The Eagles closed out the first half of the season in style, defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-18, at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Standing at 4-4 heading into their Bye Week, it's time to grade the Eagles position groups on their performance in the first half of 2018 before getting into the details of yesterday's victory.
The good news is Carson Wentz is back and looks to be perfectly healthy. There was certainly some rust he had to knock off, but against Jacksonville, Wentz looked like his old self. He has 13 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in his six games in 2018. Nick Foles started the first two games and looked like Nick Foles, not the alien that led the Eagles to the Super Bowl last year.
Even with Foles slated to leave at the end of this season in pursuit of a starting job, Wentz's health and talent are enough to get excited about.
Running Back: C+
Jay Ajayi is lost for the season and Darren Sproles hasn't played since Week 1. In their place, it's been a mixed bag from the Birds' unproven backs. Wendell Smallwood played well against the Colts, Corey Clement had 69 yards from scrimmage two weeks ago and rookie Josh Adams led the way with 61 rushing yards on Sunday.
The Eagles entered Sunday's game averaging just 4.0 yards per carry and their longest run of the year is just 21 yards. It's hard to knock guys who shouldn't be starters for not playing great, but the Eagles need more from their running backs if they want to make the playoffs.
Wide Receiver: B-
Like the running backs, wide receiver has been ravaged by injuries. Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins are both on the IR. Alshon Jeffery missed the first three weeks, but has looked like an elite talent since returning. Nelson Agholor has been handcuffed by poor play-calling and Shelton Gibson can't even line up correctly to get on the field.
However, the emergence of Jeffery as a weapon and the possibility of Wentz and Jordan Matthews rediscovering their chemistry from 2017 is tantalizing. Add in Agholor as a wild card and the wide receivers could be primed for a big second half.
Tight End: A+
Zach Ertz has been the best tight end in football and Dallas Goedert looks the part of a big-play threat. If these guys can stay healthy, the sky is the limit. Ertz is on-pace for 122 catches, which would shatter the Eagles current single-season record of 90.
Offensive Line: C-
Since Wentz's return in Week 3, the Eagles offensive line has allowed 45 quarterback hits. Isaac Seumalo has played since replacing Stefen Wisniewski, but the Eagles tackles have really struggled to keep Wentz upright. Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks have been their reliable selves in the run game and screen game, but protecting Wentz is the main objective and things haven't gone well on that front.
Lane Johnson has struggled and Jason Peters looks like a guy on his last legs. With both men injured again, it will be interesting to see if Doug Pederson has to shuffle the line during the Bye Week.
Defensive Line: B
The Eagles lack of depth along the interior of the defensive line has really hurt Fletcher Cox, as the tackle has been asked to play a lot of snaps against double-teams. On the outside, losing Derek Barnett hurts, but Brandon Graham has been solid, if not unspectacular, and Michael Bennett has looked dominant at times. The Eagles defense revolves around the defensive line's ability to generate consistent pressure and the defensive line has hit opposing quarterbacks 65 times this season.
The rushing defense has struggled compared to last season, but those issues go back to the lacking of depth at defensive tackle.
The Eagles' linebackers have had a lot of issues this year. Before Sunday, Jordan Hicks struggled to make the plays we're used to seeing him make and Nigel Bradham has struggled to consistently get off blocks and make tackles. Kamu Grugier-Hill has two highlight plays and not much else. Luckily for the Eagles, linebacker play is rather unimportant in the modern NFL, but for a position that should've been a strength, the linebackers have been very disappointing.
Defensive Back: C-
Jalen Mills was burnt on double moves for six-straight weeks, but he settled down and played well the past two weeks. Ronald Darby has been alright and it looks like Malcolm Jenkins has taken a small step back from the high level he played at his first four seasons in Philadelphia. The loss of Rodney McLeod has hurt too.
The bright spots in the secondary have been Sidney Jones, who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury for two weeks, and Avante Maddox, who moved from cornerback to safety in the absence of McLeod. Even Rasul Douglas has made plays when he is on the field. But the struggles of Mills and some of the veterans in big spots outweigh the youngsters' contributions.
Special Teams: B-
Cameron Johnston has a rocket for a leg and DeAndre Carter has been a decent punt returner, but Jake Elliott is just 1-4 on field goal attempts over 40 yards.
Did not play: Darren Sproles (hamstring), Nate Gerry (ankle); Corey Graham (hamstring); Sidney Jones (hamstring).
Lane Johnson: Johnson had been dealing with an ankle injury, but he left Sunday's game after one drive with a reported sprained MCL. Adam Schefter also reported that Johnson could miss up to a month, which would be a huge blow to the Eagles' offensive line. The upcoming bye week will mitigate the damage somewhat, but with Jason Peters' health a concern every single week, the Eagles may think about making a move to bring in a veteran tackle so they don't need to shuffle their line mid-game if Peters goes down again.
Jason Peters: Peters left the game in the first half with a head injury, but returned and played the entire second half without an issue. Halapoulivaati Vaitai played well at left tackle in Peters' absence, but Wisniewski really struggled at left guard once Seumalo kicked out to right guard. Sunday's game marked the fifth time this season Peters missed multiple snaps. It's admirable to see Peters suit up and gut out games each week, but at some point, one has to wonder if it's worth giving the veteran a few weeks to heal up in hopes he can play entire games down the stretch.
