Eagles Chances Hinge On Carson Wentz's Health

Nick Foles can't bail them out anymore

Keith Allison, Flickr

Carson Wentz threw for 3,074 yards with 21 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions in Philadelphia Eagles’ first 11 contests (5-6) of the 2018 campaign, but unfortunately he couldn’t avoid the injury bug for the second-straight year. Nick Foles once again stepped in to save the day, as Philly went 4-1 under his leadership to finish the year 9-7 before pulling off an opening-round playoff victory over the Chicago Bears on the road. They held a lead in the next round against the New Orleans Saints before Drew Brees and company came roaring back and eliminated them. 

In seven games played, including the playoffs, Foles finished with a QB rating of 83.3 and completed 66.0 percent of his passes along with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Overall, it was a disappointing regular season, but the team proved to be dangerous in the playoffs. Now without Foles, who signed a free-agent deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, the future relies almost solely on the shoulders of Wentz, who is entering his pivotal fourth season in the league. 

2019 Odds

Regular-Season Win Total: 10 (MyBookie)

NFC East Winner: +100

NFC Winner: +800

Super Bowl Winner: +1400

Key Additions 

The players: OT Andre Dillard, RB Miles Sanders, WR DeSean Jackson, RB Jordan Howard, DE Vinny Curry, DT Malik Jackson, ILB Zach Brown

The Eagles made some quality picks in the draft and filled some needs in free agency and in the trade market. Andre Dillard was their first round pick and may not have much of an impact this year unless injuries occur along the offensive line, specifically to future Hall of Fame tackle Jason Peters. Miles Sanders is expected to contribute to a revamped group of running backs in Philadelphia. The offense struggled running the ball a year ago, and the second-round pick out of Penn State will have multiple opportunities to secure a role in the offense. 

General Manger Howie Roseman added two starters, Jordan Howard and Desean Jackson, via trade. Howard is a strong downhill runner who should move the chains and be clutch in short yardage situations. Howard had 935 yards on the ground and finished with nine touchdowns last year in Chicago. This will be Jackson's second stint in Philly and he still has game-breaking ability. Jackson only had 41 catches in Tampa last season, but averaged 18.9 yards per catch which led the NFL. 

Malik Jackson and Zach Brown signed in free agency and both will most likely start and improve the Eagles defense. With the addition of Jackson at defensive tackle, the Eagles now have excellent depth at the position with Fletcher Cox, Jackson, and Timmy Jernigan. Zach Brown has a chance to replace last season's starting linebacker Jordan Hicks who signed with the Cardinals in free agency. Brown had 96 tackles last year in Washington and barely missed his third consecutive 100 tackle season. 

Key Losses

The players: WR Golden Tate, QB Nick Foles, RB Jay Ajayi, DE Chris Long, LB Jordan Hicks, DE Michael Bennett

The Eagles lost some key veterans who helped with last season's playoff run, and more importantly, some players who helped the franchise win their first Super Bowl the year before.

Foles will be a legend in Philadelphia forever and his Super Bowl magic will never be forgotten. The front office made the decision to move forward with Wentz and Foles is now the starter in Jacksonville. Foles has been a security blanket for Wentz and it's imperative that Wentz stays healthy moving forward. Golden Tate was acquired midway through the 2018 season from Detroit and caught the game-winning touchdown in the playoffs against Chicago. With the addition of Jackson to the receiving core, Tate found a new home with the rival Giants.

Defensively, Philly lost three key contributors from last season. Starting linebacker Jordan Hicks signed with the Arizona Cardinals in free agency. The biggest losses were to the defensive line, as Michael Bennett was traded to the New England Patriots. Chris Long retired. They finished second and third in sacks on the team last season behind Fletcher Cox. The Eagles have decided to go young at the defensive end position and it will be a challenge to replace the production of the two veterans.

Key Injury News 

Offense

Miles Sanders RB - Sanders missed the entire spring practice program with a hamstring injury, but should be ready for training camp.

Corey Clement RB - Clement is still recovering from a knee injury from last season. His status is up in the air at this point. 

Brandon Brooks RG - Brooks tore his Achilles against the Saints in January and is working towards being ready for Week 1 against Washington. His recovery seems to be going well, but it’s be surprising if he doesn't miss a few games to start the season.

