This Thursday, when you gather ‘round the holiday dinner table with your annoyingly successful brother who your mom totally favors and your racist old aunt Gloria who won’t stop asking you about “the politics,” be thankful there’s something good to talk about while gobbling up your bird. The Birds. Our Birds.
The Eagles are utterly fascinating this season, and at 5-5, there is still hope for a playoff run, despite being in last place in the NFC East after 10 games. Doug Pederson’s first year in charge has been up-and-down to say the least, but certainly there are things to be thankful for with six games to go. So as you grab an extra slice of pecan pie — the most underrated of all Thanksgiving pies — and try to come up with something positive to talk to your family about, here’s a list to share before the tryptophan kicks in.
1. Carson Wentz: Leader
Fun fact: Wentz has a QB rating of 84.2, which ranks 27th among quarterbacks who have thrown 50 or more passes this season. That’s bad.
Wentz started his career with five touchdowns and no turnovers in the first three games, but then the bye week came, teams had time to figure him out on tape and his receivers started letting him down. Over the last seven games he’s thrown six touchdowns and seven interceptions, while completing less than 60 percent of his passes in four of those seven contests.
What’s more surprising, perhaps, is that Wentz has only rushed for 48 yards this season, on 28 rushes, something that was supposed to be a strong point when he came to the NFL from college. (In his 23 games as a starter at North Dakota State he rushed 201 times for 936 yards and 12 scores.)
Wait…this was supposed to be a list of what we are thankful for. And it feels unfair to put a lot of the offense’s mid-season struggles on Wentz. Again, his receivers are terrible. His offensive line, while actually pretty solid, has been makeshift all season, dealing with injuries and suspensions. His running backs, when not hurt, are mediocre.
The thing to be most thankful for with Wentz is the way he handles the circus. A kid from North Dakota getting dropped into Philly, of all towns, and handling the fans, the press and the city the way he has? That takes something special. Now if he can only find that moxie when he’s on the field, the offense might start clicking.
2. Fourth Down Fun
What’s life without adventure?
Doug Pederson has turned fourth down into an adventure this season, going for it 13 times and converting on seven. Even when the Eagles don’t make the first down, it’s still fun! Because who likes punts! And who likes field goals! Wait, sometimes they can help you win games.
The Eagles have gone for it on fourth down more than anyone else in the league other than Cleveland, which has played one additional game. The Birds are tied for second in the league in conversions on fourth down, with Atlanta (7 conversions in 12 attempts) and Dallas (7 conversions in seven attempts).
Even the opponents seem to like fourth downs, as the Eagles have faced 14 of them this season, stopping the other team nine times. If you’re wondering, the Eagles aren’t even close to a fourth-down record. In the last two seasons, at least one team went for it on fourth down 28 times. In 2013, the Cleveland Browns went for it on fourth down 31 times.
Get going and stop punting, Doug.
3. Jim Schwartz’s Defense
While the offense has sputtered this season, the defense has been one of the best units in the entire league. Through 10 games, Jim Schwartz’s crew ranks fourth in the league in points allowed (and that includes offensive turnovers and special teams plays that result in points) while ranking eighth in yards allowed per game.
Schwartz’s defense is predicated on creating pressure with the front four, and by-and-large his defensive line has stood strong, led by Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox. The defense seems to define bend-but-don’t-break, as they give up 5.5 yards per play, tied for 13th in the league and 105.7 yards rushing per game, ranked 19th in the league.
The Eagles face Dallas, Washington, Green Bay, three top-11 scoring offenses, in addition to the mediocre Giants, Ravens and Bengals. There could be a lot to be thankful for this season if the defense can carry the Eagles to a few more wins.
4. Malcolm Jenkins: Solid Human
Malcolm Jenkins is a good football player. A leader on defense since the minute he stepped on the field in Philly, Jenkins has filled a void left on the Eagles secondary since Brian Dawkins left. But Jenkins is much, much more than just a good football player.
He has a bigger game in mind, and for anyone paying attention to the world around us, far removed from the fanfare of the NFL stadiums, we should all be thankful for someone like Jenkins being in Philly.
5. Paul Turner: The Receiver We Need (TBD)
How can you say the receiving corps stinks in a story where you are looking for things to be thankful for? You celebrate the new guy!
Paul Turner was promoted to the Eagles roster from the practice squad, which means Nelson “The Bane of Our Existence” Agholor is going to be getting fewer snaps.
Agholor finally admitted after Sunday’s zero-catch-and-one-huge-penalty debacle of a game that he can’t get out of his own head, and that pressure of being an NFL player has gotten to him. Doug Pederson, who said after the game he was going to continue to put Agholor out on the field, reversed course on Monday, saying that after hearing the player has lost that much confidence in himself, he may need to take a step back. How much of a step remains to be seen, but in the meantime, we can be thankful that Turner is getting his chance to play.
Turner was very solid in preseason, so much so that it came as a surprise to many that he didn’t make the initial roster. With six games left, he has a lot to prove, but with the utter mediocrity at the position, he should certainly get the chance to shine.
Overall, things aren’t great right now, but they are completely okay. Eagles are .500 and in last place, but there’s still a path to the playoffs, a top defense, a confident and composed young quarterback and a bright future ahead. Let’s all be thankful for that.