Good morning, Eagles fans. Another week, another Early Birds intro trying to cheer you up from an underwhelming Eagles performance. I’ve got to admit, these silver linings are getting harder to find. The Eagles are 0-2-1 going into a difficult three-game stretch, and they’re coming off a confounding tie with one of the worst teams in the league. At least you don’t have to watch the Phillies bullpen blow a three-run lead any time soon, right?
As far as today’s agenda goes, the Eagles will make defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and special teams coordinator Dave Fipp available to the media around noon, and a few select players will presumably be available after that. It will be interesting to hear what Fipp thought about the decision to punt from the Eagles' 46-yard line instead of giving Jake Elliott a chance at a difficult 64-yard field goal near the end of overtime. I’m also looking forward to hearing how players feel about Doug Pederson’s decision to play for the tie now that the dust has settled.
Anyway, there are a lot of fan questions about this team after the dubious start, so instead of the advanced numbers breakdown we did the last two Tuesdays, we’ll dig into those.
— EJ Smith (email@example.com)
It’s mailbag time.
Here are four of the biggest questions coming out of the Eagles' 23-23 tie against the Bengals on Sunday.
Question: What don’t we run the ball more? It would open up play action and slow D-lines up. — from Wesley (@Wesley83359000) on Twitter
Answer: Good question, Wesley. Pederson was asked Monday why Miles Sanders wasn’t given more touches Sunday considering his 5.28 yards per carry on 18 attempts, and here’s what he said:
“You go back to the week before, and not to make excuses or whatever, there was a little fatigue that set in. Miles alluded to that. He was battling through some things, yesterday during the game, and we had to be cautious late in the game. There’s times where you just make the decision to maybe shift gears and go in a different direction.”
Pederson later clarified that Sanders wasn’t battling an injury, just conditioning issues. Obviously Sanders missed almost all of training camp and Week 1. He didn’t have an offseason, but the team was pretty adamant that Sanders' training-camp absence was more of a precautionary measure to get him to Week 1 and not something to worry about.
Now it seems like the time he missed is hurting the team through three weeks, whether it was the fumble against the Rams or the limited workload he had Sunday. For the record, Sanders said before the game that he felt ready to play and to assume whatever role the team needed, which contradicts what Pederson said after the fact Monday.
Especially if Carson Wentz continues to struggle, the Eagles' best hope might be to morph into an offense built around Sanders and give him a massive workload. He’s not as stout as some of the other featured backs in the league, but the coaching staff has said in the past it believes he can handle the wear-and-tear that comes from so many carries.
Also, a quick note on play-action: Wentz has been one of the worst in the league on play-action passes, completing 11.5% fewer throws out of play-action than in a conventional drop-back passing situation according to Pro Football Focus. For a team that reworked its offensive coaching staff with the plan to “marry up” the play-action game with the run, that number is among the most concerning there is right now.
Q: Are Carson’s problems fixable, and why are they occurring now? — from Huy (@HuyNguy61810730) on Twitter
A: Thanks for the question, Huy. As bad as the situation with Wentz seems — and it has been very bad — I still believe it’s fixable. His biggest problems right now are accuracy and decision-making. He’s not seeing the field well, and even when he finds an open receiver, he’s not hitting him with precision. No matter what Pederson says about it, it’s clear Wentz’s mechanics are all over the place. On a few of his worst throws, you can see he’s overstriding. I won’t pretend to be an expert on throwing mechanics, but the people who do have echoed the same sentiment. Flaws like that are probably harder to undo in a short period of time, but they’re definitely fixable.
On the decision-making issue, the lack of game reps with the now-hobbled receiving corps is certainly hurting things, but that doesn’t really explain why the entire offense is out of sync with Wentz. But an improvement in accuracy would go a long way to make things easier on everyone and increase the margin for error.
There’s also the factor of confidence. He’s said his confidence is still at an all-time high, but no one would blame him if he was a little uneasy out there right now. He has thrown two interceptions in three straight games and is one pick away from tying the number he had all of last season. Wentz is at his best when he’s playing freely and taking calculated risks. I think if the accuracy comes back, the rest of it has a chance to, as well. If not, the Eagles could have a quarterback problem. The way the next several weeks unfold will determine that.
Q: Was not replacing Malcom Jenkins with a credible safety a mistake? — from Rented (@RentedAmmo) on Twitter
A: Good question. It was always going to be hard to replace Malcolm Jenkins. He filled so many roles for the Eagles, and while Jalen Mills has had an up-and-down start filling in as the box safety in the Eagles defense, I think the biggest void left by Jenkins is the versatility he possessed. If the Eagles had released Jenkins and then shored up their linebacking corps with a proven player or two instead of rolling the dice on low-cost guys, it would have made more sense. Going into the year, you’d think the Eagles defense would succeed when Darius Slay shut down the opponent’s No. 1 receiver and the defensive front as a whole pressured quarterbacks.
Slay has been up to the task, and the defensive line has flashed productivity at times, but the inexperience elsewhere is costing the team by way of coverage breakdowns and missed assignments. Those happened during Jenkins' tenure, but not this often. It’s hard to imagine Jenkins wouldn’t have helped that issue significantly.
Q: Is Jalen Hurts any good? I didn’t pay attention to any of his pre-draft stuff because I thought the Eagles had a franchise QB. — from Matt (@GeraltofPhilly)
A: Appreciate the question, Matt. The positives with Hurts as a prospect are his arm strength, athleticism, and production in college. He was an excellent college quarterback, and sometimes it’s a good idea to bet on a guy who has been successful at every level (look at Deshaun Watson). The negatives are his ability to make throws with timing and anticipation. Because of that, Hurts will probably need a scheme that caters to his strengths, but that’s not always a bad thing. He’s an excellent runner, and his accuracy, footwork, and arm strength are all underrated, in my opinion. His dual-threat capability would put pressure on opposing defenses, and if he can figure out the anticipatory throws, the Eagles could have something.
To maximize his potential, the Eagles will likely need to get creative in the way that Baltimore has with Lamar Jackson and the Patriots have with Cam Newton. Whether their coaching staff is capable of doing so remains to be seen. If the coaches were able to, Hurts has potential to be a quality starter in the NFL. If things get uglier and the Eagles are in line for a high draft pick, they would be wise to at least see what they have in Hurts before going into the draft.