The Philadelphia Eagles continued to look like the best team in the NFL on Sunday against the Denver Broncos. They were able to basically take half the day off after a dominating first half in which they outscored Denver 31-9.
Carson Wentz added to his MVP resume with four more touchdowns against one of the NFL’s better passing defenses, giving him an NFL-best 23 on the season. Alshon Jeffery pitched in 84 yards and was on the receiving end of two of Wentz’s touchdowns.
Adding running back Jay Ajayi also paid off for them. It seems that everything is going right for Doug Pederson’s team. But every team has its flaws, so let’s look at what’s working for Philadelphia and where the Eagles need to improve if they want to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February.
Adding Jay Ajayi made an already explosive offense even better
The Eagles made the swap early on trade deadline day, shocking everyone. They sent a fourth-round pick for Ajayi, who wasn’t the same running back to start this season that he was last year. In seven games with Miami, he had 465 yards and no touchdowns.
To be that same running back he was in 2016 isn’t an easy task. He had three games of 200-plus yards rushing and finished the season with over 1,200 yards. But the Dolphins have been one of the worst rushing teams this season. Part of that had to do with the bad quarterback play, after losing Ryan Tannehill for the season with a knee injury. The threat of a pass with Jay Cutler or Matt Moore as your quarterback doesn’t exactly strike fear into secondaries.
On the opposite end, LeGarrette Blount helped the Eagles be one of the better rushing teams this season. Prior to Ajayi’s arrival, he had 100 rushes for 467 yards and two touchdowns. Adding Ajayi seemed like a low-risk move that could only benefit Blount, Ajayi, and the Eagles.
Sunday, that was the case. Ajayi finished the game with eight carries for 77 yards and a touchdown — his first of the season. It was a 46-yard gallop capped off with a graceful dive:
Wentz’s MVP season
One development that Eagles fans can also be happy about is that Wentz continued to look like an MVP candidate on Sunday. The Broncos have one of the best passing defenses in the NFL, and Wentz still managed to toss four touchdowns. He also did it without his favorite target: tight end Zach Ertz.
Their receiving corps of Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and Torrey Smith has served Wentz much better than Jordan Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Agholor did last season. We knew Jeffery could play, but Agholor surpassed his 2016 receiving totals already. That added threat has paid dividends for an offense that appears capable of playing with any defense right now.
What are their weaknesses?
Most things have gone well for the Eagles, except for one major loss: Jason Peters.
The Eagles’ left tackle was carted off during their Monday night game in Week 7 after suffering a torn ACL and MCL. He’s been one of the best offensive linemen since he entered the league in 2004.
Since the injury, it hasn’t seemed like a glaring issue, but to lose a player like Peters is never good. Left tackles are in charge of protecting the quarterback’s blindside, and that’s even more important with a young quarterback like Wentz. A good offensive line is also key to rushing success. The 2016 Cowboys are a prime example, as Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing with 1,631 yards behind the NFL’s best line.
Their secondary has been a weakness too. Through eight games, the Eagles have given up nearly 250 yards per game though the air, 24th in the NFL. They’ve also given up 13 passing touchdowns this season, which is among the bottom third of teams.
The weakness hasn’t been as glaring, in part because they’re winning games. They’ve also been leaning heavily on their defensive line and the best run defense in the NFL. They’re giving up an average of just 66 yards in nine games this season, and they’ve allowed just four rushing touchdowns, good for second best in the NFL. The defense has done enough with Wentz’s MVP play to keep them alive, with the defensive line carrying the load.
With 25 sacks this season, the Eagles are tied for the fourth most in the league.
Come playoff time, all you hear about is how defense wins championships. Half of the Eagles defense is playing at that level. If they can just make some improvements in their passing defense, the Eagles could go as far as they want.
Their next stretch of games will be a good barometer
Looking at their upcoming schedule, the next month of games is going to test them. It includes three road games against the Cowboys, Seahawks, and the Rams, all of which are playing some of their best football.
After that stretch, they’ll have a couple of weeks in which they play the Giants and Raiders. If they can get out of their upcoming stretch with two to three wins, you have to consider that a victory.
Through nine weeks, the Eagles stand at 8-1 on the year. History says that’s pretty good for them when it comes to postseason aspirations:
Eagles move to 8-1.— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) November 5, 2017
No 8-1 team has failed to make the @NFL playoffs under the current format (1990). 35 out of 35.
So while the rest of their schedule isn’t a piece of cake, it doesn’t appear they need to worry about making the postseason. It’s more about making sure they improve in the right areas to compete for the city’s first Super Bowl.
But they aren’t unbeatable. Nobody in the NFL is.