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With Carson Wentz Rolling, Eagles Are Best Team in NFC Least

With Carson Wentz Rolling, Eagles Are Best Team in NFC Least
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) throws a pass to Alshon Jeffery (17) for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Over the past several days, we’ve learned a couple of things about the NFC East.  

The first is that the division isn’t especially good. Entering Week 6, there was all of one team in the NFC East playing .500 football—and that was a 2-2 Washington Redskins team that just got pounded into paste on Monday night by the New Orleans Saints.

The second is that those Washington Redskins are not the best team in what might be the NFL‘s worst division in 2018. That honor belongs to the Philadelphia Eagles, who demolished a hapless New York Giants team 34-13 to move to 3-3 on the year.

And if the Eagles are going to make another deep playoff run and get back to the Super Bowl, it will be because quarterback Carson Wentz carries them there.

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Wentz, who missed the first two games of this season while recovering from the torn ACL that ended his 2017 season, had a second straight stellar effort. After lighting up the Minnesota Vikings for 311 yards and two touchdowns last week, Wentz went one better—278 yards, three scores and a passer rating of 122.2 on 26-of-36 passing.

The third-year pro was positively lethal on third down. He was 10-of-10 on his first 10 attempts on third down for 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

That’s called getting it done in crunch time.

In some respects, a quarterback is only as good as the receivers catching his passes, and Wentz had plenty of help. Tight end Zach Ertz was his typically stellar self, hauling in seven passes for 43 yards and a touchdown. Nelson Agholor had a season-high 91 receiving yards—including a 32-yard reception that looked like something out of a backyard game.

The big winner on the night was wideout Alshon Jeffery. For the second time in three games, Jeffery was a huge part of the Eagles’ passing game, reeling in eight passes for 74 yards and a pair of touchdowns—including a nifty 13-yard strike in the back of the end zone.

Wentz has steadily improved since taking the field for the first time at home against the Indianapolis Colts back in Week 3. Where he looked tentative and more than a little rusty against Indy, Wentz was decisive and sharp against the Giants.

While speaking with Erin Andrews of Fox after the game, Wentz credited a fast start against New York for helping the team find its rhythm.

“I thought it was big for us to come out early and get on the board,” Wentz said. “The defense made a heck of a play on that first drive, we had great field position and capitalized early. That’s something we preach all the time is starting fast, and we were able to do that tonight.”

Long story short, Wentz looked like Wentz on Thursday—like the young quarterback who was an MVP front-runner before tearing his ACL in December. And the Eagles looked less like the herky-jerky offense of a month ago and more like the unit that moved up and down the field with impunity against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 11: Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles and Corey Clement #30 of the Philadelphia Eagles congratulate Zach Ertz #86 of the Philadelphia Eagles after scoring a touchdown against the New York Giants during the second qu

Steven Ryan/Getty Images

The Eagles gained a relatively modest 379 total yards against the Giants, but the team made the most of them. Philly was an outstanding 9-of-16 on third down, largely because Wentz just didn’t miss when it mattered. The Eagles scored more points in the first half against the G-Men than they had in any full game this season.

Wentz told Andrews after the game that the key to the offensive turnaround was simple—better execution.

“There’s just [been] lots of little mistakes,” he said. “Obviously we played some good teams that did some things. But we had a lot of little mistakes. There’s still some things we’ve got to clean up, but man, it feels good to get back in the win column.”

Wentz is right. One win over a bad team doesn’t fix all that ails the Eagles. There’s a reason they entered the game 2-3, and before anyone starts making travel plans for Atlanta, there are problems that need to be addressed.

A ground game that lost Jay Ajayi for the season in last week’s home loss to the Vikings struggled a bit against the Giants, gaining just 108 yards and averaging only 3.5 yards a carry. The pass defense (or more specifically, the part of the pass defense named Jalen Mills) continues to be inconsistent. And an offensive line that keeps letting Wentz take more than a few shots lost starting tackle Jason Peters to a biceps injury.

Given how quickly Peters was ruled out for the remainder of the game, there’s reason to think that could be a multiweek injury, although he told Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Inquirer that his biceps is “OK.”

To say this team is ready to take on the Los Angeles Rams or New Orleans Saints right now is stretching it.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 07: Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles heads back onto the field against the Minnesota Vikings during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on October 7, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Vikings won 23-21

Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Saying that the Eagles are the best team in their division, however, is not. The Giants are a dumpster fire that’s occasionally interrupted by a Saquon Barkley highlight. The Dallas Cowboys wouldn’t have the best wide receivers in the Big Ten. And the Redskins can’t seem to decide whether they want to be good or bad, instead settling on mediocre.

The 2018 Eagles might not be as good as the 2017 iteration (at least right now), but Thursday night they looked better than they have all season. They looked like the team to beat in the NFC East.

And they looked that way for one primary reason.

Their franchise signal-caller appears to have gotten his groove back.