Though the Eagles’ current struggles may seem an enigma, some of the greatest NFL success stories have stemmed from teams playing as sloppily as the men in green. Despite terrible turnovers, mind-boggling mistakes, and incredible inconsistency, the Eagles—like teams of the past—can right the ship.
The Eagles of six years ago finished among the closest to the Super Bowl as any of Andy Reid’s teams. Philadelphia entered a Thanksgiving matchup at an even 5-5-1, fresh off of the Ravens battering the wounded Eagles. Quarterback Donovan McNabb was pulled from the Ravens game after a dismal opening half, and speculation spurred regarding the starting signal-caller spot.The Eagles had played poorly the last few weeks, having gone 0-2-1 in the past three games. Few expected the Eagles to hang in the division race that year, let alone make the playoffs.
McNabb was ultimately reinstated as the starter, and returned in emphatic fashion. The Eagles cooked the Cardinals on Turkey Day, beating Arizona 48-20. The Eagles season-long offensive struggles reached a climax when McNabb went 8-18 for 59 yards in the first half. Likewise, running back Brian Westbrook gained a meager 39 yards on 14 carries. The Eagles went on to win six of their last eight games(including post season), including a 23-11 Divisional Playoff matchup in New York. The previous week, McNabb went 23-34 for 300 yards in Minnesota. Westbrook continued to struggle that winter, but found ways to get involved in the passing game. The Eagles great broke off a 71-yard touchdown from a McNabb screen, sealing a 26-14 win.
Ironically, the Eagles upcoming opponent faced similar obstacles in their epic 2011 run: a Super Bowl run. New York—having cruised to s 6-2 record—seemed to lose any semblance of fundamental football in an ill-timed four-game losing streak. The Giants entered a Christmas Eve matchup needing a two-game win streak against the rival Jets and Cowboys. They came out on top of an equally desperate Jets team, and carried major momentum into a Sunday night playoff prequel against Dallas. The Men in Blue knocked the might Cowboys off their saddles, and rode the mojo all the way to the Super Bowl.
These are but some of the instances that depict the landscape of NFL game planning. Coach preparation is a chess gam of ebb and flow: a coach will create a concept that the team will lean on, which sometimes carries a team for multiple weeks. Opposing units adjust, and stifle the concept for a few weeks further. Eventually, the coach will counter-adjust, and can get the team back on track.
The commonality of the above examples? Each team saved its season in a massive, pinnacle game. Thanksgiving night and a divisional “playoff” game spurred both the ’08 Eagles and the ’11 Giants to deep playoff runs. A win Sunday night will give the Eagles a short-term lead of the NFC East; more importantly, it will catapult the team for the rest of the season. As the Giants talk their way into next week, Chip Kelly and the coaching staff may well discover a “Eureka” moment this week, finding a way to correct the issues of the last few games. If they correct all the mishaps of previous weeks in time for Sunday, the Eagles will leave the Linc victorious, and be set for liftoff in the second half of the season.