Good morning. The Eagles' celebration continued on a long flight back to Philadelphia from London on Sunday after a 24-18 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Doug Pederson has a noon news conference today. The players are off this week for their bye.
This is the Early Birds newsletter, which will arrive in your inbox Monday through Friday for the rest of the season. If your friends haven't subscribed to Early Birds, it's free to sign up here. 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.
Also, I have a book out this week. UNDERDOGS: The Philadelphia Eagles' Emotional Road to Super Bowl Victory is available on Oct. 30. You can buy it Tuesday in bookstores or have it delivered wherever you purchase books online. The book chronicles the unforgettable 2017 season, detailing how it all came together and going deep into the characters and moments that made the team special. Merrill Reese wrote a fantastic foreword for the book, too. I hope you read it and enjoy it.
— Zach Berman
If the Eagles can make a postseason run this season, this weekend will be viewed as the turning point. The Eagles boarded a flight to London on Thursday evening with a losing record and facing the prospect of falling to 3-5 at the midway point of the season. They flew home on Sunday after a 24-18 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars back at .500 with some momentum entering the second half.
It's too soon to say the Eagles have turned their season around – it might have seemed that way after the Indianapolis win or the Giants win – but it's not too soon to say that if the season turns around, it will be because of what happened in front of a record crowd at Wembley Stadium.
"I think partially relieved, just in the fact being back in the win column and especially going back on the bye week," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "Long week, long flight, there's a lot of positive going into this week. Our destiny is in our whole hands. We've got the whole NFC East up for grabs right now. We've got a lot of games left."
It was far from a pristine performance. They played better against the Giants. But it was significant – "huge," as Carson Wentz called it – considering the circumstances. It's up for debate whether it was a "must-win" game. Doug Pederson didn't look at it that way. Some in the locker room did. I didn't think they needed to win considering the NFC East remained in front of them regardless, but 4-4 looks a lot different at the bye than 3-5 – especially when three of the next four games are at home against division opponents. Even if the Eagles lose the lone road game in the next quarter of the season to the Saints, winning the three division home games would put them at 7-5 with a 4-0 division mark entering the final month of the season. Eagles fans presumably would be happy with that.
There's a lot to do to get there, and some problems to be sorted out. It looks like Lane Johnson is going to miss time with a knee injury. The Eagles need to figure out Jalen Mills' status. They have key players on the injury list who could return soon – Darren Sproles, Sidney Jones and Corey Graham among them – and they're a few weeks away from making decisions on players on injured reserve.
Carson Wentz had another strong game, although the turnovers are a problem. He must fix the fumbling; he's fumbled in every game this season. Wentz knows it and said he will look hard at correcting it. He did a good job spreading the ball around; they had four players with catches of more than 30 yards. Also, there were good signs from Josh Adams running the ball. The Eagles can build on his performance.
On defense, Jim Schwartz blitzed more than he usually does. Part of that was likely the opponent, but it showed what the Eagles can do when they blitz. (Of course, they shouldn't do that when facing Drew Brees in a few weeks.) The defense finally came through with a turnover that they were calling for last week. Schwartz said they needed to create more takeaways and Pederson mentioned it to the players after the game, too. Avonte Maddox's forced fumble changed the game – it went from a 6-3 deficit with the Jaguars driving at the end of the half to the Eagles taking a 10-3 lead into halftime. Those takeaways have been too rare this season.
The Eagles also improved in situational football. They were 7 of 12 on third downs, which was important. They finished the game better on Sunday after collapsing one week ago. Yes, there was a three-and-out on offense in the fourth quarter. But there was also a fourth-quarter touchdown and a fourth-down stop. Plus, the offense moved the chains on their final possession to ensure Jacksonville didn't get one last crack at the end zone.
So there was enough to build on in this game, and the circumstances of the trip made it even more significant. The bye comes at a good time, allowing the players to regroup entering the second half of the season. As players pointed out, what they want to achieve is still in front of them. And if they're contenders, this weekend will be viewed as the point when the season turned.
Running backs coach Duce Staley manages the running backs and determines that rotation, although there are plays and roles that best suit certain runners. If you're wondering why Josh Adams had a bigger role in Sunday's win, Doug Pederson addressed it after the game.
"The other two guys play a lot of special teams, keeping everybody fresh and rotated," Pederson said, referring to Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement as the other two running backs. "Wendell did a nice job. Corey came in there, he runs extremely hard. Josh had the hot hand today, kind of kept him going."
My guess is Adams' production means the Eagles will go with him more moving forward. He's averaging 5.4 yards per carry, which is a full yard more than Smallwood and more than two yards better than Clement. Sample size matters – Adams only has 20 carries – but there's reason to be optimistic about him.
Howie Roseman is aggressive and always looking for ways to improve the roster, but I can see him acting with more urgency after moving to 4-4. Plus, deadlines spur action. Of course, it must be the right deal. I can't see Roseman giving away a valuable pick, especially if it's only for a rental. I think he'd rather target someone like Jay Ajayi last year who will help the team next season, too. If Jalen Mills is out for an extended period of time, I can see the secondary being more of a priority. They've dealt with injuries at cornerback and safety this season and can use another piece there. I've long said defensive tackle should be an area to upgrade, but that also depends on whether Tim Jernigan will return this season. And they can use another offensive playmaker, although they're going to get Darren Sproles back soon and might get Mike Wallace back, too.
I disagree with you there. First of all, they had 21 called runs to running backs and one to a wide receiver. So let's say 22. They had 21 one week ago in the loss to Carolina, 20 in a Week 4 loss to Tennessee, and 21 in a Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay. That's not a significant difference. The only loss that was a clear outlier was Week 5 against Minnesota, when there were 12 runs. The problem isn't run-pass ratio. It's running the ball effectively and moving the chains.
They were able to run better, so it might have seemed like they ran more. But they didn't rediscover the run this week. Wentz had a season-low 30 pass attempts, yet he also was sacked four times and had three quarterback runs. (That doesn't include three kneeldowns.) So the Eagles still passed it quite a bit, as they should – that's the most effective way to move the ball downfield.