This wasn’t Nelson Agholor’s fault.
It was a desperate throw, in a desperate situation. In terms of catch probability, it probably ranked in the bottom quartile. The game wasn’t lost on fourth-and-10 with 1 minute, 5 seconds remaining.
There are a handful of receivers in the NFL who might be expected to track a 30-yard rainbow over the shoulder in a tricky wind with the end line fast approaching. There are plenty who might be expected to put themselves in better position than Agholor did on a futile, flailing, back-bending attempt that ended with him on his knees and the ball bouncing to the turf.
But that’s not Agholor’s fault. He’s a slender slot receiver who does his best work in open space. He’s Nelson Agholor, and what you saw at the end of the Eagles’ 17-10 loss to the Patriots was nothing less than what you should have expected.
“I was trying to track it all the way in,” the fifth-year receiver said. “When I hit the ground, I lost it.”
That, right there, is the real problem with the Eagles offense. It’s what plagued them against the Patriots, and it’s what has plagued them throughout the season.
At the end of the day, the team that scores the most points is more often than not the team that makes the most individual plays. And when you look at the Eagles as Carson Wentz does each time he drops back — as a collection of four or five individual matchups downfield — it’s difficult to see how you can possibly expect them to finish a game with a positive balance of those moments.
That was an interesting thought to consider on Sunday, given the opponent that was in town. The Eagles did not become Super Bowl champs by being the more talented team. They did it by making more plays.
That starts at the quarterback position, as it always does in the NFL. Carson Wentz did not play nearly as perfect a game this time around as Nick Foles did a couple of winters ago. There were plenty of moments when his awareness of the pocket and his footwork within it left much to be desired.
He essentially spotted the Patriots three points with a fumble just before halftime. In the fourth quarter, his pass to a wide open Agholor streaking across the field was tipped, one of several he had deflected on the evening. He missed on a throw to Zach Ertz. Wentz was not flawless, and was in fact far short.
At the same time, think back to that Super Bowl. To Corey Clement’s over-the-shoulder catch in the back of the end zone. To Alshon Jeffery’s going up over blanket coverage and coming down with the ball. On those two plays, did Foles give his receivers any more of a chance than Agholor had at the end of Sunday’s game? Maybe. But not much.
“We’ve got to be better," Agholor said. "That’s the reality of it. There’s no excuse. We just have to be better.”
The accountability is admirable, and there is no shortage of it in the Eagles’ locker room. Ertz took the blame for one of his missed connections with Wentz, saying that he could have given his quarterback a better chance with his decision-making on an option route. Agholor pointed to his four catches and took responsibility for that number not being higher.
“At the end of the day, whatever position they put me in, I have to make those plays,” he said.
At some point, though, the Eagles need to take a hard look at the decision-making processes that has led to the current crop of players being in their current positions.
DeSean Jackson is hurt, but that’s not a new development at this stage of his career. Same goes for Alshon Jeffery. With those two veterans on the sideline, the Eagles spent much of the game against the Patriots cycling through personnel packages in which Jordan Matthews was one of the few constants.
Even in his original stint with the Eagles, Matthews wasn’t a guy known for creating separation and making tough contested catches. J.J. Arciega-Whiteside made a couple of nice plays, one of which was called back on a penalty. Time may yet validate the Eagles’ decision to draft him over players like D.K. Metcalf and Terry McLaurin. But the current ledger of plays made shows a lot of making up to do.
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“For me, I get to see all of these guys in practice," Wentz said after the loss. “[The media] and the public doesn’t get to see that, so I have a lot of confidence in the guys when their number is called, they’re going to make plays. Obviously, we haven’t necessarily put it on the film or put it on the field. I definitely want a couple of plays back today, but like I said, I get to see these guys in practice, and I get to work with them, and I have a ton of confidence that it will be there and we’ll get it going."
You wouldn’t expect him to think any different. Or, at least, you wouldn’t expect him to admit to it. But it is Week 11. Next week’s game against the Seahawks could be a decisive game in their playoff quest.
As was the case against the Patriots, there will be a moment when one of these skill position players has a chance to make a decisive play. It won’t be Jackson. It remains to be seen if Jeffery will be out there. You can’t get water from a rock. And it’s getting increasingly difficult to see where the Eagles might get a play.