The Philadelphia Eagles are back in the playoffs (NFL WildCard) for a third straight season but many people feel like they barely snuck in this time around. The Eagles have been overlooked before, though, as they’ve actually been an underdog in five straight playoff games.
Is this year’s team capable of making a playoff run – even with all of the injuries? And if so, what needs to go right for them to make it happen? Here are five things that have to go their way:
Carson Wentz Must Be Elite
It gets somewhat lost in the shuffle but Sunday will be Carson Wentz’ first playoff start. Remember, he’s been hurt during previous postseasons and it’s been Nick Foles who has led the way.
Now it will be on Wentz to lead the Eagles during NFL Wildcard weekend and he’s going to have to be elite.
Wentz was up-and-down this year and you can blame whoever you like. Sure, the receiving corps was devasted and that’s probably the first culprit to blame.
He’s the first quarterback ever to pass for 4000+ yards without having a receiver on the team top 500+ yards.
At the same time, there have been some lowlights with Wentz like early in the season at Atlanta or the blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
At any rate, he has to lead the way here. What that means is to avoid bad mistakes (read: turnovers) and simply winning on third downs and in the red zone. If the Eagles can play a little ball control, extend drives and come away with points when they’re in a position to score, that will put them in great shape.
That’s mostly what Foles did, along with a big throw here and there. Wentz needs to do the same.
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Miles Sanders, Lane Johnson Have To Come Back Healthy
It looks like Miles Sanders is going to give it a go on NFL Wildcard weekend 2020, while we’re not exactly sure about Lane Johnson. The two go hand-in-hand as Sanders is the team’s lead dog at running back while Johnson not only paves the way, he is also Wentz’ blindside protector.
The latest reports suggest that Johnson can barely put any pressure on his ankle, which sounds like he’s not likely to play.
The Eagles can probably get by with just Sanders this week but they’ll definitely need both if they’re to make a serious playoff run. Wentz has been sacked at least once in every game this season save one.
While he’s been dropped 37 times this season, he’s only been sacked twice in total the last two weeks, which was crucial to the team winning the team’s final two games. Johnson will have to be back and at full health as the competition is only going to get stiffer.
As for Sanders, he needs to continue his ascent. The Eagles really started to lean on him down the stretch, giving him at least 15 carries in four of the five December games (only had nine in the finale because he was forced out with injury). He hadn’t had a game with at least 15 totes before December.
If he can put the offense on his back a little bit, it’ll take some serious pressure off of Wentz, who is working with a wide receiving corps that’s being held together by duct tape and shoestrings right now.
Pass Rush Has To Dominate
There’s no question that the Eagles defense has some flaws. The secondary has some holes and the linebacking corps is leaky. However, the pass rush is a strength as they have a talented group of linemen.
End Brandon Graham leads the way with 8.5 sacks while Derek Barnett and Vinny Curry combined for 11.5 between the two of them. Tackle Fletcher Cox only had 3.5 sacks this season but we know that with him, he’s a game-wrecker even if the traditional stats like sacks aren’t showing up.
He demands double-teams and still forces plenty of pressures.
If this group of four (or five guys with Josh Sweat) can dial up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks and allow defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to be more choosy with his blitzes, that will go a lot way to paving their success. If they can’t get to the quarterback and Schwartz is forced to blitz, it could expose a shaky secondary.
Cornerbacks Must Step Up
There’s no question that cornerback has been one of the weakest positions on the team this season. First off, getting Jalen Mills back is important. It’s not that he’s a shutdown guy but he’s at least a pro player with experience and not a street free agent.
Beyond him, though, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas have to step up. Jones has been better of late but the win over the Dallas Cowboys still felt more so like the Cowboys missed plays than the Eagles shut them down. If this group can cover even slightly better, that will give this defense a big boost.
Relish In The Underdog Role
Of course, if the Eagles are going to make a playoff run as they have previously under head coach Doug Pederson, they’re going to have to relish the underdog role.
It’s a role Philadelphia thrives on, as they’ve actually cashed quite frequently in this spot. Sunday is slated to be the team’s sixth straight playoff game as an underdog and they are 4-1 in that spot. No other team in the entire NFL does as well as no other team has more than one win as a playoff dog.