Monday, September 22, 2014

The Eagles Make You Think, And Re-Think, And Re-Think

In Green
When a team falls behind, game after game, you know some things about them. Mostly, that they aren't very good.

When a team can't get it's star RB on track, even at home, you know some things about that guy. That maybe he's more rep than player now, since RBs age like fruit flies.

When a team seems to need big plays on special teams, or 50-50 flags that go against the opposition, or fourth quarter gift INTs that swing the game, we know even more. That they are doing it with smoke and mirrors, and they are living on borrowed time, and that there will be a Reckoning when all of this Illusion will come crashing down, and they will be exposed as the pretenders that they are.

This is, pretty much, what every Eagle fan is thinking about their 3-0, division leading club. The same one that, if the season ended today, would be the first seed in the NFC. The club that is only one of two teams in the conference, and three in all of football, that hasn't taken a loss this year. (There are only three winless teams, too. Welcome to the Age Of Meh.)

But, well, what if that's not the whole story?

The Eagles are +23 in net points, which only trails the Bengals. They've done what they have done without their prize second-year tackle, Lane Johnson, who will be back after next week. They've suffered waves of injuries to the offensive line, and aren't surfing on a huge wave of turnovers. They've broken in a rookie WR in Jordan Matthews, become dependent on second-year TE Zach Ertz, kept WR Jeremy Maclin healthy, incorporated RB Darren Sproles, and scored enough to continue to terrify defensive coordinators, despite this being Year Two of the Chip Kelly Era, when everyone was supposed to catch up to their trickery. They don't panic when they are down, they make good halftime adjustments on defense, they don't commit a ton of stupid penalties, and they've won games the last two weeks because of their emerging young QB.

All of these things are, well, pretty good.

The biggest point to me is that while the Eagles may be paper tigers... I'm not sure there are any real tigers right now. Seattle is the defending Super Bowl champions, and couldn't protect an 8-point lead at home with little time left today. (They still won the game in overtime.) You can wear them down late, because they just aren't that big. New Orleans, the other presumptive conference favorite, is just 1-2, and hasn't looked like world beaters in any event. Arizona is 3-0 with two wins behind their back-up QB, and maybe they are the new Big Bad, but I can't shake the feeling that they aren't going to be able to keep RB Andre Ellington healthy, and that once that ends, they'll become one dimensional and fail. Your 2-1 teams are Carolina, Dallas, Detroit, and Atlanta -- each of whom has looked really bad in losses this year, each with clear Problems with a capital P.

Next week, I expect the Eagles to lose in San Francisco in front of a national audience against a desperate and physical Niner club. The Cards and Seahawks are on a bye, so they'll come right back into view with an Eagle loss. The survivor of Washington v. New York will be right there in the division; Dallas, less so after problems with the Saints. Chicago might be the dark horse du jour if they can get past the Jets tomorrow night, because they've certainly had the worst of the schedule so far. St. Louis and Houston not doing the job, the closeness of today's home win, and the widespread injuries makes the dreams of locking up the division and setting sights on a bye a lot less likely.

But, well, they are 3-0, with intermittent defense, no great turnover luck, and their third-year QB starting to heat up. It's not out of the realm of possibility that they've played some of their worst football and still won every game.

And such is the nature of the league now. No great teams, very few really terrible ones, and it's more of a matter of if you get it done, rather than how.

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