Good morning. You’re reading this hours after the Eagles' 28-13 win over Washington -- their first time this season winning back-to-back games. It was a convincing victory that keeps their playoff hopes alive for a critical visit Sunday to the Dallas Cowboys.
This is a Tuesday edition of the Early Birds newsletter. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
The season could have been dead. The Eagles are still alive, and offered reason for optimism.
The Eagles returned from New Orleans two weeks ago at the nadir of their season, and it was reasonable to wonder whether, by the time they boarded a flight again, their playoff hopes would be gone. They did not look like a team that would win two in a row.
So here they are, two weeks later, and those hopes remain alive and reasonable. The Eagles did what they needed to do at home, with their first back-to-back wins this season after Monday’s win over Washington. They’re back at .500, with a 6-6 record before road games against the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys and NFC-leading Los Angeles Rams.
It would be a difficult feat to return home with an 8-6 record. But the focus is on Dallas, because that’s the game that could determine the division crown. And there should be optimism after the way the Eagles played Monday. It was the first home win this season that the Eagles won convincingly, and it was one of the few times this season they showed signs of last season’s attack.
“If we score two touchdowns inside the 5-yard line tonight, we’re putting up 40 against a really good team,” tight end Zach Ertz said. "I think we’re close to reaching our ultimate potential as an offense.”
There’s validity to Ertz’s claim. The Eagles moved the ball with ease all game. They had two scoreless red-zone visits, once because of a missed fourth down and another because of a turnover. That’s inexcusable, but the way they reached the red zone was nonetheless impressive. The Eagles had 436 total yards, converted 54 percent of their third downs, possessed the ball for more nearly 40 minutes, and ran 72 offensive plays. They punted only twice in 11 drives, and they drove downfield to score on the opening drive. So much of what had eluded the Eagles this season appeared on Monday.
On the other side of the ball, a similar story could be told. The qualifier, of course, was that Washington was down to its third-string quarterback and third-string interior offensive linemen. And the Eagles allowed a 90-yard touchdown, which was also inexcusable.
But think about this: Adrian Peterson rushed for the 90-yard score and didn’t even top 100 yards. The Eagles did a good job on him before and after the run. The Eagles limited Washington to 235 yards, only allowed two third-down conversions, had three sacks and nine quarterback hits, and forced six punts. That might not happen against a better offense with fewer injuries, but the Eagles can be judged only by who was on the field Monday. And that was a good outing.
“I think things are kind of clicking a little bit,” coach Doug Pederson said.
The Eagles have walked on a tightrope these past two weeks, and they have no time to exhale. They have these two road games and then return to Lincoln Financial Field next for a Week 16 game against the Texans. The Eagles’ season finale on the road against Washington might be meaningless if the Eagles don’t continue their momentum. A loss in Dallas would put them two games back in the division with three games to go. A win would tie the Eagles for first place.
It won’t be easy; these next three opponents are first-place teams with a combined record of 27-9. But the Eagles are still alive, which wasn’t a sure thing when they arrived home from New Orleans. They deserve credit for doing what they needed to at home. What will their record be when they return to the stadium in three weeks?
What you need to know about the Eagles
The fans left a home win early on Monday for the first time this season because the Eagles finally won like they did one year ago.
The offense played with purpose, Jeff McLane writes, and it was apparent from the opening drive.
Carson Wentz didn’t have a perfect night, but a lot went right for the quarterback, Les Bowen writes.
Is it too late for the offense to find its groove? David Murphy explores.
The Eagles run defense stopped Washington -- except for that 90-yarder, Bob Ford writes.
Zach Ertz set a franchise record for receptions, as Marcus Hayes explains in his column.
Former Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez entered the game for Washington. It did not go well, as Mike Sielski writes.
Paul Domowitch offers his Eagles grades.
Tim Jernigan had back spasms and did not play Monday.
Listen to the all the postgame reaction in the Birds' Eye View podcast.
From the mailbag
Good question. I wrote about this extensively in the Sunday Inquirer. Wentz’s running numbers are down this year, but it’s not because he’s lost his running ability after the injury. He’s shown flashes of it; think back to the Jacksonville game. I thought quarterbacks coach Press Taylor made an interesting point: Wentz knows the offense even better this season so he can go through his progressions instead of tucking the ball away.
The key for Wentz is to extend plays. Sometimes that includes tucking it away. If he can get one first down per game with his feet, it will be a big boost to the offense. But sometimes extending plays is just improvising and allowing players to get open, as he did on the first drive Monday with Golden Tate. It’s something Wentz could and should do more, and I think he realizes it.
"I never would say I want to do more,” Wentz said. “I never want to force the issue because then bad things can happen. It’s really case-by-case, the way teams are playing, the way teams are [pass] rushing. Sometimes, teams are collapsing ends so you can get out and escape. Some teams want to keep you in the pocket. I never want to go looking for it, but I do realize there are a lot of big plays to be made when you’re extending plays outside the pocket.”
The Eagles went for a two-point conversion when it was 20-13 because a successful conversion would make it a two-possession game. If the Eagles missed the conversion, they would still be up a touchdown. If they kicked the extra point, then Washington would have needed only one possession to tie the game. Even though Washington would need a two-point conversion, the possessions were critical.
I liked the call at the time, and it clearly worked. A nine-point lead there was a healthy margin.
There are more runs early, but part of that is because there are more plays and fewer three-and-outs. When the Eagles aren’t setting themselves back with negative plays or penalties, then they can get in position to move the chains and they get more total plays. That allows for more runs and a closer-to-balanced offense.
The offense is more successful running, as you said, and Josh Adams is a big part of it. But a bigger part of it is the offensive linemen. They’re healthier than they were earlier this season, and they’re blocking well. Adams is a good, patient running back who can read his blocks, so I give him credit. But it starts with the line more than the running back.