Week 17 hasn’t been a lot of fun in recent years for the Philadelphia Eagles. For the third straight year, the Birds played out a meaningless season finale, the last football that fans of the team will get to see for eight months.
The team did treat their followers to a solid victory, with a 27-13 defeat of the Dallas Cowboys second and third units. There was no Ezekial Elliot. Dez Bryant made only a few cameos. The majority of the game was quarterbacked by esteemed turnover machine Mark Sanchez.
But there were some very entertaining moments along the way.
Carson Wentz finished his rookie year with a 245-yard effort with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His already mediocre group of wide receivers was more deplorable than usual with Jordan Matthews inactive, and Nelson Agholor injured early in the game (although I would honestly argue that Agholor’s loss was addition by subtraction).
Wentz had some really nice moments. He threw some really nice passes, including great touch on Zach Ertz’s second touchdown reception of the game. He also showed some good elusiveness in the pocket for the second straight week, evading defensive lineman and extending plays.
Wentz does have a lot of work to do over the offseason. He’s got to work on quickening his release, and become better at throwing the deep ball. A full offseason of work, and perhaps some upgrades at the skill positions, should go a long way towards helping him grow.
- Young running backs Byron Marshall and Terrell Watson each had good showings. The two combined for 70 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. The Eagles are going to have a lot of competition at running back next summer, and these two have probably earned the opportunity to challenge Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner for their roles.
- Mr. Garbage Time, Zach Ertz, has struck again. Once again, late in December with nothing to play for, Ertz stuffs the stat sheet with a 13-catch performance for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Ertz even fought for some extra yards after the catch on a couple of his grabs! I’m not an anti-Ertz guy, but it has been very frustrating to see him completely disappear in the earlier stages of the season throughout his career. He’s got too much talent and is being paid too highly to not be a regular factor.
- Really brutal production from the team’s wide receivers today. Wideouts were targeted only 10 times, with three catches split between Paul Turner and Dorial Green-Beckham.
- Jordan Hicks turned in two more interceptions today. We probably haven’t talked about him enough over the season, but he’s continuing to develop nicely. He stayed healthy for the entire season, and is one of the top playmakers on that side of the ball.
- Cornerback is such a need for the Eagles, but I don’t think the team should make it their top priority. They need to get Wentz help at the skill positions, until then, all other areas have to be on the backburner.
- Vinny Curry finished his thoroughly disappointing year with a sack. The team is likely locked in to at least two more years of Curry because of his contract, and they’ve got to get MUCH more out of him than they did this year.
- Let’s talk about Mark Sanchez for a moment. During the Chip Kelly era, I had to listen to a bunch of fools try to sell the idea that you can’t find a better backup quarterback in this league than a Mark Sanchez. I never bought that when he was in Philadelphia, and it looks even more laughable today. Sanchez, who killed all of the Dallas momentum the moment he entered the game, is just one of those guys that has a constant dark cloud hovering above them. Sanchez, who has a horrid reputation for being a turnover machine, tossed two more picks and only moved the offense for three points the rest of the game.
As another season comes to a close, there are always two key questions to ask yourself when evaluating the state of a franchise.
Is the team better than it was a year ago? Are they heading in the right direction?
A year ago, the answer to both of those questions were no. Chip Kelly, armed with full control, had completely stripped the roster of all of its best talent, replacing it with a handful of veteran mercenaries and doubled his mess with horrendous draft picks. The team had no long-term answer at quarterback, no elite young talent, and the arrow was pointing down, not up.
A year later, the arrow is pointing up. The Eagles finished with a 7-9 record for the second straight season, but along the way identified their franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz. After years of going through quarterback hell with veteran retreads and mid-round picks, the team finally has a top young talent to build the team around.
Beyond Wentz, many problems remain. I’m not at all sold that Doug Pederson is going to be the guy to get the most out of Wentz and coach this team back to greatness. The skill positions are one of the biggest messes from Kelly’s reign that still need to be cleaned up.
But the Eagles did enough this year to provide some real optimism about 2017 and beyond.