DETROIT – It got worse. Just when you thought the Eagles couldn't perform any worse than they had against the Bucs, just when you thought they had hit rock bottom, they found new and more disturbing ways to lose in Thursday's 45-14 defeat to the Lions. Here's what we learned:
1. The Eagles are cooked. Yeah, that's a Thanksgiving pun. Laugh away. At 4-7, barring some kind of unforeseen turn of events, the Eagles won't make the playoffs. Yes, they still have five games to play. Yes, they're still only 1 1/2 games behind the NFC East-leading Giants. And, yes, stranger things have happened. But the Eagles don't resemble anything like a team with the gusto to rebound. After clawing their way back to respectability and a 4-4 record with a win over the Cowboys on Nov. 8, the Birds have gone into a free fall. Some looked at their next three opponents – the Dolphins, Bucs and Lions – and thought a sweep was possible. All three teams had a losing mark when the Eagles faced them. All three opponents won. The Eagles held a 16-3 lead late in the first quarter of the Miami game. On the last play of that quarter, DeMarco Murray went into his infamous slide. The Eagles ended up missing a field-goal attempt on that drive. Since then, they've been outscored by 107-34. They now have the most difficult stretch on their schedule. They will travel to New England to face the 10-0 Patriots on Dec. 6, host the 5-5 Bills and LeSean McCoy the following week, and host the 8-2 Cardinals the next. Could they win one of those games? Maybe. The 5-5 Giants don't have an easy remaining schedule, either. The Panthers are still on their slate. The 4-6 Redskins' road is an easier one on paper. But does anyone really believe Chip Kelly's team has any fight left? We'll see.
2. The Eagles weren't prepared. Two games ago, Mark Sanchez jumped in for the injured Sam Bradford and had trouble handing off to Murray, who at first wasn't ready for a quarterback who might keep on the zone read. But then there were other issues. Sanchez or Murray ran into the other on four other plays. They said after that it was a chemistry thing. They hadn't practiced much together. They appeared to get it cleared up for the next game. But on the first two run plays of the Lions game, they had awkward handoffs again. Murray stumbled both times after the exchange. How does this happen again? It happened partly because of all the offseason changes. It happened partly because the coaches didn't have them prepared. There were many more examples of a lack of preparedness against the Lions. I'll spare you the details.
3. The Eagles are mistake-prone. Again, there are far too many errors to list them all, but here's one that occurred on the Eagles' first possession. Sanchez completed a third-down pass to Riley Cooper a yard short of a first down on the Lions' 19. The Eagles could have gone for it on fourth down (a makeable proposition), or they could have had Caleb Sturgis attempt a 38-yard field goal (again makeable). But tackle Lane Johnson was called for a personal-foul face mask and the Eagles were pushed back to the 40. Sanchez completed a check-down 8-yard pass to Darren Sproles on third and long. Sturgis came out for what had become a 50-yard field-goal try and clanked his kick off the right upright.
4. The Eagles couldn't adjust. The Eagles were tied, 7-7, when Nolan Carroll broke his ankle. Matt Stafford and the Lions had already showed that they could move the ball on Bill Davis' defense, but it only got worse when Eric Rowe replaced Carroll at cornerback. You would have thought Davis would have done something in the secondary to protect Rowe. But he mostly stayed in man-press with a single safety over top. Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, predictably, had their way against Rowe. His technique actually looked solid on a bunch of throws that headed his way. And he battled against a future Hall of Famer in Johnson. But Davis was late to adjust. Davis blitzed on more than half of Stafford's drops and only Vinny Curry (two sacks) was able to get home. "I think we tried to, specifically at halftime, tcome after him a little bit more, brought a little more pressure on [Stafford], but I thought Matt did a good job," Kelly said. "If you watched him a couple of times, he checked into protections and got himself in a situation where he was picking up what was coming." It's quite the advantage to have a quarterback with the playbook at the line of scrimmage. In Kelly's offense, that isn't possible.
