The Eagles are facing a trap game. 0-7 San Francisco is traveling 3,000-or-so miles in hopes of catching the 6-1 Eagles with their guard down, knocking the “look how awesome we are” smugness off the face of Philly fans and ruining the chance of the Birds continuing this best-in-the-league momentum for another week.
This is a trap game if there ever is one.
The 49ers have the 28th-ranked defense in yards allowed and the 30th-ranked defense in points allowed per game. Their offense is 20th in yards and 25th in points, and that was before their quarterback situation went from bad to abominable. Actually, that’s a bit unfair. C.J. Beathard’s quarterback numbers are just as mediocre-to-bad as Brian Hoyer’s were. Plus he has a rushing touchdown! See … it’s a trap.
When Carson Wentz was asked about playing the utterly defeated Niners, he seemed focused on the task at hand, saying Thursday, “When you put on the tape you wouldn’t think that’s an 0-7 football team. We definitely can’t sleep on these guys. They’re a good football team.”
“Good” may be an overstatement, but in a world of not giving the other team bulletin board material, Wentz was being sensibly laudatory. Put more plainly, it’s dumb to say dumb things like “the 49ers suuuuuuuuck,” so calling them good is fine even if it’s untrue.
They are not good, but maybe they’re not…bad? Dallas ran the Niners out of their own building last week with a 40-10 drubbing, but in the five weeks before that, San Fran lost all five games by a total of 13 points.
It’s a trap!
It doesn’t have to be. The Eagles host the 49ers before welcoming the Denver Broncos to town next week. The Broncos are 3-3 after two-straight losses to bad teams, and they’ll probably be 3-4 after playing at Kansas City Monday night. Still, they’re good enough for the Eagles to be looking past the 49ers to Denver, and then to a bye week that could see Philly kicking their feet up at a league-best 8-1.
But in order to get to eight wins, they have to get to seven first. Here are five things the Eagles must do and/or remember to not get trapped on Sunday.
1. With Jason Peters out, the left side of the offensive line is a mess
Every game Carson Wentz has played for the Eagles, Jason Peters has started at left tackle.
Okay, that was horribly dramatic. But losing Peters is a big loss and it puts the offensive line in tumult. Should Lane Johnson move to left tackle — something we all expect him to eventually do, once Peters retires? Or should Johnson stay where he’s been best, meaning Halapoulivaati Vaitai gets installed at left tackle and the Eagles use backs and tight ends to help him if he gets overwhelmed?
When Doug Pederson was asked about Vaitai, he was pretty clear he trusts the second-year reserve. “He’s not a rookie. He’s not that spring chicken who is playing for the first time. He played significant time last year. He’s played this year already. So a lot of confidence in all the guys.”
The Eagles already made a change at left guard this year, replacing Isaac Seumalo with the rotation of Stefen Wisniewski and Chance Warmack. Wisniewski is getting almost all the reps now at left guard, so is having two backups on the same side of the line a good plan? It’s not great one. But Peters being out might keep the rest of the line more on their toes. Perhaps even literally.
2. They lost the quarterback of the defense
Peters wasn’t the only huge loss for the Birds last Sunday. Jordan Hicks tore his Achilles, and his absence is another reason — like with Peters or Darren Sproles, who was lost for the year earlier this season — there’s no time for the kind of complacency that leads to losing a trap game.
When asked about playing without Hicks, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was pretty matter-of-fact about it.
“We’ve already played a lot of football without him this year,” Schwartz said. “So it’s nothing that we haven’t done before. Guys will step up into different roles. We’ve been doing that all season long. We’ll miss him on the field for sure. He’s the quarterback of our defense [and] provides a great leadership role. But other guys will step up into that. [LB] Nigel [Bradham] has already stepped up into part of that.”
Figure Joe Walker, Najee Goode or one of the safeties will fill that void. So what will that do? It should make the other linebackers even more focused. It’s hard to relax when you don’t trust the guy next to you as much as the one he’s replaced. Maybe that’s a good thing, at least for this week.
3. Everyone keeps asking if this is a trap game!
This is reverse logic, but you know how players and coaches always get mad when reporters ask if something is a distraction? The National Anthem. Nelson Agholor dropping passes. Is Doug Pederson a good coach?
You ask the people involved in those hot-button topics if the conversation is a distraction and the answer is always the same: The only distraction is when people ask if it’s a distraction.
But in this case, asking about a trap game is the perfect question to make sure it doesn’t become a trap game. Finally, the media being a distraction is useful!
Let’s see what Schwartz, who’s always been quick to bat back at the press, had to say about this being a trap game:
“Nobody looks past anybody. I mean everybody understands this league. We have a good group of veteran players. And we faced a couple of teams this year that came in with no wins. Doesn’t change the job that we have. And I like the maturity of our players to be ready every week. I think that’s one of the things that I like about our defense.”
That was an entirely reasonable answer. Sounds like a trap.
4. Remember the last time…
The last time the Eagles won 10 or more games was 2014. The Eagles were 5-1 that season, hit their Week 7 bye and promptly lost to the Arizona Cardinals, dropping to 5-2. Two wins later the Eagles were 7-2 and looking like a sure-fire division champion through nine weeks.
The Eagles finished that season 10-6 and missed the playoffs. Finally they’re in a position to make the playoffs for the first time in four years. Good teams do not lose to 0-7 teams at home. Great teams crush them.
“But Dan,” you say. (Are you saying that? I imagine you saying that.) “The Eagles aren’t 5-1 this season, they’re 6-1! That’s a whole win more than that year they went 10-6. What about the last time they were this good this late into the season? Huh?”
In 2004, the Eagles started 7-0 before losing their eighth game (in Week 9) to Pittsburgh. Six more wins followed before Andy Reid took his foot off the gas and the Birds coasted into the playoffs at 13-3, making the Super Bowl, but losing to New England.
The last time the Eagles started the season 6-1 was way back in 1981, the year after they lost in the Super Bowl to the Raiders. (They started 6-1 that year too.) The ‘81 team won in Week 8 to get to 7-1 but lost five of their final eight games, including defeats to two teams with losing records, settling for the Wild Card. They then lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Giants.
What’s the lesson there? Avoid the trap games!
5. Dallas is lurking
The Eagles are 6-1, yes, but Dallas is 3-3 and somehow Ezekiel Elliott is still on the field. Even if Philly gets through the bye at 8-1, Dallas could keep pace, as the Birds still face Dallas twice. If the Cowboys win both of those and run the table on their other games, they’d win the division at 13-3 again.
Dallas has to still play the Chiefs, Washington twice, the Falcons in Atlanta, the Raiders in Oakland and Seattle, so there are some tough games ahead. But could you imagine if the Eagles and Cowboys finish with the same record because Philly lost at home to San Francisco? And what if Dallas beats the Eagles twice and after this start the Eagles have to play a Wild Card game?
Dallas is lurking. If any Eagles player is caught looking past the Niners, they should just imaging the SF on the helmet this Sunday is a big dumb star.