PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles coach Doug Pederson has assured the public multiple times this season that the sky is not falling, but his audience remains skeptical.
Injuries have left Philadelphia with the least productive wide receiver unit in the NFL, franchise quarterback Carson Wentz appears to be feeling the effects of that, and after a disappointing 17-10 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday, the Eagles sit at 5-5 with one of the best teams in football, the Seattle Seahawks (8-2), coming to town this week (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
There is legitimate reason for concern, and statistically, the odds are against the Eagles making the playoffs. They currently have a 37% chance of reaching the postseason and a 29% chance of winning the NFC East, according to Football Outsiders. Still, they are only one game behind the Dallas Cowboys (6-4) entering Week 13 and can make a playoff push if ...
Wentz finds balance
Midway through the third quarter of the Eagles' game against the Patriots, Wentz dropped back on second-and-14 and forced a throw to wide receiver Jordan Matthews downfield when he had tight end Zach Ertz open in the flat. The pass fell incomplete, setting up a third-and-long that resulted in a drive-ending sack.
CBS NFL analyst Tony Romo used the moment to speak to a larger point about Wentz's game.
"That's the only thing I want to see every once in a while: I know he can make these throws. He's got all the talent in the world," Romo said. "But you can simply take what they give you and move on, move on, until they need you to be great."
#Eagles are (5-5) through 10 games...— Ron Jaworski (@JawsCEOQB) November 19, 2019
In the 5 losses, Carson Wentz's average throwing distance is 10.1 Air Yards per pass attempt. (from line of scrimmage)
In the 5 wins, 7.0 Air Yards/attempt...
Could it be, LESS is MORE with the Eagles pass game? #FWIW #JawsStats #Week11
Wentz will ignore the proper read at times, instead trying to generate chunk plays. Given that he was down several of his top playmakers Sunday, it's understandable that he was anxious to kick-start a sluggish offense against one of the league's best defenses. But that can also be counterproductive: Wentz's completion rate was 69%, and he boasted a 105 QB rating when he was getting the ball out in less than 2.5 seconds against New England, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Those numbers dropped to a 42% completion rate and 61.7 QB rating when he held on to it longer than 2.5 seconds. That inefficiency in search of the big play proved detrimental.
"Even though he touches the ball and he is the quarterback and we ask him to do a lot, just let the offense kind of work and let the guys around you make the plays. I think that's a takeaway," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "I think maybe as the game progressed, we all maybe felt like there was a little bit of 'pressing' going on. We were trying to make 'that' play against that great defense, and you really don't have to do that. Just let things unfold."
The injury-depleted Eagles are going to need some hero plays out of Wentz down the stretch. But the key will be recognizing when the moment calls for the spectacular and when it calls for the perfectly ordinary.
The defense continues its staunch play
In the past three games, opposing quarterbacks have thrown two touchdowns total against Philadelphia while averaging 170 yards through the air. The Bills (13), Bears (14) and Patriots (17) were all held to fewer than 20 points.
That stands in sharp contrast to the first seven weeks of the season, when the secondary was giving up big plays and the Eagles were yielding 27 points per game.
The quality of opponent needs to be considered -- New England (16th), Buffalo (19th) and Chicago (30th) all have had issues on offense -- but the uptick in quality of play is real and largely the result of improved health. The return of cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby solidified the back end at the same time that standout defensive tackle Fletcher Cox began rounding into havoc-wreaking form following offseason foot surgery.
The Eagles' offense is not going to be mistaken for the "Greatest Show on Turf" anytime soon. Key injuries at the skill positions have stripped away much of its explosiveness. But the Eagles are equipped to play a ground-based, ball-control style of offense that could be part of a winning formula if coupled with an above-average defensive attack.
"If our defense keeps playing like that," Ertz said, "we'll be good."
They capitalize on a soft closing schedule
The Eagles host the eight-win Seahawks this week, but things really smooth out from there.
In the next three weeks, Philadelphia is at Miami (2-8), hosts the New York Giants (2-8) and is at Washington (1-9). Then the Eagles host the Cowboys (6-4) in Week 16 and close out the regular season at the Giants.
According to ESPN's Football Power Index, Philadelphia has the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL, and Dallas' closing schedule ranks 19th. For all the bumps in the road this season, if the Eagles can win the games they're supposed to against the league's bottom-dwellers, there's a real chance that the Dec. 22 home game against the Cowboys will be for all the marbles.