Eagles have tough road ahead after mediocre first half
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Repeating as Super Bowl champions already was a tough task before the Philadelphia Eagles had a mediocre first half.
The offense was inconsistent, the defense couldn't protect leads in the fourth quarter and injuries were a factor. So the Eagles entered their bye at 4-4 and were second behind Washington (5-2) in the NFC East.
They have a challenging schedule coming up and it's unlikely they'll win enough games to get a first-round bye if they can even catch the Redskins.
But help is on the way from the outside and from within.
Wide receiver Golden Tate was acquired from Detroit shortly before the NFL's trade deadline, giving Carson Wentz a needed option. The Eagles are averaging only 22.2 points per game, down from 28.6 last year.
Running back Darren Sproles could be returning for Philadelphia's next game against Dallas after being sidelined since injuring his hamstring in Week 1. Two more players from the group on injured reserve — receivers Mack Hollins and Mike Wallace and tight end Richard Rodgers — also will be eligible to come back.
"We definitely have the pieces and now is the time to get hot going into November with five more division games," Tate said. "We just need to stay on track. I plan on going to the playoffs and playing a few more."
Giving up a third-round pick for Tate, who is in the final season of his contract, was a risky move. It shows the organization believes the team is still a Super Bowl contender despite the so-so record.
"We have a lot of confidence in our players and in our coaching staff," personnel boss Howie Roseman said. "Has everything gone exactly the way we thought this year? No. I don't think any season does.
"But we think we have a really good football team and we are adding a really good player. We are going to keep our foot on the gas. We are not going to sit on our hands."
Wentz was one of the positives in the first two months. He has been mostly excellent since missing the first two games while recovering from knee surgery that forced him to miss the playoffs. However, the offense had other issues.
Running back Jay Ajayi tore his ACL, wideout Alshon Jeffery missed the first three games and bookend tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson are banged-up and didn't play up to their high standards.
"That week off is huge both for people's minds and their bodies to just really heal up, get away from the game for a couple days and everything, get your mind right so we can come back and make this run," Wentz said.
Tate could help the offense get in sync. He has more time to learn the playbook because the team is on a break.
"I want to do whatever's going to help this team win," Tate said. "When the ball is in my hand, I want to be able to make a play."
Tate has made plenty of plays throughout his 8½ seasons in the league. He has more yards after catch (3,910) than anyone else since 2010. He gives coach Doug Pederson flexibility to move guys around and perhaps put Nelson Agholor back in the slot where he thrived in 2017.
"He's a tremendously productive player," Roseman said. "His run-after-the-catch numbers are phenomenal. We're really excited to get him."
The Eagles are now better equipped to win shootouts if their defense doesn't perform up to expectations. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's unit struggled against the pass and allowed several fourth-down conversions in important situations in a couple of losses when a stop would've given the team a win.
"We have to score more points," Pederson said. "We have to get better. Hopefully we get some guys back healthy. We know our division. We have five division (games) in the next eight weeks, so that's a challenge, but everything is right in front of us."
Some of the issues on defense have been surprising. The line was supposed to be a major strength, but the front four isn't getting enough pressure. Brandon Graham only has 1½ sacks and Derek Barnett had season-ending shoulder surgery.
The secondary has been a problem, too. Safety Rodney McLeod went down with a knee injury and starting cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby have given up too many big plays.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL