A blocked punt, another slow start, and six sacks all played a role in the Eagles’ 33-26 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday.
Here are my five reasons for why they lost:
Not so special teams
It was an awful day for Dave Fipp’s special teams. Their worst faux pas was the first-quarter punt block by the Cardinals’ Ezekiel Turner. He came right up the middle between snapper Rick Lovato and Dallas Goedert.
It appeared that Turner should’ve been Goedert’s responsibility. But he doubled another rusher to his right rather than pick up Turner, leaving an interstate-wide lane to Cam Johnston for him. Lovato never really had a chance to slow him down, and Johnston had the first punt of his career blocked. The ball went out of bounds at the Philadelphia 6. Two plays later, Kyler Murray and Chase Edmonds connected on a pathetically easy TD that gave Arizona a 16-0 lead.
Late in the third quarter, Lovato botched a snap on a PAT after a 7-yard touchdown run by Jalen Hurts. Johnston, who is Jake Elliott’s regular holder, had suffered a concussion earlier. He was replaced by the team’s emergency holder, tight end Zach Ertz. Maybe Johnston would’ve been able to handle Lovato’s ground-ball snap, but it would’ve been difficult. They never got the kick off.
The Eagles also got burned by a fake punt right after the botched PAT. Marcus Epps and Jalen Mills were late reacting to Turner, who sliced through the line and ran downfield. Punter Andy Lee hit him for an easy 26-yard completion. The Eagles defense managed to hold them without points on that possession.
Finally, there was the Eagles’ inept return game. Boston Scott averaged just 18.8 yards per return on five kickoffs. The Eagles’ average drive start on those kickoffs was their own 21.2-yard line. That’s unacceptable. Every time Scott caught the ball, it looked like Butch and Sundance charging out of that building with the Bolivian army waiting for them.
The plot to Eagles losses never seems to change. They fall behind early, battle back in the second half, then fade down the stretch. The Eagles spotted Arizona a 16-0 first-quarter lead before finally getting around to buckling their chin straps.
They’ve been outscored in the first quarter this season, 75-48. Those 48 first-quarter points are the fifth fewest in the NFL. Their minus-27 first-quarter scoring margin is the league’s eighth worst. They’ve led after the first 15 minutes just four times.
They’ve scored a grand total of six points in the first quarter in their last six games. Sunday was the 10th time in 14 games they’ve failed to score on their first possession. It was the ninth time they failed to score on their second possession.
Eagles quarterbacks don’t have a first-quarter touchdown pass in the last six games and have thrown two the entire season.
On Sunday, Miles Sanders averaged just 1.7 yards per carry in the first quarter.
DeAndre and Larry
DeAndre Hopkins had nine catches for 169 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Larry Fitzgerald only had three catches for 35 yards, but one of them was a gotta-see-it-to-believe-it second-quarter touchdown catch.
Hopkins and Fitzgerald are tough enough to neutralize when you have a healthy secondary, and the Eagles definitely didn’t have a healthy secondary Sunday.
Their best cornerback, Darius Slay, who likely would’ve traveled with Hopkins much of the game, was back in Philly recovering from a concussion. Their other starting corner, Avonte Maddox, is on injured reserve with a knee injury. Their top safety, and one of their defensive leaders, Rodney McLeod, is out with a torn ACL.
Undrafted rookie Michael Jacquet, who had played 51 defensive snaps in the previous five games since being promoted from the practice squad, played all 68 snaps Sunday, many of them covering the three-time All-Pro Hopkins.
Safety Marcus Epp, who had played a total of 67 snaps in the previous six games, played all 68 Sunday. Cornerback Kevon Seymour, who was working in an auto customizing shop last month before signing with the Eagles three weeks ago, played 47 snaps. Nickell Robey-Coleman, their 5-foot-8 nickel corner, played a season-high 67 snaps, many of them on the outside.
The Eagles battled. Epps intercepted a pass in the end zone to thwart one Arizona scoring drive. Jacquet had an early forced fumble in the red zone when he knocked the ball out of Hopkins’ hands, and later collaborated with Robey-Coleman on a Kyler Murray sack and fumble.
Jacquet didn’t back down from Hopkins at all. He came thisclose to intercepting a 45-yard pass to Hopkins in the second quarter that set up a Mike Nugent field goal and had good coverage on Hopkins on a 10-yard route on a third-and-8 play in the fourth quarter with the game tied.
But Hopkins used his strength and experience to catch the pass and slip away from Jacquet for a 44-yard gain. Four plays later, with Jacquet again glued to him, Hopkins somehow pulled down a pass from Murray for a 20-yard touchdown, maintaining possession with just one hand as he hit the ground.
Fitzgerald’s acrobatic 14-yard TD catch was against Robey-Coleman, who also had good coverage. His only mistake was not getting his head around quicker. If he had, he probably would’ve been able to make a better play on the ball and knock it away. Future Hall of Famer Fitzgerald reached around NRC and somehow managed to catch the ball as he was falling down.
The last two sacks
After making it through his first start last week without getting sacked, Jalen Hurts was decked six times Sunday. The first four weren’t a big deal. The final two cost them a chance at tying the game. They came on the Eagles’ next-to-last possession after they drove from their own 24 to the Arizona 11.
Left tackle Jordan Mailata allowed Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck to get inside on him and sack Hurts for a 3-yard loss. On the next play, Gardeck moved to the other side and beat right tackle Matt Pryor to the outside for a sack. A pair of third- and fourth-down passes to Goedert fell incomplete.
When asked Monday about Pryor’s performance, Doug Pederson contended that “overall he did well.” But Pryor gave up two of the Cardinals’ six sacks and seven quarterback pressures overall. He has allowed six sacks and a team-high 30 pressures this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Eagles got the ball back with 1:28 left. But they weren’t able to advance beyond the Arizona 31.
The turnover that got away
The Eagles had three takeaways Sunday. That equaled their season high. Two of them came in the red zone and thwarted potential Arizona scoring drives. The third one set up an Eagles touchdown drive.
But they had a golden opportunity at a fourth takeaway in the second quarter. With the Eagles trailing, 19-14, the Cardinals again had the ball in the red zone, on the Philadelphia 10. Kyler Murray ran a zone-read with running back Kenyan Drake. When he pulled the ball away from Drake, it came loose.
Three Eagles defenders — defensive end Brandon Graham, safety Marcus Epps and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox — all descended on the loose ball. But Cardinals center Mason Cole, who had been blocking Cox, fell on it. On the next play, Murray hit Fitzgerald for a 14-yard touchdown to give the Cardinals a two-score lead.