Brett Favre's former backup seeking to work more magic with Eagles
Fourth in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers will face during the 2019 regular season.
GREEN BAY - Since taking over as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016, Doug Pederson has gone 29-19, won a Super Bowl in 2017 and nearly found himself in a second straight NFC Championship game last season with a backup quarterback under center.
There’s no denying that Pederson, Brett Favre’s former backup with the Green Bay Packers, extracted magic from Nick Foles the last two seasons. But Foles was a former Pro Bowl quarterback with 36 starts under his belt before taking over for an injured Carson Wentz. Now that Foles is in Jacksonville and Wentz’s backup is either Cody Kessler (2-10 career record) or Nate Sudfeld (25 career passes), it feels like the security blanket is gone.
The question: Is the magic?
Pederson wasn’t exactly considered a home run hire back in 2016, but he clearly has demonstrated he can coach offense and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has stitched enough together to win games. The Eagles did tumble from the league’s No. 4 defense in 2017 to No. 23 last year, largely because they were 30th against the pass. While the Eagles spent dollars on the defense to aid Schwartz, they moved a sixth-round pick for DeSean Jackson and a conditional sixth rounder for Jordan Howard as the main additions to the offense.
Now that Wentz has signed a massive extension (four years, $128 million), it feels like a season in which the Eagles know they have to capture whatever magic is left in an aging offensive line and two top receivers (Jackson and Alshon Jeffery) who have combined to play a full season just twice between them (Jeffery in 2014, '17) since 2013.
Here are three things to know about the Eagles:
Carson Wentz is back
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft has already made one Pro Bowl and put together some impressive regular-season numbers — when healthy. In fact, he hasn’t finished a season in two years. Though he is 23-17 as a starter, much of that came on the strength of his MVP-like, 13-game run in 2017 before he blew out a knee and subsequently was sidelined for the Eagles’ Super Bowl run. Then last year, the club was 5-6 before a back injury ended his season and the team nearly upset New Orleans in the divisional round. Wentz, who will turn 27 in season, does have something to prove, and he is off to a good start by being cleared to participate in all offseason activities with no limitations. He should open the season with confidence after getting a new contract with over $100 million in guarantees before training camp.
Transition at running back
When the Eagles' offense is moving well, it’s because the running game is strong — they were 8-1 last year when rushing for 100 yards as a team. They traded for 24-year-old Jordan Howard (3,370 career rushing yards and a Pro Bowl in three seasons), drafted Miles Sanders out of Penn State in the second round and still have 22-year-old Josh Adams (511 yards) and 24-year-old Wendell Smallwood (364 yards) in the backfield mix. Super Bowl hero and Wisconsin alumnus Corey Clement is also still in the picture. It’s fair to think the Eagles will build off this running attack more in 2019.
Free-agent haul on defense
The Eagles finished last season as the league’s 23rd-ranked defense and 12th in points allowed — but were 30th against the pass. All-Pro Fletcher Cox (10.5 sacks) anchors the interior of the line, but gone are Michael Bennett (traded to New England), Chris Long (retired) and Jordan Hicks (signed in Arizona). That leaves 31-year-old Brandon Graham as the only returning Eagle with at least three sacks. So, the club signed Malik Jackson to bolster the interior and end Vinny Curry to help on the edge. They also added linebacker L.J. Fort and former Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo to plug holes. Clearly, the Eagles still feel they’re in a championship window and hope these veterans still have enough left to produce in 2019.
Packers schedule glimpse
Sept. 26 vs. Eagles, 7:20 p.m., FOX/NFL Network.
Week before: vs. Denver, Sept. 22.
Week after: at Dallas, Oct. 6.
On the horizon: vs. Detroit, Oct. 14.
Coach: Doug Pederson (29-19 overall, fourth season with Eagles).
2017 record: 9-7, second in NFC East.
Scoring offense: 22.9 points per game (18th in NFL).
Total offense: 365.3 yards per game (14th).
Scoring defense: 29 points per game (12th).
Total defense: 366.2 yards per game (23rd).
Series: Packers lead, 27-16.
Last meeting: On Nov. 28, 2016 the Packers traveled to Philadelphia and beat the Eagles 27-13 to begin the “run the table” stretch of six straight victories that propelled them from a 4-6 start to the NFC Championship game. Aaron Rodgers went 30-for-39 through the air for 313 yards and two touchdowns. Davante Adams caught five passes for 113 yards and Jordy Nelson added eight catches for 91 yards. James Starks led the Packers in rushing with 41 yards. On defense, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Julius Peppers and Mike Daniels all sacked Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.