The Eagles offense is broken. That’s it. That’s the diagnosis. If it were a car, they wouldn’t let you push, pull or drag it onto the lot. If it were a meatloaf, they would cover it in fire extinguisher foam. If it were a city, they would call it Jericho. The only question right now is whether there are any survivors in the rubble.
That is the magnitude of the mess that we are dealing with here. Anybody who claims to know how to fix it is just making things up. It’s a coping mechanism called denial. Sure, it’s a rational form of denial. An NFL offense cannot possibly be this clueless as a collective. That’s a reasonable thing to think. Until you actually watch the Eagles, and you look at the players one by one, and you compare them to the players on the other team, and you watch the sheer chaos that unfolds after the snap. Yes, this real. When they say it isn’t one guy, they aren’t lying. Unless we include the guy at the top.
It’s only going to get uglier. You saw it throughout Monday night’s 23-17 loss, that overwhelming sense of purposelessness that creeps into the hearts of a team that understands its dysfunction. In the first half, the defense was tagged with three personal foul penalties, including Darius Slay’s understandable but inexcusable retaliatory strike on DK Metcalf to rescue the Seahawks from a third-and-long. Metcalf spent the rest of the night torching the Eagles’ blue-chip cover man, showing again and again that, at the end of day, it’s a one-on-one game.
It’s hard to blame Doug Pederson for his reluctance to subject a developmental rookie quarterback to an extended period of this brand of mayhem. The same can’t be said about the strategy he has chosen. Running Jalen Hurts out there for a sporadic handful of snaps accomplishes nothing for the quarterback or the offense. At this point, Pederson has little choice but to change course. Carson Wentz has made it clear that, for whatever reason, he cannot function. The only way to create some sense of hope for these last five weeks is to throw Hurts into the deep end and see if he can swim. Forget about finding out if he is an NFL quarterback. He needs to hope the kid is a witch.
At the same time, it would be a disastrous mistake to think that the remedy lies at the quarterback position. No doubt, Wentz is a shell of the player that you need him to be. He overthrew Greg Ward on a couple of three-step timing routes. He missed Dallas Goedert running down the seam through a blown coverage while locking in on a bracketed first read. Several times, he appeared to misread the defense prior to the snap, including an inexplicable fourth-quarter interception that ended up in the hands of the only player in the vicinity of the end zone (a Seahawk).
In the long view, the Eagles have little choice but to operate as if all of these things are a product of the circumstances rather than a sudden and precipitous decline in competency by a quarterback who went 56 starts without once making you suspect that he could someday be the lowest-rated passer in the league. That will probably sound foolish to the legions who have already made their mind up about Wentz. But the Eagles have invested so much in the position and would need to pay so high of an exit fee, that the only rational course of action is to exhaust all of the paths of lesser resistance that might lead to a place where he can succeed.
You fire the coach and the general manager before you fire the quarterback. You invest whatever resources you need to guarantee him at least adequate pass protection. You find a wide receiver who is actually capable of working himself open before the pocket collapses, which is something that Wentz did not have on several occasions on Monday night. You bring in fresh bodies and fresh eyes and make sure the cost is sunk before you divest yourself from it.
On the one hand, it is hard not to wonder whether Wentz really might be as punch-drunk as he looks on TV. He has taken a lot of hits to a lot of different parts of his body, including the one that facilitates the snap decisions his position requires. By this time next year, he will be just seven months younger than Andrew Luck was when he played his last NFL game.
Yet any time you start to wonder whether the confusion and frustration and unsteadiness are a product of a quarterback who has lost some critical step, you see plays like the one that happened midway through the third quarter on Monday night, when everybody except Jalen Reagor tried to run a third-down screen play. This turned out to be a problem because Reagor was the intended receiver. Or, you see a play that happened earlier in the drive, when Wentz seemed to think that Richard Rodgers was supposed to run one way, and then double-clutched a throw to where Rodgers was, only to watch Rodgers run away from that spot. Stuff like this has been happening all season with these patchwork pass catchers, and each time has left Wentz looking like he doesn’t know where he is.
None of that excuses the misses. The Eagles mortgaged a generation of draft picks and another generation of cap flexibility because they thought he was the sort of quarterback whose performance would be situationally-independent. Scroll through the list of certified franchise quarterbacks, and you’ll struggle to find one who has ever presided over an offense that looks this inept this often. But you’ll also struggle to find one who has started behind 10 different offensive line combinations while throwing to a receiving corps that includes a late first-round draft pick, two former practice squad players, and veterans who might not even be in the league next year. All while playing for a coach who seems to understand that his bosses have given him a situation that is impossible to fix.