The Eagles 2018 campaign came to a crashing halt on Sunday evening at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. Despite building a 14-0 lead in the first 10 minutes of the game, the Eagles were dominated for the final 50 minutes, being outscored by Drew Brees and company, 20-0. The loss, and the end of the season have brought some interesting thoughts and theories from a frustrated fan base and some analysts. This morning, we'll use this space to air some grievances and try to find some sense in some of these takes being thrown around the water cooler.
Theory: Nick Foles is the greatest quarterback in Eagles history
Truth: This may not be as hotly debated after his performance on Sunday, but Foles remains the only quarterback to win a Super Bowl and, when he's good, there aren't more than a couple quarterbacks on the planet who can do what he does.
In his time with the Eagles, Foles was responsible for the greatest regular season performance at his position (7 touchdowns and a perfect QB rating), the greatest postseason performance in franchise history, set the franchise record for passing yards in a game and tied the NFL record for consecutive completions.
Foles was 24-8 since 2013 as the Eagles starting quarterback. Even if he didn't have the longevity of Donovan McNabb or the unbelievable athleticism of Randall Cunningham, Foles' ability to perform in clutch moments puts him over the top. With all due respect to Tommy Thompson, Foles is the greatest QB in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Theory: The Eagles need to commit to Foles long-term.
Truth: This is where things become a bit more complicated. I understand the place Foles has in the hearts of Eagles fans everywhere. He delivered the city its first Super Bowl. He went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady and came out on top, but he isn't the long-term answer at quarterback. That title goes to Carson Wentz.
As great as Foles was in the postseason last year and down the stretch this year, his career QB rating since the start of 2014 is just 81.2 and he's thrown 35 touchdowns to 26 interceptions. Of the 37 quarterbacks who have made 25 starts in that time-span, Foles ranks 35th in passer rating, ahead of only Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler and behind guys like Tyrod Taylor, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Brian Hoyer and Josh McCown.
Foles will be 30 before the start of next season and has started more than 10 games just once in his career. It would be great if the Eagles could recoup some value for Foles in a trade, but to suggest he should supplant a 26-year-old who has thrown 54 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions over the past two seasons is silly.
There is no need for a Wentz v. Foles debate. You can respect what Foles has done in his career while still understanding Wentz is the franchise quarterback. There is no room for heart-felt sentiments when building a championship roster. Barring an injury setback with Wentz in the next couple weeks, Foles will not be an Eagle come spring.
Theory: Jim Schwartz should be fired.
Truth: The hiring of Jim Schwartz prior to 2016 was met with unanimous praise, but the defensive coordinator seems to have fallen out of favor with the fans this season. Granted, the Eagles did blow multiple fourth-quarter leads, but Schwartz is not to blame. The Eagles played most of 2018 without their starting defensive tackle, middle linebacker, free safety and top three cornerbacks. Yet, the Eagles finished a respectable 12th in scoring defense.
Schwartz's scheme is fairly simple, which may be misinterpreted as lazy or uninspired by some fans, but on Sunday, he lost four starters at various times to injury and had Cre'Von Leblanc, Avonte Maddox and Josh Hawkins lined up at cornerback against a Hall of Fame quarterback and still only allowed 20 points. Heading into the game, anyone would've been happy with that.
The Eagles lost because the offense couldn't sustain any drives after the first quarter and was shut out in the final 50 minutes of the game, turning the ball over twice and punting five times. Schwartz isn't a flashy coach who will draw up fantastical schemes and aggressive blitzes a la Jim Johnson, but he's been very good in his time with the Eagles.
Theory: Jason Peters quit on his team yesterday.
Truth: I heard someone propose this on the radio last night and I almost drove my car off the road as the hosts agreed with the caller's thoughts. If you read last week's story, you should know my feelings about the future Hall of Famer, but to question his toughness is just insulting.
At 36-years-old, Jason Peters is the oldest lineman in the NFL and he played in all 18 games this season. Not only did he play at high level, but Peters played most of the season with a torn bicep and a quad injury. If he was physically able, he would've been on the field in the closing minutes of yesterday's game. To think otherwise is insane.
The Eagles had quite a few injuries on Sunday with Peters, Fletcher Cox, Michael Bennett, Brandon Graham, Avonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas all missing time for various ailments. However, probably the biggest injury was suffered by Pro Bowl left guard Brandon Brooks, who tore his Achilles tendon in the first quarter.
Wanted to take a minute to thank everyone for the well wishes. Yeah it sucks I tore my Achilles but you know what I look forward to attacking rehab like it’s a game. I look forward to this long journey. God got me and this did nothing but light a fire I needed— Brandon Brooks (@bbrooks_79) January 14, 2019
Brooks was the Eagles most consistent lineman in 2018 and, with the severity of his injury, it is worth questioning his status for 2019. If he were to miss even a part of next season, it would be a huge blow to the Eagles offensive line, which already has question marks at left tackle and possibly center, should Peters and Jason Kelce retire.
Heading into 2019, the health of Brooks and Wentz will be the two biggest injury-related stories worth monitoring.
