The Eagles delivered another offensive dud, despite a stout performance from their defense, and fell to the Seahawks, 17-9, Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. Win, lose, or draw, here’s what we learned:
1. Carson Wentz is officially regressing. No excuses, Wentz played the worst game of his career Sunday. He would probably concur. He was rightfully hard on himself after the game. On the Eagles’ first drive, Wentz threw behind an open Zach Ertz on third down. On the next series, after starting in Seahawks territory, he missed a releasing Miles Sanders by more than five yards. A possession later, he was strip-sacked after seemingly holding the ball too long. On the fourth drive, he tossed an interception. Drive No. 5, he was strip-sacked again but recovered his own fumble. On No. 6, the Eagles went three-and-out after Wentz’s third-down pass was short of receiver Greg Ward. On No. 7, he was sacked before the Eagles ran out the clock before the half.
Wentz was better after the break, but only marginally. He fumbled the handoff to Sanders on the Eagles’ opening drive. He had a third-down pass deflected by a lineman. And then he was let down by teammates Dallas Goedert (fumble) and receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (bad route/fourth down drop) on two later drives that all but sealed the game for Seattle. Wentz had some nice throws, but most came in garbage time, and paled in comparison to his errors. What had to be especially frustrating for the Eagles was that their defense gave the offense every opportunity to thrive, and that the Seahawks nearly gift-wrapped a win with as many mistakes, but Wentz couldn’t capitalize at all.
He wasn’t nearly as bad in last week’s loss to the Patriots, but taken collectively, Wentz is playing at a level far below what should be expected for a franchise quarterback who signed a $100 million contract in the offseason. Wentz has his detractors, many of them hot take artists, but he only gave them ammunition Sunday. And frankly, it’s fair to speculate whether there is some validity to the claims that he isn’t or won’t be an elite talent.
I polled a few NFL evaluators I respect Monday morning, ones who I know have been high on Wentz since he was drafted in 2016, and they expressed the same concerns. All that being said, one game does not make a career. Wentz is 26. He’s proven before that he can perform at an MVP level. And prior to last week, he was still getting the job done with substandard receivers. Sunday’s receiver group probably couldn’t beat out Ohio State’s starters. But Wentz needs to raise the level around him, and while it should be pointed out that he was without his right tackle, right guard, top three receivers, and top running back Sunday, his poor throws and decision making sometimes had little to do with personnel.
What should worry the Eagles, more than anything, is that Wentz looked like a mental mess. He appeared to have the yips. Maybe it was understandable considering his supporting cast, but it has to end. I think it will. Three subpar opponents over the next three weeks should be the balm to Wentz’s problems.
2. Doug Pederson and the Eagles’ offensive coaching staff have failed Wentz. The Eagles coach has been soft on Wentz since after Sunday’s game. He understands the pressures of the position as much as anyone, especially in Philly, but I was a little surprised. We’re not talking about a rookie, or a young player still on his first contract. Wentz is in Year 4 and probably doesn’t need the kid gloves. But I also think that Pederson probably admits to himself that he hasn’t helped his quarterback as much as he could. The same applies to offensive coordinator Mike Groh and quarterbacks coach Press Taylor. Yes, the Eagles have been decimated by injury on offense, but that doesn’t mean you stop coaching up your young quarterback. That doesn’t mean you don’t adjust your offense to help him.
Pederson and company must shoulder their share for Wentz’s regression. The Eagles had to know that Andre Dillard wasn’t prepared to move to right tackle. He looked like a deer caught in Wentz’s scope. He said Friday that the position switch would be like trying to write with your opposite hand. I can’t even grip a pen with my left, non-writing, hand. And yet, Pederson tossed Dillard to the wolves when he at least had Halapoulivaati Vaitai – I know, not a great option, but a better one – at the ready.
Some of Pederson’s calls on third down were atrocious. The slow-developing, six-yards-into-the-backfield handoff to Sanders on third and three was egregious. It ends up that was a new play the Eagles had recently added to the game plan. And you chose that pivotal moment to run it? It clearly hadn’t been rep’d enough because the execution was dismal. And what was up with the third and short call in the fourth quarter when the Eagles still had some life? It was a short yard. Go with the sneak or at least a dive. It was four-down territory with the Eagles trailing 14 points. But Pederson instead had Wentz hand off to Sanders in the shotgun and he was promptly dropped for a loss.
