How did the Eagles manage to lose to the Dolphins on Sunday? Let me count the ways.
Here are my top five reasons for the stunning 37-31 loss:
The Eagles were flagged 10 times for 91 yards against the Dolphins. The 10 penalties were a season high. The 91 yards were their second-most.
Too many of the ones they committed Sunday ended up being costly. They either kept Dolphins drives alive or killed their own potential scoring drives.
Up by 10-0 in the first half, a holding call on Isaac Seumalo and an illegal block in the back on Mack Hollins killed an opportunity to go up by 17 and maybe step on the Dolphins’ neck early.
In the second quarter, a false start on left tackle Jason Peters on a fourth-and-2 forced the Eagles to settle for a Jake Elliott field goal.
Cornerback Jalen Mills had two pass-interference penalties on third down. In the third quarter, on the first play after Elliott missed a 49-yard field-goal attempt that would have put the Eagles up by 11, defensive tackle Tim Jernigan jumped offside and committed his second roughing-the-passer penalty on the same play. The roughing call gave the Dolphins a first down in Eagles territory. They drove down the field for a touchdown.
The returns of Mills and fellow cornerback Ronald Darby had seemed to stabilize the defense. In the previous four games with Mills and Darby back, including games against the Patriots’ Tom Brady and the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, the Eagles’ defense had an impressive 70.6 opponent passer rating. In their first seven games, it was 93.6.
Darby had been targeted 24 times in the previous four games and had allowed just 13 catches for 145 yards and one TD. Mills had been targeted 23 times and had given up just 10 catches for 138 yards and a TD.
But Sunday, both of them got worked over by veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, wide receiver DeVante Parker, and tight end Mike Gesicki.
Parker had seven catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns, beating Darby for a 44-yard, first-quarter score, and Mills for a leaping, 17-yard, end-zone catch in the third quarter.
Mills was targeted eight times by Fitzpatrick and gave up six catches for 102 yards and two TDs — the one to the 6-3, 216-pound Parker and another to the 6-6, 250-pound Gesicki on the Dolphins’ next possession. And there were those two pass-interference calls on third down that kept Miami drives alive.
Darby was targeted six times and gave up four catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. Besides the long touchdown catch, he also gave up a 42-yard completion to Parker on third-and-13 on a 13-play TD drive by the Dolphins in the second quarter.
In their defense, they usually had pretty good coverage. This wasn’t a case of players just getting flat-out beaten. It was a case of two receivers taking advantage of their size advantages and a red-hot quarterback making one unbelievable throw after another in the face of a stiff pass rush.
Remember when Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson were touting the offense’s new run-heavy “recipe’’? Well, ever since Jordan Howard went down with a pinched nerve in his neck, Pederson seems to have bagged the new recipe.
In their last three games without Howard, including Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins, the Eagles have a 30.9% run-play rate. That’s more than 14 points lower than their 45.1% run-play rate in the Eagles’ first nine games.
Against the Dolphins, despite the fact that rookie Miles Sanders averaged 5.4 yards per carry, the Eagles ran the ball on just 19 of 67 offensive plays, including just seven times on 30 plays in the second half.
Sanders had a season-high 17 carries Sunday for 83 yards. But just five of those carries came in the second half, when the Eagles really needed to control the football and keep it out of the hands of the red-hot Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins offense.
My guess is they are concerned about overworking the rookie at this stage of his career. They signed Jay Ajayi two weeks ago, but it’s clear he hasn’t regained the explosiveness that he had before tearing an ACL last year. Whether he ever will remains to be seen.
Sanders rushed for 54 yards on 10 carries in the first half. He came out in the second half and had five carries for 20 yards on the Eagles’ first two possessions. But they gave it to him just twice more on their last 16 plays.
The Eagles had 16 first-down plays in the first half Sunday. They ran the ball nine times and threw it seven. In the second half, they also had 16 first-down plays. But 12 of those were pass plays and only four were runs, even though the run game clearly was effective.
For the third game in a row, the Eagles gave up a touchdown on a trick play, this time a 1-yard pass from the team’s punter, Matt Haack, to the team’s kicker, Jason Sanders.
The Eagles should have called a timeout as soon as the Dolphins lined up in that weird five-guys-to-the-left-and-four-guys-to-the-right formation. But they chose not to. The result was confusion when Haack rolled to the left.
Defensive end Josh Sweat, who appeared to be responsible for Sanders, came up to stop Haack, who then threw a nifty, no-look shovel pass to a wide-open Haack.
Tight end Zach Ertz, who had 30 catches for 288 yards and two touchdowns in the previous three games, had just three catches for 24 yards Sunday. He also had two costly drops.
He dropped a second-and-7 pass on a third-quarter drive that would have given the Eagles a first down inside the Miami 5. A sack on the next play forced them to try a 49-yard field goal, which Elliott missed. It was his first miss of the season.
With 2 ½ minutes left in the game, Ertz failed to hang on to a catchable pass in the end zone that would have gotten the Eagles within two points of the Dolphins. He had both hands on the ball but couldn’t secure it as Dolphins safety Eric Rowe knocked it loose.
The Eagles ended up having to settle for an Elliott field goal, which left them needing a touchdown rather than only a field goal on their final possession.