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Week 17 Preview & Season Review

By Matt Szczypiorski, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer

For the first time this season, the Eagles will be playing in a game that truly does not matter. Well, at least for them.

The Birds will be taking on the six-win Washington Football Team in a game that in any other year would be buried deep in the one o’clock slate. Instead, this game will be played on national television on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

Why on God’s green earth would the NFL put this game on national television, you ask?

Well, because that six-win Washington Football Team would clinch the NFC East with a win against the Eagles. Furthermore, if the Eagles are able to pull off a victory that nobody in the Tri-State area wants them to, the winner of the Cowboys-Giants game from earlier in the day will take the division crown.

As if playing this disaster of a game in front of the entire country wasn’t bad enough for Eagles fans, the team will also be without a laundry list of key contributors due to injury.

That’s right, the practice squad Eagles are back, baby!

Considering the state the Eagles are in as a franchise at the moment, this will be a combination of a game preview and a “season summary,” if you will.


Eagles Offense

The Eagles offense has exhausted me all season. They’ve been bad, there is no denying that, but that’s not even the reason they’ve been so frustrating.

It’s the ineptitude.

It's the outright refusal to change, be creative, make adjustments, or give the young guys a chance.

It’s the fact that while the Eagles have been a top ten rushing team all season long, their best running back won’t get more than 15 carries a game.

It’s the fact that no matter who is in at quarterback, Doug Pederson is consistently chucking the ball upwards of 35 times a game with a passing offense that currently ranks 27th in the league out of 32 teams.

If last Sunday proved anything, it is that while Carson Wentz may have been downright awful this year, it is not entirely his fault. He was given the keys to an offense that got no help from the guys out there to protect him, the guys he was trying to throw to, and from the man calling the plays.

Wentz failed in 2020, there is no debating that. However, the same should be said with regards to just about everyone around him.

Jalen Hurts is good, and I believe he deserves a fair shot in this league whether it be in midnight green or another color, but he has his own flaws and turnover issues. He certainly has not done enough to prove that he is the so-called, “answer,” to this team’s problem at the quarterback position.

As for the actual game on Sunday night, the Eagles will be without the aforementioned Miles Sanders due to a knee injury. They will also be without Dallas Goedert and Jordan Mailata, two somewhat bright spots of the Eagles future.

For those of you not counting at home, the Eagles starting lineup on Sunday night will have just four players that were projected to start for this team back in August: Jason Kelce, Isaac Seaumalo, Jalen Reagor, and Zach Ertz. Three of those guys have massively underperformed, and the other guy is headed to his fourth pro bowl.

You could maybe count Alshon Jeffery as the fifth member of that group, but I won’t count him considering it was known he would miss a good chunk of time this season due to his injury last year. Objectively, he also stinks.

This is now four straight seasons that the Eagles have been massively affected by injuries. The organization has changed its medical staff each of the last three seasons. At what point do we stop questioning the Eagles medical staff and start questioning the guys running the practices and the off-season conditioning programs?

In terms of the guy running the practices, Doug Pederson, I truly don’t know what to think. Part of me wants to believe that he can get back to the play-caller he was in 2017. On the other hand, these past three seasons have proved that 2017 is potentially the season on his resume that could be considered the anomaly.

One thing is for sure, at least in my humble opinion. Pederson needs to be more open to change. He needs to be more open to creativity, not just going for it on fourth downs and trying to pass that on as creativity. Most of all, he needs to be more receptive of new ideas, he definitely needs an offensive coordinator to at the very least offer a different perspective on play-calling.

If he doesn’t want to do any of that, he should not be the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2021. It’s that simple.


Eagles Defense

For Sunday night’s game, the Eagles will be without stud defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, as well as Derek Barnett, Duke Riley, Shaun Bradley, and any semblance of an NFL cornerback opposite Darius Slay.

Washington’s offense is not good in any sense, shape, or form, but they are much better with likely NFL Comeback player of the year Alex Smith at quarterback. They won’t score much, but if their defense continues to play well, they won’t have to put up a lot of points to beat the Birds.

