ASHBURN — Doug Pederson pays attention to the standings. The Philadelphia Eagles coach is well aware that entering Week 15, all four teams in the NFC East are below .500.
To say he didn’t see this coming would be an understatement.
“It’s a shock, quite honestly,” Pederson said. “I think you go back to the preseason with the things that were coming out, each of the teams had high hopes, high expectations. And it was going to be one of the tougher divisions in football.”
Of those four, the Eagles’ expectations were higher than most. Dubbed Super Bowl contenders in the preseason, the Eagles have looked far from the team experts predicted and instead are trying to avoid finishing below .500.
As the Redskins prepare to face the Eagles for a second time, they’ll get ready for a significantly different team from their Week 1 matchup.
At 6-7, the Eagles have had to adjust to a litany of injuries — particularly at wide receiver. Having already lost DeSean Jackson, No. 1 wideout Alshon Jeffery suffered a “significant” foot injury in Monday’s game against the New York Giants.
Here’s how dire the Eagles’ situation has gotten: Backup quarterback Josh McCown was the next man up to play receiver against the Giants if Philadelphia had suffered another injury at the position. The Eagles had just two active receivers on the roster after Jeffery went down.
“It’s been a challenge,” Pederson said. “We’ve been fortunate to have some young guys (who) have stepped in and played pretty well. … Whatever we can do to still be effective in the passing game, we’ve got to do it.”
The Eagles haven’t had consistent success in that regard.
Philadelphia ranks 17th in both passing efficiency and yards per game (229.5). Quarterback Carson Wentz, an MVP front-runner two years ago before suffering a torn ACL, was little better than average last year. His completion rate this season is down almost seven percentage points to 62.8. The Eagles, too, have had injuries on the offensive line, with star tackle Lane Johnson week to week with an ankle injury.
Back in September, the Eagles’ offense looked explosive — something the Redskins found out first-hand. Facing a double-digit deficit at halftime, the Eagles scored 25 unanswered points to win 32-27. In that game, Jackson torched the Redskins’ secondary for eight catches, 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Jackson, however, won’t be available for the Eagles this time around. The former Redskins wideout suffered a core muscle injury in Week 2 and was finally placed on injured reserve in November.
To make up for their lack of a deep threat, Philadelphia has relied heavily on its tight ends. Zach Ertz remains a Pro Bowl-quality receiving threat, while 2018 second-rounder Dallas Goedert has taken a jump in his second year.
“Their tight ends pose a problem for us, they’re just as good as wideouts,” Redskins interim coach Bill Callahan said. “I mean, you watch Ertz run down the field it’s like watching an X receiver run down the field and make the intermediate cuts and plays with just about the same type of speed.”
“Their tight ends are great,” Redskins cornerback Fabian Moreau said, “so we’ve still got a great match up on our hands.”
Still, for everything that’s gone wrong for the Eagles this year — Philadelphia’s secondary has also been a mess — they still have a shot at the division. After the Redskins, they have a pivotal Week 16 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, who are also 6-7. By comparison, the Redskins, who are eliminated from the playoffs, are just looking for their first division win of the season. Washington’s last three games, in fact, are against divisional foes.
“I want to see us compete in the divisional games,” Callahan said. “We haven’t been good, I think we’re 0-7 in our last divisional games and that hits hard. We’re 0-5 against Philly in the last five games. So, I’d like to see a competitive effort against the division.
“This is a chance to kind of redeem ourselves in a lot of ways and really set the tone for next season.”