Right around the time the kicker caught a touchdown pass from the punter, you began to suspect that the Eagles were in trouble. It was a fluke play in a fluke situation against a team that had failed to reach the end zone on each of the eight plays that preceded it, all of them inside the 10-yard-line. Nonetheless, the end result was ominous: a one-point deficit with five minutes to go before halftime against a team that had long ago abdicated its 2019 season.
It would only get worse from there.
By the end of the afternoon, the Eagles had walked into Hard Rock Stadium and achieved the impossible, injecting a moribund team and its moribund building with an energy that has not existed all season. Whatever happens over the next four weeks — and, given the ineptitude of their division, we still can’t rule anything out — the Eagles made a statement on Sunday that should echo well into the offseason. They are not a good team. They will not magically become one this season. And they have a hell of a lot of work to become one in the future.
The problem isn’t the quarterback, or the receivers, or the defensive backs. The problem is that all of them are a problem, and it’s difficult to imagine that a single offseason can solve them. In the end, the Eagles’ offensive struggles over the last several weeks served only to obscure the fact that they were never going to win anything with the level of play they’d been getting from their secondary. Sure, the unit had played better since Jalen Mills’ return, but the only surprising thing about their performance against the Dolphins was that it came against the Dolphins. This was an offense that had scored 18 offensive touchdowns all season. By the middle of the fourth quarter, the Eagles had allowed them to score five.
In a row.
This is now about 2020 as much as it is about 2019. They need a line change in their receiving corps. They could have a rookie starting at left tackle. They could need a new center. They definitely need their franchise quarterback to rediscover the rhythm he’s lacked throughout most of the season. And only then do we arrive at the position on the depth chart that was almost singularly responsible for the Eagles loss on Sunday afternoon.
Who replaces Ronald Darby when he becomes a free agent after the season? At this point, the answer is almost certainly somebody, given the shell of the cover man we’ve seen this season. Against the Dolphins, it was Darby who allowed a 43-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to DeVante Parker on 4th-and-4. It was Darby who followed that up with a breakdown next possession as Parker outmaneuvered him to adjust to a Fitzpatrick deep ball and come down with a 42-yard gain. With the Dolphins backed up on their own 4-yard-line early in the fourth quarter, it was Ronald Darby who allowed an easy eight-yard pitch-and-catch from Fitzpatrick to Parker. On the next play, he very nearly gave up another big gain, stumbling in Parker’s wake as Fitzpatrick’s pass floated just out of reach of the receiver. Later, Parker beat Darby on a slant for an eight-yard gain on 4th-and-1.
Parker’s final line: seven catches, 159 yards, two touchdowns.
Jalen Mills didn’t have a particularly productive afternoon, allowing a couple of big catches of his own. He will also be a free agent. Who replaces them? It has been two years now that the Eagles have failed to find anyone better.
Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod will be another year older. So will Brandon Graham. The Eagles have a roster with more holes than a closet full of clothes moths. They only have so many draft picks and salary cap dollars to work with.