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As Eagles take their bye, a look at how the defense has improved lately | Early Birds

Since an embarrassing day in Dallas, the Eagles "D" has been getting the job done, allowing only 253 yards to the Bills and 165 to the Bears.

Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox tackles Bears running back Tarik Cohen short of the end zone on Sunday.
Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox tackles Bears running back Tarik Cohen short of the end zone on Sunday.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Good morning, Eagles fans. Is everybody OK? I know it’s been a tough couple days for you all, first with the Eagles’ rough 22-14 win over the Chicago Bears and then with the news that the team’s most potent deep threat, DeSean Jackson, will likely be out for the season after reinjuring himself during the four snaps he played on Sunday.

But hey, it’s the bye week. So if you want to use this time away from the Birds to think positively … maybe they’ll come back from the week off with a much, much improved receiving corps and enough fight to compete with the 8-1 Patriots, who showed they are in fact beatable in their 37-20 loss Sunday night to Lamar Jackson and his Baltimore Ravens. An online New Jersey sportsbook opened the Eagles as only 1-point underdogs to New England. For these inconsistent 5-4 Eagles, playoff hopes are not lost.

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Eagles defense looks to keep rolling

What does a bye week look like for an inconsistent team with two tough opponents on deck?

Coach Doug Pederson said Monday he planned to use these days to step back, evaluate, and strategize how the group can improve going forward, with the playoffs still not out of the question and the Eagles just behind rival Dallas in the NFC East standings.

“I think that’s the challenge this week as a staff, to go back and just assess and reevaluate and really break down these first nine games and really look at it with open eyes,” Pederson said.

So lots of film-watching, number-crunching, and maybe even a move at wide receiver, especially as Jackson takes this week (and the seven or so afterward) to recover from surgery to correct the core muscle injury he aggravated Sunday.

But fortunately for the Eagles, when it comes to consistent production, they have shown promise on defense, especially in the three weeks since the low point of their up-and-down season, the 37-10 blowout loss to Dallas.

In that game, Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott put on a clinic, thrashing the Eagles’ defense with 111 yards on 22 carries. In the first half alone, the Eagles defense allowed 266 yards, and the Cowboys scored on five of their six possessions.

Since then, however, the Eagles have notched two straight wins, even though one was much more than dominant than the other, and the defense has been getting the job done. They allowed only 253 yards from the Bills and 165 from the Bears.

In the last two games, they’ve come out of the gate fast, a sharp contrast to their start in Dallas. On Sunday, they held Chicago to five straight three-and-outs at the beginning of the game.

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has upped his game substantially, with 1 1/2 sacks against the Bills and another dominant pass-rush performance this week as the anchor of the defensive line. So has defensive end Brandon Graham, who has had a sack in each of the last two games. On Sunday, he took down quarterback Mitchell Trubisky on the Bears’ second drive.

Graham said the defense’s resilience has made the Birds better.

“We could have easily folded and started pointing fingers at each other,” he said Sunday. “But we never stopped believing … We do need to clean up some of the little things that tend to sneak up on us, especially this game. I mean, first half, lights out. Second half, not so much.”

If the defense can become even more consistent, it can help balance out some of the team’s offensive woes.

“We just have to keep believing,” Graham said. “I’m glad we went through that adversity, because that’s all it really was — the first test of many more that we’ll go through the rest of the season.”

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Brandon Brooks ruptured his Achilles last year, and the injury could have threatened the 6-foot-5, 335-pound guard’s career. Instead, Brooks took the setback as an opportunity to test his limits. Now, he’s not only back on the field, but he’s back as the best lineman in the NFL, columnist Mike Sielski writes.

  2. The Eagles waived their third safety, Andrew Sendejo, on Tuesday and received a compensatory pick in next year’s draft. Had the 32-year-old veteran played better, he might still be on the roster, EJ Smith writes.

  3. This bye week is a test for Doug Pederson as he looks to fix a struggling Eagles’ offense, Bob Ford writes in his column on the coach’s tall bye-week task.

  4. The Eagles made it official Tuesday: Jackson will spend the rest of the season on injured reserve, leaving two open roster spots (Sendejo’s being the other). EJ Smith speculates on who could fill them. Spoiler alert: There are wide receiver prospects.

  5. In Eagles alumni news, Super Bowl MVP and Philly legend Nick Foles will return as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ starting quarterback on Sunday after recovering from a broken clavicle. Damichael Cole has more.

From the mailbag

When will Carson Wentz get back to his near MVP form that we saw out of him before he got injured in 2017? — @dannmaal via Twitter

Hey, Dan, thanks for writing in, and I hope your Twitter name is a play on the Danimals drinkable yogurts of my youth. Anyway, seems to be a lot of questions about the Eagles’ offense this week, and for good reason.

While I agree that Carson Wentz’s stats haven’t been super impressive this season (he’s averaging 6.7 yards-per-attempt, the lowest since his rookie season), I’d argue the on-paper decline has more to do with his receivers than with him. As of late, Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor haven’t been able to catch much of anything, including short easy passes. On Sunday, Wentz threw several beautiful, perfectly timed balls that the receivers inexplicably couldn’t grab. But on the bright side, Wentz started to really connect with tight end Zach Ertz, who hadn’t been as involved before Sunday.

On the field, Wentz is still a leader. As my colleague Mike Sielski wrote Sunday, Wentz makes the plays that matter most. Is that how you measure a good quarterback? If so, then I’d say Wentz is still in fine form. If it’s by numbers, then yeah, maybe he’s not in “near MVP form." But how much can you do with the potential targets he has? I’d rank him near last on the list of Eagles who shoulder the blame for the decline in offensive production.