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What advanced numbers say about the Eagles' wide receivers, Carson Wentz’s turnaround, and the defense | Early Birds

Breaking down the most notable Eagles statistics from Week 5.

Eagles wide receiver Travis Fulgham catching the football past Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton (left) and free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick during the third quarter Sunday.
Eagles wide receiver Travis Fulgham catching the football past Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton (left) and free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick during the third quarter Sunday.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Good morning, Eagles fans. By the time you’re reading this, we’ll be at least 36 hours removed from the Eagles' loss to the Steelers, and you’ll hopefully have a clearer view of what transpired on the opposite side of the state. There are definitely some building blocks coming out of last weekend, but the Eagles didn’t do enough to win. This might just be how the season goes. The Eagles, especially as currently constructed, don’t have the talent to overcome mistakes and miscues against a team as good as the Steelers, who also had their share of mistakes. Things won’t be any easier this weekend, either, with the 4-1 Baltimore Ravens heading up I-95 for a Sunday game fresh off beating the Washington Football Team handily.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and special teams coordinator Dave Fipp will speak with reporters today, and a few select players will possibly be available afterward. Schwartz is always reluctant to throw players under the bus for poor performance, but it will be interesting to hear what he has to say about Chase Claypool’s four-touchdown performance and what the Eagles could have done better.

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Behind the numbers

1. Figuring the Eagles wideouts

For the second straight season, the Eagles are trotting out a cast of characters at wide receiver completely different from the group with which they started the season. Similar to Greg Ward last year, Travis Fulgham has emerged as a promising prospect with a chance to cement himself in the long-term plans of the team. Fulgham was tied with Allen Robinson for most catches among all wideouts who played before Monday night’s game and did so with three fewer targets than the Bears' receiver. Fulgham got a 93 offensive grade from Pro Football Focus, the highest grade of any receiver in Week 5 so far. On the 13 passes Carson Wentz targeted Fulgham, his passer rating was 146.5, and Wentz’s next highest was a 127.9 on five targets to Greg Ward.

John Hightower has definitely struggled at times — his failure to get out of bounds late in the second quarter cost the Eagles three crucial points — but there’s a glimmer of hope in his advanced numbers. He’s averaging 3.7 yards of separation when targeted, according to Next Gen Stats, which puts him in the top half of the league. When you combine that metric with the average air yards on his targets, it’s particularly impressive. Wentz has taken several deep shots to Hightower, who leads the league in average air yards per target with 18.8. (i.e. how many yards Wentz’s passes are traveling through the air before reaching the rookie wideout). If Hightower and Wentz can start capitalizing on Hightower’s downfield separation, the Eagles could be in for more explosive plays.

2. Wentz stabilizing

Wentz threw two interceptions in a game for the fourth time this season, but Sunday was easily the best performance he’s managed so far. PFF graded him as the third-best quarterback in Week 5 heading into Monday night’s game with an 83.8 passing grade, more than 20 points higher than Wentz’s previous best, which came against the 49ers. Overall, things are trending in the right direction for Wentz even with injuries ravaging the offensive nucleus.

Wentz has made progress on the completion percentage above expectation in each of the last two weeks, and he’s out of the bottom five. He also led the league in aggressiveness in Week 5 according to NGS by a wide margin, with 37% of his throws being considered aggressive. Funnily enough, Nick Foles was the closest to Wentz going into Monday night’s game with 26.2%. Whether or not you believe Wentz’s pushing the ball into tight windows is a positive, it’s who he has been when he’s at his best.

3. Roethlisberger’s time to throw

After two weeks spent dominating opposing offenses, the Eagles' defensive line managed just one sack against the Steelers. Going into the game, Ben Roethlisberger’s ability to get the ball out quickly was expected to keep the pass rush at bay, and that’s exactly what happened. Roethlisberger got the ball out on average in 2.26 seconds, tied for second-fastest time of the week and consistent with his 2.37 second average for the season, which is tied with Dwayne Haskins for the NFL’s fastest time measured by NGS. For reference, Wentz was closer to league average at 2.85 seconds.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Still trying to wrap your head around what doomed the Eagles against the Steelers? Paul Domowitch gives the five reasons the Birds lost.

  2. Lane Johnson’s status is up the air as he continues to try battling through an ankle injury that required surgery in August. Les Bowen recounts the many developments on an ankle that’s nagged Johnson for years.

  3. Marcus Hayes explains why, even after the loss, the team’s future looks bright after the Steelers game.

  4. The Eagles had their hands full with Chase Claypool all day, but the most confounding score came when the rookie wideout was matched up against Nate Gerry in a pivotal fourth-quarter situation. Jeff McLane tries to make sense of what went wrong.

  5. Speaking of Claypool’s final score, Bowen recaps what Doug Pederson had to say about it during his Monday morning news conference.

  6. Several NFL players, including Carson Wentz, wished Dak Prescott well after his gruesome ankle injury Sunday, as Damichael Cole details.

From the mailbag

With so many ex-Eagles players thriving with their new teams and with veterans we’ve brought in either playing at or slightly below expectations, can we say the issue is coaching and not the FO? — from GoBirds (@joslewis) on Twitter.

Good question. I’d say there’s plenty of blame to go around when figuring out what went wrong with players such as L.J. Fort, Nelson Agholor, and Sidney Jones, who are all having more success at their current stops than they had in Philly.

As my colleague Jeff McLane has reported in the past, Jim Schwartz has more say in personnel decisions than almost any other defensive coordinator in the NFL and it’s apparent that Schwartz places a premium on players he’s able to trust. Jones' inability to gain that trust and stay healthy led to his release, even though he had a few promising moments late last season. Last Sunday, he had an interception and three pass breakups for the Jacksonville Jaguars against the Houston Texans. Especially considering the lack of outside cornerback depth the team has, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t be getting playing time right now.

Fort was released to preserve a compensatory pick after failing to carve out a role in Schwartz’s defense. He’s now a starter for the Ravens, on one of the best defenses in the NFL. In Agholor’s case, it’s fair to say he needed a fresh start in a city that didn’t turn him into a meme on multiple occasions.

Coaching has definitely played a part in why those guys didn’t find success with the Eagles, especially in Jones' case.