I’ve known Merrill Reese, The Voice of the Philadelphia Eagles, for 25 years.
We agree about a lot: Tiger Woods is the greatest, Buddy Ryan was overrated. We disagree about a few things, too; for instance, he thinks Bobby Hoying, healthier and better coached, could have been a proficient NFL quarterback.
But, when the Eagles have a bad record, we rarely agree on their prospects. When he thinks they’re doomed I generally think they’re inches from competence. When he thinks they’re on the brink of greatness, I usually point to Howie Roseman.
This is not one of those times.
We agreed Saturday night, when, as he finished his pregame preparations just before midnight, he called the game at Pittsburgh an “Indicator” game.
We agreed Sunday, after the Eagles' 38-29 loss, in which Carson Wentz played solidly and the patchwork offensive line stymied a ferocious Steelers front seven, and the entire squad left everything it had on Heinz Field.
And yes, as Merrill tweeted Sunday, it’s “sad” that the Eagles are 1-3-1. It will be sadder Sunday evening after the Ravens dismantle the Birds in Philly. After that, though, the Eagles' future is just like the title of Merrill’s autobiography, and his signature call:
That’s what the “indicator game” indicated.
Wentz played better. He threw an unforgivable interception to start the second half -- locked on Zach Etrz, who was double-covered, which left Miles Sanders wide open. But that, for Wentz, was an improvement, since he leads the league (by 22%) with nine interceptions. And, this week, only two of the five sacks he took were his fault. His 75.7 passer rating against the Steelers vaulted his season rating to 68.5 -- still last in the league but his second-best result thus far. So, baby steps.
These steps will soon grow larger.
The Eagles play the Giants in two weeks, then the Cowboys, then enjoy a Week 9 bye, then face the Giants again -- so, in effect, two byes, or three in four weeks. They should head to Cleveland in Week 11 at 4-4-1.
Yes, the Browns are 4-1, but by Week 11 they will have played the Steelers, Ravens, and the rejuvenated Texans, so they won’t be a one-loss squad. This should be another “indicator” game as the schedule again stiffens against the Seahawks, Packers, and Saints.
Considering the defense-challenged, two-win Cowboys lost Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott to a catastrophic ankle injury Sunday, the Eagles should be considered the favorites to win the NFC East. They’re a half-game out of first place. That’s going to change.
By the time the Giants visit in two weeks, the Eagles should be a much better team. Starting receivers Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Jalen Reagor, who have played a combined 120 offensive snaps -- just 11.2% -- all should be fully healthy. Jeffery and Jackson might even be ready for Sunday, coach Doug Pederson said Monday.
By then, right guard Lane Johnson should have his chronic ankle problems resolved. He missed the opener, then parts of three of the next four games. Notably, Johnson was sidelined when Wentz took the fourth-quarter sack from the right side that turned a 54-yard field goal into a 57-yarder in a stadium where the longest field goal ever made was 55 yards.
By then, Wentz and tight end Zach Ertz should have regained their chemistry. Ertz had five catches for 15 yards in the last two games, and he opened the season with a three-catch, 18-yard effort. Ertz hasn’t produced worse numbers (eight catches, 33 yards) in any three-game combination since Wentz arrived in 2016; in fact, since 2016, Ertz has exceeded those numbers 21 times in a single game.
By then, with a little more seasoning, they shouldn’t be committing 20 penalties for 177 yards, their combined total in the tie against the Bengals plus the loss to the Steelers -- the chief reasons they didn’t win those games.
The defensive line remains elite, the defensive backfield has been better than expected, and, if they can hide linebacker Nate Gerry, they can play with anyone.
The offensive line’s promising newcomers -- left tackle Jordan Mailata, left guard Nate Herbig, and right guard Matt Pryor -- should be even more cohesive by the time the Giants visit in a fortnight.
“I am encouraged by all the young players,” Pederson said.