The Eagles’ offense just isn’t going to get fixed in 2018.
Carson Wentz and his teammates proved that in their overtime loss Sunday at Dallas, crushing the hopes of any stray, remaining true believers, anyone who might have thought those baby steps forward against the Giants (25 points) and the Redskins (28) were signs of all that talent finally starting to come together in a last-minute dash to the playoffs.
After a mildly encouraging first series at AT&T Stadium, it was back to square one. Back to no running game. Back to invisibility for Golden Tate, the week after he caught seven passes for 85 yards and a touchdown against Washington. Back to no points scored in the first quarter, no points scored in the first half. The Eagles scored in the third quarter only because Corey Graham returned an interception to the Dallas 2.
Back to this strangely passive, back-footed, too-often inaccurate version of Wentz. More than anything, the Eagles needed Wentz to carry them to an upset Sunday, the day before the 1-year anniversary of his knee injury at Los Angeles, where the team plays this week. By the 1-year mark, we were told, Wentz would be his old MVP-candidate self again, fending off pass rushers, buying time, slinging touchdowns, pumping his fist.
Sunday, Wentz seemed rooted to one spot in the pocket. Couldn’t step up. Couldn’t crow-hop a few steps to buy time. Certainly couldn’t take off and make a play with his legs.
On Monday, Doug Pederson said Wentz had “no running lanes to escape” the Dallas pass rush.
Pederson tried to explain that mushy, sluggish Wentz third-and-1 option play to the short side with some jargon about how DeMarcus Lawrence didn’t go at Lane Johnson on the side they thought he would, but really, it was an odd play call. Wentz and Josh Adams attacked it with no alacrity.
Pederson was asked about Wentz’s recent accuracy. Fox analyst Troy Aikman said Sunday that Wentz “just misses way too many easy throws for a guy who’s as good as he is.”
“I think he’s been good, I wouldn’t say it’s been great,” Pederson said, before observing that route-running, coverage and protection are all factors that affect accuracy.
With the season on the line Sunday, you might have thought Wentz would exit the field after each series with fire in his eyes and defiance on his lips. Mostly he bowed his head and jogged off, looking up only to try to catch a glimpse of the scoreboard replay of whatever it was that had just failed to work.
Once on the sideline, Wentz would slump to the bench and stare at the blue tablet device that offers still-photo replays, as if it were a portal to another dimension to which he might escape, and thus avoid making another postgame speech about the need to solve the problem of slow starts.
“That’s not good enough,” Pederson affirmed Monday, when a questioner wondered how a team with this sort of offensive talent, that takes pride in how meticulously it prepares, could go to halftime with no points and 70 total yards, on 17 offensive plays.
Pederson acknowledged that it was difficult to be standing under the NovaCare TV lights, still saying this stuff 14 weeks into the season.
“Yeah, it’s been difficult, because [the attempted fixes aren’t] showing up on the field,” Pederson said. “So, again, it goes back to how am I teaching plays? How am I teaching openers? I put a lot of that on myself, because I’m the one calling the play.”
Somehow, Wentz and the offense got going in the fourth quarter. Suddenly, there were the throws to Dallas Goedert that have been absent since October, there was a perfect 42-yard strike to Nelson Agholor, there was Darren Sproles churning into the end zone. For most of the game, the only weapon Wentz could command was Zach Ertz, but inexplicably, the whole menu opened up once true desperation time arrived, and the Eagles looked like the Eagles again, until overtime, when they never got the ball.
Pederson, asked about Wentz’s progress since his Week 3 return, noted that the quarterback missed a lot of preseason work, “but now he’s feeling good. He’s feeling as healthy as he’s ever been. … But it’s that mental journey to get [injury victims] back to where they feel comfortable and confident in what they’re doing.”
Asked if Wentz is mentally there, if he has completed the journey, Pederson said, “Yeah, totally, 100 percent.”
Dallas was able to kick that 62-yard field goal just before halftime because with 1 second remaining, Dak Prescott’s pass sailed past his receiver by about 10 feet. An accurate pass and a catch, and it would have been 3-0 at the half instead of 6-0.
On Sidney Jones’ final fourth-quarter play before someone on the sideline realized he just couldn’t run with that aggravated hamstring injury, Jones was beaten badly on a third-down throw to Michael Gallup that would have been a touchdown had Prescott not lofted it over the receiver. Of course, this led to De’Vante Bausby, and a touchdown that had nothing to do with hamstrings.
Rasul Douglas made a tremendous interception and finished with nine solo tackles in what might have been the best effort of his career. Even on that fatal, final play, Douglas got inside Amari Cooper on the slant and just missed another pick.
Ezekiel Elliott gained 72 rushing yards on 11 carries in the first half, 41 yards on 17 carries in the second half.
That Carson Wentz had been working on his passing mechanics with Markelle Fultz’s guy?
The Eagles converted their first third-down opportunity Sunday, three minutes into the game. They never converted another. They were 0-for-8 the rest of the way, with one fourth-down conversion.
This might seem like an odd thing to say after an Eagles overtime loss in which the Dallas Cowboys amassed 576 yards, their highest total since 1978, but the Eagles’ defensive leaders really showed up Sunday.
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who played 79 snaps, finished with a sack-and-a-half and had another sack negated by a Dallas holding penalty. Cox hit Dak Prescott four times. Defensive end Michael Bennett was the best defensive player on the field; his stat line included five solo tackles in 74 snaps, 1.5 sacks, two tackles for a loss, five quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
The rotation shortened when rookie defensive end Josh Sweat went down with an ankle injury, but Cox and Bennett didn’t seem to wear down. Defensive end Brandon Graham – 83 snaps – recovered the Prescott fumble that Bennett forced.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins again found himself trying to sort out chaos – after Sidney Jones left with his recurring hamstring pull, Jenkins and Rasul Douglas were the only remaining Eagles defensive backs from the group that started the season, and Douglas was mainly a special teams guy before all the injuries hit.
Jenkins made eight solo tackles and forced that opening-kickoff fumble that everyone except NFL replay understood was recovered by the Eagles.
“We’ll do the same thing – get back, rest up, prepare and go compete,” against the Rams this week, Jenkins vowed.
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