The Eagles’ offense is still ironing out the details.
More than halfway through the season, the group led by Doug Pederson still lacks an identity. Timing and chemistry between quarterback Carson Wentz and his crop of receivers are surprisingly off, considering it’s this late in the season.
The lack of cohesion was apparent Sunday on the Eagles’ first possession in their 27-17 loss to the New York Giants. On third-and-3 from the Giants’ 22-yard line, Wentz double-clutched on a third-and-3 pass intended for for Jalen Reagor. The pass was broken up, and the Eagles settled for a field goal.
When asked what went wrong on the play, Pederson pointed to Reagor and fellow rookie receiver John Hightower’s lack of experience as the culprit, not Wentz.
“That’s not on Carson. I put that more on us as coaches to coach that play better, and I put it on those two young receivers,” Pederson said. “If we just execute the play a little better, it’s a completion. Listen, you got to look at the whole body of a play, the body of work, to really understand.”
On the play, Hightower tried to “pick” Giants cornerback James Bradberry to get Reagor open. Pederson said both receivers botched the finer details of their assignments, which led to Wentz hesitating on the throw and leading to an incompletion.
“You saw Carson double-clutch the ball because we failed to execute the pick part of it, the rub part of it,” Pederson said. “And then Jalen went a little bit too deep on his route. So those are things that we got to get corrected and those are the things that are really keeping us from executing that and staying on the field.
Wentz, who said Reagor’s confidence is promising, said the two are still ironing out the finer details of the Eagles’ route tree.
“His confidence and his energy and his excitement level has always been the same,” Wentz said. “[I’m] just continuing to develop that and work with him about certain routes, just details of plays and routes and those sorts of things. Lots of conversation. Lots of good, healthy conversation.”
Developing chemistry is not typically something discussed this late in a season, but this year has been an abnormal one. The Eagles passed on proven receivers both via trade and free agency with the hopes that Reagor, their first-round pick in a loaded wide-receiver draft class, could help improve a 2019 receiving corps that was historically unproductive.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, it’s been a tough year to count on rookies. After the coronavirus pandemic shortened training camp and caused the cancellations of spring workouts and preseason games, rookies were forced to play catch-up early in the season. Some wideouts, like Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson and Dallas’s CeeDee Lamb, have overcome the circumstances. But Reagor has even fewer practice reps than them because he missed five weeks with a thumb injury.
The former TCU standout has 12 catches for 159 yards and one touchdown, but Pederson conceded Wednesday that the ideal version of the Eagles’ offense features Reagor more than it has in the last two games since he returned from the injury.
“He’s missed a lot of football, so there hasn’t been a lot of production,” Pederson said. “Now, would I like to get him the ball more? Yeah, I would. We’d like to get him more touches if we can. ... Our tempo offense is not about scheming one guy. It’s about playing fast and executing our stuff. But moving forward, yeah, I would like to get him some more touches if I can.”
It’s hard to tell how much of Reagor’s inability to make a significant impact so far is tied to Wentz’s season-long slump. The Eagles quarterback is completing just 58.2% of his passes and has thrown a league-leading 12 interceptions. It’s worth noting that Wentz’s accuracy issues this season aren’t exclusive to young players. He’s had his share of miscues even with proven veterans like tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.
Wentz said he’s developing more confidence in Reagor, Hightower, and former practice-squad receiver Travis Fulgham as their practice reps increase, pointing to the progress they’ve made as a reason for optimism moving forward.
“The actual reps and the chemistry has been limited as far as the ability to grow that relationship,” Wentz said. “That’s why I’m excited for the second half of the season. I think we’ve gotten a lot of experience throughout training camp and now experiencing games with a lot of these guys. They’re starting to play faster and I’m starting to trust them. There are things that are getting better and I think it will keep trending that way. But by no means is any of that an excuse. This is the NFL. We’ve got to learn on the fly and be able to adapt and adjust. We can be better, and we will be.”