The Eagles walloped the New York Jets, 31-6, Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field behind a bloodthirsty defense and turnover-free offense. Win, lose, or draw, here’s what we learned:
1. The Eagles can beat up on one of the NFL’s worst teams. The disparity between the league’s top teams and its worst appears greater than in recent memory. There are still four winless teams and the 0-4 Jets remain one of them. They may be more dreadful than the 0-4 Dolphins, who already have a minus-137-point differential. The Eagles deserve credit for taking care of business and never allowing New York to sniff a possible upset. But it’s difficult to advance any particular narrative about the team’s prospects -- good, bad or middling -- based on a nothingburger.
Sure, there were both positives and negatives to take from Sunday. And I would never depreciate any victory in the NFL. A win over the Jets counts the same in the standings as a November win over the Patriots. But truer tests arrive starting Sunday in Minnesota against the Vikings. The Eagles hit the road for three straight weeks for the first time since 2017. While they have had to travel for three in a row a total of 32 times in their history, the Eagles haven’t had to board a plane for all three games since 1977. Typically, the NFL’s schedule makers would include a game at the Giants or Redskins in the stretch so that one trip would only require a bus or train ride.
The Eagles return for one home game before a bye week and then stay at the Linc for their next two, but their next six games come against teams all currently with winning records: the Vikings (3-2), Cowboys (3-2), Bills (4-1), Bears (3-2), Patriots (5-0), and Seahawks (4-1). The fates of any of those team could shift over the next month and a half, but each seemingly has playoff-caliber rosters. The schedule should be easier over the final five-game stretch with matchups against the Dolphins (0-4), Giants (2-3), Redskins (0-5), Cowboys and again the Giants.
Doug Pederson and his players will be asked about the upcoming slate, but their attention will be focused on a return trip to Minnesota and the site of their Super Bowl victory two years ago. Each week in the NFL there are quality teams that lose, for whatever the reason. The 4-1 Chiefs, for instance, lost at home to the Colts on Sunday night, although Frank Reich’s team is nothing to sneeze at, even without Andrew Luck. The 5-0 Patriots similarly handled the Jets, 30-14, last month at home, but it wasn’t as if they played 60 clean minutes of football, either.
“I’ve been playing a long time. A win is a win,” Eagles tackle Jason Peters said. “I don’t give a [hoot] what nobody says. If we would have won by one, we would have been more excited about winning by one than 30, or whatever we won by.”
2. Jim Schwartz’s defense deserves praise even if Luke Falk might not be able to start for St. Joseph’s Prep. Schwartz blitzed a fair amount in the first four games, more than he did last year, but he brought the house against the inexperienced Jets quarterback. Falk saw more than four rushers on 22 of 35 drops and if he managed to get the ball out it was mostly check-down city. He completed 10 of 19 passes for 72 yards and was intercepted twice and sacked three times when blitzed. He didn’t fare much better against the four-man rush. Falk completed 5 of 7 passes for 48 yards, but he was sacked seven times when Schwartz dropped seven into coverage.
The defense not only forced three turnovers, but it returned two for touchdowns -- linebacker Nate Gerry’s pick-six and cornerback Orlando Scandrick’s forced fumble that he ripped from Falk’s hands. The Eagles became the first team in NFL history with 10 sacks, a touchdown off a fumble and a touchdown off an interception. If it weren’t for a muffed punt, Schwartz might have had his second shutout with the Eagles (the last came in last season’s finale at the Redskins).
The Jets’ offensive line may be among the worst in the NFL. Falk’s receivers, as a group, were at best adequate. Slot receiver Jamison Crowder is a tough cover, but Scandrick, despite spending the last month on the street, helped hold him to two catches for 10 yards. Running back Le’Veon Bell was essentially the Jets’ only offense, and he was held to 43 yards on 15 carries (2.9 average) and seven catches for 45 yards (6.4 avg.).
The opposition wasn’t great, but Schwartz’s unit never played down to its level.
3. The Eagles’ pass rush had the game it needed. And the opponent it needed, as well, but that territory has already been covered. Let’s relish the Eagles’ 10 sacks, especially when they had only an NFL-worst three in the first four games even though only one other defense saw as many pass attempts during that span.
