By Dave Spadaro
As the Eagles flexed some muscle and outscored the Washington Redskins 11–0 in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s season-opening 30–17 win, some things about this team became initially apparent as strengths the team needs to ride if it hopes to make a playoff run this year.
One, the anticipated significant “next step” by second-year quarterback Carson Wentz is very much on schedule. He was mostly brilliant in the NFC East battle, escaping blitz pressure and avoiding litter in the pocket to complete 26-of-39 passes for 307 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Wentz, a sturdy 6-feet-5, 240 pounds, seems capable of hoisting the offense on his back and carrying it for a full season.
Two, the Eagles have a defensive front four that is the real deal and is capable of dominating games. Philadelphia registered four sacks of quarterback Kirk Cousins and forced two fumbles, both of which the Eagles recovered and one that tackle Fletcher Cox brought back 20 yards for a game-clinching touchdown.
It’s a good thing the Eagles have both of those strengths, because they’ve got some work to do in a lot of areas as they prepare for the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
The most significant piece of business to attend to is the defensive secondary, which took a big hit when cornerback Ronald Darby went down in the first half of Sunday’s game at FedEx Field with a severe ankle injury. Darby is the Eagles’ most athletic and dynamic cornerback; his speed enables the Eagles to match him up against the NFL’s fastest wide receivers. Without Darby, the Eagles are scrambling.
Make no mistake, opposing defenses are going to test the Eagles’ offense, starting immediately. Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson are the starting cornerbacks, with Dexter McDougle gaining a large slice of the playing time as a nickel cornerback and the Eagles mixing and matching their defensive personnel the rest of the time. To mitigate the loss of Darby, the Eagles are going to have to win in the strategy department.
So having a front four that stuffs the run and crushes a quarterback’s protection is the best way to safeguard a secondary that took a big hit when Darby went down. And the Eagles have that with a deep lot of pass rushers off the edge and a dynamic tandem of Cox and Tim Jernigan inside at tackle.
Maybe defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz can make it all work, led by the front four. When the defense was whole, with Darby on the field, the Eagles had a chance to be really outstanding. Now? We’ll see. Darby is a big loss.
On offense, the Eagles are going to have to find a way to run the ball consistently, something they didn’t do at Washington (58 yards, 24 rushes). They’re going to have to give the offensive line and Wentz a break by establishing the ground attack. Washington blitzed the Eagles all game, hit Wentz too often and limited the Eagles to a pair of touchdowns scored.
This is a football team that is a work in progress, just like most teams early in the season. If the Eagles can beat Kansas City and get to 2–0 on the road, well, the immediate prospects are extremely bright. As encouraging as Sunday’s win was, by Monday the Eagles had their sights set on internal improvements and a game plan preparing for a Chiefs team that dismantled New England to open the NFL season.
Feel great about the win over Washington. Understand, also, that the climb remains just as daunting as injuries and inconsistencies are counted and addressed.