Five Big Things from the Eagles Loss to Giants

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

The Philadelphia Eagles left MetLife Stadium in a more precarious position than that in which they entered. 4-4 overall, 0-3 in the division, and having lost three of their last four games. With tough games against the Falcons, Seahawks, and Packers over the next three weeks, the Eagles are at the crossroads between staying in the playoff hunt and their season ending before December.

With that said, here are five big things from the Eagles loss to the Giants.

1.  Zach Ertz played his best game of the year

Zach Ertz had his best game of the season, catching 8 of 8 targets for 97 yards. Wentz looked to him early and often, and Ertz repaid that confidence, turning in the type of performance we had hoped to see all season.

You would have never guessed it had you jumped on social media during the game, as Ertz was lambasted by Eagles fans who have lost patience with the third year tight end. Some of it is understandable. Ertz’s production doesn’t match his big, shiny new contract and he avoids contact like DeSean Jackson despite being built like Brent Celek.

But the criticism has gone too far. At one point during the game, Ertz was ripped for not getting a first down on this pass from Carson Wentz:

Had Wentz hit Ertz in stride, that is likely a first down. But given the ball placement, there simply was no way for Ertz to have gotten the first down. That didn’t matter to some, who were quick to criticize Ertz for falling short of the sticks.

It seems like we are letting our (legitimate) frustrations with what Ertz is not distract us from what he actually does well. Ertz is not going to transform into a human wrecking ball in the mold of Brent Celek — carrying guys an extra 5 yards for a first down. But Ertz is still a talented player. He’s a great route runner and, as the still shot above shows us, is capable of making spectacular catches.

If the Eagles continue to feed him the ball, he should continue to produce at a high level. And for a team starving for anyone to make a play, this is welcomed news.

2. The refs were bad, but did not cost the Eagles the game

In each of the four losses this year, the officiating has seemed especially egregious. Perhaps I am magnifying these mistakes when the Eagles lose, but it’s hard not to notice some fairly blatant calls being missed by the refs.

But let’s be honest. The refs aren’t the reason the Eagles are 4-4. The Eagles are. Consider this:

  • The refs didn’t allow the Lions to score 21 points in the first half;
  • The refs didn’t force Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor to drop easy touchdown catches against the Lions;
  • The refs didn’t cause the Eagles to miss 9+ tackles against the Redskins;
  • The refs didn’t prevent the Eagles defensive line from sacking Kirk Cousins a single time;
  • The refs didn’t force Carson Wentz to throw 5 interceptions since the bye week;
  • The refs didn’t cause the Eagles to blow a 10 point lead in the 4th quarter against the Cowboys;
  • The refs didn’t force the Eagles receivers to drop 6 passes last week in the loss to the Cowboys;
  • The refs didn’t cause Doug Pederson’s questionable play calling and clock management against the Cowboys or Giants;
  • The refs didn’t cause Doug Pederson to refuse to kick 2 field goals yesterday, which made the difference between the game;
  • The refs aren’t the reason the Eagles have the 20th rated run offense in total yards; and
  • The refs aren’t the reason the Eagles have the 21st worst red zone offense in the NFL (which might be worse after yesterday’s poor performance).

I could go on, but you get the point. If the Eagles did their jobs, we wouldn’t be talking about the refs, we would be talking about the playoffs. So while it’s fair to criticize the refs, we shouldn’t let that distract from how poorly the Eagles have played.

3. Doug Pederson continues to look like a rookie

There is an argument to be made that Pederson is the chief reason behind the Eagles losses to the Giants and Cowboys, as his questionable decisions this week and indefensible decisions last week came at the most inopportune of times.

I’m not going to rehash the mistakes he made. You saw the game. You already know them off the top of your head. I instead want to offer some perspective.

Pederson is expected to go through growing pains, especially since this is the first time he has ever called plays at the NFL level. While the 40 second play clock seems like an eternity when watching casually on TV, a lot has to be processed and decided during that period of time, including:

  • What is the down and distance;
  • What calls have we already made that have worked and not worked;
  • What is the defensive personnel;
  • What type of coverage does this defense prefer with that personnel on the field;
  • What play calling works best against that personnel;
  • What is the defenses tendencies on this particular down and distance;
  • Who do we have in the game;
  • Do we need to make a substitution.

