The Philadelphia Eagles visit the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night with their season hanging in the balance.
Two years ago, after a 1-1 start, Jake Elliott kicked a last-second 61-yard field goal as the Eagles beat the New York Giants 27-24 to move to 2-1. That one moment gave them confidence and belief to go on a hot run in 2017, which ultimately led to a Super Bowl win.
In Week Three of this season – again at 1-1 – the Eagles were this time on the wrong end of a 27-24 scoreline, falling flat against the Detroit Lions at Lincoln Financial Field in a second straight close defeat.
If it weren’t for a Nelson Agholor drop in Atlanta, and if rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside had hauled in Carson Wentz’s fourth-down heave on Sunday, Philadelphia might have been looking at a 3-0 record, keeping pace with the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East.
Instead, they are 1-2, faced with the daunting task of heading to Green Bay on a short week to play with undefeated Packers.
With their season potentially already on the line, head coach Doug Pederson has made it clear he wants his team to keep their cool and not get desperate.
“We’re maybe two plays or three plays away from possibly being 3-0 or at least 2-1,” he said. “I just have to remind the guys, ‘Listen, one play at a time. Don’t lose your focus, stay on task, do your assignment, stay within yourself, don’t go searching for plays. When they come to you, make them.’
Injuries have plagued the Eagles, and unlike that 2017 Super Bowl season, the replacements haven’t been able to play to the highest level. In Week One, defensive tackle Malik Jackson was lost for the season. Behind him, DT Tim Jernigan reportedly broke his foot and will miss a significant period.
Corner Ronald Darby will be out for a few weeks with a hamstring injury, but the biggest problem area has been at receiver, with top two targets Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson leaving the game in Atlanta and missing the loss to Detroit.
On Sunday, the team had seven drops – seven! That’s as many as the second-highest team (Miami) has on the season.
Jeffery has been a Wentz favourite since he joined two years ago, and Jackson – who re-joined the team this year after a five-year absence – was the deep threat the team needed. Wentz has struggled without them.
He threw for 313 yards, three touchdowns and no picks in Week One, completing 71.9 per cent of his passes and finishing with a 121 passer rating.
In the two games since? Completion percentages of 58.1 and 52.8, fewer than 260 yards in each, three total passing TDs, two picks and a combined rating of 76.5. The drops have been crushing, and the offense simply isn’t clicking like it should.
However, Jeffery is slated to return, and Pederson confirmed on Wednesday he expects the eight-year veteran to play as he aims to keep his team positive.
He told reporters off the missed chances so far: “You just have to keep talking, keep their spirits up. The players know. They’re smart enough. I don’t have to sit there and remind them or beat them over the head with all of that.
“They understand what could have happened, but look we’re not (3-0). We’re 1-2, and we have some work to do.”
They have a lot of work to do and on Thursday night, the Eagles will have their toughest test yet.
Packers doing it with defense
When most people think of the Packers, they turn to two-time MVP, seven-time Pro Bowler and the NFL’s all-time passer rating leader Aaron Rodgers. However, his – and new head coach Matt LaFleur’s – offense has experienced a slow start to the season.
So far, the Packers sit down at 23rd in scoring offense and 28th in total O.
“It’s time for us to do our part on offense” Rodgers said on Tuesday. “At some point, the offense is going to have to wake up and start making some plays.”
But while Rodgers has taken a step back, the defense has been superb.
They rank second in scoring defense with 11.7 points per game allowed, fifth in passing yards allowed (197.3 per game), third in sacks (12) and lead the league in takeaways (eight).
There is a long way to go this season but according to the NFL’s official research notes, all three times they Packers have finished a year in the top two in scoring defense, they won the Super Bowl (1966, 1996 and 2010).
The early signs are there for another run but Rodgers knows that won’t happen without the offense getting the ball moving.
“We’ve never wanted to just manage the football game around here,” Rodgers said. “The standards are very high for us.”
“We’ve got to play a lot better on offense. We’ve played some good defenses, no doubt about it [Bears, Vikings and Broncos], but the standard and expectations are very high here, and we haven’t met them on offense.”