Good morning, and I hope everyone had a nice holiday. The Eagles return to work today to prepare for Sunday’s must-win game against Washington. Doug Pederson has a 10:45 a.m. news conference. The Eagles will not have a full practice, but rather a walkthrough at 12:45 p.m. Nick Foles will also be behind the lectern today.
This is a Wednesday edition of the Early Birds newsletter. 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.
— Zach Berman
Another week of Nick Foles
Nick Foles will continue to start for the Eagles, and Doug Pederson delayed needing to make a decision about Carson Wentz until there’s one to make. The question that the Eagles cannot escape is who would start in the playoffs if the Eagles make it and Wentz is cleared to play, but the reality is the Eagles don’t need to answer that question at this point. You hear teams talk about a “one-game season”, but it’s true right now; there’s literally only one game on their schedule.
“We have to win this week, and then we’ll answer these questions next week, but I hope we’re in that position,” Pederson said. “… Those are tough decisions to make. I’ve said all along that Carson is our guy, and if he’s cleared and 100 percent and ready to go, then we’ll address that at that time.”
My take on this is that the “100 percent” threshold gives the Eagles some leeway. Wentz is the long-term quarterback; I don’t think that’s a question. But if the Eagles make the playoffs, it means Foles has won three straight games. They shouldn’t remove him from the lineup in that situation, and the unknown nature of Wentz’s recovery likely allows them to delay putting Wentz back in. Remember, Pederson had previously offered three months as a recovery period. I have little doubt that Wentz is their quarterback next season. However, I think Foles will be the quarterback this season.
What’s the Eagles' identity?
The Eagles have established an identity in recent weeks, and Pederson described it as one that will resonate with the fan base.
“I think that's what you're seeing, the identity of this football team, and you talk about a Philly-type team, this is who we are right now,” Pederson said. “There's not a lot of finesse about it. We try to line up and try to be the more dominant, physical team and that's what you're seeing.”
Pederson also said the Eagles want to be a run-first team, although that’s not the case — and I’m not sure that should be the case, either. On defense, he said the Eagles are “flying around,” and that’s been more applicable in recent games than earlier this season. That’s the main reason the tackling has improved; players are swarming to the ball.
Pederson added that the players “don’t necessarily care who gets the credit.” What stands out to me is the resolve of the team. They don’t quit. They didn’t give up on their season, and other than an embarrassing performance in New Orleans, they’ve remained competitive in every game.
Playing time vs. Texans
What stood out about the Eagles’ playing time distribution on Sunday? Darren Sproles was the leading running back, taking 46 percent of the offensive snaps. Josh Adams (30 percent) and Wendell Smallwood (20 percent) also had their share of snaps.
Dallas Goedert played 59 percent of the snaps, showing how much they’re committed to getting him on the field. It continues to come at the expense of Golden Tate, who played 35 percent of the snaps. Jordan Matthews (40 percent) got more work than Tate.
On defense, Nigel Bradham didn’t come off the field, playing 65 defensive snaps. Jordan Hicks played 66 percent of the snaps after missing four games. He was not the every-down linebacker.
Brandon Graham played 83 percent of the snaps, Michael Bennett played 80 percent of the snaps, and Chris Long played 60 percent of the snaps. That was mostly the defensive end rotation; Daeshon Hall only played four snaps. Tim Jernigan played 26 percent of the snaps after missing three games. Treyvon Hester got more work, playing 32 percent of the snaps. Haloti Ngata played 37 percent of the snaps.
The Eagles trusted their three-safety formation. That’s why Tre Sullivan played 63 percent of the snaps.
What you need to know about the Eagles
Nick Foles will continue to start for the Eagles. Carson Wentz remains on the 53-man roster.
The Eagles are scoreboard watching, as Les Bowen writes.
The Eagles activated Mike Wallace from injured reserve.
Jake Elliott’s clutch kicking has helped the Eagles stay alive this season.
Marcus Hayes believes the Eagles are the second-best team in the NFC.
What did Jeff McLane learn in the Eagles-Texans game?
Paul Domowitch offers five reasons the Eagles won.
From the mailbag...
Honestly, no, I don’t think the season would be much different. It’s easy to forget that Nick Foles started the first two games of the season. The Eagles didn’t look then like they did the past two games. Foles has been outstanding — especially against Houston — and I’m not taking anything away from him, but he’s been a streaky quarterback in his career. Would he have played like this throughout the season? He hasn’t been consistent enough in the past for me to say they’d have clinched the playoffs by now.
I also think Carson Wentz played well at times this season. And the six losses with Wentz at the helm weren’t necessarily because of the quarterback. The Eagles are playing better on defense, especially when it comes to forcing turnovers. Getting Darren Sproles back has helped the running game. There are a few factors at play.
With that said, I don’t think the Eagles would be out of playoff contention right now if Foles were the quarterback all year, which is a credit to Foles. And you can’t ignore the Eagles’ record with him at quarterback. It’s not always pretty, but he wins games.