The bye week is over – Eagles fans just celebrated one of their most successful Sundays of the season thus far. So, what do we need to hear from Doug Pederson this week, as the team reassembles for the second half of its season, starting with the upcoming game at the Giants?
Here are some random thoughts on that subject:
That Miles Sanders and Lane Johnson are healthy, and that Dallas Goedert is ready to resume a substantive role in the passing game.
Sanders missed three of the first eight games, which is a pretty big deal since the Eagles keep insisting that he is a workhorse back and they don’t need a big-time complement. With him, the run game has been inconsistent but has produced crucial big plays. Without him, the run game has struggled mightily; Carson Wentz is the team’s second-leading rusher. The NFL Network has reported that Sanders (71 carries, 434 yards) is expected to practice this week.
Johnson, sidelined with knee and ankle injuries, is crucial to solving one of the team’s biggest problems – offensive line inconsistency and lack of cohesion. Seven different starting groups in eight games.
But Jason Peters played very well in his return to left tackle vs. Dallas, and as far as we know, he did not suffer further injury. Jordan Mailata was not nearly as good vs. Dallas, filling in for Johnson, in Mailata’s first start at right tackle. A healthy Peters (yeah, yeah, unlikely, but let’s pretend) on the left side, a reasonably healthy Johnson on the right side, Jason Kelce in the middle, Nate Herbig at left guard – that’s four-fifths of what should be a good O-line.
Right guard, where Matt Pryor has not exactly given injured Brandon Brooks a reason to fret over keeping his job, remains a concern. Maybe try Mailata there? He probably wouldn’t be any worse than Pryor, and Mailata, playing regular-season snaps for the first time, probably can benefit from experience wherever he can find it. Continuing his development is crucial for a 3-4-1 team with a lot of aging parts.
Goedert’s health is a very big deal, with fellow tight end Zach Ertz expected to be sidelined several more weeks. Goedert returned from his Week 3 ankle injury to play against Dallas, but as he had hinted going in, he wasn’t fully functional, caught just one pass. The Eagles need to get a good look at the Goedert who they think can take over the position if this is Ertz’s last season in green. And Wentz might not struggle so much if he has full access to his biggest target.
That both Pederson and Wentz have figured out when to be aggressive and when to be conservative.
This was a fundamental problem with the offense in the first half of the season. Pederson hasn’t had the offensive line, the accurate QB, or the receiving weapons he had in previous seasons when he was able to routinely convert fourth downs, yet, he has continued to try just as often as ever. Teams such as Dallas, which lacked the capability to drive the field, got points from these decisions. The Eagles are 4-for-14 on fourth down.
Then there is Wentz, whose 12 interceptions figure heavily into his 73.2 passer rating. He is two picks short of his rookie-year career high. There were two more of those against Dallas, along with two fumbles. Afterward, we heard what we always hear: That Wentz knows he has to stop turning the ball over, but that he is determined to remain aggressive.
It’s easy to see what he means – you don’t want your quarterback to go into a shell and get checkdown-happy. But maybe think twice before lofting a bomb into swirling winds for a fifth-round rookie such as John Hightower, who hasn’t been great at tracking the ball or contesting catches? At some point, Wentz starts to sound like an arsonist saying, “I know I have to stop setting fires, but I’m never going to put down my matches.”
That Alshon Jeffery either is going to start this week or is going on injured reserve, freeing up his roster spot.
Much of the first half of the season has been about who is going to come back from injury and when, and then about trying to get those pieces integrated into the whole. The Jeffery question has lingered long enough. Pederson acknowledged that the team erred in carrying Jeffery on the roster, instead of stashing him on the physically unable to play list as he recovered from last year’s foot surgery. The medical staff thought Jeffery would be ready long before this. A calf injury suffered after he tried to practice factored into the delay.
But nobody expects Jeffery, 30, to be here in 2021. If he can help get the Eagles to the playoffs this season, let’s see him do it, before yet another young practice-squad player gets plucked because Jeffery is taking up a roster spot.