against Dallas showed they have a formula that’ll at least work against bad teams: run the ball, have Kyle Allen be a game manager, and rely on a top five DVOA defense that’s anchored by a formidable defensive line.
Given the Eagles’ propensity to disappoint this season, I can hardly say it’s a lock that they win the division. But I do think it’s the most likely outcome. If not them, it’ll be Washington.
BTB: Now that we’re much further into his career, what is your evaluation of Carson Wentz? Is he the future or could the team be looking to go back to the well at some point?
BGN: Good question. I’m going to share this applicable graph from my thoughts coming out of last week’s Eagles win over the Giants.
“Wentz’s struggles can be maddening. And they can’t all be explained by his subpar supporting cast, though that certainly factors in. But his bright spots make it impossible to write him off as a lost cause. Hopefully he can continue to improve as the season goes along.”
I felt pretty good about Wentz’s outlook heading into training camp this year. What he did at the end of the 2019 season was really impressive. I thought he was only going to build on that in 2020.
But then Wentz really struggled with accuracy issues in training camp. I wasn’t sure if that would actually carry over to the regular season but sure enough it did. Wentz was truly horrendous through his first few games. At the time that Dwayne Haskins got benched, Wentz ranked worse than Washington’s quarterback in a number of key stats. Wentz has since been trending in a more positive direction but he’s clearing a bar that was lowered due to early season struggles. He’s still falling short of where he ideally needs to be to justify the contract that makes him the 8th highest paid quarterback on an annual basis.
While Wentz unquestionably deserves blame, though, I do think the organization has failed him in a number of ways. They don’t really show him the tough love that he needs.
Howie Roseman has regularly failed to surround him with an ideal supporting cast. With this in mind, it’s hard to justify Wentz being the first piece that needs to change.
So, Wentz is still very much the future. His contract dictates as much and I think their financial commitment to him will only be extended when they inevitably have to restructure his deal this offseason. The presence of Jalen Hurts is certainly a factor to consider after the Eagles drafted him at No. 53 overall this year. For now, though, there’s no quarterback change on the horizon.
BTB: Like the Cowboys, Philadelphia has had its fair share of injuries. What’s the status there and are you getting players back soon?
BGN: Do you have an hour? Because I feel like that’s how long it’ll take me to explain this!
Miles Sanders, Nathan Gerry, Alshon Jeffery, Jack Driscoll, Genard Avery, and Craig James all seem bound to miss Sunday’s game.
Sanders is a big loss as one of the team’s biggest offensive weapons. They’ll be relying on Boston Scott, who caught the game-winning touchdown against the Giants, as the main running back in his absence.
Gerry’s absence might be a case of addition by subtraction with how much he’s struggled this season. Still, the Eagles’ linebacker situation isn’t great.
Jeffery being out and DeSean Jackson recently being placed on injured reserve means the Eagles will likely go with Travis Fulgham, Jalen Reagor (expected to be activated from IR), Greg Ward, John Hightower, and JJ Arcega-Whiteside at wide receiver. Fulgham has been pretty awesome, especially for a guy that came out of nowhere. His 16 game pace is on track to top the highest Eagles single-season receiving yards total ever! Reagor is an explosive threat down the field while Ward is a sturdy slot option. Hightower has made some big plays in the passing game over the past couple weeks.
Driscoll was the Eagles’ top backup option at right tackle with Lane Johnson missing time. But it looks like Johnson might try to play, even though that seems foolish to me because he’ll probably have to leave the game early once again. Jason Peters is expected to come off IR and might be starting at left tackle. That would be a mistake because Jordan Mailata has played better than him and has more long-term potential. In any case, it looks like the Eagles could be starting their seventh different offensive line combination in eight games.
Avery is the fourth guy in the defensive end rotation. James is a special teams captain.
Malik Jackson and Cre’Von LeBlanc have been limited in practice. The Eagles could really afford to have Jackson play because they currently only have two defensive tackles on their 53-man roster: Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave. The latter hasn’t come close to justifying his status as the Eagles’ big ticket free signing. LeBlanc (AKA Strap) not being able to play would be concerning because he has good moments as a nickel defender and the Eagles could be down to just three healthy cornerbacks: Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox (first full game back from injury), and the struggling Nickell Robey-Coleman.
Dallas Goedert might be able to come off IR but that’s unclear. If he can’t suit up, the Eagles will operate with Richard Rodgers and Jason Croom as their top two tight ends. Zach Ertz is on IR.
TL;DR version — Getting Reagor back is good news for Philly. Johnson seems like he’ll try to start at right tackle. Those are the two most important updates.
BTB: If the Cowboys were to somehow upset the Eagles on Sunday, what would be the game plan they use?
BGN: Interesting matchup here because the Cowboys rank dead last in takeaways and the Eagles rank tied for fourth in giveaways. Perhaps Dallas is due for some positive regression in the turnover department.
Wentz is already up to 10 interceptions this year despite only throwing seven in each of his past three seasons. Wentz is also up to 53 fumbles in 63 games. He can’t be careless with the ball in this game and give the Cowboys life. Such a standard obviously applies to winning most games but it’s especially top of mind after watching Kyle Allen beat Dallas. Wentz doesn’t need to go into hero ball mode as much as he needs to be smart and cautious. But he might end up being more reckless than Eagles fans would like to see.
In addition to coming up with some takeaways, the Cowboys might be able to force the Eagles into leaving points on the board in the red zone. Philly only converted three of their eight trips inside the 20 against the Giants. Holding the Eagles to some short field goal attempts could be key. Jake Elliott has been struggling and missed a 29-yard kick last week so they might not even be automatic for him.
On offense, the Cowboys need to be able to get rid of the ball quick to neutralize the Eagles’ defensive line. Dallas should also look to get the ball to their receivers on jet sweeps and end arounds. The Eagles have done a good job of shutting down traditional running backs but they’ve repeatedly been gashed on runs by non-running backs. Look no further than Daniel Jones breaking off for an 80-yard run last week.
BTB: If the Eagles win the NFC East, do you think there is a scenario where they do real damage in the playoffs?
BGN: Not really.
I do think they can win a playoff game. If the season were to end today, they’d be hosting Nick Foles and the Chicago Bears. That should be winnable for them.
Can’t see them going any further than the divisional round at best. This roster is flawed and injured and Wentz still needs to be a lot better than he’s been to this point.
In that vein, I do worry that the Eagles’ 2020 season could end up being a false positive. My greatest fear is that they trick themselves into thinking they’re closer to contending than they truly are. That this year’s struggles won’t be the much-needed wake-up call that they need and meaningful offseason changes will be limited.
So, Cowboys fans can enjoy that silver lining if/when the Eagles win the division. What’s best for Philly in the short-term could be damaging in the long-term.
Thanks for the knowledge, Bleeding Green Nation.