Why didn’t Pederson move the pocket more? Why didn’t he hand off more to Sanders? The execution was woeful, but the play calling, especially during the middle stretch, was mind-boggling. Pederson has had some nice games at the controls this season. The Packers and Bills games spring immediately to mind. But, overall, he hasn’t been consistent enough, especially when it comes to in-game adjustments.
3. Howie Roseman and the Eagles’ personnel department have also failed Wentz. Many overestimated the Eagles’ roster before the season. I was one. I thought they had enough talent to compete for another Super Bowl. But clearly that hasn’t been the case. Injuries have hurt. But they’ve also kept a number of core pieces on the field for almost or all of the season. (Although it should also be noted that the dubious number of injuries also partly fall on the GM, who oversees the medical staff).
Nevertheless, for some odd reason, the loss of one player has sent the Eagles into a downward offensive spiral. DeSean Jackson was signed to solve the deep passing issues, but the Eagles had to be prepared for the 32-year-old, perennially injured receiver to miss time. Right? Few expected him to be sidelined for almost the entire season, but the Eagles didn’t have a backup plan. I don’t mean to suggest that they should have had anyone of Jackson’s capabilities on the roster. Does that player even exist? But they brought back Nelson Agholor at $9.4 million to conceivable be that guy. He has not. They drafted not-ready J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the second round to complement the starters while developing. He has done neither. They kept Mack Hollins, who has said that he prefers playing on special teams to offense, to provide capable depth. He has not. And they expected Alshon Jeffery to play like Alshon Jeffery. Few could fault Roseman for believing as much in Jeffery, but to guarantee his salary for 2020 just before the season opener was questionable. The 29-year-old receiver has either underperformed or been injured.
The dreadfulness of the Eagles’ receivers doesn’t fall all on Roseman, of course. I’m back tracking here a bit, but assistant Carson Walch needs to be held accountable for their wretched performance. Ward has been called up to the roster a few times this season, and while few would expect him to be the second coming of Steve Smith, it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect him to be able to run more than one route. It’s not like he hasn’t been around the Eagles for two years. Too many football minds way more knowledgeable about the game have pointed out in the media how ill-prepared the receivers have been in running their routes and catching the ball.
4. Jim Schwartz’s defense gives hope. The Eagles held the Bills to 13 points, the Bears to 14, and even the mighty Tom Brady and the Patriots to 17, but many offered qualifiers about the subpar offensive opposition. The Seahawks, they said, who had averaged 27.5 points in their first ten games, would give Schwartz’s unit fits. But that wasn’t the case. MVP candidate Russell Wilson had his second-worst game of the season, statistically speaking, and was sacked six times. He, too, missed obvious throws or held the ball too long. The Eagles forced two turnovers, which should have been enough, except they had five giveaways of their own.
I don’t mean to suggest that Schwartz’s unit is the 1985 Bears. If Wilson connects on a simple pass in the end zone, and receiver D.K. Metcalf pulls in a sure touchdown pass, the Seahawks score 11 more points and are above their season average. But they didn’t and considering the horrible spots the Eagles offense kept placing the defense, it’s a minor miracle Seattle didn’t score more.
The Eagles have been getting some key bodies back on defense. Cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby returned last month. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan wasn’t far behind. And linebacker Nigel Bradham was back in the lineup Sunday for the first time in weeks. Schwartz has his personnel, and while there were some breakdowns and big plays surrendered (yet again), he should have more than enough to beat the three pansies next on the schedule.
5. The playoffs (playoffs?!?!) are still within reach. With the Cowboys loss to the Patriots Sunday, the 5-6 Eagles remain just a game behind the NFC East leaders. If they win their final five games, they win the division and will be the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. It’s utterly possible. The Eagles have the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL:
at Miami (2-9), vs. the New York Giants (2-9), at the Redskins (2-9), vs. the Cowboys (6-5), and at Giants (2-9). Their opponents’ combined record: 14-44 (.255).
The Cowboys remaining schedule: vs. the Bills (8-3), at the Bears (5-6), vs. the L.A. Rams (6-4), at the Eagles (5-6), vs. the Redskins (2-9). Their opponents’ combined record: 26-28 (.481).
The Eagles would split the season series with the Cowboys and would win the next tiebreaker because they would have a better record against common opponents. While some may have thrown up their hands on this season, my guess is that if the Eagles win their next three (certainly a possibility consider how awful the teams are), setting up a winner-take-all scenario on Dec. 22 against Dallas, most fans would come scurrying back. A lot can change in a matter of weeks.