Defense

Derek Barnett  DE - Barnett tore his rotator cuff last season and had surgery in the offseason. He should be ready for Week 1. The Eagles are counting on a strong season from the former first round pick especially since they lost Michael Bennett and Chris Long, key contributors who combined for over 15 sacks a year ago. 

Fletcher Cox DT - The All-Pro defensive tackle has not participated this summer after having surgery on his right foot that he injured in the playoffs. Philly will be very cautious with their best player on defense. Cox expects to be ready, but the team hasn't confirmed his status for camp.

Jalen Mills CB - Mills hurt his foot in the middle of last season and still has not practiced during team activities. At this point, it looks doubtful he will be ready for training camp.

Ronald Darby CB – Darby tore his ACL last November. This will be another wait-and-see approach from the Eagles. They do have depth at corner so they can take their time with Darby's recovery. 

Schedule Analysis 

When reviewing the Eagles 2019 schedule, Philly will have some tough matchups, but overall, it's a manageable schedule. The most challenging stretch will be from Week 6 to Week 9 where they take on the Minnesota Vikings on the road followed by the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills before returning home against the Chicago Bears. 

The NFL schedule makers certainly didn't help the Eagles since they are the only team in the league with three-consecutive road games. Over the past three seasons, they have a record of 11-13 in away games. They also play the Jets, Patriots, and Seahawks coming off a bye week. Since 2016, the Patriots and Seahawks are a combined 8-1 off a bye week including the playoffs. The Eagles will play an away Thursday night game for the fifth time in the past fix seasons. During this stretch they have a surprising a 3-1 record.

If Philly can get through the tough stretch noted above, the rest of the schedule sets up nicely. They have a late-season bye which comes in week 10. This might allow players to nurse nagging injuries and get mentally ready for a late season playoff push. Philly should be favored in their final five games, and they have the ability to end the season on a high note. They finish against the Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Cowboys and Giants. 

After looking over the schedule, a realistic regular season record could be 11-5. 

By The Numbers

Philadelphia was -6 in turnover differential which was the worst by any playoff team last year. Some of the Eagles turnover problems last season were due to Wentz and his inability to hold onto the ball. Wentz had 9 fumbles, losing six of them in a shortened season. 

 The Philly defense gave up 97.4 yards per game on the ground, which was sixth best in the league. Their pass defense was much worse, as they allowed 271.2 yards per game which was 30th in football. Fletcher Cox had an All-Pro season and dominated in the trenches helping to secure the run defense. The secondary was shredded with injuries losing three starters which was part to blame for the defense struggling as a whole against the pass. 

Even with the injuries in the secondary and the amount of passing yards allowed, the defense stiffened up in the red zone. According to Teamrankings.com, they only allowed a touchdown on 44.26% of red zone opportunities which led the NFL.

Per Football Outsiders, the Eagles used just a four man rush 80.5% last season which was more than any other team and they still were able to to apply pressure 32.9% of the time. Due to the consistent pressure, the defense didn't need to add pressure which helped a secondary that was battered with injuries. They were the only team with three players with 30 or more hurries, Fletcher Cox, Chris Long, and Brandon Graham. 

Doug Pederson is a head coach that has no fear of being aggressive on fourth down. Since he took over as head coach in 2016 the team has gone on fourth down 77 times and succeeded 44 times both are tops in the league. 

All of these factors should continue into the 2019 campaign.

Conclusion

The Eagles have one of the best rosters in all of football and have very few weaknesses heading into the season. Carson Wentz has the talent and the pieces around him to be an MVP candidate. Last season, defenses were able to play press-coverage against Philadelphia due to the lack of speed at the wide receiver position. The addition of Jackson should open up even more room for Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert in the middle of the field. Philly should have an improved defense with the addition of Malik Jackson, who will help solidify the interior of the defense. If there is a concern, it’s the lack of proven players at defensive end. Brandon Graham is a stud, but Derek Barnett who is now the unquestioned starter, still hasn't produced for an entire season. After Graham and Barnett, Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat and rookie Shareef Miller will likely be called on. If things don't go well in the preseason, look for general manager Howie Roseman to make a move, as he has done many times in the past.

When you take a look at the NFC East, the Giants and Redskins are rebuilding and the Cowboys have the talent to compete with the Eagles. However, Dallas has always seemed to be distracted by off-field concerns and until that isn’t the case anymore, expect some drama to unfold. The Eagles are not only favored to win the NFC East. but they are a legitimate threat to win their second Super Bowl in three seasons as well.