There’s something that shouldn’t get lost in the fallout of another game that laid bare the reality of this Eagles' roster.
Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz are the head coach and quarterback of a team that has lost four games. Three of those games have come against opponents who finished the weekend a combined 14-2. In two of those games, including Sunday’s 30-28 loss to the Ravens, the Eagles had a chance to tie or take the lead with less than four minutes left. In both of those games, an earlier missed field goal cost the Eagles an additional chance to play for the win.
Speaking of wins, the Eagles' one victory this season came against the defending NFC champs, on the West Coast, in a prime-time game.
None of this suggests that the Eagles are undeserving of their 1-4-1 record. A team that plays a second half like the one they played against an awful Washington Football Team is deserving of every blemish on its record. Same goes for any team that walks away with a tie against the Bengals.
Success is a pass-fail subject here in Philadelphia. You can’t win a Super Bowl if you can’t beat the best teams in the NFL. The rule of thumb for a contender: beat up on the bad teams, and play the good teams even. The Eagles have not done either one of these things this season, which makes them far less of a team than they were supposed to be.
Doug Pederson put it best when asked about his team’s record.
“That’s right where we should be,” the coach said. “One, four, and one.”
The story of the season is why they are there. And, really, it’s the shame of it. On both sides of the ball, the Eagles are one or two playmakers away from being a team that the rest of the NFL would need to reckon with.
That sounds like a big ask, but only because of what we’ve been conditioned to accept as a baseline level of skill position talent here in Philadelphia. Take John Hightower off the field and replace him with any of a number of players whom the Eagles could have snagged with the early-round draft picks they’ve spent over the last seven years on guys like Nelson Agholor, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Marcus Smith, and Eric Rowe. What if that was JuJu Smith-Schuster running wide open deep down the right side of the field in the first quarter on Sunday afternoon? What if it was Kenny Golladay? Or D.K. Metcalf? Or A.J. Brown? Or Terry McLaurin? Or Chris Godwin? What if any of those players were the ones going up for the ball in the back of the end zone against the Steelers last week?
What if that wasn’t Boston Scott in the backfield on the goal line but Alvin Kamara, or Alexander Mattison, or James Conner, or Aaron Jones, or any of a number of running backs whom the Eagles have not drafted over the years?
How about the other side of the ball?
In the postgame interview sessions, we heard a lot about the caliber of the Ravens' defense. Consider the implications of those statements, given the way in which that defense was built. Of the 11 players who started against the Eagles on Sunday, eight arrived in Baltimore via the draft, only two of them by way of a first-round pick. Consider that the Ravens acquired both of their safeties, a linebacker, and a defensive end with two sixth round picks and two fifth round picks. Consider that their shutdown cornerback was on the board when the Eagles drafted Derek Barnett. Consider that they traded a fifth-round pick for the guy who started opposite Marlon Humphrey.
Consider all of these things in conjunction with the defense that the Eagles ran out there. It included five draft picks, three of them first-rounders. If the Eagles felt compelled to tip their cap to one of the NFL’s top defenses, and if that defense was constructed largely via the draft, who were they actually tipping their cap to? And what does that say about the state of their own defense?
Forget about each individual transaction. Hindsight is 20/20. You could turn every team in the NFL into a perennial contender by cherry-picking the players they passed over in the draft. The important point exists in the totality of it all. The Eagles could easily be 4-2 with wins over two of the AFC’s leading contenders if they’d made just two or three of large handful of plays that have been there to make. Yet, instead of blaming their 1-4-1 record on the absence of players who are directly responsible for making those plays, we blame the guys responsible for giving them that opportunity. The coach, or the defensive coordinator, or, most often, the quarterback.
All of those individuals acquitted themselves well against the Ravens on Sunday. The coach had an offense that, by the end of the game, was missing nine of its original 11 starters. He had a fifth-round rookie and two former practice-squad players at wide receiver. Yet his offense scored 28 points, thanks in large part to a quarterback that people will somehow still blame.
The defense wasn’t dominant, but it did what it could. The Ravens had scoring drives of 2, 28, 35, 38, and 47 yards. This was as good of a performance as you could have hoped for from this depth chart.
“We’re not far off at all,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “We still believe in each other ... at the end of the day, that’s all I really care about -- everybody still believing and knowing that we’re one play away from being where we want to be, and one turnover away from being where we want to be. We just have to do it.”
Therein lies the shame. There is a lot to like about a lot of things that we’ve seen from this team over the last three weeks. Injuries happen in the NFL. Maybe not like they’ve happened to the Eagles, but they happen. The key to success is having enough quality players to have enough healthy ones who can make enough plays. It isn’t complicated. The Eagles have too many players that do not make them with enough frequency to warrant a spot on the NFL team. Most of them are there not because of injury, but because of the way this roster was built.