10 things we learned from the Eagles’ 2019 season

Dave Zangaro
NBC Sports Philadelphia

That was another crazy Eagles season. 

After they lost to Miami to start December, they had a 5-7 record but then won the last four games of the season to get into the playoffs before falling to the Seahawks in the Wild Card round. 

Overall, the season was a disappointment. The Eagles had Super Bowl aspirations and while they made it to the playoffs, they didn't get close to the big game or the kind of season they were supposed to have. 

But at least we all learned some lessons. Here are 10 of them: 

1. Carson Wentz is clutch 

It was a shame to see Wentz suffer a concussion early in the playoff game but that didn't change how well he played down the stretch for the Eagles. In three of the four wins in December, Wentz was credited with a game-winning drive and in two of them he was credited with a fourth-quarter comeback. This season, Wentz led the Eagles on four game-winning drives, half of his career total. 

And, overall, his numbers in December were great despite playing with a bunch of guys who had been called up from the practice squad. Check them out: 66%, 1,509 yards, 10 TD, 1 INT, 99.3 rating. 

We saw Wentz grow as a player and as a leader this season, especially down the stretch. Everything doesn't carry over from year to year, but a clutch quarterback gaining confidence while he earns the confidence of his teammates is big. 

2. Eagles still won't quit on Doug Pederson 

For the second straight season, the Eagles fell into a hole and they never gave up. It's obviously not ideal to learn this in back-to-back years but it's a good thing to know. In consecutive seasons, the Eagles were 4-6 and 5-7 and rallied back to make it into the playoffs. Even when they were losing games this year - even in the loss to Miami - it wasn't for lack of effort. Pederson deserves plenty of blame for the failures of his team in 2019 but he also deserves a lot of credit for getting his guys to buy in when a lot of teams would have checked out. 

3. Practice squad serves a purpose

We're going to remember 2019 as the Year of the Practice Squad. The Eagles had 12 players spend time on their practice squad and the 53-man roster and they had 21 players on the 53-man roster at some point who had been on a practice squad at some point in their careers. And some of those guys played big roles. The two who really come to mind are Greg Ward Jr. and Boston Scott, who both began the season on the practice squad. 

Scott was called up on Oct. 11 and by the end of the season was the Eagles' No. 2 running back option, making plays every week. 

And Ward was called up for good on Nov. 23. After that date, Ward was third on the team in receptions (behind Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz) with 28, more than triple the next closest receiver. 

After the Eagles lost in the playoffs, here's what Jason Peters (a former member of the Bills' practice squad over a decade ago) said would be his lasting memory of the season: 

"All of the practice squad guys coming up, stepping up, and getting us to this point."

While the Eagles use their practice squad players on their scout team to get the starters ready for Sundays, they view the practice squad as a chance to develop young players. That approach paid off in 2019. 

4. They need receivers 

The Eagles came into the season with Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Mack Hollins. Back then, we thought that was a pretty formidable group of receivers. We were wrong. 

DeSean got hurt, Alshon and Nelly were bad before they got hurt, JJAW was a disappointment and Hollins played more than I've ever seen a receiver play without catching a pass. It all went bad. By the end of the season, the Eagles had their disappointing second-round pick playing alongside several guys who were on practice squads earlier in the season. Good for those guys, bad for the team. 

And as you've probably heard a bunch by now, Wentz became the first QB in NFL history to throw for 4,000+ yards without a receiver over 500. It has become very clear the Eagles need to get receivers. 

5. They need guys to stop receivers 

It has also become clear the Eagles need to find cornerbacks to solidify their secondary. The Eagles in four seasons under Jim Schwartz have the NFL's-best rush defense and the NFL's 23rd-best pass defense. The Eagles had the 19th pass defense in the league in 2019 and they gave up more 40-yard pass plays (15) than all but one other NFL team.  

They had more injuries at the position with Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, and now both are set to become free agents. Meanwhile, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas haven't developed the way second- and third-round picks probably should. It's a big problem. 

6. Injuries can wreck a season 

All teams deal with injuries but for the second straight season the Eagles were decimated. They lost key players and a lot of them play the same positions. Here's a reminder of everyone who spent time on IR this season in alphabetical order: Brandon Brooks, Corey Clement, Ronald Darby, Rudy Ford, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Daeshon Hall, DeSean Jackson, Malik Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Cre'Von LeBlanc, Jordan Mailata, Joe Ostman, Hassan Ridgeway, Darren Sproles. 

The Eagles hired a new chief medical officer in June and they are hoping they'll be able to figure out a way to stay healthier. At least they realize this seems abnormal. 

"There is a part of that that is natural during the game," Roseman said. "Injuries are going to happen. But we have to figure out a way to get better here. We can help from a front office perspective by looking at the players that we bring in. Hope is not a strategy when it comes to injuries. When you bring in guys that are injured, it obviously increases the risk that they will get hurt again."

7. This ain't an old folks home 

The biggest admission from Roseman during his year-end press conference is something the rest of us came to understand during the season: the Eagles need an infusion of youth. 

At the beginning of the 2019 season, the Eagles had the third-oldest roster in the NFL at 26.7 years old, according to Spotrac. And older players obviously have a higher likelihood of getting hurt. 

The Eagles need to get young and the way to do that is through the draft. The Birds expect to have 10 picks this spring; now they just need to hit on some of them. 

8. Zach Ertz is one tough dude 

Statistically, Ertz took a step backward this season but he still had 88 catches for 916 yards and six touchdowns. He's putting up numbers that might put him in the Hall of Fame one day. But he also should have cemented his status as one of the toughest dudes in this city. We better never hear about that Vontaze Burfict play ever again. 

Against the Cowboys on Dec. 22, Ertz took a huge hit and suffered broken ribs, cartilage damage and a lacerated kidney. He finished the game and was back on the field two weeks later in the playoffs. Incredible. 

9. Miles Sanders could be special 

In the first three weeks of his rookie season, Sanders was averaging just over 3.1 yards per attempt and there were some folks ready to write him off. Good thing the Eagles didn't. Because the rest of the regular season, he averaged over 4.9 yards per attempt and proved himself as a true lead back. He smashed the Eagles' rookie record for yards from scrimmage and led all rookies in 2019. And then in the playoff game, he still managed to pick up 77 scrimmage yards despite playing through an ankle sprain and suffering an MCL sprain. 

Sanders has the chance to be great. 

10. Complementary football is key 

When the Eagles were struggling this year - and even when they weren't - they weren't very good at playing complementary football. When the offense was good, the defense wasn't. When the defense was good, the offense wasn't. When both units were finally playing well together, special teams failed. 

How many complete performances did the 2019 Eagles put together? Not many. That needs to change in 2020. 

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10 things we learned from the Eagles 2019 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

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