Now that the Eagles have maneuvered through the easy portion of their schedule by surviving damage that could have been worse, they face a stretch that will define their 2019 season.
At 3-2, with two of their victories coming over teams who still are winless, they go on the road for three straight games, then have three straight at home with an off week mixed in. All of their opponents in that stretch will take winning records into Week 6, when the Eagles visit Minnesota and the real adventure begins.
They know their uneven play against the New York Jets in a 31-6 victory on Sunday — or any of their other four games, for that matter — won’t be enough to carry them from this point.
Of their 31 points, only 17 were provided by an offense that was just 5-for-13 on third down, 0-for-2 on fourth and finished with 265 yards.
“It’s something that we definitely need to clean up,” quarterback Carson Wentz said. “We definitely have to be better. We have to stay ahead of the chains. We have to stay on the field. We know we can be better. We’ve shown it. We know we can. But we now have to execute it.”
Given the struggles of their defense, their offense has to be ready to compensate.
The pattern may have actually already been set: In their three wins, they’ve scored 32, 34 and 31 points. In their two losses, they’ve scored 20 and 24. With the exception of Sunday, their defense has given up big plays, big yardage and big point totals. This won’t change, although their offense, at its best, is good enough to overcome that.
When not at its best, games will be toss-ups at best.
So forget that 2017 magic in which they stomped so many opponents on way to wins that were ostensibly over by halftime. That’s not happening with any regularity this season, which is going to be a grind the whole way.
And they’re going to need offense. Lots of offense. Offense that was lacking against the Jets.
Many Eagles credited a tough Jets defense. But every one of these next six opponents are tougher on D.
Next week at Minnesota, the Eagles could need 30 points to prevail. The following week at Dallas, they definitely will. They won’t need 30 against Buffalo on Oct. 27 or Chicago on Nov. 3, but just getting to 20 on those Super Bowl-caliber defenses will be incredibly difficult.
Then they have a week off before hosting New England and Seattle back to back.
Without their `A’ game, their 3-2 record can turn into something a lot worse.
Coach Doug Pederson is trying to get his players to understand that too.
Playtime is over. Now it’s time to go to work.
“Wins we say can cover up a lot of flaws,” Pederson said, “but if we continue to make the errors or the assignment errors that we did on offense, obviously as we go, we are not going to win those games.”
Not a one.
In their first five games, they’ve only played well enough to beat a winning team once. That’s something no Eagle will even dispute.
So by the time they meet the Dolphins in Miami on Dec. 1, we should definitely know whether it’s realistic for them to earn a return trip in February.
These next six games are the Eagles season, and they have to be ready with or without injured wide receiver DeSean Jackson, with or without their multitude of injured cornerbacks, and possibly even with or without ... quarterback Carson Wentz.
There, we said what had to be said because Wentz’s self-preservation skills still aren’t fully developed — a dynamic that was on display again Sunday, when he scrambled into unnecessary hits on plays when throwaways would have been the better option.
“Obviously you know we have to understand the situation of the game," Pederson said, "and you know just we don’t want to put ourselves in harm’s way like that. And it’s OK, you know, to either take it down or throw it away or just get yourself down, you know, in those situations.
“But you know the aggressiveness that he has. He loves having the ability to shoot the ball down the field when he can and his eyes are down the field. But at the same time, continue to be smart and talk through it and show him and learn from it.”
Nick Fierro writes for the Morning Call