The Philadelphia Eagles embarked on their two-week west coast stint on a mission to prove they belonged. No one expected them to return home having to prove it all over again. Here’s why they’re still riding high despite many obstacles.
When the clock struck 00:00 at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Dec. 10, Philadelphia Eagles fans could rejoice for a moment.
Brandon Graham stole the lateral intended for Jared Goff, rumbling into the end zone to secure a win and the NFC East crown. Graham then ran over to meet his teammates and jumped into the sea of green that took invaded the Los Angeles.
Then, the fear that struck Eagles nation late in the third quarter (2:20 seconds to be exact) began to sink back in. That’s when star-quarterback Carson Wentz began his slow walk alongside Eagles’ medical staff to the locker room.
Speculations of a torn ACL ran rampantly across social media and the sports airwaves. On Monday, Dec. 11, the speculations became facts.
Since Philadelphia’s worst fear became a stark reality, many have written them off.
Not so fast.
A trip to Minnesota is still a realistic possibility. Here are a few reasons why.
A Top-Notch Defense
Philadelphia’s has been looking for an intimidating defensive identity since beloved defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was at the helm.
The late Johnson is certainly marveling from above at the fire and intensity showcased across Jim Schwartz’s unit.
Stellar play from the ferocious front seven has the Eagles ranked first in run defense. Pro bowler Fletcher Cox and company’s penchant for creating havoc in the backfield also put them amongst the top 10 in sacks.
Heavy disruption of upfront has also translated to unexpected success from the Eagles secondary. Prior to the acquisition of Ronald Darby, the defensive backfield was a cause for major concern. Then, when Darby got carted off in the season opener, panic quickly bubbled back to the surface. Patrick Robinson and rookie Rasul Douglas held down the fort, both performing admirably alongside second-year corner Jalen Mills. Altogether the trio generated eight interceptions during Darby’s eight-week absence
The defensive plot twists didn’t end there.
Jordan Hicks suffered a ruptured Achilles in October against the Redskins. Much like Robinson and Douglas, new defensive signal caller Nigel Bradham is making the most of the opportunity. Bradham plays with a chip on his shoulder with the solid contribution to back it up.
Yes, they surrendered a combined 64 points on 811 yards of total offense to the Rams and Giants in consecutive weeks. In both games against the Giants, the Eagles looked overmatched against New York’s up-tempo offense. Their uncharacteristic play certainly warrants criticism. However, keep in mind that they were able to eventually regain their footing to engineer comeback wins.
The adage “Defense wins championships,” certainly has merit.
Over the last two decades, the only Super Bowl-winning defenses that ranked lower than 20th in both points and yards were the 2011 New York Giants, the 2009 New Orleans Saints and the 2006 Indianapolis Colts.
The Stable of Backs
Before the 2017 season, the Eagles’ backfield was a revolving door. DeMarco Murray crashed and burned on the heels of a career year in Dallas, while Ryan Matthews couldn’t remain healthy nor hold onto the football.
Thanks in large part to the moves made by front office magician Howie Roseman, the running back position is no longer a cause for concern. In the offseason, Roseman inked LeGarrette Blount and undrafted running back Corey Clement to join Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles on the Eagles suddenly robust depth chart.
Roseman’s offseason acquisitions came in handy.
Sproles was lost for the season in Week 3. Meanwhile, Smallwood is a forgotten man as a result of nagging injuries and inconsistent play.
Over the Eagles first eight games, Blount amassed 467 yards rushing and averaged 4.7 yards a carry in the Eagles high flying offense. Still, Roseman had one more move up his sleeve- acquiring Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi on the morning of the NFL trade deadline.
Since arriving in Philadelphia, Ajayi has amassed 356 yards on 56 carries, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. He’s also added another eight receptions for 70 yards. Despite impressive numbers, Philly’s crowded backfield has eaten into Ajayi’s workload.
Now that Ajayi is better acquainted with the offense, and Nick Foles is under center, expect the bubble wrap to come off of him for the stretch run.
The Road Ahead
Had Carson Wentz’s injury occurred earlier in the regular season, it’s likely that we aren’t having this conversation. Instead, Wentz’s departure came with the Eagles sitting atop the NFC at 11-2 knocking on the door of a first-round bye.
The equation is easy. Just win baby! A victory on Christmas night against the reeling Raiders locks up home field for the Eagles.
Number two seed Minnesota’s only shot at home field is to beat the Bears and have the Eagles lose out. If the Eagles lay an egg at home on Monday, things have the potential to get interesting. Dallas’ annual trip to Lincoln Financial Field would have significance, perhaps for both teams.
Crazy things happen, but the likelihood of Oakland ruining Philadelphia’s Christmas is on the level of a successful XFL re-launch.
Should the NFC road to Super Bowl go through the City of Brotherly Love, opposing teams will have their work cut out for them. The Eagles last loss at Lincoln Financial Field came at the hands of the Washington Redskins on Dec. 11, 2016.