LAS VEGAS — The Eagles spoke all last week about changes coming out of the mini-bye, but they delivered the same slop they’ve been peddling most of the season and fell to the Raiders, 33-22, on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium. Win, lose, or draw, here’s what we learned:
Howie Roseman is still, ultimately, responsible for much of what happens with the Eagles. I’ve called for patience with Nick Sirianni and his staff. The Eagles are 2-5 as the early schedule was difficult and the young coaching staff was likely to need time to implement schemes, adjust to personnel, and basically learn on the job. But I couldn’t imagine it would look this bad. Sunday had to be an embarrassment for the entire organization. There was plenty of ugly in the first five games, but the Raiders weren’t an especially talented team and were supposed to be still reeling after Jon Gruden’s exit two weeks ago. Oddsmakers had them as only 3-point favorites.
And yet, the Eagles were completely out-classed on both sides of the ball. On offense, they opened with an impressive touchdown-scoring drive. But on their next six possessions, they scored zero points. The Raiders, meanwhile, netted 30 points during that span and marched up and down the field on Jonathan Gannon’s spineless defense. The Eagles committed mistakes all over the field. Sirianni’s desperation was summed up by a second-half opening onside kick even though his team trailed by just 10 points.
I still believe that Sirianni and Gannon deserve the benefit of doubt for an entire season and then an evaluation during the offseason. It’s fair to suggest that they’ll never get it right, and fair to criticize both for their schemes and play-calling (more on both later). But they aren’t, ultimately, at the root of the problem.
It starts at the top with owner Jeffrey Lurie, of course. He made the final call to hire Sirianni. Every major decision is made with his involvement in mind. Howie Roseman has survived more head coaching fires than any other current general manager partly because he has successfully managed up. And managing up, in this sense, is allowing for Lurie to be his football confidant. The owner can do so as he pleases. It’s his team. But his closest advisor is a sycophant.
The co-dependent relationship at the top clearly influenced the Sirianni hire, in that it needed a coach who wouldn’t block Lurie or force Roseman out. Brandon Staley had many reasons for taking the Chargers job — Justin Herbert being maybe the most prominent — but Roseman was a significant reason why he canceled a scheduled interview, two NFL sources close to the situation said. Lurie certainly didn’t want to bring in a failure. He has done fairly well in identifying unproven coaches. But he may have finally crapped out on his first roll.
Roseman’s culpability, though, extends beyond the coach. Recent drafts have been subpar. Free agent signings have been spotty. The quarterback conundrum is mostly of his own doing. He inexplicably drafted Jalen Hurts — with a high-five from Lurie — and set in motion the historical regression of Carson Wentz and eventually his request for a trade. Wentz shares some blame, but the GM fostered a culture that permitted the kid-gloves treatment of the quarterback.
Hurts is obviously not on Wentz’s level, even if the latter has better coaching and talent around him with the Colts. He was a second-round draft pick for a reason. And the Eagles likely projected his struggles, hence they wouldn’t have explored acquiring Deshaun Watson. Roseman can point to the three potential first-round picks the Eagles may receive in next year’s draft all he wants. He’s a master at covering for his mistakes. But the Eagles are still far from having a solution at quarterback.
Lurie will entrust his aide with next year’s historically important draft, barring something unforeseen. Those picks will most likely either be used to draft a quarterback or trade for one, which will likely offer additional security for Roseman.
Fletcher Cox doesn’t like Jonathan Gannon’s scheme. Join the club, Fletch. The Eagles defensive tackle doesn’t seem to understand his role in Gannon’s hybrid front. “I’m an aggressive player,” Cox said. “That’s how I made my living, playing in the backfield and splitting double-teams. I’m not used to double-teams staying on me two, three yards down the field. It’s just frustration, you get frustrated. ... Being the player that I am, you can only take so much. I’m going to do something about it, I’m going to be aggressive.”
Too much is probably being made of the scheme as it relates to Cox’s production. He was slipping before Gannon. The film hasn’t been great even when he’s been asked to penetrate or faces one-on-ones. But the defense doesn’t play to the strengths of several players and further exposes the weaknesses. Roseman has invested significantly in the defensive line, and yet, Gannon’s bend-but-don’t-break — wishful thinking — coverages allow for quarterbacks to get the ball out quick, thus negating the rush.
I don’t want to give Cox and Co. a pass because Derek Carr dropped to throw 35 times and was hit only twice and never sacked. But the collective body language of the unit, especially Cox, has been telling. He motioned to the sideline after the call that allowed Zay Jones to catch a 43-yard pass on third-and-13. “I didn’t agree with what was called on the defense,” Cox said.
The Eagles captain dialed back on the questioning of Gannon in other parts of his postgame news conference, but they’re only seven games into this deal. Cox can be frustrated, but he’s showing his true colors by publicly criticizing his coach. It took at least two-plus seasons before Jason Peters started publicly hinting that he had lost faith in Chip Kelly. Cox has that same kind of clout with the organization, although Peters had a direct line to Lurie, rather than Roseman.
Cox has helped oust previous D-line coaches, but I don’t know if he can get a defensive coordinator fired. It’s surprising that Lurie and Roseman would allow for a scheme that downplayed Cox’s best traits. They specifically hired Jim Schwartz for that reason. I don’t think for a second that they stood back and allowed for Sirianni to pick Gannon on his own. But why go along and then do little to acquire players better suited to a hybrid front and zone-heavy coverages?
