During bye week, there’s a lot for Birds fans to feel good about.
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
The Philadelphia Eagles enter the bye-week on the kind of good note that they probably weren’t expecting at this point in the season with an untested rookie quarterback.
The Birds are 3-0 for the first time since 2014, thanks to a stout defense and an offense designed around the skills of rookie Carson Wentz and the City of Brotherly Love is buzzing with excitement again, especially after last Sunday’s 34-3 thrashing of a Pittsburgh Steelers team considered a major contender in the AFC
While it’s easy to focus on the stellar play of Wentz, the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Week, the defense has managed to shut down opposing offenses. So far, this season the Eagles defense has allowed just two touchdowns in three games.
The Eagles are fourth in the NFL in total defense, second in stopping the run, allowing just 71 yards per game, and eighth against the pass. In fact, the Eagles defense has yet to allow a touchdown pass this season.
Yes, it’s only three games into the season, but considering that they were next-to-last in touchdown passes allowed and 28th in passing yardage allowed last season, it’s definitely an improvement. If they can maintain this level of play, the Eagles will be tough to beat for the rest of the season.
But don’t tell the team that.
“We can still be better,” said Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who had two sacks in Sunday’s game. “We can grow. We’re not comfortable. That’s what I think about this team. Nobody is comfortable or patting themselves on the back.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz deserves credit for creating an aggressive, attacking 4-3 defense that puts pressure on opposing quarterbacks and gives very little yardage in the running game. Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said Schwartz does a good job of rotating fresh bodies on the defensive line.
“It’s a good thing because when you rotate, you do not want to drop off,” said Graham, who had a sack and a fumble recovery against the Steelers. “The backups are just as good as the one guys. When you have a good rotation, you have a good bench. You don’t want it to drop off.”
The Eagles shut down down one of the league’s best ground attacKD when they held the Steelers to just 29 yards on the ground for the game. The Birds made the Steelers a one-dimensional team and sacked Ben Rothlisberger four times and forced two turnovers.
“[The]Defense has been getting big stops whenever we get the opportunity. Getting pressure on the quarterback; doing a great job stopping the run,” said Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins. “And as a team, we just are staying patient in these games and as soon as our opponents make mistakes we pile it on. Just a patient team.”
Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, Wentz is doing a good job of managing the game thanks to a short, but accurate passing game that patiently moves the ball down the field and lulls the defense to sleep to come up with the big play.
Wentz, who completed 23-of-31 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns, spread the ball around to seven different receivers. He didn’t try to force anything and didn’t make any mistakes with the football.
“He puts himself in a position where he doesn’t have to put pressure on himself,” said Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who caught a 12-yard touchdown from the rookie in Sunday’s game. “He works his butt off every day.”
It also helps that Wentz has enough mobility to buy time when rushers are on his heels. In the third quarter of Sunday’s game, Wentz escaped the Pittsburgh rush and found a wide-open Darren Sproles, who sped into the end zone untouched for a 73-yard touchdown pass.
One of the things that will help the Eagles down the road is if they improve the running game. Both Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner showed speed and quickness in the running game. Smallwood gained 79 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown. Barner added 42 with a touchdown as well.
“(Smallwood) is a downhill runner. A one-cut runner. He did a great job for us,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, said. “Darren, Kenjon and Wendell really stepped up and did a nice job.”
After taking this week off, the Eagles will hit the road to Motown to take on a lackluster Detroit Lions squad Oct. 9th at Ford Field.