MINNEAPOLIS — The fact that running back Miles Sanders is the Eagles’ biggest deep threat right now tells you all you really need to know about the lack of explosiveness in their passing game.
“We want to get explosive plays, obviously,’’ tight end Zach Ertz said Sunday after the Eagles’ 38-20 loss to the Vikings. “We took some [deep] shots. Miles has kind of been the big-play threat right now, which is not ideal.
“We have to find a way to get a few more X-plays [pass plays of 20-plus yards], and just play better overall. If we start out a little better and don’t go down [10-0], I think it’s a different ballgame. But that’s the same tune we’ve been singing for a while now.’’
Sanders, who already had three 30-plus-yard catches this season, added two more Sunday, beating linebacker Eric Kendricks for a 33-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, and hauling in a 45-yard pass from Carson Wentz early in the third quarter on a wheel route.
Sanders, who has 13 catches, is averaging 16.8 yards per catch.
But as Ertz correctly pointed out, it’s not a good sign when one of your running backs is the big-play threat in your passing game.
Take Sanders out of the equation Sunday and Wentz averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt. Alshon Jeffery caught 10 passes and had a 3-yard touchdown catch early in the third quarter that got the Eagles within seven points. But many of his receptions came on screens and quick hitches, a role for which he’s not really suited.
In the first five games, he was targeted just six times on throws longer than 10 yards. He caught just one. On Sunday, the 29-year-old wideout looked painfully slow.
His 10 catches Sunday amassed just 76 receiving yards, as his 2019 yards-per-catch average plummeted to a career-low 9.0.
Asked why he’s been used so much lately on shorter routes rather than down the field where he can use his enormous catch radius to his advantage, he said, “They were just trying to take advantage of whatever the defense was giving us and work our game plan.’’
Jeffery insisted that even without Jackson, the Eagles have more than enough pass-catching weapons.
“I give them credit,’’ he said of the Vikings. “They kicked our [butt] today. But we can compete with any team. I don’t care who the ---- they are.’’
Nelson Agholor was the only other Eagles wide receiver to catch a pass against the Vikings. He had four receptions for just 42 yards. Just one of his catches was longer than 8 yards.
Mack Hollins — the third wide receiver when the Eagles used 11-personnel, which wasn’t a lot Sunday — was targeted twice and didn’t have a catch.
And then there’s the mysterious disappearance of rookie wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who was taken by the Eagles just four picks in the draft after Sanders but has barely gotten on the field after playing 132 snaps in Weeks 2 and 3.
Ertz was targeted nine times by Wentz on Sunday, but caught just four passes for 54 yards, and two of them --- for 17 and 22 yards — came late in the game when the Vikings had an 18-point lead and were playing on cruise control.
“We had some opportunities today to get down the field,’’ coach Doug Pederson said, repeating a line he’s been using a lot since DeSean Jackson suffered an abdominal injury in Week 2. “We stretched the field a few times.
“We get creative with it, with moving some guys around. Obviously, DeSean helps that when he’s out there. But that’s something that we’ve got to continue to work with and work through and find ways to be creative that way.’’
“We didn’t really get any of those deep shots going today,’’ said Wentz, who completed 26 of 40 passes for 306 yards. “Hats off to them. That’s a good defense. There were some shots today that we didn’t connect on. There were some other times where I might’ve missed some guys. But it’s a good defense.’’
Getting Jackson back certainly would help the Eagles’ passing game. He had eight catches for 154 yards and two 50-plus-yard touchdowns in the Eagles’ Week 1 win over Washington. He’s a legitimate field-stretcher.
But what’s the team’s level of confidence that when Jackson does come back, he’ll be able to stay healthy for more than a couple of minutes?
To be fair, the Vikings defense isn’t particularly easy to throw deep on. It came into the game ranked fourth in the league in yards allowed per attempt (6.2). Minnesota had given up just 11 pass plays of 20 or more yards this season, the third-fewest in the league.
“They probably played a little more two-high [safety] than we expected them to,’’ said Goedert, who had five catches for only 48 yards. “Aside from that, they did kind of what we expected.
“They got ahead early and that made it tough. They were able to pin their ears back and do whatever they wanted on defense. We weren’t able to control the game like we wanted to do.’’
The Eagles defense has been digging an early hole for the offense all season. Jim Schwartz’s unit has given up points on the opponents’ first possession in five of six games, including Sunday. It has given up points on their opponents’ first two possessions in four of six games, including Sunday.