When the Eagles take the field on Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys, their hope is to be in a lot better shape after the bye-week break than they were before it.
Just being at home has been a reliable tonic since Doug Pederson began as head coach, but even that advantage deserted them in the first half of this season. They have lost two straight in Lincoln Financial Field after running up a 15-3 record at home under Pederson prior to losses to Minnesota and Carolina.
It's hard to play well if you aren't well, and the Eagles have not had a full, healthy roster all year. With an injury crisis in the defensive secondary and a weekly guessing game as to the health of the offensive line, getting two weeks to rest up for Dallas couldn't have come at a better time.
"Has everything gone exactly the way we thought this year? No, I don't think any season does," Howie Roseman, executive vice president of football operations, said at the trade deadline after dealing for receiver Golden Tate. "But, we think we have a really good football team and we are adding a really good player. We are going to keep our foot on the gas … we're not going to sit on our hands."
That's advisable, because it will take some quick acceleration from their 4-4 start for the Eagles to not just claim a spot in the postseason, but to prove they deserve one. A sobering stat is that after completing their first eight games, the Eagles had played only one team (Carolina) that would have made the playoffs at that point. More sobering, perhaps, is that the second half of the schedule featured five games against potential playoff teams, and that's not counting two against division rival Dallas.
"We have to get better," Pederson said. "Hopefully, we get some guys back healthy in the second half of the season. We know … we have five division (games) in the next eight weeks, so that's a challenge."
Even as banged up as it has been – a situation that worsened when end Derek Barnett was lost to a shoulder injury – the defense has been acceptable, allowing a little more than a point per game more than last season. The team is again ranked third in the league for defensive third-down efficiency, and, in the red zone, a defense that was 20th in the 2017 regular season, is ranked third right now. There have been ugly lapses, like blowing a 17-point lead to the Panthers, but, everything considered, that side of the ball isn't the issue.
So, it should have been no surprise that Roseman addressed the offense at the trade deadline. Finding a good offensive lineman on the market is nearly impossible, and Roseman did the next best thing to protect quarterback Carson Wentz: He got another weapon to make opposing defenses back off a little.
By acquiring Tate, a tough, elusive possession receiver, the Eagles might have indicated they don't believe receivers Mack Hollins and Mike Wallace will both return from the injured reserve list. In any case, playing behind a gimpy line, Wentz needs all the help he can get right now.
Wentz is having a great statistical season, but he's taking a pounding. He is completing 71 percent of his passes, compared to 60 percent last season, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is even higher (13:2 compared to 33:7). But he doesn't have much time to operate and that has limited the number of big strikes for the offense. Wentz was sacked 36 times in 11 starts in 2017. He's already been sacked 26 times in six starts this year.
There are other issues, to be sure. The running game is hit and miss with Jay Ajayi injured, and if the two starting tackles can't stay on the field, the game will get a lot tougher. The bottom line for the offense, however, is that it can't move the ball downfield and Tate should help there.
Put it all together and the Eagles are experiencing what Super Bowl champions usually experience the year after. Nearly everything has to go right to win it all. That isn't the case at the halfway mark of 2018, but the organization is keeping the pedal mashed to the floor and hoping the engine finally kicks in.
"Everything is right in front of us," Pederson said.
Keeping the focus there is a good idea, because looking behind, either at last season or the first half of this one, really won't help.