Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells once stated, “You are what your record says you are,” and he was absolutely right. The Eagles finished 7-9 last season, demonstrating all the hallmarks of a 7-9 team along the way – inconsistency, inexperience, one or two crippling weaknesses and an inability to finish games. They deserved to go 7-9.
Yet, if we revisit how the 2016 campaign played out for the Eagles, it offers more reason for hope than that record suggests. That’s because five of those losses hinged on one play, which is to say if you could change the outcome of one snap, just one bounce of the ball, in theory, the Eagles could have won five more games.
Basically, five plays were the difference between 7-9 and 12-4.
Coulda, shoulda, woulda – right? Totally agree. Again, the Eagles deserved to go 7-9 last year, and nobody is trying to tell you any different.
However, what might those five plays be able to tell us about 2017? Because there doesn’t seem to be any question the Eagles are improved, either. Maybe not five games better, but if they even convert just two or three, that just might be enough to put this team in playoff contention.
Week 4 at Detroit – 24-23
On 3rd-and-2 with 2:41 remaining and a 23-21 lead, Ryan Mathews fumbles at the Eagles’ 45-yard line – short of the first down anyway, but worse still, giving the Lions the ball just outside of field-goal range. Sure enough, Detroit moves into range quickly and kicks the eventual game winner. Immediately after, a Carson Wentz interception seals the Eagles’ fate.
What might be different in 2017: The Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount, one of the best short-yardage backs in the game, making the offense more likely to convert. Even if the run is stuffed, Blount is less prone to fumble than Mathews, potentially giving the Eagles a chance to punt and make the opponent drive the length of the field for the kick.
Week 8 at Dallas – 29-23, OT
Faced with 4th-and-14 at the Dallas 36-yard-line and clinging to a 23-16 lead, Doug Pederson opts to punt rather than attempt a 54-yard field goal with 6:34 remaining, after Caleb Sturgis nailed a 55-yard try earlier. Donnie Jones’ kick pins the Cowboys at the 10, yet they proceed to march down the field anyway, tying the game at 23 apiece with 3:11 left. The stalemate drags into overtime, where Dallas gets the ball first and goes right down the field again.
What might be different in 2017: Pederson was a first-year head coach whose judgment was questionable on occasion. One would hope he improves with time. Here, a field goal would’ve left the Eagles some breathing room, so that even if the defense bends, they would own a late lead and could attempt to ice the game. Maybe Sturgis misses, and the Cowboys score anyway, although that result would’ve left more time on the clock, too. Either way, attempting the field goal increases the Eagles’ odds of winning.
Week 9 at New York Giants – 28-23
With the Eagles already trailing, a Jordan Hicks interception gave them life with 1:48 remaining. In need of a touchdown, the offense stalls at New York’s 17-yard line, and it’s 4th-and-10. Wentz’s pass to Jordan Matthews is high and wide, but the ball glances off the receiver’s outstretched fingers and falls harmlessly to the turf to end the comeback bid.
What might be different in 2017: Matthews is no longer the only playmaker the Eagles have at receiver, as the Eagles added Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency. Jeffery in particular has a knack for making circus catches, and even though the pass was slightly off target, is more likely to make the grab and win the game here.
Week 14 vs. Washington – 27-22
The Eagles lead 22-21 with 2:59 remaining in the fourth quarter and need a stop. Washington has driven down to the Eagles’ 35-yard line, but it’s 4th-and-1 and not quite in field-goal range. Kirk Cousins drops back to pass and hits Pierre Garcon, who beats Leodis McKelvin for a six-yard gain and a first down to extend the drive. Two plays later, Washington scores a touchdown, while the Eagles’ last gasp comes up short again.
What might be different in 2017: The secondary is still a concern for the Eagles, although it’s hard to do worse than McKelvin, who ranked 75th out of 79 qualifying corners in opponents’ passer rating, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2017, that could be Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson or Rasul Douglas on Garcon – maybe even Sidney Jones this late in the year. Ryan Kerrigan also beats Matt Tobin at right tackle to sack Wentz and halt the Eagles’ potential go-ahead drive, a scenario that’s unlikely to unfold this season given the improved depth along the offensive line.
Week 15 at Baltimore – 27-26
The Eagles finally complete a late scoring drive with four seconds remaining and have an opportunity to take the game to overtime. Rather than kick the extra point to tie the score, Pederson opts to go for two with the playoffs already off the table. Wentz’s pass intended for Matthews is tipped at the line of scrimmage and falls incomplete, crushing yet another comeback attempt.
What might be different in 2017: A tipped ball is a little unlucky, so maybe nothing would’ve been different. Then again, the Eagles have more depth up front, so maybe there would be less pressure in Wentz’s face. They have more weapons in the passing attack, so maybe they throw the fade to Jeffery. They have Blount, so maybe they go heavy and pound the ball into the end zone, or go play-action pass.
Maybe the Eagles have already won a few more games along the way and are playing for overtime instead.
Any way you look at it, the Eagles are better prepared for every one of these situations in 2017 than they were last season. In theory, that should result in more wins.