Eagles coach Doug Pederson was asked Monday whether the team’s offense of the past two weeks, against the Giants and the Redskins, was more like what he expected back when the season began.
Pederson’s team has put up two of its top three scoring performances of the season, 25 and 28 points, the past two weeks, rekindling faded playoff hopes. It gained a season-high 436 yards against Washington.
“You're seeing flashes of it. I think the flashes are a little more consistent now. It still wasn't perfect in the game [Monday],” Pederson said. “Still some mistakes that we need to clean up.
“We had more opportunities to score and we didn’t do that ... but I think what you’re seeing now is the offense kind of coming together, rhythm … I think the offensive line is playing at a high level right now, and we kind of ride them. The running game has been consistent. ...
“I think it’s a little bit longer than expected, obviously, but as I say, you should be playing your best football down the stretch, and hopefully this is the spark that kind of gets us going.”
The steep road to the playoffs gets bumpier starting Sunday at Dallas, with the Eagles playing division leaders three weeks in a row, at the Cowboys, at the 11-1 Rams, and at home against the 9-3 Texans.
The offensive balance is great, getting Carson Wentz moving around more is great, finally unlocking the secret to getting Golden Tate involved Monday night was great, and the o-line certainly is healthier and more dependable than it has been much of the year.
That should have been a 2017-style blowout Monday night. First downs ended up, 28-10, in the Eagles’ favor. Passing first downs were 18-4. The Eagles ran 72 plays to Washington’s 42. Yet the Eagles’ lead going into the fourth quarter was just 14-13, mostly because the home team drove down to the visitors’ 5-yard-line twice and managed not to score points either time.
Why? Because two of the best players on the team, Wentz and Lane Johnson, made huge, potentially game-turning mistakes. Mistakes that likely wouldn’t be survivable against the Cowboys, Rams, or Texans.
The Eagles had first-and-goal from Washington’s 2, down, 10-7, in the second quarter. Wentz missed Jordan Matthews on a slant, the same play Matthews would score on in the fourth quarter. Matthews said Wentz explained that he had to fit the ball around a defensive end who was in the ball’s path. Then a Josh Adams run up the middle lost a yard, no push from the line. Then Zach Ertz – another of the team’s best players – false started. Then Wentz hit Nelson Agholor, but the 7-yard gain took the ball only to the 1, not into the end zone.
There, the Eagles tried what hadn’t worked on second down, Adams up the middle, from a shotgun standstill start. Redskins linebacker Zach Brown flew in unblocked off the edge and easily dumped Adams for a 2-yard loss.
Johnson, matched against formidable defensive end Ryan Kerrigan all night in pass protection, totally controlled Kerrigan. And on this play, Johnson did a fine job of helping right guard Brandon Brooks block Kerrigan. Unfortunately, with no tight end on that side, Johnson was supposed to block the linebacker instead. It was a huge gaffe.
Then, in the third quarter, first-and-goal from the Washington 5, Wentz tried to hit Alshon Jeffery on a slant, in tight coverage. The ball came in low and behind Jeffery, an easy pick for Josh Norman.
It was Wentz’s first red-zone interception since Week 14 of his rookie season, also against Washington.
“I just forced it,” Wentz said.
There was no need to force anything on first-and-goal from the 5. Overall, Wentz is playing well, but he’s going to have to be last year’s Wentz if the Eagles are going to win a string of games and make the playoffs. And last year’s Wentz would not have thrown that interception.
The offense’s problems, even if they have lessened lately, remain really frustrating, because unlike with the defense, they can’t be blamed on a rash of injuries that have the group trying to win with a bunch of guys from the practice squad.
This is the real, quite talented 2018 Eagles offense – minus Jay Ajayi, obviously. It’s Week 14. Time to play like it. All the time. Especially in the red zone.
Developing story lines
All three Alshon Jeffery catches Monday night – for 31 yards – were successful third-down conversions.
Adrian Peterson got 90 yards on one carry, eight yards total on his other eight carries.
Brandon Graham might have played his best game this season, maintaining solid pressure, and notching his fourth sack.
Eagles running backs gained 134 yards on 29 carries, 4.62 yards per carry. We’ll see how the rejuvenated running game holds up at Dallas, which is fourth in the league in rushing defense, giving up just 91.2 yards a game. The Cowboys allow 3.7 yards per carry, which is tied with three teams for second in the NFL, behind New Orleans (3.5). The Eagles rushed for 71 yards on 16 carries in their 27-20 loss to Dallas back on Nov. 11, in which the Cowboys led most of the way.
Jason Kelce doesn’t drive a pickup truck anymore, he drives Mason Foster instead?
The Eagles have won four of their last five games at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, and six of their last eight. The last time either team won both matchups in a season was 2012, when Dallas won twice in Andy Reid’s final year.
For a while, Rasul Douglas was the best hope for Washington’s passing game; his matchup with speedy Josh Doctson was one that the Redskins wanted quarterback Colt McCoy to exploit.
Washington’s second series began with a 32-yard pass to Doctson, the longest completion of the day by McCoy or by Mark Sanchez, who came in after McCoy suffered a broken fibula early in the second quarter. Douglas fell for a double move.
But the next two plays also featured Douglas. First, he chopped down Chris Thompson for no gain on a sweep to the left. Then he took down Doctson for a 1-yard loss on a wide receiver screen.
Later in the game, Douglas gave up a 20-yard catch to Doctson, but of more import was his tackle of Thompson on a razzle-dazzle play, the Redskins throwing to the right, then back to Thompson on the left, where only Douglas stood between Thompson and a very long gain, maybe even a touchdown.
The Eagles got corners Douglas (knee) and Sidney Jones (hamstring) back from the injured list Monday night, and they started on the outside, with Cre’Von LeBlanc in the slot. This would not have been deemed an ideal combination when the season began, but compared with the week before, which featured Chandon Sullivan, De’Vante Bausby and LeBlanc, it was a decided upgrade.
“I think you’re seeing a little more confidence in these guys. I think I saw it in Rasul last night, some of the plays he made, not necessarily in the passing game, but in the run game, being able to come up and make some big plays,” Doug Pederson said. “That play on that double pass, that reverse, was tremendous by him. That’s what confidence can bring.”
Douglas led the Eagles with six solo tackles.
“We’ve been tackling [poorly] the last few weeks, the defensive backs, including myself,” he said afterward. “So we emphasized that we have to make the tackle if it came to us.”
The Eagles should get corner/safety Avonte Maddox back this week for Dallas. It’ll be interesting to see what happens there. Maddox could start at safety in place of Corey Graham, or he could take one of the corner spots. Douglas could return to the bench. But Maddox (5-foot-9, 184) and LeBlanc (5-10, 190) are both nickel corners, lacking the length defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz likes outside. So Douglas might get another chance to prove himself.