The Eagles are 0-2 for the first time since 2015, and there is plenty of blame to assess. Divvying it up promises to occupy much of the upcoming week.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who loves baseball analogies, probably should bat leadoff in the the wake of this 37-19 blowout.
His unit looked like it belonged on the same field as the Rams offense for maybe a three-series stretch, from late in the second quarter to late in the third, when the Eagles, who had trailed, 21-3, got within 21-16 and briefly seemed capable of erasing the deficit. Otherwise, Los Angeles owned the field, to the tune of 30 first downs and 449 total yards. Quarterback Jared Goff (20-for-27 for 267 yards, three touchdowns, no turnovers) didn’t have to go deep very often.
You can look at the people who work for Schwartz, as well. Remember that fearsome pass rush up the middle the Eagles were going to have? Remember when they could stop the run? (191 yards on 39 carries for the Rams, including a 40-yarder, the longest play of the day for either team). Remember when Darius Slay -- who left the game late with what seemed to be a rib or abdominal injury but is not believed to be seriously hurt -- was going to allow them to play a tougher, more aggressive type of pass defense?
“We were the undisciplined team,” said safety Rodney McLeod.
But before we get carried away with the failures of the defense, for the second week in a row quarterback Carson Wentz played a pivotal role, and not in the way the Eagles envisioned.
Down 21-16 in the third quarter, the Eagles were driving for the lead when Wentz threw an awful interception, on first down from the Rams' 21. He had plenty of time. His receiver, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, was not open and might not have run the route correctly. Regardless, trying to force the ball in there was the kind of decision a fifth-year franchise quarterback just can’t make.
“Just throw the ball away in that situation, or run,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. Before last week, Pederson hadn’t lost an opener (4-0). Before Sunday, he hadn’t lost to Rams coach Sean McVay (2-0).
“I’ve got to be smarter in that situation,” Wentz said after a 26-for-43, 242-yard performance that included another interception in late-game desperation time. With no touchdown passes, he compiled a 56.5 passer rating, his lowest since that 48-7 loss at New Orleans on Nov. 18, 2018, 21 regular-season starts ago. That also was the last time Wentz didn’t throw a touchdown pass in a regular-season game.
“I got out on the naked [bootleg] there to the left and they had us covered pretty well. I got pretty aggressive and tried to force one in there.. ... I tried to make a play when I probably didn’t need to. ... Tried to do too much. ... Obviously, I can’t do that,” Wentz said.
Wentz, who now has four interceptions and a lost fumble in two games, was among a list of Eagles who kept insisting that the firmament remained aloft, that it had not crashed down on the heads of the cardboard cutouts in the otherwise empty Lincoln Financial Field stands.
They might be right. The Eagles really aren’t in a worse spot than they were in last year at, say, 5-7.
They also might be wrong. The last two times the Eagles started 0-2, they failed to make the playoffs. In 2015 (7-9), Chip Kelly got fired. In 2007, they finished 8-8, despite Brian Westbrook’s season for the ages. You have to go back to 2003, the year of the Todd Pinkston NFC title game loss, to find an 0-2 Eagles team that really shook off that early bad energy (12-4).
This is going to be a strange year everywhere, so who knows if the defense just needs more time to figure things out in the post-Malcolm Jenkins era, and if the offense somehow might click into gear the way Wentz insisted it would.
Or, maybe this is going to be a losing year that calls into question Wentz’s tenure as the starting quarterback and Pederson’s shelf life. The 0-2 Bengals are the next team up on the schedule, then a trip to San Francisco, last year’s NFC Super Bowl representative, which suffered potentially devastating injuries while blowing out the Jets on Sunday.
If the Eagles beat Cincinnati, they will be 1-2, just as they were after three weeks last season.
Wentz’s message was that the turnovers are correctable errors, and that “other than that, we truly feel that we are right there. So we’re not panicking. ... We’re just missing some things.”
Wentz’s responsibility for so many of these correctable errors makes it hard to embrace his doctrine, but if you squinted, you could see what he was talking about -- 25 first downs against the Rams, 95 rushing yards on 20 carries for Miles Sanders despite a rusty-looking start; a solid performance by the offensive line against Aaron Donald and company, despite the loss of left guard Isaac Seumalo to a knee injury, with 6 minutes, 26 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Matt Pryor, the forgotten man, seemed to fill in capably there.
“The timing of our mistakes is really killing us right now,” Wentz said.
The first Eagles possession was a disaster that immediately brought back memories of the second half of the opener. On the third play, Sanders, who missed the opener with a hamstring injury, fumbled, with Rams safety John Johnson recovering.
“I take that, that’s on me. I didn’t have a training camp or, like, weeks of practice. This week was my only week of [full] practice. ... It won’t happen again,” Sanders said.
“These guys, if you give them a lead early and allow them to establish the misdirection of runs and play-actions that they’re good at, this team has been proven to be very successful,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said. “If you look at the teams that have played well against these guys, the 49ers ... you have to run and try and get up on them early, try and force their hand into getting out of what they are comfortable in. We weren’t able to do that offensively, so we made it very difficult for our defense, and that started from the jump with a turnover.”
As was so often the case at Washington, the defense couldn’t deal effectively with an opponent’s taking over in Eagles territory; five plays later, Goff rolled right and found tight end Tyler Higbee for a 4-yard touchdown.
The Rams didn’t need the short field to score, though. They drove 75 yards in 10 plays, then 80 yards in eight plays, sandwiched around an Arcega-Whiteside drop on third-and-2. It was Arcega-Whiteside’s first target of the season..
Down 21-3, the Eagles were a shambles, but they put together a 12-play drive, short passes and runs, going 75 yards and scoring on a Wentz sneak. A two-point conversion run failed.
Just before halftime, the Eagles got a tremendous gift. The Rams' Cooper Kupp elected to field a punt inside his 5, and Eagles linebacker T.J. Edwards punched the ball out. Rookie safety K’Von Wallace fell on the ball at the Rams' 11. Two plays later, Sanders strolled in from 4 yards out, behind a clear-out block by Nate Herbig. The Eagles were down only 21-16 at halftime, somehow.
The defense figured some things out and the offense was rolling, and it seemed the Eagles might take the lead when Wentz forced that first-down pass. Corner Darious Williams cut inside Arcega-Whiteside for the killer interception. The Rams then drove for a field goal that made it 24-16.
The Eagles matched that with a 33-yard Jake Elliott field goal, Pederson declining a penalty on the kick that would have turned fourth-and-8 at the Rams’ 15 into fourth-and-3 at the 10. Pederson said he saw value in getting within a touchdown again.
“I felt like we had some momentum and made the choice to keep points on the board,” he said.
When Los Angeles got the ball back, it easily drove 75 yards on just three plays, one of them a 40-yard Darrell Henderson run. Higbee embarrassed Nate Gerry on a 28-yard touchdown pass, his third score of the game. It was 31-19, with 10:53 left in the fourth, and really, the game was over.
It emphatically was over when Wentz couldn’t hit a well-covered Dallas Goedert on fourth-and-2 at the Rams' 36 with 7:48 remaining.
McLeod said the most frustrating thing about being 0-2 is “that we are much better than the results.”
Defensive end Brandon Graham, who had the Eagles' only sack, said the team won’t fracture over two ugly losses.