Once in a great while, we sad sacks, we perpetually and correctly pessimistic schlubs, we grown-ass adults who overpay for garish shirts with zoo animals on them…once in a great while we see a glimmer of hope that tells us it might all be worth it.
That’s what it’s been like to watch the 3-0 Philadelphia Eagles after three games. Now, don’t get me wrong – that’s probably not what it’s going to feel like after 16 games. Or 10. Or maybe even six. But that’s what it’s like right now. After a lifetime of pragmatic fandom, I’m trying to live in the moment, because the moment is fun, dammit.
Let’s begin an unexpectedly cheery bye week review by looking at some things I said in my season preview and how they have worked out.
All in all, the Eagles made some nice moves, but none of this is going to matter unless Carson Wentz is really, really good.
We didn’t even expect to know the answer to this, since when I wrote the preview a mere four weeks ago, Sam Bradford was starting and Wentz was going to be inactive on game day. But things changed and we have an answer.
Carson Wentz is really, really good.
Now, to be fair, Wentz is like that girl you’ve been dating for two weeks. She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s like a hit of crack. But that wears off. You don’t yet know that she’s a flat earther who has two jokes and actually IS on crack. Wentz’s level of play is unsustainable for a rookie. He’ll take his lumps at some point. But he’s so poised and assured and skilled that I’m confident already he’ll be an above-average NFL starter for a long time. He can win games, not just not lose them.
Doug may be a good dude, and who knows, he may even be a good coach. Stranger things have happened, right? RIGHT?
RIGHT! Doug Pederson was an uninspiring unknown quantity three weeks ago. Now he’s in the early mix for Coach of the Year. He’s weathered the quarterback circus, two preseason brushes with the law, and an impending 10-game suspension to one of the team’s best players. He’s called plays that protect his rookie QB and give him the chance to succeed. He’s taken chances (the team is 4-4 on 4th down conversions). And he’s gotten the hell out of Jim Schwartz’s way.
Starting WRs are probably last year’s first round bust (Nelson Agholor), a guy the Rams had no use for (Chris Givens), and Jordan Matthews in the slot. Backing them up are noted slug-a-bed Rueben Randle and impressive undrafted rookie Paul Turner. Recent trade acquisition/head case Dorial Green-Beckham will fit in somewhere.
Three of the six guys mentioned in that quote (Givens, Randle, Turner) aren’t even on the team. Matthews, Agholor and Green-Beckham are playing the bulk of the snaps. Matthews is talented but so droppy that I wouldn’t let him hold my baby. Agholor has shed the “bust” label and replaced it with a “mildly disappointing” label. And Green-Beckham is still a cipher. These guys are still below average, and killing Wentz with drops the same way they killed Bradford.
Chip Kelly’s hyperspeed three-and-outs left the Eagles’ defense in a difficult position. The 2015 Eagles led the NFL in defensive snaps by so much that they played TWO GAMES worth of extra snaps compared to the league average. If nothing else, Doug Pederson’s offense is going to bring that number down, and that’s going to mean a fresher defense late in games and late in the season.
Astonishingly, this has all come to pass. The Eagles are among the league leaders in time of possession, the fact that they didn’t allow the Steelers any garbage time points last week shows how much more rested they are. It’s three games in and I’m already afraid some team is dumb enough to give Jim Schwartz a head coaching job next year.
If Jordan Hicks stays healthy and the team gets average corner play, I think this is a top-10 defense. No, really.
He has, they have, and they are. (For now.)
Prediction: 7-9 and third place in the NFC East.
A whole hell of a lot has happened in the four weeks since I wrote that. We’re going to have to re-evaluate this team. They’re legitimately good, but I’m hesitant to say they’re any more than that. Washington is a lot worse than I thought, but Dallas (who have their own rookie savior in Dak Prescott) is a lot better. And the Giants are about what I thought. I think the Eagles and Cowboys will be there standing at the end, and maybe even play yet another division championship game in Week 17. I’m going to give the Eagles the edge because of their defense. Dallas’ D has played well, but I don’t trust it. Let’s say… 10-6 and first place in the NFC East.