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The Eagles at the bye: A look back at Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson, and other key figures and factors

Our conclusion: With four of the next five games against NFC East opponents, the Eagles still are very much in control of their destiny.

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is the key to a playoff run.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is the key to a playoff run.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

The Eagles have reached their bye week with a 4-4 record. Our four beat writers look back at the key figures and factors from the first half of their season.

Carson Wentz

By Les Bowen

We're within a few weeks of that magical one-year anniversary, after which ACL surgery patients seem completely recovered from their procedures. But really, you could have plopped down Carson Wentz's performance against Jacksonville into the middle of Wentz's 2017 season, and it would have looked just fine.

In fact, Wentz has improved his accuracy. He is tied for fourth in the NFL at 70.7 percent, up from last season's 60.2.

Maybe it seems, because the offense overall is less productive than it was in 2017, that Wentz is throwing more screens and short stuff, but his yards per attempt are up from 7.5 last season to 7.9. Wentz seems to have gotten better every week since his Week 3 return, and Golden Tate should give him a boost.

The offense's problems have more to do with the offensive line not playing at last year's level than anything else. Wentz can't fix that, but he can become more aware when someone is about to strip the ball. And since he definitely seems to be moving about in the pocket better than he was when he first returned, maybe he can scramble out of some of the fumble situations that have plagued him.

>> READ MORE: Carson Wentz is playing brilliantly, and Eagles' trade makes him better | Marcus Hayes

Of course, any time we start talking about Wentz using his athleticism to avoid pressure, it raises the specter of "taking unnecessary risks." This always sounds like a neat-and-tidy argument in the middle of a week. But on Sundays, it's hard to say for sure which risks are unnecessary, except in retrospect. Against Jacksonville, Wentz ran 13 yards up the middle on third-and-11 when no one was open. If he hadn't, the Eagles wouldn't have scored on the drive just before halftime, after recovering a fumble. There is a good chance they would  have lost the game. But if Wentz had gotten injured on the play, we would be reading about "unnecessary risk" again.

Until Wentz puts a couple of really good, healthy years together, fans are going to hold their breath when he takes off. But he was brought here to win games, not avoid risk.

Doug Pederson

By Paul Domowitch

The Eagles defense blew a 17-0 fourth-quarter lead to the Panthers in Week 7 and a 17-3 third-quarter lead to the Titans in Week 4, but it's Doug Pederson's offense that needs to get its act together in the second half of the season if the Eagles are going to make another Super Bowl run.

The Eagles were built around their offense, and more specifically, around their quarterback, Carson Wentz.

They were a prolific, quick-strike offense last year, finishing third in the league in scoring (28.6 points per game) and fourth in points per possession (2.31). They started fast — they had the league's biggest first-quarter point differential — and made opponents eat their dust.

This year, they've been a slow-starting offense, 30th in first-quarter scoring and 23rd in first-half scoring. Too many three-and-outs. Too few four- and five-play touchdown drives.

They are averaging more than a touchdown a game less than they did last year. They're 18th in points per possession (1.98).

They excelled in situational football last year. They were the league's best red-zone offense. Wentz led the league in red-zone and third-down passing.

This year, they've been inconsistent in both areas. Wentz's third-down passer rating is 24 points lower than a year ago, and the Eagles are 17th in red-zone touchdown percentage. Not good enough.

>> READ MORE: What happened to 'Big Balls' Doug Pederson? | Jeff McLane

Injuries have been a problem. Both their All-Pro tackles have been playing hurt, and Lane Johnson could miss time with a knee injury. Running back Jay Ajayi is out for the season with a knee injury. Two of their top wide receivers, Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins, are on injured reserve.

But the addition of Golden Tate, one of the league's best third-down receivers, gives Wentz another big pass-catching weapon to go with Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz.

Pederson's creative and aggressive play-calling kept defensive coordinators on their heels last season. Now that he's got Tate, he needs to find a way to integrate him into a passing game that has been a little too Jeffery/Ertz-centric.

With four of the next five games against NFC East opponents, the Eagles still are very much in control of their destiny. But Pederson needs to get his team playing with a sense of urgency that was missing in the first half of the season.

Up-Down drill

By Jeff McLane

Carson Wentz

UP – Despite missing nine months, the entire preseason and two games, Wentz has taken the next obvious step for an elite quarterback. Has there been some rust? Yes. Has he fumbled too often? Absolutely. But he's only 35 games into his career. The best is yet to come.

Doug Pederson

DOWN – Pederson pushed every right button in the Eagles' improbable run to the Super Bowl. But his decision to ease off the players this offseason was questionable. His play calling and game management since the season started have been dubious. And his press-conference arrogance suggests that he's lost some humility.

