Five reasons the Eagles are at the top of the NFC

Credit: Bob Leverone

Credit: Bob Leverone

The Eagles are idle until next Monday night, which means they can enjoy at least a full week of unquestioned NFC supremacy. Weekend losses by the Packers and Falcons, combined with the Eagles' win at Carolina on Thursday, left the Birds with a 5-1 record, best in the conference; 4-0 against conference opponents; and 2-0 in the East. They lost at Kansas City, and they aren't perfect, but they have no discernible deficiencies.

They're just good.

How did this happen? How did a 7-9 team that lost nine of 11 games in the heart of 2016 become one of the best teams in football six games into 2017?

It starts at the top.

1. Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman, Doug Pederson: Lurie gets the credit for the decision to fire Chip Kelly in 2015, then to reinstate Roseman as general manager, then to hire Pederson. Lurie also approved the strategy to drain assets to trade up and draft Carson Wentz; and, before that, to retain Sam Bradford, whom Roseman used to recoup some of those assets.

Roseman's contract extensions to Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz and even Vinny Curry, which seemed questionable at times last season, look smart now. Roseman also acquired feature back LeGarrette Blount, defensive tackle Tim Jernigan and rookie kicker Jake Elliott after Caleb Sturgis was injured in the opener.

Pederson convinced Roseman that he could afford to trade Bradford at the end of the 2016 training camp because he believed Wentz was ready to start; and, of course, Pederson and his assistants have polished Wentz into a gem. They also turned receiver Nelson Agholor and linebacker Mychal Kendricks into consistent playmakers and are extracting maximum potential from corners Patrick Robinson and Jalen Mills. They made a dubious offensive line dominant, made a suspect defense dynamic and committed to the run game (finally).

2. Carson Wentz: It's tempting to gush about Wentz and his 13-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and his 99.6 passer rating and his 133 rushing yards. It's also tempting to nit-pick his 60.9 percent completion rate or his 7.69 yards per attempt or his impetuous and dangerous habit of trying to make a play when none is there.

It's sensible, though, to simply state the obvious: Wentz has refined his mechanics, has improved his deep passes and recognizes defenses better. This should be expected of a quarterback taken No. 2 overall. He might be a bit ahead of the curve, but then that's why he went so high.

3. Jason Peters and Brandon Brooks: Credit Roseman — who asked Peters to take a pay cut this offseason — with realizing that, at 35, Peters remains their best option at left tackle, and signing him to an extension. So far, Peters has been their best lineman. Brooks, the right guard Roseman signed last year, has been second-best. Their elite play has compensated for inconsistent performances at the unsettled left-guard spot; right tackle Lane Johnson's absence for the last game-and-a-half; and center Jason Kelce's occasional hiccup.

4. Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry & Co.: The Eagles have committed more than $160 million to their top six defensive linemen, all of whom are first- or second-round draft picks. They have played to their payroll and pedigree. The defense is built around $102 million tackle Cox, but it shined without him against the Chargers and Cardinals. Cox was dominant in his return at Carolina, but both Graham and Curry, known better for the pass-rush production, have been outstanding against the run. So has backup defensive tackle Beau Allen, a seventh-round pick in 2014 who makes just $690,000.

5. The Malcolm Jenkins Group: So uninspiring were the cornerbacks during training camp that the Eagles traded top receiver Jordan Matthews to Buffalo for Ronald Darby ... who was injured in the opener ... which, of course, spelled disaster. Right? Not quite. Mills, a seventh-round pick last year, has proved himself worthy of a starting spot, and newcomer Robinson has been effective both in the slot and on the outside. Safety Rodney McLeod is playing faster in his second season as an Eagle, while Jenkins, the unquestioned leader of the football team, is having his best season as both a safety and as a citizen.

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