Now that the Philadelphia Eagles are just one of four teams to make the playoffs each season since 2017, maybe it’s a good time to dial down the criticism of offensive coordinator Mike Groh, general manager Howie Roseman, quarterback Carson Wentz, the medical staff and everyone else being blamed, by guesswork exclusively, for the team’s failure to go 13-3 again and lock down home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
That they’re 9-7 and hosting the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card round of the playoffs Sunday (4:40 p.m., NBC) is more remarkable than when they posted the NFC’s best record in 2017.
First of all, it’s tough to go 13-3 even in the best of circumstances. It’s almost as tough to earn a first-round bye. Just ask the New England Patriots, led by the greatest coach of all. They couldn’t even take care of business at home against the Miami Dolphins, of all teams, during the final week of the regular season, and now will have to play this weekend against a team that last year handed them their most lopsided defeat (24 points) since 2014.
Of course, this Eagles offense is not the same without Frank Reich and John DeFilippo. But who’s to say it also wouldn’t be the same had they never departed?
Juggernaut offenses don’t last long in the NFL, especially when their quarterbacks are suddenly compromised, as Carson Wentz was all of last year, or all of their best receivers get knocked out of the box, like this year.
Defenses adjust, forcing offenses to do the same, and the only ones that truly sustain are those with quarterbacks who can carry them and head coaches who can enable it.
Nick Foles was better at that, some say, because of what he did after taking over late last season, compared to what Wentz did with a healing knee and ailing back.
Foles took over a struggling offense Dec. 16 and guided the Eagles to four straight wins, including a playoff defeat of the Chicago Bears, before a loss at New Orleans ended the season.
Wentz has done the same thing this year, with a much lesser cast, taking a struggling offense on Dec. 9 and guiding it to four straight wins, which all were essentially elimination games.
Point is, like last year, an injury-plagued Eagles team, and particularly Wentz, needed time to figure things out. You just don’t keep rolling with such dramatic roster turnover. Athird of the active roster changed from Week 1 to Week 17.
As many players as the Eagles lost in 2017, they were able to handle them because they were distributed evenly. They lost only one linebacker (Jordan Hicks), one running back (Darren Sproles), one offensive lineman (Jason Peters), one quarterback (Wentz) and so on down the line.
What they’ve been dealing with since, with multiple injuries to more than one position group, has been much more devastating.
Had the 2017 team lost as many defensive backs and running backs as last year’s team did or as many wide receivers or running backs or defensive linemen as this team, a Super Bowl could not have been won even with Joe Montana under center, much less with Reich as an offensive coordinator — and he didn’t even call the plays.
Groh may not possess the creative mind or personality of Reich, but the only evidence anyone outside the NovaCare Complex (and even the reporters who are inside every day) has to support that theory is circumstantial.
That Groh was stiff during news conferences in his first season — he’s improved drastically in Year 2 — and the offense regressed after Reich left has led to the conclusion that Groh must go.
Again, that may be true. But it’s more likely that it isn’t, and the Eagles wouldn’t have been any better off last year and this year had Reich never departed.
Reich in his first year as the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach had a relatively healthy Andrew Luck and won a playoff game. This season, after Luck’s stunning decision to retire, the Colts fell to 7-9.
John DeFilippo? He was fired as Vikings’ offensive coordinator before last season even ended, then was reunited with Foles in Jacksonville this year. How’s that working out for either of them?
Meanwhile, coach Doug Pederson and his staff just keep figuring things out, albeit it a bit too late to suit many critics.
And they’re able to do so in part because of Roseman’s draft picks. Anyone complaining about Andre Dillard, Miles Sanders, Dallas Goedert, Avonte Maddox, Derek Barnett or Nate Gerry? Then there’s 2016 when they drafted Wentz, Isaac Seumalo, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Jalen Mills.
Roseman and the coaching staff also can’t be blamed for the inability to recognize the narrative (which is false) that Greg Ward is a better receiver than Nelson Agholor. Agholor has had his problems over the years — first emotional, now physical. But he also caught 62 passes for 768 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017 and 64 passes for 736 yards and four touchdowns last year. And he’s a proven playoff performer.