About a year ago, I was sitting on the second floor of Braniff, ignoring the massive philosophy paper I had due the next day, watching the Los Angeles Rams beat the Chicago Bears on my phone. Both teams were experiencing very disappointing seasons a year after being division winners and dangerous playoff teams.
As I watched Sean McVay, former “Coach of the Year” and reigning NFC champion, exit the field with a look on his face that could only be described as a combination of satisfaction and frustration, I had a thought: even when a “good” team is bad, they’ll still show you who they are at their core if they have the right foundation. In other words, there’s a difference between a good team having a bad year and an actually bad team.
The Philadelphia Eagles are, at their core, a good team that’s been having a bad few years. But, make no mistake, they’re still the best team in the NFC East.
I can already hear what those who disagree will say: “Carson Wentz is leading the league in interceptions,” “The offensive line is injured,” “The receiving corps is terrible,” “The Eagles tied the Bengals,” “Jim Schwartz looks to be clueless,” “They barely beat the 1-6 Giants and Daniel Jones who literally tackled himself on Thursday Night Football,” “They blew a 17 point lead to Dwayne Haskins and the only football team without a name.”
Yes, this is all true. The Eagles are having a bad year. After those first few games, it started to look like they would have an extraordinarily terrible year. But these last few weeks, the Eagles have started to look like themselves again.
A couple of weeks ago, my good friend Charlie Mihiliak came over to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Philadelphia Eagles. Charlie is a Steelers fan and was enthusiastic about watching the Steelers’ smothering defense engulf an inferior opponent and I, a long-suffering Cowboys fan, was looking forward to watching the hated Eagles get blown out.
The game started out very even. Neither team scored much, both defenses looked competent, but not eye-popping. By the end of the first quarter, the game was tied at 7-7. By halftime, the Eagles were down by only a field goal. The Steelers came out in the second half red-hot and midway through the third quarter they were up 31-17. But then something odd happened, the Eagles came roaring back. The “elite” Steelers defense started to get carved up by an honestly unimpressive passing attack. It ended up taking a 4th quarter touchdown by Chase Claypool to seal the win. It was a win for the Steelers, sure, but not nearly as dominant of one as it should have been.
Then, a week later, the Eagles played the Baltimore Ravens, another noon matchup that should have resulted in the Eagles being blown out. It started to look that way for a moment. The Ravens got to a lead and I thought, “This is over. If there’s one thing that John Harbaugh’s Ravens can do, it’s beat up on bad teams. Surely Lamar Jackson and this unstoppable rushing attack will suffocate any hopes the Eagles have of making a comeback.”
Then, the Eagles started to make a comeback.
The Ravens offense wasn’t able to take over the way that they normally do. The culprit: the Eagles’ defensive line. They made Jackson uncomfortable in the pocket. They stuffed Mark Ingram. They did enough to give Carson Wentz a chance to close the gap. The game ended up going down the wire until a failed 2-point conversion prevented them from tying the game and forcing overtime. It was a win for the Ravens, sure, but again, it was not nearly as dominant as it should have been. The Eagles were carried by a dangerous defensive line and a quarterback who was starting to come alive again, similar to the way that they were built in 2017 when they won the Super Bowl. Even when a good team is playing poorly, they’ll still show you who they are at their core.
I don’t want anyone to misconstrue what I am saying. The Eagles do have a lot of problems. The roster isn’t very good. The quarterback is turning it over too much. The play calling is uninspired. The defense, outside of that defensive line, is straight-up ugly. If a couple months from now we look at the standings and the Eagles are 7-9, I will not be surprised. But, over the last couple seasons, haven’t we seen the Eagles’ pattern? They start off kind of weird and are not great, but also not terrible. Then, they start to look really ugly.
Then they have a couple nice wins and a few terrible losses until no one really knows what to make of them. Then they get hot down the stretch and make the playoffs.
The Eagles are a disaster right now, but, let’s say it like it is, every team in the NFC East is a disaster. The difference is that the Eagles are the only disaster that has a good team hidden somewhere within it.