Gannon’s schemes are tried-and-true. But some don’t match the personnel and he has done a poor job of mixing up calls and disguising his rushes and coverages. You can run Cover 2 all day, but you better give deceptive pre-snap looks and rush from different alignments, especially if you’re liable at the second and third levels.
The Eagles have taken away the deep ball. Congrats, here’s a cookie. But quarterbacks, especially accurate ones like Carr, are more than happy to hand off or take the underneath stuff against substandard linebackers. It has been deflating for the unit, and when the chickies start chirping, it won’t be long before Mother Hen hears.
Nick Sirianni doesn’t have enough answers. Another week, another bungled game-management situation. Sirianni’s explanation for accepting a holding call on a would-be fourth-and-3 was mystifying. Why would the Raiders be using the same chart as the Eagles? And even if they did go for it, it was still a pretty risky proposition. I don’t know why he just didn’t wait until he saw the Raiders’ personnel, or one of his coaches in the box radioed down that Carr and the offense were coming off the field for the punt unit.
That being said, the defense didn’t have to allow a 43-yard completion on third-and-13. It seemed like Gannon picked the wrong time to leave Steven Nelson alone in man coverage.
“We need to call defenses that allow our defenders to challenge more,” Sirianni said, “and then our players have to be up for it.”
That was about as close as Sirianni got to second-guessing Gannon, but it was further than I’ve ever heard any other Eagles head coach be willing to go. And again, we’re just seven games into this thing. It’s alarming, but not after watching seven games of porous defense. Four opposing quarterbacks have completed more than 80% of their passes against the Eagles and Carr was accurate on 91% (!) of his throws.
Gannon was being considered for other coordinator jobs, but he has looked as overmatched as Sirianni has been on offense. The coach finally ran the ball early and got a touchdown out of it, but when Miles Sanders left with an ankle injury, it seemed like that plan went out the window. It didn’t help that the Raiders were able to hold the ball for long stretches. But Sirianni’s play-calling has lacked imagination. It’s basically, zone read, run-pass option, screen and when they fail, have Hurts drop back like Philip Rivers. He just isn’t in that mold.
The best I can say about Sirianni is that his players are still giving effort, at least aside from Cox. But the Eagles are nearing a crossroads — or perhaps are already there — and safety Rodney McLeod addressed the potential for players to go in the wrong direction in the locker room after the game.
“Are you committed to making this run?” McLeod said he said to his teammates. “And if you are, come Wednesday ready to work.”
The Eagles aren’t a good team, clearly. But Sunday’s contest at the 0-7 Lions will tell us just how far they’ve fallen. The schedule does get easier, overall, but after Detroit there are the Chargers (4-2), Broncos (3-4) and Saints (3-2). None of the above is a world-beater, but all three should be able to beat the Eagles if they keep playing the same way.
“Time’s running out,” McLeod said.
Jalen Hurts doesn’t have enough answers. And the Eagles aren’t getting enough answers about the young quarterback because there are fundamental problems across the board. Some have seen enough. I haven’t. A lot falls on his shoulders, of course. He struggles to see the field in time, he leaves the pocket early as a result, and even when he stays he doesn’t have all the throws in his bag.
Pay little mind to his overall numbers. Many of the yards and touchdowns he has accumulated have come long after games have been settled. He gets some credit for battling till the end, and the offense seems to finally play with some urgency when trailing. But that’s mostly because defenses are playing soft from ahead. The issues have come early, and often from Sirianni’s game plans. It’s the age old chicken-or-egg argument: Is Hurts hindering the offense, or his Sirianni holding back the quarterback? I think the safest answer is that it’s both.
But there’s blame to sprinkle around. DeVonta Smith dropped a couple of early passes. Kenny Gainwell fumbled. Landon Dickerson had a false start. Jordan Mailata struggled to contain Raiders’ defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (two sacks) and committed a personal foul that negated a long Hurts run. Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins were M.I.A. for three quarters.
Hurts just doesn’t have the ability to offset all those mistakes. Sirianni tried to lessen his load by having more rushes from under center. But once the Eagles got behind, the quarterback was back in the shotgun running the one-read-based offense. Sirianni can say that it’s easier than having progression reads from the pocket, but decisions still have to be made in a split second. And defenses increasingly know how to complicate those reads.
Hurts is only 23. He has many off-the-field traits that make him a franchise-caliber quarterback. But he may never get a fair shake in Philly. It could be argued that the Eagles never really attempted to make it work. They hired offensive coaches unfamiliar with a system that would play to his strengths. They made it clear he would have, at best, a one-year tryout after Roseman stockpiled draft picks. And they couldn’t keep their interest in Watson secret.
Maybe Hurts hadn’t earned an extended grace period, but the Eagles could have done more to set him up for success. There’s still time.
Extra points. Lane Johnson was back in the starting lineup after missing three games while dealing with anxiety/depression issues. He seemed to fare well. He left in the fourth quarter after someone stepped on his ankle, Sirianni said. Mailata slid from left to right tackle to accommodate Andre Dillard’s entrance. … Center Jason Kelce took an unnecessary roughness personal foul early in the third quarter after he wrestled with a Raiders player for a would-be fumble. It looked like said player tried to kick Kelce in the privates, which would explain his uncharacteristic explosion. … The defensive line continued to go top-heavy in snap distribution. The breakdown: Cox and Derek Barnett 56 of 66 snaps, Javon Hargrave and Josh Sweat 49, Hassan Ridgeway 19, Milton Williams 18, Ryan Kerrigan 13 and Tarron Jackson 4. Kerrigan finished another game without a single mention on the stat sheet, although 13 plays is hardly a lot.