When will the Eagles' offense start to look like itself? Or look like what fans hope is still itself, as the season after Super Bowl LII starts to take shape?
Getting quarterback Carson Wentz fully back in the swing is the most obvious item on the checklist. The return to health of Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, and Alshon Jeffery will be big, and part or all of that could happen for Sunday's game at Tennessee.
Offensive coordinator Mike Groh acknowledged Tuesday that "we haven't had the same unit out there in the huddle each and every day," and "we haven't had as many explosive passes as we would like."
In Wentz's first game of the season Sunday against the Colts, the offense looked a little smoother than it had the first two weeks, when Nick Foles was running the show, but the 20-point output was certainly nothing special, and nothing like last season, when the Eagles put together a nine-game win streak in which they never scored fewer than 26 points, averaging 33.4.
Groh said that with 40 minutes, 20 seconds of possession time against the Colts, "we would like to have more than 20 points. … We left some points out there on the field, and we've got to clean those things up."
Conditions aren't great this week for an offensive explosion, with the Eagles on the road against a smooth, solid defensive unit. The 2-1 Titans beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville on Sunday despite scoring just nine points, on three field goals. The Jags managed only two field goals.
In addition to Ajayi, Sproles, and perhaps Jeffery, who still hasn't been medically cleared to play after shoulder surgery, the Eagles ought to get some sort of boost as wide receiver Jordan Matthews settles back into the offense.
As Groh noted, familiarity with the Eagles' system helped Matthews play Sunday with just three practices under his belt, without having been to training camp or played during the preseason. He played 33 snaps – 40 percent of the offensive total – and caught both passes thrown to him, for 21 yards.
"You talk about a guy being able to come in in three days, and really you wouldn't notice that he hadn't been here throughout training camp. He did a really good job," Groh said. "Made a couple key receptions in the game … We're excited to have him. He's a valuable member of what we are trying to do moving forward, and we'll continue to incorporate him."
"I felt great. Don't tell people who play in training camp that," Matthews joked. "I've been taking care of my body. … We worked really hard, me and some of the guys I was training with," after the hamstring injury that led to his Aug. 8 release by New England fully healed.
Enough has changed in the Eagles' offense over the past year-plus that the coaches didn't expect Matthews to master everything in three practices. He was given a limited menu of plays for his return.
"It's so much easier when you have a small package of stuff that you've gotta go through," he said. "When you're not out there thinking, you get less fatigued."
Matthews said that Wentz made his return easy, particularly on his first catch of the day, a 14-yarder in the second quarter.
"That's pitch-and-catch for him," Matthews said, the play requiring the receiver only to "get to my depth and be on the right timing. I knew he was going to hit me … It's a lot easier getting back into the swing of things when Carson is the QB."
Matthews said he appreciated the ovation from the Lincoln Financial Field crowd when he entered the game, as fans honored the 2014 second-round pick, who caught 225 passes for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns in three seasons, before being traded to Buffalo for cornerback Ronald Darby in August 2017. Matthews isn't going to blow the top off any defenses, but he adds a reliable target to a passing game that right now is trying to operate through the tight end position, which seems less than optimal.
Had Matthews not been traded, he might have a Super Bowl ring now. (Of course, he might not, as well; Darby is a starting cornerback and played a big role in the 2017 postseason.)
Asked about whether he has any regrets about that, he said: "I'm way too blessed to be doing that. I try to take it all in stride … I think in the grand scheme of things, life is really good. I'm healthy. I'm playing football with some of my best friends. I have a great wife, a loving family … I think a million people, probably a billion, would trade whatever situation they're in for mine right now."
This week, Matthews and Wentz can further reestablish their connection, as Matthews prepares to play for the first time as a pro in his offseason home of Nashville. Matthews starred there at Vanderbilt, and retains close ties with the school.
"It's going to be awesome," Matthews said. "I just love the city of Nashville. I can't wait to go back with these guys."
McLeod outlook McClouded
Safety Rodney McLeod, who left Sunday's game when teammate Jalen Mills hit him in the knee with his helmet, participated in the Eagles' walk-through Tuesday, but there was no word on whether McLeod will be able to play Sunday.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said he would wait for head coach Doug Pederson to address McLeod's status on Wednesday.
Corey Graham and Deiondre' Hall are the team's only reserve safeties, so if McLeod is out, the Eagles might have to make a roster move. Practice squad safety Tre Sullivan said Tuesday he has heard nothing new about his status.
Schwartz backs Mills
Schwartz said that he thought only one of Jalen Mills' two pass interference penalties Sunday was really egregious, and that this was a much sharper Mills effort overall than the previous week's loss at Tampa.
"I thought Jalen had a really good bounce-back game. He tackled really well. He battled," Schwartz said. "He made a couple plays in the red zone that saved our butt a couple times. He played with great technique. I thought that was the biggest difference this week as opposed to last week. Played with good technique, played with a lot of the confidence, and I thought he was back on track."