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… Even veteran head coaches struggle with this at times (hello, Andy Reid). So of course a rookie head coach who has never called plays before is going to be prone to mental lapses.

That’s not an excuse for all of Pederson’s mistakes. Some if them were bad, even after you take into account his lack of experience. But it is an explanation for why mistakes that seem so obvious and avoidable are happening with increased regularity.

I know we live in a react now society, where hot-takes and instant analysis are preferred over looking at things with the long view, but we should tap the brakes on crushing Pederson for now. He was hailed as brilliant after the Eagles started 3-0. He didn’t just become a bad coach in a matter of a few games. He’s learning on the go, is running a simplified version of his offense to make things easier on Wentz, and his offense is almost devoid of talent. If he makes these mistakes next season, then we should be concerned.

4. Ditto Carson Wentz

I am going to go into more detail on Wentz’s struggles later this week, so I will be brief here. The warts I saw in Wentz’s college tape — poor deep ball accuracy, faulty mechanics, tendencies to throw high — were noticeably absent during his first three games of the season. While he has improved overall on these issues, they are starting to rear their ugly head again, particularly since the bye week.

The most obvious explanation is that these types of mistakes happen when a rookie quarterback is under pressure (real or perceived). The first thing to go in that situation is the mechanics. On both interceptions yesterday, Wentz was pressured and made two high throws.

I am not overly concerned with his performances. As I wrote during the middle of his impressive 3-0 start, I expected him to struggle at times. That’s par for the course with rookie quarterbacks.

Bottom line: when you are evaluating Wentz’s play, keep in mind that (1) he’s a rookie going through typical growing pains, and (2) he has almost no help on offense, as I mentioned yesterday on Twitter:

5. The division is almost certainly out of the question, but the wild card isn’t.

Breaking news: at 0-3 in the division, the Eagles are almost certainly out of competing for a division title. Even if they win their remaining three division games, it would take a pretty significant collapse from the other NFC East teams for that to matter. While I am not ruling it out entirely, the chances aren’t in the Eagles favor.

The good news is that at 4-4, the Eagles aren’t technically out of the wild card. They have left themselves almost no margin for error for the rest of the season. Here is a list of the teams competing for the two wild card spots in the NFC. Notice that the three teams at the top have already beaten the Eagles and thus (at least for now) own the tie breaker:

Team Record Eagles Record Against
Giants 5-3 0-1
Redskins 4-3-1 0-1
Lions 5-4 0-1
Packers 4-4 0-0
Saints 4-4 0-0
Cardinals 3-4-1 0-0
Buccaneers 3-5 0-0
Panthers 3-5 0-0
Rams 3-5 0-0

The Eagles don’t play the Saints, Cardinals, Bucs, Panthers or Rams this year, but they do play the Packers, Giants and Redskins. If the Eagles have any shot of securing the wild card, they must win those three games. Otherwise, they will have 7 losses (assuming they win the rest of their games), and will likely not own a single tie-breaker with the teams with which they are competing for those wild card spots. Yikes.

The Eagles have legitimate gripes about the way their schedule has unfolded. They have played three straight games against a team coming off their bye week and have the red-hot Falcons next, who have had 10 days off thanks to playing on Thursday Night Football.

To make matters worse, the Eagles schedule only gets harder from here. They have the hardest remaining strength of schedule for the rest of the season, and their next three games are particularly brutal, facing the Falcons (6-3, .625%), at the Seahawks (4-2-1, .643%), and home versus the always dangerous Aaron Rodgers led Packers (4-4, .500%).

The good news for the Eagles is that they have yet to look like they don’t belong with the big boys. They blew out the Steelers and Vikings, and arguably should have beaten the Cowboys and Giants. So they should be competitive in these games. They just need to limit the schmorgesborg of mistakes that have plagued them since the bye week.

And if the Eagles just miss out on the playoffs this year, we will likely look back at these winnable games we let slip away with even more despair.

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