Jalen Mills: The Eagles' cornerback injured his foot on the second play of the third quarter and never returned after being carted into the locker room. According to WIP's Eliot Shorr-Parks, Mills was walking around the locker room following the game without a boot and should be fine after a week of rest. Rasul Douglas played well in Mills' absence, except for getting lost on a wheel route and allowing a big completion. However, with the Eagles already thin in the secondary, getting Mills back will still be a boost, no matter how you feel about his performance so far.
19: For the 19th time in their history, the Philadelphia Eagles are 4-4 after their first eight games. The Birds were 4-4 in 2015 and 2016, but stumbled to a 7-9 finish both years. The last time they made the playoffs was in 2006, when Jeff Garcia led them on a five-game winning streak to end the season before falling to the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
The Eagles have made the playoffs just four times after starting 4-4 and never finished a season with more than 10 wins.
57: Since defeating the Patriots in Week 2, the Jaguars had been outscored 57-0 in the first half of their five games. Despite its early struggles, Jacksonville found itself ahead 6-3 in the final minutes of the first half before Wentz hit Goedert for that 32-yard touchdown. The Eagles have struggled early in pretty much every game except their win against the Giants, but the fact they couldn't get anything going against Jacksonville early is certainly worrisome.
41%: The Eagles defense has allowed touchdowns on just 41-percent of opponent's red zone trips, good for fourth in the NFL. The Jaguars were 1-3 on their red zone trips on Sunday, settling for field goals from the Eagles' 15- and 6-yard-line. For all the criticism the Eagles defense has taken in 2018, they are still pretty good at keeping their opponents out of the end zone.
The Eagles looked to be heading into halftime trailing 6-3 and with a lot more questions than answers. But after Maddox forced a fumble at midfield that was recovered by Malcolm Jenkins, Wentz found the rookie Goedert for a touchdown and a 10-6 lead.
The Eagles take the lead into half time after rookie tight end Dallas Goedert makes Quenton Meeks miss inside the 10-yard line.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 28, 2018
Goedert has shown a knack for making people miss in the open field, which could make him a nice complement to the always reliable Ertz once he can find consistent snaps in the offense.
Up: Josh Adams
Adams played well last week, but he put together the best performance of his career on Sunday, leading the Eagles in rushing yards and having the two longest carries of the day. Adams' 21-yard carry in the third quarter set up Smallwood's touchdown and his 17-yard carry on the Birds' next drive came two plays before Ertz's touchdown catch. Adams nearly fumbled the game away late in the fourth quarter, but the call was overturned.
Down: Corey Clement
It's been a quick descent to the bottom of the depth chart for Clement, who looked like the top back just a few weeks ago. In the three games since returning from his injury, Clement has gone from 11 carries for 43 yards to 8 carries for 6 yards and finally 4 carries for 6 yards against Jacksonville. With the bye week coming up, it is up to the Eagles' coaching staff to find ways to get Clement moving again.
Up: Jordan Hicks
Outside of tipping a pass that was intercepted by Grugier-Hill, Hicks hadn't looked like the playmaker he was before his injury last season. However, he was all over the field in London, leading the Eagles with 12 tackles and notching 1.5 sacks. As I touched on earlier, the Eagles linebackers have been relatively disappointing this year, but if Hicks can start flying around the field wreaking havoc, it would go a long way toward fixing this defense's issues.
Down: Dexter McDougle
If you were curious as to why McDougle was still unsigned last week, the cornerback certainly made it obvious on Sunday, getting picked apart by Blake Bortles and company all afternoon. McDougle struggled to even stay on his feet for most of the game. Bennett said before the game that the field in London tends to be a bit slicker than the normal NFL fields, but McDougle made it obvious the Eagles can't go another week without Jones or someone else manning the slot.
1. There has been a lot of criticism aimed the Eagles coaching this season, but the biggest issues are creativity and success in the red zone on offense and the inability to get off the field defensively. The Eagles had the best red zone offense in football last year, but the loss of John DeFilippo has hurt the Eagles near the end zone. The current Vikings offensive coordinator was in charge of the Birds' red zone offense last season and without him, the Eagles have converted just 54-percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns, down from a league-leading 65-percent last year.
Speaking of last year, the Eagles were the top team at stopping opponents on fourth down and third in the NFL in third-down defense, allowing conversions just 22-percent and 32-percent, respectively. And while the Birds are ranked third again in third-down defense, they have allowed opponents to go 6-9 on fourth down attempts. The Eagles have also shown a lack of situational awareness on defense for much of the season, as evident by their decision to let TJ Yeldon pick up 15 yards on third-and-21, which put the Jaguars in field goal range.
2. I was skeptical about the Eagles trip to London, but it was fun having a non-conference road game in the middle of October with some atmosphere. The players seem to enjoy the trip, Both Wentz and Ertz said as much following the game, and for the fans at home, it was a nice change-of-pace. Certainly, the Eagles don't want to make these trips and every-year thing as it has to be very taxing on the players and they shouldn't take away a home game from the Birds, but for games with no storylines like this one, it was a cool event.
3. The Eagles passing attack was incredibly one-dimensional for most of the season, but if Matthews can remain the weapon we saw on Sunday, it will go a long way toward creating a balanced offense. The Birds have been searching for another wide receiver to pair with Jeffery and Ertz, and while Agholor has an up-and-down season, adding Matthews into the fold will give Wentz the option of spreading the ball to all parts of the field.
The Eagles will get a much needed week of rest with their bye week before heading into a vicious five-game stretch that sees them play four divisional games and host the New Orleans Saints. The Birds kept their season alive with their win on Sunday, but this stretch will prove if they can pull out of their nose-dive and capture the NFC East crown for the second-straight year.