Brandon Graham was the headliner with three sacks. He was shut out heading in but had been increasingly getting pressure over the last few weeks. Schwartz moved Graham inside for the first time this season and he recorded all of his sacks from there. He toasted right guard Brain Winters on the first, shed two blockers for the second, and kept his motor churning for the third. Graham had an overall great game. He set the tone early against the rush, forced the Garry interception, and aside from his three sacks, hit Falk two other times.
Scandrick forced two Falk fumbles with slot blitzes (the Jets retained the first). Vinny Curry notched a coverage sack, even though he was originally blocked to the ground. He gets credit for refusing to give up. Defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway recorded his first sack of the season when Curry stunted inside, and he rushed inside of tackle Kelvin Beachum. Defensive end Daeshon Hall split a tight end double team for a sack. End Josh Sweat tipped over tackle Chuma Edoga and slammed Falk to the turf. And end Derek Barnett, rushing from a two-point stance, sustained a chip block for the Eagles’ final sack.
Defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Akeem Spence were the only defensive linemen not to record a sack, but Cox at least was disruptive. The all-pro has yet to notch a sack this season.
4. Derek Barnett needs to police himself. For the second straight game, and third time this season, the Eagles defensive end was flagged for an unnecessary roughness personal foul. Barnett needlessly blocked Jet guard Alex Lewis below the knees during Gerry’s return. Fortunately for the Eagles, it happened after the linebacker crossed the goal line. But it was away from the play and came after Barnett had already gotten into it with Lewis during an earlier series.
Barnett is a high-motor player. He plays with intensity through the whistle. But he doesn’t want to gain the reputation for being a dirty player. He didn’t have a single personal foul in 2018, but he had two (unnecessary roughness and roughing the passer) in 2017. His first one this season came when he laid out a Falcons lineman on another Gerry interception. And his second was controversial -- when he went helmet-to-helmet with Packers running back Jamaal Williams -- and had some calling for him to either be ejected from the game or suspended for another. Overall, Barnett has a team-high six penalties.
5. Doug Pederson’s criticism of his offense might have been harsh. The coach walked to the postgame lectern with his hat pulled low over his head, casting a shadow over his eyes, and hands buried deep in his pockets. You might have thought the Eagles had lost by 25 points rather than win by that margin, but Pederson was unhappy with his team’s offensive performance after the game Sunday.
The offense scored 17 points, gained 265 yards and was 5 of 13 on third down and 0 for 2 on fourth. The unit also committed five of nine penalties. The Eagles certainly could have played cleaner football, but the Jets defense has some quality players, particularly up the middle with defensive tackles Steve McLendon and Leonard Williams and safety Jamal Adams. The Jets were without middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, but it was tough sledding on the ground as Eagles running backs averaged only 3.2 yards a carry.
Carson Wentz and company should have conceivably done more damage through the air, particularly against suspect outside cornerbacks. But the Eagles, ultimately, delivered when it mattered (2 of 3 in the red zone) and didn’t turn the ball over for the second straight game. Pederson is an offensive-minded head coach, so he tends to focus on that side of the ball. There are some areas fraught with inconsistencies and tougher defensive trials await. But the Eagles are still working through injuries and some early-season kinks.
“It’s never as good as you think and probably never as bad as you think,” Pederson conceded Monday. “There are some thing that we have to clean up. We just weren’t in sync and I give credit obviously to the Jets.”
6. Carson Wentz can manage a win. For the first time in his short career, the quarterback threw for less than 200 yards in back-to-back games. They were both wins, so the numbers matter little, but they do tell a story about the Pederson’s play-calling. The Eagles had little choice but to run more than they threw against the Packers. And it was a wise one considering how successful they were on the ground. Sunday’s balanced numbers -- 30 drops to pass vs. 29 runs -- had something to do with playing with the lead. But even though the Jets’ pass rush had been dismal and their cornerbacks inefficient, Wentz had trouble throwing down the field. He threw just two passes beyond 20 yards and completed none (one of the passes to receiver Nelson Agholor didn’t count because there was a defensive illegal contact penalty).
The absence of DeSean Jackson has obviously affected the offense, particularly the deep passing game. I wrote more about that subject off the game. But Wentz should have more than enough -- with Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert and Agholor -- to make pass defenses pay. The offensive line, aside from individual tough outings by guard Issac Seumalo (Falcons) and center Jason Kelce (Jets), has given him time. The Eagles didn’t hand Wentz a $100 million contract to manage games.
