Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3
The Philadelphia Eagles have done what they always do: provide a false sense of hope to its long-suffering fans for just long enough to suck us back in, only to turn around crush our dreams in glorious fashion.
After starting the season a surprising 3-0, capped off with a 34-3 romp over the Super Bowl contending Pittsburgh Steelers, it should come as a surprise to no one that the Eagles subsequently lost to the lowly Detroit Lions and mediocre Washington Redskins.
And while the losses weren’t entirely shocking — again, this is the Eagles, and, this is the NFL, where parity exists by design — it’s the way the Eagles lost that has to leave the greater Delaware Valley exceedingly frustrated.
Penalties. Missed tackles. Bad coaching. Bad quarterback play. All of it was on full display in 60 minutes of football that likely took at least 2 years off my life and left me with a few more gray hairs than I started with.
So without further ado, here are the good, the bad, and the ugly take-aways from that terrible loss to the Redskins.
The Good: most of Carson Wentz’s 2nd half
I know what you are thinking: Wentz played his worst game of the season. He completed 11-22, for 179 yards, 0 tds, 0 ints, and a 77.7 quarterback rating. How on earth can you say he played well?
For starters, there wasn’t much else from which to choose. But I also thought Wentz rebounded nicely for most of the second half, making some spectacular plays to carry the Eagles back into a game they had no business being in.
Wentz has been criticized by some for not attacking defenses down field. As I’ve explained before, the criticism seems to conflate the infrequency with which Wentz attacks defenses downfield with an inability to actually do so. While the numbers support the former, there is no support whatsoever for the latter. Look no further than this sublime 54 yard completion to Jordan Matthews between two defenders.
Wentz has also impressed all season long with his athleticism. But unlike most athletic rookie quarterbacks, Wentz is not using his legs to take off at the first sign of trouble, but is instead using his legs to extend plays while keeping his eyes down field looking for an open receiver. That skill takes some years to cultivate, while others (see, RGIII) never figure it out.
Late in the 4th quarter with the Eagles down 7 and facing a 3rd and 9, Wentz navigated the pocket to avoid pressure, kept his eyes down field and delivered a strike to Nelson Agholor for an 18 yard gain and a first down.
Wentz’s best play of the game did not even count, thanks to a block in the back penalty on Wendell Smallwood. Wentz again used his athleticism to avoid the sack, kept his eyes down field and released the ball while being tackled to the ground. That is an Aaron Rodgers/Big Ben-esque play from a rookie quarterback making only his fifth start.
The Eagles offensive line looked like they were training for a matador bull fight. The Eagles receivers reverted back to dropping passes at the most inopportune times. And yet, Wentz persevered, rebounding from a slow start to put the Eagles on the cusp of victory. We obviously want to see more consistency from Wentz moving forward, but it was hard not to be impressed with his performance during parts of this game.
The Bad: Wentz’s 1st half (plus end of the game) and Doug Pederson
While Wentz played well in the second half, he played poorly in the first. Wentz was hit early, as the Halapoulivaati Vaitai experiment was an unmitigated disaster. This seemed to throw Wentz off his game, as he completed only 3-8 passes for 28 yards, 3.5 ypa and a 47.9 passer rating. And Wentz reverted back to his college tendency of missing receivers high. I counted at least three high passes in the first half alone which contributed to the stalled drives and played a part in allowing the Redskins to jump out to a big lead.
Wentz’s poor play continued at the worst possible time: during the Eagles final drive of the game as they tried to comeback from a touchdown deficit. Wentz was sacked twice on second and third down, thanks in large part to Wentz taking too long in the pocket to get rid of the football. These sacks were entirely avoidable. Throw the ball away. Scramble. Do anything but take the sack. They were rookie moments at the worst possible time and effectively ended the Eagles chances in the game.
Doug Pederson had a few rookie moments of his own on Sunday. Fifth round draft pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai was making the first start of his career and faced off against Pro Bowl outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Yet, Pederson left Vaitai out on an island for most of the first half and at critical junctures in the second.
It’s hard to blame the rookie. Pederson either misread Big V’s readiness to start or failed to adjust quickly enough to provide him the help that he needed. While I am surprised that Pederson is sticking with Big V this week against the Vikings’ vaunted defense, Pederson needs to avoid making the same mistakes twice. Provide Big V help more frequently, and if that doesn’t work, pull him and go to the veteran Stefan Wisniewski.
Pederson also confirmed Eagles fans’ worst fear by replicating Andy Reid’s porous clock management at the end of the game. To set the scene: the Eagles were facing 4th and 20+ yards with about 1:40 left in the game, down 7. Pederson (correctly) chose to punt the ball, hoping that the Eagles defense would get a quick 3 and out and give the ball back to the offense with enough time to tie the game.
