By: Rajan Nanavati
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown“
William Shakespeare, King Henry VI
In fairness to the Philadelphia Eagles, their struggles coming out of the 2018 season gate is far less Shakespearean, and far more along the lines of a plot line hatched from the mind of Todd Phillips, the director of the 2009 hit film “The Hangover.” Because after partying their brains out, in celebration of the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl victory, the Eagles — and their fans — find themselves in that hazy (and painful) day-after stupor, with all their memories of what they were celebrating being virtually non-existent.
About one-third into the 2018 season, the Eagles are in third place in the NFC East, and one Thursday night loss away from being cellar-dwellers in a division they basically led wire-to-wire last season. Through five games, Philadelphia has scored the fourth-fewest points of any team in the NFC, while surrendering more than 25 points per game in their losses.
All great parties have to come to an end at some point. As such, pretty much everything that we knew about the 2017 Eagles is no more.
The defensive line, which was the strength of the team for much of last season, is an injury-ravaged shell of itself; though defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is on his way to another All-Pro season, it’s not nearly enough. With little pressure being generated on opposing quarterbacks (Philadelphia is smack in the middle of the NFL in quarterback sacks), teams have been delivering tactical air strikes on the Eagles’ secondary this season, with Philadelphia currently ranking 22nd in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game.
The offense that confounded opponents last year, with varying uses of the read option, is gone. One of the most under-discussed storylines around the Eagles this season is how much the team is likely missing the input of last year’s offensive coordinator (Frank Reich) and quarterbacks coach (John DeFilippo), who might’ve had as much to do with the offensive scheme that created last year’s almost-MVP award winner and last year’s Super Bowl MVP-winner.
Which brings us to the quarterback position. In a staggering level of irony, a cabal of ever-virulent Eagles fans are actually laying a significant portion of the blame at the feet of quarterback Carson Wentz, who was the runaway favorite for the NFL’s MVP award last season, and would’ve won it if he didn’t sustain that season-ending knee injury.
Wentz is still one of the great, young bright spots in the NFL, and perhaps one of the two “young cornerstone” quarterbacks that any team would pick to start their franchise, along with Patrick Mahomes. Anyone who thought that Wentz, who had to devote much of his offseason to rehabbing his knee injury instead of further developing as a young quarterback (he won’t even turn 25 years old until just after Christmas this year), would return to the lineup and resume his MVP-level of play was absolutely fooling themselves. There’s a considerable amount of rust he needs to shake off, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing right now.
Plus, what about Foles‘ performance over the first three games makes you think he’s suddenly going to come in and change everything? Here’s the truth about Foles: he had a Cinderella run in the 2017-2018 postseason, but as soon as the Super Bowl concluded, the proverbial clock struck 12.
When you’re the defending champions, it’s already hard enough, knowing that every team is going to come at you each week and give you their best shot; after all, everyone wants to beat the champion. But it’s even harder when you’re not the same team, or not playing at the same level that made you the champion.
The early struggles faced by Philadelphia is far from a fatal diagnosis. But they’re still going to need a lot of pain killers to shake off this raging morning-after headache.