364: In the Eagles past five playoff games, Alshon Jeffery has caught 23 passes for a team-leading 364 yards and three touchdowns. Jeffery played through all of 2017 with a torn rotator cuff and Lane Johnson revealed to reporters that the receiver was dealing with broken ribs in the locker room on Sunday. Jeffery's unfortunate drop will be the lasting image from yesterday's game, but he has been the Eagles best receiver when it has counted since joining the team.
26: Since the beginning of 2017, the Eagles have won 26 football games, the second-most in a two-year span in franchise history, trailing only 2003-2004, when they won 28 games. Even with all the struggles the Eagles faced in 2018, it's hard to overstate just how good this team has been these past couple years and how well they are set up for the future.
112: On the Saints go-ahead touchdown drive in the third quarter, Brees and company picked up 112 yards of offense on 18 plays and drained over 11 minutes of time in the process. The Saints committed three penalties for 20 yards on the drive, but had no problem playing behind the sticks and picking up big yards on intermediate passing routes. It wasn't just a long drive capped off by a go-ahead score, it was an absolute back-breaker.
History Tells Us...
Since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978, only 15 teams have started a season 4-6 and still made the postseason. The 2018 Eagles were one of just seven teams to win a playoff game, while none of those seven teams ever advanced past the Conference Championship.
Also, with yesterday's loss, the 1949 Eagles remain the last team in franchise history to successfully defend their title. Led by first-team All Pro running back Steve Van Buren, the 1949 Birds went 11-1 in the regular season before defeating the Los Angeles Rams, 14-0, in the NFL Championship Game. The Eagles only loss that season came at the hands of the Chicago Bears, who whooped up on the Birds, 38-21, in Week four. It would be another 11 years before the Eagles were crowned NFL Champions again.
Up: Eagles pass protection
The Eagles did a great job of keeping Foles upright for the second-straight week, allowing zero sacks and just four quarterback hits. Credit Foles for getting the ball out quick, but the Eagles were down two starters for much of the game and still gave their quarterback a chance to make plays. Also, the Saints didn't have one player record a tackle for loss. That's impressive in and of itself considering how hard it was for the Eagles to move the ball during the final three quarters.
Down: Eagles running backs
Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles ran for just 37 yards on their 13 combined carries. The Saints finished the regular season with the second-best run defense in the NFL, and, even with Sheldon Rankins out for most of the game, the Eagles running backs couldn't find any room to operate. Now, the combination of Smallwood and Sproles isn't exciting and the Eagles will certainly look to overhaul the position in the offseason, but the Eagles commitment to running on first down kept them behind the sticks for much of the second half.
Up: Cre'von LeBlanc
Strap opened up the game by intercepting Brees on the first play from scrimmage, setting up the Eagles first touchdown. The Saints continued to target the young corner, but he played well, finishing the day with a pair of pass breakups and three tackles. Schwartz admitted earlier in the week he didn't know who LeBlanc was when the Eagles signed the former Bear, but after stringing together some decent performances and showing a ton of effort, Leblanc should be considered a near-lock for the Eagles 2019 roster.
Up: Fletcher Cox and Michael Bennett
The veteran duo suffered injuries in the first half of the game, but were able to tough it out, playing through the end of the game. It was obvious when Cox was in the game, as he blew up a number of run plays and a key screen pass late in the game. Bennett came up with a huge tackle for loss late in the game that pushed the Saints back three yards. Wil Lutz missed a 52-yard field goal on the next play. The pair showed tremendous effort, overcoming their injuries and impacting the game in a huge way.
1. Despite the loss yesterday, it's interesting to see how fans view this season for the Eagles. Was it a disappointment because they couldn't defend their title? Or was it a good year, considering all the injuries and adversity the team faced early in the season. In a quick poll on Twitter, 93-percent of voters agreed it was a good season for the Eagles. Maybe some of the bitterness will wear off in the coming weeks, but no one thought this team could make the playoffs as recently as three weeks ago. It's hard to not appreciate the effort this team put forth down the stretch.
2. It will be interesting to see how Howie Roseman reshapes this roster heading into 2019. He will almost certainly reward Wentz with a contract extension, and with that, there will be some tough calls to make. Peters, Foles, Chris Long and Brandon Graham may have all played their final snaps as an Eagle. The Birds need to act quickly to rebuild their lines, with Long and Graham possibly on the move, the Eagles will need to bolster their pass rush. Likewise, on the offensive side of the ball, someone will have to protect Wentz's blindside should Peters retire. Once Wentz's lucrative contract kicks in, it will more crucial than ever the Eagles draft well to surround their franchise quarterback with inexpensive talent.
3. On Foles' second interception, a lot of people have been complaining about the Eagles' decision to run a play instead of letting the clock run down to the two-minute warning. It's a fair question; with only 27 yards separating the Birds from a game-winning touchdown, time wasn't an issue. In fact, the Eagles should have been as conservative as possible so Brees didn't get another shot to win the game.
However, Foles definitely saw a match-up he liked at the line of scrimmage and Jeffery was wide open. Had he hung on to the ball, the Eagles are coming out of the two-minute warning with either a third-and-short or a first down inside the red zone. The play-call wasn't an issue, but the execution is what did the Eagles in. Still, I have hard time faulting Foles or Doug Pederson in that spot for trusting their best wide receiver to make a simple catch.