Good morning, Eagles fans, and welcome to the bye week. I hope your blood pressure has gone down since the Eagles came close to giving up a 19-0 lead against the Chicago Bears. In the end, the Birds eked out an ugly 22-14 win thanks to a gritty eight-minute drive that set up a field goal in the final minute.
The victory puts the team at 5-4 heading into a much-needed bye week, during which the Eagles hope to work on a long list of problem areas and get some injured players back and healthy.
Most notable among the group: DeSean Jackson, the Eagles’ field-stretching wide receiver who’s been out since Week 2 with an abdominal injury. He played only four snaps in the first quarter Sunday, then spent the rest of the game on the sideline. Pederson should have more news on that injury Monday after Jackson undergoes further testing.
Bottom line: This wasn’t a strong showing for the Eagles. Especially looking ahead to their next two games against the 8-1 Patriots and the 7-2 Seahawks. On the bright side, in the record books, the W counts the same as the one the Eagles came home from Buffalo with last week.
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Offensive line, Dillard contain Mack
The Eagles offensive line has been proving itself all season, but Sunday’s test was a particularly difficult one, going up against a stout Chicago front seven that includes one of the league’s best edge rushers, 6-foot-3, 250-pound Khalil Mack.
As Eagles wide receivers struggled mightily, and early red-zone play-calling left much to be desired, the offensive line held its own. Most important, rookie left tackle Andre Dillard, who started in his first NFL game just two weeks ago, did a stellar job containing Mack and helping keep the veteran linebacker away from quarterback Carson Wentz.
Before Sunday, Mack had 5 1/2 sacks this season. Against the Eagles, he finished the day with zero, and notched only four tackles, all of which came in the second half.
“It’s a hard loss,” he said after the game. “It was going to take a lot from the defense to put us in a position to win the ballgame."
The Eagles offensive line made it harder, especially early on. In the first half, the Eagles were on the field for more than 20 minutes, most of which was spent pushing the Bears around and creating wide lanes for running backs.
“I think it’s everybody doing their job,” center Jason Kelce said. “We have a lot of really, really good players. From the offensive line, to the tight ends, to the backs … We had some really good game plans and some schemes that have quite frankly really worked out for us.”
“Outside of some penalties, myself included, and some stalled-out drives there in the red zone,” Kelce added, “the whole first half was pretty fun.”
After scoring on a Jordan Howard run to start off the second half, the offense stalled, not getting momentum again until that critical 16-play, 69-yard fourth-quarter drive that secured the game.
Wentz is ever diplomatic, but his praise for the offensive line was effusive after the game.
“Hats off to our O-line,” Wentz said. “Last week as well, those guy were moving guys, giving me time, and they played great. That’s an impressive front they had to go up against with a lot of playmakers and they handled it really well.”
Dillard said his early success filling in for the injured Jason Peters can be attributed in part to the guidance he has received from both Peters and right tackle Lane Johnson, who also has played left tackle in the past.
Johnson said he was pleased with his unit’s performance Sunday.
“We were really using a lot of our lead blocking combos … getting up to the second level, and I think we did a good job in the first half," Johnson said. “Made it difficult for the defense.”
But don’t take that to mean they aren’t looking to improve as they prepare for tougher opponents in the weeks ahead.
“I’d like to finish a little better stronger than what we did," Johnson said. "But ultimately a win’s a win. We’ll take it when we can get 'em.”
What you need to know about the Eagles
With 8:39 left in the game, all that mattered was the Eagles keeping the ball. Les Bowen breaks down the critical drive and much more in his game story.
Earlier this week, running back Jordan Howard downplayed Sunday’s matchup with the team that traded him. After the game, however, he admitted this game was a little different. It showed on the field, too, EJ Smith writes.
The Eagles have “pulled themselves from the gutter and are back on the pavement where the traction is better,” Bob Ford writes in his column about how the Eagles saved their season, at least temporarily.
When it mattered most, Carson Wentz made the plays he needed to on Sunday. Especially with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. Mike Sielski has more in his column on the quarterback for whom stats don’t tell the whole story.
Fletcher Cox was the difference-maker on the Eagles’ defense Sunday. In fact, Marcus Hayes writes in his column, the Eagles can’t win without him.
Paul Domowitch grades the Eagles’ performance against the Bears.
Jeff McLane does the up-down drill, writing that Doug Pederson and Zach Ertz were among those to have good days.
Zach Ertz had a big day, Domo reports.
The reason he had that big day was because, once again, DeSean Jackson was hurt and the rest of the receivers weren’t able to step up in his absence, McLane writes.
From the mailbag
When they are running the ball so well and blowing the Bears off of the line, why do they stop? — Gregg Ewing (@EwingSmi) via Twitter
Hey Gregg, thanks for asking, and being one of a few to answer my Sunday night plea for mailbag questions for my first Early Birds newsletter.
As a fan, or even a casual observer, it can be maddening to watch a team find its groove in a facet of the game and then lose it. When it comes to the Eagles’ ground game, I think play calling is key. The Eagles were doing well with a mix of runs and short passes on their first two drives, but then had to settle for back-to-back field goals when they failed to convert on … pass plays on third-and-2?
Yet sometimes, despite all the drops, the passing game does come together. Example: Two third-down completions to tight end Dallas Goedert and running back/surprising receiving threat Miles Sanders on that big fourth-quarter drive.
All in all, the ground game was efficient Sunday, far from the team’s worst problem, particularly in the first half when the Eagles put up 81 rushing yards.