1. When Carson Wentz went down, many people thought it would be the end of the Eagles' playoff hopes. Then Nick Foles goes out and throws 4 TD with no INT's. Do they lose much with Foles in there?
Oh, they most definitely do. Carson Wentz could’ve easily been named the NFL MVP if he stayed healthy. He elevated the talent on the team around him. He made plays very few other quarterbacks in the league can make.
Foles is a solid backup, but he’s not without flaws.
There’s no question Foles had a good outing against the Giants in his first start for the Eagles this season. The numbers were aided by the fact he had two short fields to work with, though. One touchdown pass came on a drive set up by an interception and the other was set up by a blocked punt.
To his credit, Foles mostly did what was asked of him. But he did notably leave some throws on the field, which is a concern with him. He just doesn’t see the field well as Wentz does. He’s not an overly gifted player.
At his best, yes, Foles does give the Eagles a chance to win. But it’s really not out of the question that he could turn in a stinker that ends up being too much for the rest of the team to overcome.
2. What strength do the Eagles lean on to keep their championship hopes alive?
A few things come to mind: the trenches and the offensive coaching staff.
The Eagles have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. Halapoulivaati Vaitai has struggled while filling in for Jason Peters, but the unit as a whole has played pretty well for the most part. They can give Foles enough time to throw. They can also open up holes for Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement in the run game.
Philadelphia’s defensive line, meanwhile, is mainly responsible for any success Jim Schwartz’s unit has had this season. The defense has struggled recently, yes, but they still rank No. 1 in stopping the run (in terms of rushing yards) and No. 1 in rushing the passer (in terms of pressure generated, per Pro Football Focus). The Eagles’ ideal plan of attack, which they’ve successfully executed a number of times this season, is to stop the run first and make teams one-dimensional. From there, it allows their pass rush to tee off on opposing quarterbacks.
I also wanted to mention the coaching staff here because they’ve done a great job this season. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson deserves to be the Coach of the Year, in my view. His mixture of creativity and aggression has played a big part in the Eagles’ success.
3. Aside from possibly Nick Foles, what areas are the Eagles most vulnerable?
Despite playing well for most of the season, the Eagles’ defense has been vulnerable lately. I mean, they gave up 29 points (easily could have been 33 if not for a blocked extra point and field goal) and 504 total yards of offense to the freaking Giants. The Giants!
This wasn’t the first game the Eagles’ defense struggled recently, either. They also had some issues on the road in Seattle and Los Angeles. Philadelphia’s secondary, which was a major concern entering the season, hasn’t been playing above its’ head like it was earlier in the year.
The hope is that the Eagles can get these defensive miscues corrected. Facing the Raiders will be an interesting challenge for Schwartz before Derek Carr, not unlike Eli Manning, has a quick release. The Eagles really struggled with New York’s quick passing game in two games this season so it’ll be interesting to see if the Birds can make adjustments to stop it this time.
Maybe the Eagles can rebound while playing at home. They’ll have crowd noise on their side.
4. I'm not sure anyone predicted the Eagles would be this good this season. Wentz obviously has a lot to do with that, but what other big surprise contributions have they gotten?
There have been a number of pleasant surprises on this team.
Pederson’s one of them. The feeling here is that he showed some encouraging signs in 2016, but it was difficult to truly gauge him because the offensive talent was just so bad. Now that he has some actual weapons to work with, we see that he’s a good play-caller.
Nelson Agholor has been fantastic in the slot. He went from being legitimately one of the worst wide receivers in the NFL — a total draft bust — to being one of the most reliable receiving options on the team.
As I mentioned earlier, the secondary has played better than expected for most of the year. They’ve struggled recently, but the Eagles haven’t been a total disaster there. Philadelphia’s defensive line has helped in that regard.
I wrote more about the Eagles’ surprise contributions earlier this season.
5. If the Vikings lose on Saturday, causing the Eagles to clinch, do you think they rest players for the game?
Assuming the Vikings lose, there’s a case to be made the Eagles should rest their starters in Week 16 and play them in Week 17 instead. That would help space out the resting since Philly has a first-round bye. It would also mean that the Cowboys don’t get a free shot at winning a game they’ll need to potentially make the post-season.
But I’m not so sure that’s how the Eagles would operate. Pederson said he’s preparing the starters to play this week. I think they’d get at least a half against the Raiders. The Eagles could benefit from Foles getting more reps before heading into the playoffs.
Of course, all of this talk of resting starters could easily be moot. It’d be pretty surprising if the Packers, without Aaron Rodgers, somehow upset the Vikings on Saturday. It feels like it’s going to be up to the Eagles to beat the Raiders in order for Philly to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
To see my answers to his questions, click here.