That being said, there are times when it’s necessary. He can’t be throwing for 300 yards and three touchdowns every week. He’s missed a few throws. He’s held the ball too long on several occasions. But he consistently does remarkable things that don’t show up in the stat sheet. Wentz has already made several athletically remarkable plays this season, but his performance here -- when Kelce torpedoed the snap on the opening drive -- likely saved the Eagles four points.
Later, Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams had Wentz lined up on an inside rush. But the quarterback ducked, the rookie slipped off, and he rifled a 21-pass to Ertz to convert a third down. Has Wentz looked elite so far this season? Not quite. But he’s been very good and has had moments of greatness. Sustained success should come.
7. Jordan Howard should become more of the Eagles’ lead back ahead of Miles Sanders. Pederson said as much this morning on WIP-FM, although he hedged a little during his noon news conference.
“I think moving forward, it’s kind of going that way, but again, I can’t sit here and tell you, if Miles has a hot hand one day that he gets more touches,” Pederson said. “But right now, that’s kind of the trend.”
It would be shortsighted of Pederson to publicly announce that Howard was the No. 1. But he’s right that the numbers have been trending toward more of the veteran. Here’s the carry distribution between the running backs:
Week 1: Sanders 11, Darren Sproles 9, Howard 6. Week 2: Sanders 10, Howard 8, Sproles 0.
Week 3: Howard 13, Sanders 11, Sproles 2.
Week 4: Howard 15, Sanders 11, Sproles 1.
Week 5: Howard 13, Sanders 9, Sproles 3.
A fair question is why did it take so long? Howard is averaging 4.7 yards a carry to Sanders’ 3.6 and Sproles’ 3.9. He may not be as dynamic as the former, or as reliable in pass protection as the latter, but he’s a tough, downhill runner who has done a better job of hitting holes and eking out yards than the other two.
I’m not into burying Sanders. He has brought an element of danger to the Eagles’ passing sets and already has three 30-plus-yard catches. Just putting those plays on film will have defensive coordinators adjusting their assignments and coverages when Sanders is either on the field or split wide. He has also shown that when he does find a hole, he can burst into the second level like no other tailback on the roster. But he’s still learning.
Sproles’ quadriceps strain, which Pederson labeled as a “week-to-week” injury, likely means that neither Howard nor Sanders will lose snaps over the next several weeks. No offense to Sproles, whose place in NFL history is firm, but it could be addition by subtraction.
8. The cornerbacks survived a rash of injuries -- for one week. The Eagles were down to the last of their original five healthy cornerbacks in Rasul Douglas. They started Craig James, who was unheard of around these parts just several weeks ago, on the opposite side. They brought back Scandrick, who was released after the preseason, to play in the slot. And they even activated and played Rashard Davis, who was signed just last week, on special teams.
And the Eagles’ cornerbacks somehow didn’t make any glaring mistakes Sunday. Jets receivers caught only a combined seven of 15 targets for 73 yards. The numbers could look a lot different next week vs. the likes of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. But Sidney Jones, who didn’t play despite dressing, is expected to return and the Eagles could be closer to getting Ronald Darby (hamstring), Avonte Maddox (concussion/neck), Jalen Mills (foot) and Cre’Von LeBlanc (foot) back sooner rather than later.
But for the time being, they had better hope that Douglas stays healthy and that Jones doesn’t aggravate his hamstring.
9. The Eagles’ returning injured haven’t followed one set pattern. Guard Brandon Brooks may be playing his best football even though he needed less than nine months to return from an Achilles tendon rupture. Safety Rodney McLeod, despite tearing his ACL last October, has been maybe the Eagles’ most consistent defender this season. But there has been a reoccurrence of injury -- related or not -- in several other players who missed most or part of last season.
Darby (ACL last year) and Jones (hamstring) are the most prominent, but Barnett doesn’t seem fully healed from shoulder surgery, and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (neck) injured his foot last month. Sproles had played in only 11 of 37 games, including the postseason, over the previous two seasons. Is it any surprise he’s back on the shelf? Jackson has already missed three games because of an abdomen injury and he’s likely to miss more. Jackson hasn’t played a full 16 games since 2013. Sproles and Jackson, it should be noted, are both north of 30.
I don’t know what to make of the Eagles’ injuries. While every team has its share, the Eagles have seemingly been besieged by the soft-tissue kind over the last two years.