Inexplicably, Pederson took a timeout before punting the football, leaving the Eagles with only two timeouts on the ensuing Redskins drive (remember, it was past the two minute warning by this point, so there was no other way to stop the clock).
It didn’t end up mattering since the Redskins converted on 3rd down and ran out the clock to win the game. But it could have have mattered if the Eagles got the stop on third down and had no way to stop the clock. The outcome should not overshadow the process.
Pederson deserves a pass since he has exceeded expectations so far this season. But he will need to step up his game with the undefeated Minnesota Vikings coming into town this week.
Runner up: Malcolm Jenkins: there is no way to sugarcoat this. Jenkins had one of his worst games wearing an Eagles uniform. He missed tackles, got burned by Vernon Davis on a wheel route for a big play and gave up at least one touchdown in coverage (the second was in zone coverage, so Jenkins deserves only part of the blame). Jenkins has been one of the Eagles best players for the better part of the last two seasons, so we shouldn’t be concerned about this continuing. But it was a bad game from the safety.
The Ugly: Referees and the Defense
Last week, I held off on writing a piece that highlighted just how bad the officiating was in the Eagles loss to the Lions. It would have sounded like sour grapes, especially since the Eagles played so poorly in the first half.
The Eagles played bad again on Sunday, but the officiating was terrible for a second week in a row. The Eagles were called for 13 penalties for 134 yards after being called for 14 penalties totaling 111 yards the week before. Combined, that’s 27 penalties for 245 yards, compared to 11 penalties for 93 yards called on their opponents.
These things usually even themselves out in the long run, and the poor officiating seems to be a league wide epidemic, but it’s hard to ignore that the Eagles have received the short end of the stick in the last two games.
Here are two side by side comparisons of calls made against the Eagles but not the Redskins. To be clear: this is not to suggest the calls against the Eagles were wrong, but this is to say that the officiating missed more blatant penalties committed by the Redskins.
With that said, the Eagles don’t deserve any excuses. The coaches and players lost this game on their own merit. Perhaps most egregiously was the performance from the defense. I counted (at least) 9 missed tackles in this game, many of which were the byproduct of players taking bad angles, using bad technique, or giving bad effort. Here is each missed tackle in one depressing video:
But it wasn’t just missed tackles. The Eagles were porous on third down, allowing the Redskins to covert 7 of 13 opportunities. This contributed, in part, to a 34 to 25 minute disparity in time of possession.
The defense (and at times, special teams), just could not get out of their own way. Consider the following sequences of plays on two different drives. On the Redskins’ first touchdown drive, the following happened:
- The Eagles punted the ball out of bounds at the 14 yard line, but were called for a chop block, which is a 15 yard penalty. This moved the Redskins up to the 29 yard line.
- On the next play, Destiny Vaeao was called for encroachment, giving the Redskins another free 5 yards.
- Without doing anything, the Redskins went from being pinned inside their own 15 to the 34 yard line. According to at least one study, this increased the Redskins odds of scoring from 26.7% to 36.3%, a 10 point increase.
- On the following play, Jalen Mills was burned by DeSean Jackson for a 35-yard gain.
- The Redskins scored a touchdown two plays later.
Or consider this sequence of events, with the Eagles down 7 with 12:09 left in the 4th quarter:
- Malcolm Jenkins is beaten by Vernon Davis on wheel route for a 37 yard gain.
- Malcolm Jenkins misses an easy tackle, allowing Chris Thompson to gain about 5 more yards.
- Rodney McLeod is called offsides, which negated one of the rare instances in which the defensive line got pressure on Cousins and forced an incompletion.
- The Redskins ended up getting a field goal.
That’s 10 points the Redskins scored thanks in large part to boneheaded mistakes and penalties from the Eagles. Did I mention the Eagles lost by 7?
Runner up: Jalen Mills. The rookie cornerback had a rough game, as he was repeatedly abused by former Eagle DeSean Jackson. Mills didn’t fair much better against Pierre Garcon, as the receiver caught two big plays against Mills. The day could have been even worse, as Jackson dropped a surefire touchdown on a play in which he had Mills beaten. Yet, through it all, Mills was finger waving like he was Dikembe Mutombo. Someone should tell Mills to stop, especially when he is playing so poorly.
This was the second week in a row the Eagles played sloppy, undisciplined football. They don’t have enough elite talent on their roster to overcome self-inflicted wounds. If they are going to have any chance against the Vikings, they will need to get back to playing fundamentally sound football in all three phases of the game.