It’s been a difficult first eight games for the Eagles. Why are they 3-4-1?
Here are my five top reasons, and none of them have to do with Donald Trump:
Injuries clearly have been a major factor in the Eagles' first-half struggles. According to mangameslost.com, they’ve had players miss a total of 128 games due to injury in the first eight weeks of the season. The only team with more has been the 49ers (141).
Pro Football Focus rated the Eagles' offensive line the best in the league after last season. But that was before the bodies started to fall.
Right guard Brandon Brooks (Achilles tear) and left tackle Andre Dillard (bicep tear) haven’t played a snap this season. Left guard Isaac Seumalo (knee) has been out since Week 2.
Right tackle Lane Johnson (ankle, knee) has missed two games and played less than 70% of the snaps in two others. Three of their top four backups, including 38-year-old nine-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters (toe), have missed another seven games.
Things haven’t gone much better for their receiving corps. Their two top vertical threats – DeSean Jackson (hamstring, ankle) and rookie Jalen Reagor (thumb) – have missed a combined nine games. Reagor, who missed five games, returned last week, but Jackson is out until at least December. Alshon Jeffery (foot, calf) has yet to play a down.
Tight ends Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz (ankles) have missed a combined six games, which has limited the Eagles' ability to use two-tight end personnel groupings. And, oh yeah, their best running back, Miles Sanders (hamstring, knee), has missed three games and counting
Both their run game and pass game have been affected by the injuries up front. Carson Wentz has been sacked a league-high 32 times and has a league-high 12 interceptions. His lack of trust in his protection has led to poor throws (he’s 31st in completion percentage) and questionable decision-making.
The line’s injuries and Sanders' absence have impacted the ground game and Doug Pederson’s willingness to use it. The Eagles are 29th in run-play percentage (36.2) and 22nd in rushing attempts (24.1 per game). The Eagles have the worst first-down rush average (3.3) in the league.
The Eagles have 17 turnovers in their first eight games, which is the second-most in the NFL. Only the Cowboys have more (18). Carson Wentz has 16 of those 17 giveaways, including a league-high 12 interceptions. The only non-Wentz giveaway was a Miles Sanders fumble against the Rams in Week 2.
Opponents have converted his 16 turnovers into 37 points, including 34 in their four losses to Washington, the Rams, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and the tie with Cincinnati.
Ten of Wentz’s 16 turnovers – eight interceptions and two fumbles – came in those five games. Seven of them occurred in Eagles territory, which led to short drives and contributed heavily to a minus-10.6-yard average drive start differential (25.0 to 35.6).
Wentz has averaged an interception every 25.4 pass attempts this season. Last year, he averaged one every 86.7 attempts.
He has struggled with both his decision-making and accuracy. The injuries to his line and receivers clearly haven’t helped him. But they are no excuse for the turnovers or the bad decisions he’s been making.
He is 31st in the league in completion percentage (a career-low 58.4). The majority of his throws – 55.2% of them – have been 0-to-10 yards. His 67.1 completion percentage at that distance is the lowest of his career. Last year it was 74.3.
Misdirection and running quarterbacks
During Jim Schwartz’s first four years as the Eagles' defensive coordinator, teams seldom tried to run on his defense. In 2017 and 2018, the Eagles had the fewest opponent rushing attempts in the league. Last year, they had the third fewest (22.1 per game).
This year, it’s been a very different story. In the first eight games, opponents have averaged 29.9 rush attempts per game against the Eagles. Only the Cowboys have been run on more. Five of the Eagles' first eight opponents have run the ball 30-plus times on them. Last year, just two teams did that.
The Eagles are 24th in run defense (130.8 yards per game), which is their lowest ranking and most rushing yards allowed since Schwartz arrived in Philadelphia. They’re 27th in opponent rush average on first down (4.9).
The thing is, the Eagles have done pretty well against opposing running backs, holding them to 3.3 yards per carry. Last week, they held the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott to 63 yards on 19 carries. It’s mobile quarterbacks and misdirection plays that have given them problems.
More than 40% of the rushing yards they’ve given up in the first eight games have been to quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends, not running backs.
They’ve given up big chunks of yards on end arounds, reverses and jet sweeps. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson rushed for 108 yards against them, including a 37-yard touchdown run.
Wide receivers and tight ends have averaged 9.1 yards per carry against them. Quarterbacks have averaged 7.1. They’ve given up three rushing touchdowns to opposing wide receivers.
Malcolm Jenkins' value to the Eagles went far beyond just making a tackle or breaking up a pass or blitzing a quarterback.
He was Jim Schwartz’s eyes and ears on the field. He made sure everybody was in the right spot and knew what they were supposed to do and when they were supposed to do it.
The Eagles had wanted to keep the soon-to-be-33-year-old Jenkins around for one more season. But he wanted a little extra money beyond this season, and they weren’t willing to give it to him.
Without him on the back end the last eight weeks, there have been growing pains. Some communication breakdowns. Some costly coverage screwups. Things that probably wouldn’t have happened if Jenkins still was around. That Chase Claypool-Nate Gerry mismatch in the loss to the Steelers wouldn’t have happened if Jenkins had still been around.
But Rodney McLeod is getting more comfortable with an expanded leadership role, and Jalen Mills is getting more comfortable with his move from corner to safety, and life after Malcolm should get a little easier as this season goes on.
Tight end troubles
Even before he got hurt, Zach Ertz was struggling. Ertz, who caught 204 passes the previous two seasons, had just 24 catches in the first six games and was averaging a career-low 7.4 yards per catch. His 53.3 catch percentage also was the lowest of his career.
In the three games before he got hurt, he had nine catches for 48 yards and no touchdowns.
The Eagles have been a tight end-centric offense the last few years. They used two- or three-tight end personnel groupings last year more than 56% of the time. In the first three games this season, they used multiple tight ends on nearly 59% of their offensive plays.
In the last five games without either Ertz and/or Goedert, their use of multiple tight end sets dropped to 19%.
With the possible exception of Brandon Brooks, no injury might’ve been more detrimental to the Eagles more than losing Goedert in Week 3. It impacted both their passing game and run game because Goedert not only is an excellent receiving tight end, but also one of the league’s better inline blockers at his position.