Six months ago, most observers thought the Eagles would do better than 4-4 through the first half of their 2018 season. As the team comes out of its bye week on Monday and looks ahead to a daunting second-half schedule, why aren't the defending Super Bowl champions in a better position to retain their crown?
"Injuries" is a good explanation, but not a complete or satisfying one, given that the thing that made the 2017 Eagles unique among Super Bowl winners was the way they overcame seemingly devastating losses and still won it all.
Let's examine three offseason assumptions that turned out to be off target:
The Eagles will avoid any sort of Super Bowl hangover because they have a group of significant players who weren't on the field in Minnesota, whose return will make this a better team than the one that beat the Patriots.
Obviously, it hasn't worked out that way. Jason Peters recovered from last season's injuries, but as the league's oldest left tackle, at 36, he unsurprisingly suffered a couple more, a quad strain and a torn biceps tendon. Darren Sproles, the same – the Eagles' 35-year-old running back/returner hasn't played since the opener, though there have been hints we might finally see him practicing this week.
Six months ago, it wasn't clear that Carson Wentz would miss the first two games of the season as he recovered from December knee surgery. Do the Eagles lose in Week 2 at Tampa if Wentz is quarterbacking?
Of the five most significant Eagles lost to injury last season, only middle linebacker Jordan Hicks has played in every 2018 game so far. Safety and special teams ace Chris Maragos has yet to play again, more than a year after suffering his complex knee injury.
There was also an aspect of the "Super Bowl hangover" that got little consideration early in the offseason because it was still unfolding – surgeries to players such as Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Graham, that would have happened a lot sooner if the Eagles hadn't been playing into February. Jeffery ended up missing the first three games this year, including that loss at Tampa. Graham started the season on time but without any preseason or training camp.
After last season, this team can overcome injuries anywhere.
In basketball, if you make a shot from midcourt, does that mean you're going to make every shot you take from midcourt, forever? Of course not. The Eagles winning the Super Bowl without their franchise quarterback, their future Hall of Fame left tackle, and their starting middle linebacker was the football equivalent of sinking a halfcourt shot. Good for them that they did it. No one will ever forget that they did. But do it like that again? No.
The depth that carried last year's team isn't there this year. Other teams signed away guys who might have helped withstand this year's injury deluge, such as Patrick Robinson, LeGarrette Blount, Trey Burton, Vinny Curry, Torrey Smith, and Beau Allen. The offseason pitch that the Eagles were returning 20 of 22 "starters" was misleading.
Unlike a year ago, the free agents the Eagles brought in haven't been much help. Richard Rodgers and Mike Wallace are on IR. Haloti Ngata has been strong against the run, very unremarkable as a pass rusher. He's also missed three games. Michael Bennett, acquired by trade, has been the most notable veteran addition. We'll see if Golden Tate can be what Wallace was supposed to be.
If the Eagles had known Jay Ajayi was going to end up on IR and that Sproles was going to miss so much time, they might have tried harder to hold onto Blount. The same goes for Allen, in the wake of Ngata's calf injury and the mysterious offseason training injury that caused Tim Jernigan to undergo surgery from which he has not returned.
Carson Wentz is so good, he'll make up for any deficiencies.
This might have quietly been the most disturbing facet of the first half of the season – with Wentz playing at a Pro Bowl level, the Eagles still have been a middling team. There are voices in the media and in the stands that want every loss to be about something Wentz didn't do – such as the Carolina game, in which he completed 81 percent of his passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns but took a bad gamble on the final drive and failed to save the team from imploding.
It's easy to envision a scenario in which the Eagles don't get a lot better in the second half of the season, and Wentz is blamed for an offense that isn't as inventive as it was a year ago, and an offensive line that isn't close to being as effective as the group that won the Super Bowl.