The Eagles fell a game behind Dallas in the NFC East after Sunday’s 17-10 loss to the Patriots.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s game at the Linc:
Receivers didn’t help
It’s really hard to judge Carson Wentz when you consider the receivers he is working with. You might’ve been able to fit a dollar bill into the separation that Jordan Matthews got on his coverage, but you definitely would not have been able to fit a stack of them, particularly on a third-and-long throw from Wentz in the third quarter where Wentz tried to give him a chance to make a play over the middle. There might not be a lot of receivers in the NFL who make a play on the ball that Carson Wentz lofted to Nelson Agholor in the end zone on fourth down late in the fourth quarter, but there are some, and there are plenty who give themselves more of a shot than Agholor did.
With Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson on the sidelines, the Eagles spent much of the first half shuffling through different personnel groups, with Mack Hollins, J.J. Arciega-Whiteside and Dallas Goedert all getting their snaps alongside Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz. The results were about what you would expect. Goedert caught a touchdown pass in the second quarter but had a costly drop of a perfect throw from Wentz in the third. Ertz was his usual workmanlike self. But time and again, Wentz dropped back to pass and was unable to parlay solid pass protection into anything greater than a dump off. One of the few exceptions was a scrambling throw that Wentz made from the end zone late in the fourth quarter when he rolled to his left and found Arciega-Whiteside downfield for a 29-yard gain that gave the Eagles a first down at the 35-yard line and just under four minutes remaining.
How much of the blame falls on Wentz? It’s hard to say. There were a handful of occasions when his footwork and awareness of his surroundings in the pocket left much to be desired, including on a costly fumble that spotted the Patriots three points just before halftime. He had several balls batted or tipped where he might have maneuvered himself into a better passing lane. One notable example a crossing route by a wide open Agholor on the Eagles’ final drive.
At the same time, that kind of stuff happens. Tom Brady finished the first half 11-of-25 for 103 yards and was off the mark on a number of short throws. He finished 26-of-47 for 217 yards. Reality is, Wentz was an equal or better quarterback throughout much of this game. He made a nifty sidearmed throw to J.J. Arciega-Whiteside on a third down in the first quarter, but that was nullified due to penalty. Early in the fourth quarter, he threw a rope outside the numbers to Ertz as he was being hit from his front. The throw that Goedert dropped was on the money with a defender in the immediate vicinity. Midway through the fourth quarter, he threw a strike to Ertz for 25 yards.
Brady, meanwhile, has the benefit of a possession receiver in Julian Edelman who knows how to get himself open and make plays. Yeah, he dropped a gimme touchdown in the end zone. But he made up for it by somehow hauling in a pass from Brady that was tipped by Kamu Grugier-Hill late in the fourth quarter for 14 yards. Wentz, meanwhile, was forced to rely on Matthews as his security blanket throughout this one. He didn’t complete a pass to a wide receiver downfield until just before halftime. Before Edelman’s catch in the fourth quarter, Nelson Agholor had a chance to make a play over the middle on a ball that was tipped slightly. He did not. The contrast was clear for all to see.
Wentz, who finished the game 20-of-39 for 214 yards, can certainly play better. There were several occasions when a little more pocket presence would have paid dividends. That’s one area of his game where he does not look nearly as comfortable as he did during his MVP-level 2017 season. His fumble just before halftime was one such instance. At the same time, it’s easy to understand some level of discomfort when you consider his options for making plays downfield.
The Eagles needed to be perfect, and they weren’t. Wentz’s fumble with just over two minutes remaining in the second quarter was a critical mistake that handed the Patriots three extra points in a game in which they’d struggled to move the ball. Early in the first quarter, an illegal man downfield penalty on Jason Peters nullified a would-be first down on Wentz’s impressive throw to Arciega-Whiteside. On the Patriots’ first drive of the second half, Nathan Gerry missed a tackle that would have blown up a screen pass for a minimal gain -- Rex Burkhead ended up gaining 30 yards on the play, which helped set up the Patriots’ first touchdown. Later in the third quarter, Dallas Goedert dropped a perfect throw from Wentz that would have given the Eagles a first down near midfield midway through the third quarter. They ended up punting the ball away two plays later. The Eagles did catch a huge break in the first half when Boston Scott fumbled a kickoff return straight into the teeth of the oncoming Patriots’ coverage unit. . .kicker Jake Bailey had a shot at a clean recovery but ended up muffing the ball out of bounds while diving on top of it.
An injury Eagles can’t afford
The Eagles desperately need Lane Johnson to be OK. The veteran right tackle left the game early in the second quarter with a head injury and did not return. He was replaced at right tackle by Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Vaitai was directly responsible for a third down sack of Wentz that ended a once-promising drive with just over five minutes left in the third quarter, as Donta Hightower dusted him on an outside rush and crunched Wentz from behind for a loss of nine yards. There was no immediate word on the severity of Johnson’s injury or a long-term prognosis.
Missing Jordan Howard
With Jordan Howard and Darren Sproles out of commission, the Eagles young running backs acquitted themselves well, albeit in limited opportunities. Miles Sanders looked much more patient and aggressive earlier in the season, consistently planting his foot and cutting runs inside rather than bouncing them out toward the edge. In the first quarter, he had nice patient run that he finished by lowering his shoulder and plunging forward for a gain of five yards and first down at the Patriots 19-yard-line. Boston Scott gashed the Patriots for a 12-yard gain in the third quarter. That being said, the Eagles clearly would have benefited from Howard’s tough-nosed running style. Against a Patriots defense that entered the game allowing 4.7 yards per carry, Scott and Sanders combined for 64 yards on 18 carries.
The Eagles’ average starting field position was the 18-yard line, with all 12 of their possessions beginning inside their own 30, and three beginning inside their own 13. Meanwhile, two of the Patriots’ field goals came on drives that began in Eagles territory. This wasn’t a bad effort by the Eagles’ defense. They held the Patriots to 298 yards of total offense, their second-lowest output in any game this season. New England converted just five of its 16 first downs. It gained more than 48 yards on just one drive.