PHILADELPHIA (CBS 3)- If you felt a gust of wind late last Thursday night, that was Eagles fans across the city exhaling contented sighs after the team knocked off the Green Bay Packers 34-27 to even their record at 2-2.
That relief may last only so long once Birds fans take a look at the upcoming schedule. After this weekend’s bout with the 0-3 New York Jets, the Eagles run a gauntlet of three straight road games before returning home for dates with the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots. Overall, the Birds schedule will see them face four defenses that rank in the Top 10 of Football Outsiders’ Defensive DVOA, including two of the top three, in the aforementioned Bears and Patriots.
That is a brutal stretch for an offense that has struggled with injuries so far this season. On the plus side, the unit is slowly getting back to health, with tight end Dallas Goeddert and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery returning to play against the Packers last week. But, the unit is still missing one key piece that Inside the NFL analyst Ray Lewis says will be important if they are going to make a run.
“One of the key players on offense for them is DeSean Jackson. He’s the deep threat,” said Lewis. “He and Carson Wentz, they’ve now realized they can get down the field with him. Getting him healthy is going to be really key for how that offense moves.”
The deep ball has been missing for Wentz over the last three weeks since Jackson left the Falcons game early in the first quarter with an abdominal injury. Wentz was effective against Green Bay completing 59 percent of his passes and throwing three touchdown passes. But, he threw for just 160 yards or 5.93 yards per attempt.
On the bright side, the offensive line was particularly effective, holding the Packers without a sack and allowing just two quarterback hits. In addition, the line paved the way for a big day running the football, as the combination of Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders totaled 159 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. There is some hope that the running game can continue to be a strength moving forward, and the team will likely need it to be with the current defensive struggles.
As Lewis points out, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s group will likely determine just how far this team can go this season. Through four weeks, the unit ranks 22nd in DVOA and 23rd against the pass. Injuries have hurt the team here too, with defensive tackles Malik Jackson and Tim Jernigan out and the secondary losing Avonte Maddox, Ronald Darby and Sidney Jones in recent weeks not to mention Jalen Mills and Cre’Von Leblanc who started the year on IR. For Lewis, the improvement on defense needs to come up front, where the pass rush hasn’t yet been able to convert pressure into sacks.
“If you think about the Eagles historically, the Eagles have always been dominant in their front seven. And I think they have to get back to being dominant in their front seven, so their back end can just cover and do what they do,” said Lewis. “But right now, if you watch these last few games, people have been exposing their front seven… really physically getting at them. So I think they’re going to have to address that.”
The pass rush did look better against the Packers, registering a sack and several hits of Aaron Rodgers. But, in order to cover up a thin secondary, the group is going to need to be better than that. The team did add a linebacker this week, when they traded safety Jonathan Cyprien to Atlanta for linebacker Duke Riley. And, due to the injuries in the secondary, veteran corner Orlando Scandrick is back. Overall, Lewis says that the team has enough veteran talent to make a run despite the tough schedule, but “they’re going to have to tighten up, or they’ll be out of the playoffs very quickly.”
The Eagles host the New York Jets this Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS.
You can catch Ray Lewis, Phil Simms and host James Brown when Inside The NFL airs tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Showtime.