5. The Eagles appeared to give up. I know everyone is looking for examples of players quitting in the game. I didn't see anything that was egregious, although I'll have to look more closely to see if something stood out. Some have posted replays of Johnson or Kelce appearing to be lackadaisical, but that's just a cherry picking of plays. They're carrying out their responsibilities and when a play breaks down we have no idea what they should or shouldn't do or what they saw. But I will say this: there are times when you wonder whether a player is giving full effort. The bigger issue may be what the guys are doing during the work week. We also saw players getting into arguments, but those happen on winning teams, too. "I would worry if guys weren't doing anything," tight end Brent Celek said. "We're getting whooped. Guys are frustrated on the sidelines because they care. I wouldn't expect anything different from this team, so it you can it's dividing us or whatever you want to say, but at the end of the day, guys that care, they're going to get a little bit heated."
6. The Eagles can't block. The Eagles are a little banged up on the offensive line, but they're not as injured as they were last season or in 2012, for instance. Injuries are a part of the game. The best teams are prepared when they happen. Cue this skipping record: Kelly did little to address his line depth this offseason. He released Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis and replaced them with a couple of backups (Allen Barbre and Andrew Gardner). Gardner suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 3. Matt Tobin has been his replacement at right guard and has gotten tossed around. When Jason Peters was healthy, the line could get by. It did for one week when he wasn't in. But there was no way the line was going to sustain that level if he was out for an extended period. He did return on Sunday, but he left early in the Lions game with an ankle sprain. So that meant once again moving Johnson to left tackle and bringing Dennis Kelly in at right tackle. That isn't a winning combination on the edges. Johnson struggled with Ziggy Ansah (3-1/2 sacks) all game. The Lions recorded a total of six sacks as Sanchez was under siege.
7. The Eagles can't run. When the Eagles can't get anything going on the ground, their offense is usually a hot mess. And once again, they seemed to be running in neutral. Murray finished with 30 yards on 14 carries with a 19-yard (!) burst. So he averaged 1.6 yards on his 13 other carries. Am I the only one that sees a running back without any explosion? There was one outside rush where it appeared that Molasses Murray had a pretty significant hole to run through, but by the time he cut up field the hole had closed. It's not all Murray, obviously. The run blocking hasn't been consistent all season. Kelce was playing with a bum knee. The Lions seemed to have a beat on a number of runs pre-snap. It was a wretched thing to watch.
8. The Eagles can't pass. So that left it to Sanchez and the pass offense to move the ball. There were some successes. Tight end Trey Burton caught a 43-yard pass – his first in the NFL – that set up a two-yard touchdown strike to Celek. Jordan Matthews pulled in a 23-yard pass on the opening drive. But almost every time Sanchez had to drop on third and long – and there were plenty – he either had the rush in his face or no open receivers beyond the sticks. Nelson Agholor, Riley Cooper, Miles Austin and Josh Huff combined to catch just six passes for 54 yards. Here's the snap distribution at the receiver position: Matthews 46 of 59, Agholor 39, Cooper 33, Austin 22 (22 too many), Huff 16 and Seyi Ajirotutu 4.
9. The Eagles can't defend. I think we already addressed some of the problems on the defensive side of the ball, but the linebacker play – both inside and outside – has increasingly become troublesome. Mychal Kendricks is the only one of the three inside linebackers that is making any plus plays, but he's also making just as many mistakes. He has become increasingly unreliable as a pass defender. He had no chance against Theo Riddick – at least based upon his technique – on the Lions' first score. Kiko Alonso has been nearly invisible since returning from knee surgery. He can't be close to 100 percent. But he played 41 snaps. You would think he could at least stumble into a tackle. DeMeco Ryans doesn't look healthy either. He's also 31 and clearly running out of gas. Outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham have produced, but they haven't been consistent disruptive pass rushers of late. I wonder if they're tiring. Davis doesn't have much off the bench. Marcus Smith played 13 snaps of nothing.