Michael Jacquet has had a tough couple of weeks. Two Sundays ago, in his first NFL start, the undrafted rookie found himself going mano-a-mano with one of the league’s very best wideouts, three-time All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins.
To his credit, Jacquet battled Hopkins hard and had a sack and forced fumble in the 33-26 Eagles loss. But Hopkins still finished with nine catches for 169 yards and the game-winning touchdown, making an acrobatic grab with Jacquet draped all over him.
There’s no way to nicely describe Jacquet’s performance in last Sunday’s 20-point loss to the Cowboys, though. He got his butt kicked, plain and simple, first by Michael Gallup and later by Amari Cooper, before defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz lifted him in the second half. Jacquet gave up six completions for 175 yards and a touchdown. He had a costly missed tackle on a screen to Gallup that the Cowboys wide receiver turned into a 55-yard gain. Later gave up an easy 7-yard TD to Gallup, and then slipped covering Cooper, giving up a 69-yard completion.
“At halftime, we switched [Darius] Slay over to Gallup to try to get a little bit more help to MJ,” Schwartz said Tuesday. “But he was still struggling.”
As he is prone to do, Schwartz used a baseball analogy to describe Jacquet’s struggles against the Cowboys. “It’s a little bit like a pitcher,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t have your best stuff, and Skip [the manager] has to go to the bullpen.”
Playing cornerback requires a short memory. Jacquet knows that. “You can’t change anything that’s happened in the past,” he said after the Arizona game. “You’ve got to go on to the next play, the next day. Whatever it is in life.”
Easy to say, harder to do. Truth is, a game like Sunday can shred a young player’s confidence, especially somebody like Jacquet, an undrafted former wide receiver from a smaller FBS school, Louisiana. Fortunately for him, he has some veteran teammates like Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman, who have prevented him from throwing a pity party for himself this week.
Slay shared his own rookie struggles with Jacquet. In Detroit, he was a second-round pick of the Lions in 2013. His head coach was none other than Schwartz.
“I got benched twice by [Schwartz] that year,” Slay said this week. “He came over to me on the sideline and benched me twice during games.
“So, I told [Jacquet], ‘I’ve been in your shoes. Keep your head up and keep playing [hard]. Because that’s what [Schwartz] is looking for you to do.”’
Slay started his first two games with the Lions. He didn’t start again until the final two games of his rookie season.
“When it happened to me, I responded well,” Slay said. “I kept fighting during the year and it made me the person and player I am today. I didn’t ever want to have that feeling again and I didn’t. Things panned out pretty well, and now I’m here with [Schwartz]. That’s how God works.
“So, yeah, I been there and done that before. I talked [Jacquet] through it. He responded well to it.”
Robey-Coleman has had his own problems this year. His eighth season in the league has been far from his best. On Sunday, he got beaten by the Cowboys’ rookie wide receiver, CeeDee Lamb, on a wheel route that Lamb turned into a 52-yard touchdown.
But like Slay, he has offered Jacquet support.
“I just took him under my wing and told him, ‘Man, as a corner, you’re going to remember games like that,’” Robey-Coleman said. “‘You’re going to remember these types of moments and these types of situations, and you’re going to get better from this.’
“I also told him this is where you take your game to the next level — by sharpening the details of your game and sharpening the details of the X’s and O’s of the game. So when you get back in those situations, instead of those plays winding up being receptions, they’ll be PBUs [pass-breakups] and interceptions.
“Cornerback isn’t an easy position to play. You have to have skin like an armadillo. You have to be able to roll with the punches. You have to be able to take on a lot of different pressures and stress that guys at other positions probably would never understand.”
False start issue
The Eagles committed 12 penalties in Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys. That’s the most they’ve had in a game since 2016.
Six of them were false starts — three on right tackle Matt Pryor, two on left guard Isaac Seumalo, and one on tight end Zach Ertz. They have 25 false-start penalties this season. That’s the second-highest total in the league, behind only Arizona, which has 32.
Thirteen of the Eagles’ 25 false starts have come in Jalen Hurts’ three starts.
Head coach Doug Pederson attributed some of it to the players getting used to the cadence of a new quarterback. “Getting used to Jalen’s voice,” Pederson said after the game. “It’s something that we’ve coached him up to be better at. To obviously be louder.
“It’s something that, it’s something that can’t happen. You might have one every couple of weeks. But to have as many as we did [Sunday], it can’t happen.”
The Eagles always have had their fair share of false-start penalties since Doug Pederson was hired in 2016 and installed his offense. That would suggest that it’s more than just the volume of the quarterback’s voice.
In 2016, Pederson’s first season as head coach, the Eagles had 26 false-start penalties, the third most in the NFL. They were 15th in 2017 with 16, 19th in 2018 with 19, and 10th last year with 15.
Pryor has a team-high five false starts. Right guard Nate Herbig has four. Seumalo and left tackle Jordan Mailata each have three.
Hurts was asked this week about whether he needs to pump up the pre-snap volume.
“Anything that goes wrong offensively, I take ownership for,” he said. “It’s something that I have to do better. We’ve been communicating. Obviously, it’s a different voice back there for some of the guys. So it’s something we’re working on.”
It’s interesting that the two teams with the most false-start penalties both have quarterbacks who played at the University of Oklahoma. Maybe it’s Lincoln Riley’s fault.
Figuring the Eagles
Twenty-four of the Eagles’ 36 touchdown drives (66.7%) have been 70 yards or longer. In 2017, when they won the Super Bowl, 51.1% (24 of 47) were 70-plus yards. The Eagles have had just seven TD drives of four plays or fewer this season. In 2017, they had 12.
In his three starts, Hurts has a 123.5 passer rating in the first half, but only a 53.7 rating in the second half. He has thrown five touchdown passes and no interceptions and been sacked twice in the first half. In the second half, he has zero TD passes, two interceptions, and seven sacks. His completion percentage in the second half is 48.3. His rushing numbers also have nosedived in the second half. He’s averaging 9.9 yards per carry in the first half and 3.9 in the second.
The Eagles converted seven of 17 third downs against Dallas. Four of those conversions came on run plays. Hurts completed just four of 11 passes on third down. Both of his interceptions also were on third down. Hurts has a 76.4 third-down passer rating, including a 42.9 completion percentage.
Hurts has been sacked five times in the red zone in the last two games. That equals the number of times Carson Wentz was sacked in the red zone in the first 12 games.
Eagles wide receivers have 27 receptions for 441 yards and four touchdowns in the last two games. They averaged 16.3 yards per catch and 11.0 yards per target against the Cardinals and Cowboys. In the previous five games, they had 37 catches for 384 yards and two TDs, and averaged only 10.4 yards per catch and 5.0 yards per target.
When the Eagles scored touchdowns on their first two possessions against the Cowboys, it was the first time they did that since Week 5 of the 2017 season against Arizona. They actually scored touchdowns on their first three possessions in that game, a 34-7 win.