IT'S THE VETERANS THAT ARE TAKING EAGLES ON THIS RIDE
If the Eagles are going to build off their three-game winning streak, win the NFC East and make a run in the playoffs, they will need their veteran leaders to perform like they did against the Dallas Cowboys when the Birds won the critical division game 17-9 and put themselves in position to grab the No. 4 seed and home game in the upcoming NFC playoffs.
The Birds (8-7) can clinch the division, the No. 4 seed and the home playoff game that comes with it if they beat the New York Giants (4-11) at MetLife Stadium this Sunday (4:25 FOX).
The Eagles would also clinch the NFC East if the Cowboys (7-8) lose at home to the Washington Redskins (3-12).
On offense it was the Eagles offensive line that included veterans Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce and Jason Peters who paved the way for the Birds offense that racked up 437 yards of offense against Dallas while keeping quarterback Carson Wentz clean (just one sack) and turnover free.
Wentz has been playing at a Pro Bowl level and tight end Zach Ertz has been a reliable target for his quarterback who has lost all three starting wide receivers to injury.
Second-year tight end Dallas Goedert has stepped up on a big way, hauling in nine catches for 91 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys. It was important since Ertz left the game for about a quarter with cracked ribs.
Rookie running back Miles Sanders has been a sensation and practice squad players Greg Ward, a wide receiver, and running back Boston Scott have both played like veterans once they got their chance.
None of that happens unless the veterans on the field are leading the way.
At his Monday-after-Dallas press conference, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson talked about how much Wentz has meant to the team and this run.
“The way Carson is leading this football team right now and the way he is playing, he is protecting the football, number one, his completion percentage,” Pederson said. “He is taking what defenses are giving him, what they are presenting. He is running the offense; he is doing the things we are asking him to do. He is playing tough, he is running, he is using his legs and all the things we know he is capable of doing.”
Pederson said he is impressed with his quarterback’s confidence.
“What is exciting for us is how he is doing it,” Pederson said. “When the opportunity arises, he takes the shot down the field, and when it is not, he is getting the ball out of his hand and protecting himself. It has allowed us to stay on the field and extend drives. There are some plays yesterday even that we left on the field that we would like to have back and do again, but what he has done with this team, kind of putting the team on his shoulders and putting us in a position to win the NFC East is awesome for your quarterback to do.”
Wentz was asked to talk about how he would define the personality of this football team after 15 games.
“Resilient. Energetic," Wentz said. "I think there’s been a lot of excitement with the unknown. I think with a lot of new faces and a lot of guys that maybe weren’t expected to be making these plays that unknown factor just is exciting. I think just the resiliency that I’ve seen, it’s been the next-man-up mentality from really the moment I got here in Philly. You see it over and over and it’s exciting to see these guys come to work with a sense of belief and the pride they take in their work and to get it done out here on Sundays.”
On defense it was defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, pass rusher Brandon Graham, linebacker Nigel Bradham and safety Malcolm Jenkins set the tone against Dallas and helped limit Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott to 47 yards rushing on 13 carries, and seven receptions for 37 yards. Cox was asked how his unit was able to keep the NFL's No. 1 offense out of the end zone.
“We just played our style of football,” Cox said. “Honestly, I think we did simple things better. This week we just stayed consistent and everybody played mistake-free ball today, just doing their job and flying around making plays.”
Jenkins, who recovered a fumble against Dallas, that was forced by Cox was asked about the defense’s resilience.
“I don’t even think we flinched,” said Jenkins, who led the Eagles with 72 combined tackles (55 solo) going into the Giants game. “There weren’t even any conversations about it. It’s the next guy in - execute the defense. I thought [Eagles defensive coordinator Jim] Schwartz did a great job of keeping it really simple for us so guys could just play fast. Everybody knows what we’re doing. Don’t have to communicate much. Just go compete.”
Jenkins was also asked about the Eagles ‘next man up’ mentality that has them on the verge of making the playoffs for three consecutive seasons.
“We’re at the point of the season right here at the cusp of what we’re trying to get accomplished, so it really doesn’t matter,” Jenkins said. “We don’t have time to make excuses or even pay attention to some of those things. Just put the next guy in. Let’s keep it rolling.”
Eagles Nation will no doubt say “Amen” to that. *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii