PHILADELPHIA - Doug Pederson cannot survive if the Eagles lose to the visiting Bengals on Sunday, then fall to 0-4 at San Francisco the following Sunday night. General manager Howie Roseman will need to shift blame from his own shortsighted transactions, which is the real issue. Emotional intelligence and a three-year-old Super Bowl win earn a finite amount of equity with owner Jeffrey Lurie, who - it cannot be overemphasized - is 69.
Lurie cultivates a family atmosphere at the NovaCare facility, but Lurie fired Chip Kelly just after Christmas in the 2015 season, and this team is much more talented than that one was. Besides, Lurie has planned for just such a situation as this. He's already paying a stable of qualified midseason replacements: assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley; and former head coaches Jim Schwartz, the charismatic if ineffectual defensive coordinator who has cast his spell over Roseman and Lurie; and Marty Mornhinweg, who acts as an offensive adviser for Pederson, much as Brutus advised Caesar.
But Pederson and his supporters should not worry. The Eagles won't be 0-4. In fact, they should be 2-2 in two weeks, and they have a good chance of being 5-3 by the bye week. Here's why.
- The Bengals are even worse than the Eagles. They're 0-2, quarterback Joe Burrow is a rookie, and the reconstructed defense is 22nd in the NFL in yards allowed (it was 25th last season in points allowed).
- The 49ers are hurting. Defensive end Nick Bosa blew out a knee Sunday. Jimmy Garoppolo will be playing his second game on a high ankle sprain that knocked him out of Sunday's game at halftime, just after he completed a TD pass. Raheem Mostert will be two weeks removed from a knee injury that will cost him Game 3 and might cost him the Eagles game, and running back Tevin Coleman won't be around for a while.
- Carson Wentz's passer rating is 64.4, second worst in the NFL.
He has been the team's worst player. He is the main reason - not the only reason, but the main reason - that the Eagles lost to Washington and then to the Rams. He is not this bad. He'll look a lot better against the Bengals' unremarkable pass defense.
- The offensive line was a revelation Sunday. Rams tackle Aaron Donald, the best player in the NFL, finished with one assisted tackle, a level of nonproduction that happened only once in his past 52 games, including playoffs. Line coach Jeff Stoutland needed a week to get 38-year-old left tackle Jason Peters back to speed; built on newbie right guard Nate Herbig's success in Game 1; reincorporated gimpy right tackle Lane Johnson at an elite level after Johnson missed Game 1 (ankle); and got production from Matt Pryor at left guard after Isaac Seumalo injured his knee. Pryor lost three starting spots (right guard and both tackle positions) in the offseason.
- Running back Miles Sanders (hamstring) returned Sunday and gained 131 yards from scrimmage. He's the best offensive weapon.
- Defensive linemen Javon Hargrave and Derek Barnett returned from injury Sunday and were ineffective, largely because of conditioning issues and lack of practice. They will be more productive as the season progresses. This, in turn, will increase the production of Brandon Graham, Malik Jackson, and especially, Pro Bowl tackle Fletcher Cox. But unheralded end Josh Sweat is going to lead the team in sacks this season.
- Wideout Alshon Jeffery will likely return from his foot injury within the next month. He's 30, but he's playing for his next deal, and he's a possession horse and a red-zone threat. He's also much better than his heir apparent, JJ Arcega-Whiteside. He might be better injured than Arcega-Whiteside is healthy.
- Second-round rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts was activated Sunday and took the field three times as a decoy. Pederson is smart, and he's desperate, and he's no longer afraid of hurting Wentz's feelings. So, expect Hurts to become a third-down and red-zone terror.
- The team plays hard for Pederson. The players love him. They fought through massive injury issues to reach the playoffs the past three seasons. They played well down the stretch and looked strong in their playoff losses. This was a 12-win team on paper before the season started. If it gets a little healthier and if Wentz stops trying to be a hero, then Pederson could win the awful NFC East with nine victories. Maybe even 10.
After all, Mike McCarthy is coaching the Cowboys.
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