Eagles-Bears: Birds mediocre enough to make the playoffs, and other things we learned
The Eagles have a formula for winning that should be enough to get them to the postseason.
The Eagles hung on to beat an offensively deficient, defensively sound Bears squad, 22-14, Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Here’s what we learned:
1. The Eagles are mediocre enough to make the playoffs. It hasn’t been quite the journey most had expected after nine games, but the Eagles enter their bye week at 5-4, about one win less than many had predicted them to be with at this point. That isn’t something exactly to celebrate. The Eagles aren’t playing a high-quality brand of football even when they win. But they can slug it out against decent opponents and have victoriously done so the last two weeks against the Bills and Bears.
They won behind a workmanlike, balanced offense and an effective-enough defense that took advantage of subpar competition. Coach Doug Pederson doesn’t have quick-strike wide receivers right now, and slogging it up and down the field, while not always ideal, does help keep Jim Schwartz’s defense off the field for longer than it’s capable of holding up. It’s the Eagles’ “recipe,” as quarterback Carson Wentz has called it, and it’s probably enough to get them into the postseason with a favorable schedule after the Patriots and Seahawks come to town on successive weeks.
The Eagles have once again been resilient under Pederson. The season could have gone south in a hurry after back-to-back road blowout losses against the Vikings and Cowboys. There was legitimate turmoil on and off the field. It may still be gurgling under the surface. But the Eagles rallied, winning on the road in tough conditions and on Sunday against a top-tier defense. For the second straight week, they were able to clinch victory with a long, clock-draining drive that netted points. It wasn’t an aesthetically pleasing win. The Eagles could have made an emphatic statement after they jumped to a 19-0 lead. But they just don’t have those capabilities, despite contrary expectations heading into the season. Fan excitement may be lukewarm as a result, but it’s better than being the Jets.
2. Jordan Howard may be worth a contract extension. I would have never thought I’d type those words when the Eagles traded for Howard in March, but here we are. He has arguably been their best offseason addition. Howard has benefited from running behind still one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but if that were the case, then why didn’t the Eagles get more than 511 yards from their top rusher (Josh Adams) last season? Howard has already gained 525 yards on the ground despite some early neglect.
He isn’t explosive or dynamic -- like Miles Sanders -- but has good vision, doesn’t waste many yards and always seems to fall forward. Howie Roseman may be able to get Howard to agree to an extension now, but I can’t imagine his offer will be attractive enough for the fourth-year running back to skip free agency this coming offseason. The Eagles just don’t invest heavily in the position and with Sanders likely to blossom more in Year 2, Howard probably knows that he should get better offers in terms of money and playing time elsewhere.
Or not, because he may not be viewed as an upside signing. At which point, the Eagles could extend him at a reasonable rate with Sanders under his rookie contract for three more years.
3. DeSean Jackson’s season may be over. The Eagles receiver played just four snaps before getting the hook Sunday. Pederson said that Jackson felt discomfort and that the team took the precautionary measure of holding him out for the rest of the game. Letting him rest for another week with the bye around the corner would have been a more counteractive move, but with the season still very much on the line, caution was tossed into the wind. And to really no great surprise, Jackson suffered a setback and will now have surgery.
So what now? My guess is that the Eagles will once again appease their player and hold off placing him injured reserve in case he does recover at the fastest pace, which some have placed at four weeks. But the Eagles can’t afford to continue to waste a roster spot on someone who isn’t available. The average length for rehab following core muscle surgery is typically eight weeks, depending upon the player. That would extend Jackson’s rehab to Dec. 31, two days after the season finale.
But even if he were to push the return and be back in four weeks, we’re not talking about a 24-year older here. Jackson is 32 and he has missed 21 games and counting to injury -- not to mention the various other games when he has left early -- in his last six seasons. How could anyone possibly expect him to recover and perform anywhere near his peak level in just a month?
