Fri, 27 Nov 2020

In wide-open NFC East, Eagles must win in the trenches

Philadelphia Eagles
21 Oct 2020, 18:12 GMT+10

Dave Spadaro

If you happened to tune in to Monday Night Football and watched Arizona trounce Dallas 38-10, you perhaps gained some further insight into the State of the NFC East. It's open. It's wide open. Through six weeks, the NFC East has a combined record of 5-18-1 and only two of those wins (Eagles over San Francisco and Dallas over Atlanta) have come outside the division. And while absolutely nobody at One NovaCare Way is pleased that the Eagles are 1-4-1, the recognition is also that the NFC East is there for the taking.

So, go take it.

To do so, the Eagles must dominate the five remaining division games. Three of them are ahead - New York on Thursday night, Dallas 10 days after, and at the Giants following a bye week. It is an especially critical stretch of time for a team that continues to juggle its roster on a daily basis, but the Eagles have to find a way to win.

What we were reminded of on Monday night was - and you all know this - the importance of having an offensive line that can give a quarterback time to throw and provide lanes for the running game. Dallas was blitzed into submission by Arizona's defense and, quite frankly, Andy Dalton can't run away from a bad offensive line as Dak Prescott can. The Cowboys are in deep trouble with a defense that has been gashed all season and now an offensive line minus three starters protecting a quarterback who doesn't have the mobility of the quarterback he replaced.

The offensive line is one of the many challenges the Eagles are facing now. Who is starting on Thursday night? Could Brett Toth, the prospect from Army who the Eagles were so intrigued with when he was allowed to delay his military obligations in 2019 and then was snapped up by Arizona for a season, only to return to Philadelphia from the waiver wire two weeks ago, start at right tackle on Thursday? Who is playing right guard - do the Eagles give Jamon Brown another nod or do they give Sua Opeta a shot? Then again, maybe the Eagles are able to get Lane Johnson and Jack Driscoll healthy enough to play against a strong Giants defensive line?

We're only two days away from kickoff. That's how unstable the Eagles are along the offensive line. And it's scary, especially with Miles Sanders uncertain to play with a knee injury, throwing once again the running back picture into flux. At tight end, Dallas Goedert is already injured. Zach Ertz is not practicing after suffering an ankle injury on Sunday. Richard Rodgers is the only tight end on the active roster. Jason Croom, who scored a touchdown on Sunday, is officially back on the practice squad.

So, between the roster manipulations and the very real questions of who in the heck are the Eagles going to start along the offensive line, you understand just how frantic this week is for the Eagles.

"That's part of the game," Head Coach Doug Pederson told me on Monday afternoon. "Other teams are going through it, too. We've always had the 'next-man-up' mentality. That's what we're looking at here, too. It's tough, but we have no excuses."

The Eagles have long invested in the lines of scrimmage and that, right there in the trenches, is where they're going to win the NFC East. There and with Carson Wentz toughing it out at quarterback, distributing the football to an ever-changing cast of pass catchers, and with a coaching staff that has to take its creativity to the limits. The defense, fueled by the line - the question mark there for Thursday is tackle Malik Jackson, battling a quadriceps injury - has to play better in several areas, the red zone particularly, but the basics of stopping the run and rushing the quarterback are very much present.

It's Tuesday and the Eagles are cramming for a prime-time game on Thursday night. Focus on where the football is all you want, but remember that what happens at the line of scrimmage is going to decide this game against a Giants team that has played well in the last two weeks - a narrow loss at Dallas, a win over Washington. The trenches are where it's all going down on Thursday, no matter how ugly it may be. Just win, and then enjoy the weekend break and get back to the top of the NFC East.

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