BALTIMORE - If you are Eagles coach Doug Pederson, what is your top priority for the final two games? A hint is that it involves ignoring much of the established macho culture of the National Football League.

At this point, there's only one thing that could make this collapse worse, and that would be if rookie quarterback Carson Wentz were to get hurt playing against either the New York Giants or Dallas Cowboys.

When the Eagles moved up to select Wentz with the second overall pick in the 2016 draft, the original thought was to sit him for the entire season to learn from the sideline.

That all changed when Sam Bradford was traded to Minnesota a week before the opening game.

Not only has Wentz started every game, but he's taken every snap.

The idea that the Birds' season would have turned out better if Bradford had been the quarterback simply ignores the numerous other holes that contribute to this being a bad football team. By playing instead of watching from the sideline, Wentz has gained valuable live game experience that will help him move forward in his development.

But situations change, and that requires adjustments.

The loss to the Ravens mathematically eliminated the Eagles from the playoffs. The way the Eagles gave effort the last two weeks should eliminate talk that Pederson had lost the locker room and could not motivate his players to compete down the stretch.

The Eagles don't own their own first-round draft pick, so positioning is not a factor. With the exception of professionalism and pride, which are both important, there's not much at stake for the Eagles in these last two games. There is little to be gained by exposing your franchise quarterback to playcalling that increases his odds of being blasted by an on-coming rusher.

Play Wentz because you want him to complete a full NFL season, but protect him at all costs. Pederson's game plan in Sunday's 27-26 loss to the Ravens is the perfect blueprint for what to do against New York and Dallas - run the ball while limiting the passing game to screens, dump-offs and short patterns. Basically, a passing play requiring Wentz to hold the football for more than three seconds is a bad one.

Wentz completed 22 of 44 passes for 170 yards. His longest completion was 24 yards to tight end Zach Ertz.

Pederson said the game conditions, which included cold, rain and a stiff wind, made short passes more efficient. The weather probably was a factor, but the big play has not been a staple of the passing game.

Wentz came into the game ranked 19th with 35 completions of 20-plus yards. He was tied for 23rd in 40-plus yards with five. He was tied for eighth by being sacked 30 times.

Big plays take time to develop, and due to injury, inexperience and the PED suspension of right tackle Lane Johnson, the Eagles simply cannot protect Wentz the way a Pro Bowl offensive line in Dallas protects rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.

The pocket is going to collapse and that's going to open up Wentz to hard hits for steamrolling defensive players.

So Pederson should keep it dialed down. If weather was actually the motivation for what he did against the Ravens, then pray for a nor'easter to blow through Philadelphia come Thursday when the Eagles host the Giants. Design a game plan that does whatever it can to protect Wentz from taking a physical beating. Do the same on New Year's Day against Dallas.

Pederson should be a poppa wolf watching out for his cub to ensure that he can ultimately grow into all that he can be.

"The growth factor for me has been huge," Wentz said. "My opportunity came much quicker than I thought it would.

"It's been an up and down year for us, but the experience all of us have gained has been very valuable. I've learned that it is very hard to win in this league. I've learned it's even harder to win on the road. Every week we experience something to learn from."

Reversing their decision and deciding to ride with Wentz from Game 1 was the correct long-term move for the franchise.

That said, while I am happy the Eagles did not put Wentz in bubble wrap, it's reached the point in the year when it's time for the styrofoam peanuts.

It's football, and unexpected things always happen. Still, the goal has to be clear to do whatever is needed to increase the odds that Wentz makes it through NFL 101 unscathed.

@SmallTerp