As for the season outlook of the defense, we are off to quite the hot start.

Jim Schwartz wasn’t an elite defensive coordinator, but he did the best he could have over the past five seasons considering the amount of injuries and lack of talent he had to work with at certain points. The Eagles should be appreciative of Schwartz, but it was time for both sides to go their separate ways.

One of the lone bright spots of the 2020 edition of the Philadelphia Eagles was the defensive line. Cox is headed to his sixth pro bowl, and will be joined for the first time by Brandon Graham. Those two, while they may be past their primes, should certainly be a key part of the Eagles defense in 2021.

As a unit, the Eagles were in the top five all season long in sacks per game. Yet, heading into week 17 not a single Eagle defender has double digit sacks (Graham leads the team with 8). They have truly gotten contributions from every member of the defensive line.

Josh Sweat impressed when he was given the opportunity. Javon Hargrave really started playing well in the second half of the season after a rough beginning to his Eagles tenure. On the flip side, Derek Barnett is proving to be yet another draft miss for Howie Roseman. Shocking, I know.

Another good thing to come out of this season for the Birds has been cornerback Darius Slay. “But Matt, he got torched by Davante Adams and D.K. Metcalf.” He sure did, but you know what? He’s a significantly better option than any other corner on this roster and frankly, any corner the Eagles have had in the last decade. His job would be made a lot easier if he had some help from other members of the secondary.

Avonte Maddox is underwhelming and the Eagles should look to replace him at outside corner. Maybe Maddox could stick around and replace Nickell Robey-Coleman in the slot, where he saw a lot of success as a rookie in 2018. Rodney McLeod had an unfortunate end to a good season after suffering a torn ACL. He will be back in 2021.

One player the Eagles should absolutely, positively not bring back is Jalen Mills. How many more chances is this guy going to get? He couldn’t cover anyone as a corner, so the Eagles moved him to safety to try and fill the void left by Malcolm Jenkins departure. I am here to report that he was just as bad in that position.

For the life of me I will not understand why he continued to receive the bulk of the reps when the Eagles had Will Parks behind him, a guy who has seen success since being outright cut by the Eagles a few weeks back. I would like to see K’Von Wallace get a shot at Mills’ position in 2021 and for Mills to be as far away from the city of Philadelphia as possible.

On a team full of holes, arguably the biggest hole on this team was the linebacker position. Alex Singleton has played well in the opportunity he was given, but I question whether he is a legitimate long-term solution at the position going forward. T.J. Edwards continues to play well against the run, but has seen absolutely zero improvement in his biggest weakness: pass coverage.

Third round pick Davion Taylor must have looked truly awful in practices all year, because he wasn’t even given a chance to earn any sort of playing time on defense in a game. He is the often forgotten blunder of the Eagles 2020 draft.

Starting linebacker Nathan Gerry graduated from Nebraska in 2016 with a degree in sociology. He should probably start looking into some potential openings in that field in 2021. Gerry proved every single play that he did not belong out there. Is that harsh? Yes. Is it false? No.


My Prediction

The Eagles players who take the field on Sunday night will obviously be trying to win the game despite Eagles fans best wishes. The Eagles losing this game would be good, from a fan’s perspective, for two reasons.

Number one, a loss means a higher draft pick for the Birds in late April’s draft. Number two, the all-too-real possibility of the Eagles defeating Washington coupled with a Dallas victory over the Giants would send the Cowboys to the playoffs. I feel as though I don't need to explain why the fans don’t want that.

With that being said, there is not a doubt in my mind that the Eagles will win on Sunday, because it’s exactly what they shouldn’t do. In a season where seemingly nothing has gone the Eagles way, this game will be no different.

It will be a low scoring affair, and with Washington up by one, Jake Elliott will drill a 53-yard field goal as time expires to give the Eagles a win that no one wants. Dallas makes the playoffs, and the Eagles screw up their highly coveted draft position. It’s the only way.


Broadcast Information

Time: 8:20 p.m.

TV: NBC

Radio: 94.1 FM WIP

Online: NFL Gamepass

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