Fletcher Cox

UP – The Eagles defensive tackle said before the season that winning defensive player of the year was his goal. He's made a strong case thus far. Offenses have increasingly doubled Cox, cutting into his sack numbers, but it's freed up others.

Jim Schwartz

SIDEWAYS – The Eagles are allowing just 19.5 points a game, which in today's NFL is much better than the league average. Schwartz's defense coughed up two double-digit second-half leads. But it has also delivered in the red zone and in three late-game situations.

Zach Ertz

UP – He's no longer on pace to shatter the NFL record for receptions by a tight end, but Ertz is playing at a level that puts him among the best at his position. His blocking is still inconsistent, but the Eagles need him on the field.

Eagles O-line

DOWN – The group was arguably the best in the league a year ago, but not one lineman is playing better than he did in 2017.


DOWN – You can't write about the Eagles' season without mentioning the number of players who've been sent to the infirmary. Eight are on injured reserve – the biggest losses being running back Jay Ajayi, safety Rodney McLeod, and defensive end Derek Barnett – and nine more have missed a least one game to injury.

Eagles running backs

SIDEWAYS – Ajayi's season-ending knee injury and Darren Sproles' seven-week hamstring injury notwithstanding, the Eagles ground game has been tepid. The O-line and Pederson haven't helped, though, and rookie Josh Adams could be a second-half find.

Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby

DOWN – The cornerbacks have been solid in the red zone, particularly Mills. They've had a few strong outings from start to finish, particularly Darby. But the passing-defense problems have had a lot more to do with the back end than the front.

Free-agent signings

DOWN – Signing Mike Wallace, Haloti Ngata, Corey Graham, Richard Rodgers, and Sproles hasn't paid off. All of them have been injured and few have contributed when healthy.

Michael Bennett

UP – The best offseason move has been trading for Bennett. The veteran defensive end has consistently brought pressure.

NFC East

DOWN – The Eagles might be 1 1/2 games behind the Redskins, but they're still this observer's odds-on favorite to win the division. With five games left against the NFC East, a playoff spot is there for the taking.​

Depth on the roster

By Zach Berman

The Eagles' injury report has been one of their biggest stories each week, and they haven't been able to field the roster they hoped entering the season. Although they're missing some key players for the rest of the season (Rodney McLeod, Derek Barnett, and Jay Ajayi), there's hope that the Eagles can get some injured players back in the second half of the year.

They can return two players off injured reserve, and wide receivers Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins and tight end Richard Rodgers are candidates. Tim Jernigan might come off the non-football injury list, and that would be a major boost to the defensive line. Darren Sproles has been out since Week 1 with a hamstring injury, and his eventual return should help both the offense and special teams. When Sidney Jones returns, the Eagles will be better at slot cornerback. Haloti Ngata missed three games in the first half of the season before returning in Week 8.

The Eagles had two new injuries last week, to right tackle Lane Johnson and cornerback Jalen Mills, though, so they might need to make other adjustments, too.

Injuries are a reality of the NFL, and all teams deal with them. The Eagles won the Super Bowl despite major injuries last season. The injuries this season have hit certain positions harder than others. The most injuries have come at wide receiver, running back and in the secondary, so the Eagles have needed to bring in players off the street to contribute in some cases (Jordan Matthews, Dexter McDougle), or move to another position (Avonte Maddox).

With the Eagles' depth tested, the hope is that they will have a deeper roster come November and December when they start to get healthy players. There will undoubtedly be more injuries down the line, but the Eagles roster will be tested during the back half of the schedule.

The schedule

By Zach Berman

At 4-4, the Eagles don't have much margin for error entering the back half of the schedule. The good news is there are five NFC East games awaiting them, so the division is wide open. They'll need to win those games not only to clinch the NFC East title but because their other three opponents present a significant challenge. The Eagles will play New Orleans, the Los Angeles Rams, and Houston – three teams with a combined record of 21-5.

The second-half schedule will open with four of five games against NFC East opponents. The first will be at home against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10 — Golden Tate's first game in an Eagles uniform. Then, they'll travel to New Orleans for a tough game against the 7-1 Saints. They'll return to Philadelphia for two NFC East home games, against the Giants on Nov. 25 and Washington on Dec. 3, a Monday night. Washington is the top team in the NFC at 5-3, so that's the game to watch. The Eagles will follow with their second game against Dallas on a short week.

By that point, it will be clear whether the Eagles are the contenders they believe they can be. If they are, there will be no tougher test than a road game against the unbeaten Rams in Week 15. Carson Wentz will be returning to the site where he injured his knee.

The Eagles' home finale will come Dec. 23 against the Texans. But the season might be decided in Week 17 when the Eagles travel to Landover, Md., to play the Redskins. It could be a de facto division championship.