4. Andre Dillard doesn’t have to be forced into the left tackle spot. That doesn’t mean it will happen, nor does it mean it should. Dillard has been solid since replacing Jason Peters, but he still has had his rookie issues. Pederson said that the veteran would keep his starting spot when healthy, but his return from a knee injury remains uncertain. Even when/if Peters comes back, how will reliable can he be? The 37-year-old has missed 12 games to injury over the last three seasons and has played every snap in only 12 of his last 29 games.
If Peters wants to play, he likely will. I can’t imagine Pederson telling the big guy that he’s been benched. As exciting as Dillard’s progress has been, he’s still a newbie and occasional meltdowns are almost always a part of learning that position on the fly. Peters is nowhere near the tackle he once was, but even when he struggles, he’s still an above-average edge setter. Dillard is more athletic at this point, but he has nowhere near the power of Peters and can get tossed from time to time.
That said, Dillard’s progress is something to get excited about if you’re the Eagles. They seemingly have their left tackle of the future, and those guys don’t come around very often.
5. More cowbell (two tight ends). The Eagles can’t neglect their outside receivers. They need to force defenses to cover the entire field. But I can’t, for the life of me, understand the forcing of passes to Alshon Jeffery as if he’s the Eagles’ best mismatch. Their best mismatches in the passing game come at tight end with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and at running back with Miles Sanders. Ertz had, for some reason, not seen as many targets over the previous month. His catch ratio had dropped, but he’s a volume receiver and needs to see a certain amount of looks to get into a rhythm.
He started to smoke on Sunday and caught 9 of 11 targets for 103 yards and a 25-yard touchdown. Ertz isn’t exactly known for his yards after contact, but 52 of his receiving yards came after contact vs. the Bears. He had a great game. More Ertz, please. And more Goedert, as well. He caught 4 of 5 targets for 39 yards, including a big-time 16-yard screen on a key, late third down. Pederson has been using more 12-personnel to the point that it’s now the Eagles’ base offense. Ertz and Goedert each played 70 of 89 snaps Sunday. That’s great, but I would scheme up more plays for the tight ends, certainly ahead of Jeffery and receiver Nelson Agholor.
6. Carson Wentz needs outside weapons. I feel like I’m having a flashback to 2016. Losing Jackson has hurt, especially over the top. But the Eagles’ offensive problems can’t be all be placed on the loss of Jackson. I wrote with more detail about the Eagles’ receiver woes in my column off the game. But it bears repeating that Jeffery and Agholor have been disappointments. No one in this town will ever forget their contributions in 2017, especially in the postseason. But Jeffery appears to be regressing, and Agholor has reverted to his 2015-16 form.
In receiving yards per route run, Jeffery is tied for 51st in the NFL out of 100 receivers with more than 18 routes run, and Agholor is 90th. Mack Hollins is 98th. Collectively, that is terrible. Wentz hasn’t been perfect on all his throws, but how many times have any one of those three made a grab to help their quarterback? Jeffery’s had maybe one or two. I think Agholor made one nifty grab a few weeks back in Dallas. Hollins has become a nonfactor.
I couldn’t foresee this kind of drop-off. Jackson was bound to get hurt at some point, but Jeffery has a long history of being a No. 1-caliber receiver. The same can’t be said of Agholor, who is solid in the slot as a No. 3 or 4 option. But he is not best suited to line up outside or be counted upon as one of Wentz’s top options. He seems to fall down on at least 50 percent of passes thrown deep. He’s got the speed, but he doesn’t have the physical skills to win 50-50 balls downfield. Jeffery is the opposite, although his ball skills have decreased.
The Eagles will likely add a receiver this week, but aside from Antonio Brown, I can’t imagine who can come in and save the day. The offseason is a long ways off, but the Eagles will have to look long and hard at the position. Agholor is likely gone, but Jeffery and Jackson have guaranteed money coming in 2020, and the Eagles just expended a second-round pick on J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who has struggled to get on the field.