So, here we are, two weeks into the weirdest season in NFL history, and the Eagles are 0-2.
Even with another offensive lineman going down (left guard Isaac Seumalo, out for multiple weeks with a knee injury), the Eagles did a good job of controlling Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams' front. Also ran the ball pretty well, averaging 4.7 yards per carry with Miles Sanders back.
And yet, they still suffered their second straight double-digit loss. What were the biggest reasons? Glad you asked.
The Rams averaged a disturbing 8.0 yards per play on first down Sunday. They gained 272 of their 449 total net yards, or 60.5%, on first down. That number was even worse in the first half – 9.6 yards per first-down play – when the Rams jumped out to a 21-3 lead. The Rams, who finished with 191 rushing yards, averaged 6.1 yards per carry on first down.
Jared Goff completed 9 of 10 passes for 125 yards on first down. Seven of those nine completions produced first downs.
The Rams had 22 second-down plays Sunday. Twelve of them were second-and-5 or less. Just six second-down situations were more than 8 yards. Allowing one of the best play-action teams in the league to have that many second-and-shorts or mediums is like handing the keys to the bank to John Dillinger (look him up, kids).
Three of the Rams' five touchdowns came on second-down plays of 5 yards or less.
The Philadelphia turnover factory
Three more turnovers Sunday. That makes six in two games. The Rams turned two of them into 10 points. Last week, Washington converted two into 14 points. That’s 24 opponent points off turnovers already. Last year, the Eagles gave up just 57 points off (23) turnovers the entire season.
Carson Wentz already has four interceptions, including two more Sunday. He had seven all last year and just three in the last nine games. Both his mechanics and decision-making are off right now.
The Eagles needed to start fast against the Rams. Instead, three plays into the game, Miles Sanders, who spent almost all of the short training camp on the shelf with a hamstring injury, and missed last week’s game against Washington, fumbled on his third touch at the Eagles' 41-yard line. Five plays later, tight end Tyler Higbee caught the first of his three touchdown passes. The Rams never trailed in the game.
But the most costly turnover was Wentz’s first interception midway through the third quarter, a tight-window pass in the end zone to JJ Arcega-Whiteside that was picked off by Rams cornerback Darious Williams.
Trailing by five, the Eagles had driven from their own 14 to the Rams’ 21. The interception resulted in a potential 10-point swing – the touchdown the Eagles might have scored on that drive and the 30-yard field goal the Rams ultimately got from Sam Sloman.
Arcega-Whiteside played just 16 snaps Sunday and had no catches. Didn’t have a catch or target in Week 1. He replaced DeSean Jackson on that play because Jackson had played the previous 11 plays of the drive and had just caught a 9-yard pass for a first down on a third-and-6 play and needed a blow.
Given the caution that Wentz historically has used down near the goal line – he has just two career interceptions in 279 red-zone pass attempts and just one over the last four seasons – it was an ill-advised pass. Arcega-Whiteside actually had a step on Williams. If he had cut off the route at, say, the 5-yard line, or if Wentz had thrown the ball a tad earlier, the play might have been successful, if not for a touchdown, at least for a first down near the goal line. But by the time the ball was thrown, safety Jordan Fuller was closing on the ball from the other side and there was no margin for error.
Who’ll stop the run?
Run defense is supposed to be a strength of Jim Schwartz’s unit. One of the few positives in the Eagles' Week 1 loss was the fact that they held the Washington ground game to 2.2 yards per carry and three rushing first downs.
Sunday was a different story. The Eagles seemed completely befuddled by Sean McVay’s offensive bag of tricks even though the Rams did nothing really new. The Rams rushed for 191 yards, which was the most given up by the Eagles since 2016. They had 11 rushing first downs, the most against the Eagles also since 2016.
The Eagles gave up five runs of 10 yards or more. The most costly was Darrell Henderson’s 40-yard run early in the fourth quarter right after the Eagles had closed to within five points. The Eagles needed a defensive stop on that drive and didn’t get it. Two plays after Henderson’s run, Goff hit Higbee for the last of his three touchdowns.
The Eagles' run defense appeared to be getting its act together right before that. They had held the Rams to 3.0 yards per carry on their previous two possessions. But they bit on the Rams' left motion and overran Henderson, who cut back. Right tackle Rob Havenstein pushed defensive tackle Javon Hargrave out of his gap and Higbee sealed off safety Rodney McLeod, and it was off to the races.
Tight end troubles
Think the Eagles don’t miss Malcolm Jenkins? Think again. For the second straight week, the Eagles were done in by a tight end. Higbee had five catches Sunday, three for touchdowns. He had seven TD catches in his previous four seasons in the league. We’re not talking Travis Kelce or George Kittle here.
His first-quarter TD, on the heels of Sanders' fumble, came on a blown coverage. Schwartz sent safety Jalen Mills on a blitz on a second-and-goal at the 4. Higbee broke for the end zone. Linebacker Nate Gerry was supposed to pick him up, but he was late and took a bad angle. Easy pitch and catch.
On his second TD catch, a 3-yarder early in the second quarter that put the Rams up 21-3, Nickell Robey-Coleman just wasn’t strong enough to prevent Higbee from turning and taking it into the end zone. One of the downsides of matching up a 180-pound slot corner on a 255-pound receiver.
The last one was a backbreaker. The Eagles were only down by five at the time. An offside penalty on defensive tackle Malik Jackson turned a second-and-8 into a second-and-3 at the Eagles' 28, forcing the linebackers to pay even more attention to Goff’s play-action.
Gerry got caught with his eyes in the backfield a second too long, which allowed Higbee to run past him. You could almost sense Gerry saying ruh-roh as he futilely tried to catch up.
The Rams converted four of their five red-zone opportunities into touchdowns Sunday. That comes on the heels of Washington converting three of fouragainst the Eagles last week.
The Eagles were a middle-of-the-pack red-zone defense last season, allowing touchdowns on 24 of 43 opponent trips inside their 20 (55.8%). In their seven losses, that rate jumped to 60.9% (14 of 23).
Right now, Schwartz’s defense is out of whack. The loss of Jenkins and all of the new faces and the short pandemic summer they had to get everyone on the same page is hurting them, particularly near the goal line.