Carson Wentz had to carry the Eagles early in the season. He’s still very much an MVP-caliber playmaker, but now the rest of Philadelphia’s NFC title train has caught up to its young conductor.
For a second straight game, with an open week in between, the Eagles enjoyed a 28-point victory, this time routing the rival Cowboys 37-9 on Sunday night. At 9-1, they have an almost-insurmountable four-game lead over Dallas in the NFC East with six games left to play.
With the division mostly decided, the attention turns to just how far the Eagles can go in the playoffs in a top-heavy conference. Wentz’s breakout in his second year made the Eagles upstarts in the first half of 2017. Now that they’ve developed into a juggernaut in the second half, they have the luxury of being less reliant on his magic tricks to pull out victories.
The Dallas game was very similar to Philly’s 51-23 rout of Denver in Week 9. With former Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi in the mix for the first time against the Broncos, the Eagles rushed 37 times for 197 yards. The defense racked up three sacks and two interceptions. Wentz had to throw for just 199 with his four TDs.
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Against the Cowboys, the running game and the pass defense were even better. The Eagles rushed 33 times for 215 yards, with Ajayi leading the way with a 71-yard dash. They sacked Dak Prescott four times and intercepted him three times. They also forced him to fumble and turned that into another score.
Wentz had a rough first half Sunday with a string of incompletions and little help from his receivers. He ended up with efficient numbers (14-of-27 passing, 168 yards, two TDs). He took advantage of having plenty of time to throw; combined with his elusiveness, a strong Cowboys pass rush couldn’t drop him once.
Beyond Wentz, the Eagles are the best team in NFL through Week 11 because they have an elite offensive line (even without left tackle Jason Peters) and a dominant defensive line, inside and out. They secure and get after the edges. They control the action between the tackles.
Those groups allowed the Birds to show no mercy to the Cowboys, who were down left tackle Tyron Smith and linebacker Sean Lee. Without Smith to help Prescott in pass protection and without Lee to slow down the run, Dallas was doomed against Philadelphia’s strengths.
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Then there was the return of cornerback Ronald Darby to help shore up the Eagles’ weakest position. In his first action since Week 1, when he was newly acquired from the Bills, Darby led the team with eight tackles and had one of the INTs against Prescott.
The game was billed as a duel between Wentz and Prescott, but as we still know, NFL quarterbacks don’t “play against each other” in the way tennis players step on the court or boxers step into the ring. Wentz didn’t have to do much to play better than Prescott while his team ran at will and brought so much pressure on his counterpart.
Wentz has proved with his dazzling plays this season that he isn’t a “dependent” QB. Coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich have used offensive wrinkles to maximize his athletic ability and make him difficult to contain. Now that Wentz just needs to execute more “routine” pass plays that are set up by the run, he’s nearly impossible to stop.
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Wentz remains an MVP favorite for his individual play, and the strength of his current supporting cast shouldn’t diminish that status, but the Eagles are also showing they can roll in games when he’s not superhuman, a sign of how complete a team they’ve become.
The rest of the NFC’s contenders already had to worry about Wentz’s wizardry while his team was working to rise to his level. The thought of him as being more of a facilitator now? That should be downright scary.