The Eagles are still alive. That's about the best that can be said after they fell - in convincing fashion - to the 12-2 Cardinals, 40-17, on Sunday night. The Eagles have to beat both the Redskins (7-7) and N.Y. Giants (6-8) the last two weeks to win the NFC East. There's a chance that if they beat Washington and lose the following week in North Jersey, they would still get in. But if they lose Saturday, they're done. Here's what we learned Sunday:
1. The Eagles once again fail to measure up against the elite. The Cardinals were a barometer for the Eagles in Chip Kelly Year 3. Kelly and Arizona coach Bruce Arians were hired in the same offseason. Both teams went 10-6 in 2013, but the Eagles won head-to-head, 24-20, and reached the playoffs while the Cards did not.
In 2014, the reverse pretty much occurred. The Cards finished 11-5, topped the Eagles, 24-20, and went to the postseason. The Eagles, meanwhile, duplicated their 10-6 record, but fell short of the playoffs. Kelly's team clearly isn't on the same level as Arians' unit this season. But after a two-game win streak, the Eagles probably wanted to gauge themselves against a squad that had legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. They came up far short.
They needed to be perfect and weren't even close. Drops, missed tackles and turnovers marred their night. A year ago, the Eagles faced a similar test against the Seahawks and the results were essentially the same. The loss to Seattle was probably a significant reason Kelly decided to blow up his roster. He knew the Eagles weren't close as constructed. The rebuilding plan made sense. The execution, obviously, was flawed.
2. Bill Davis better get that resume ready. Davis should be judged upon the full season. His defense kept the Eagles in a number of games early in the season. But his unit has allowed more than 400 total yards in each of the last five games. Not every point fell on the defense, but opposing teams have averaged 35.6 a game over the last five.
The Eagles have already allowed 30 passing touchdowns - the same number as last year and only three fewer than they allowed in 2012. Davis was intent on stopping the Cards' deep passing game. He pretty much succeeded, although if John Brown pulls in a couple of catchable passes, it could have been a different story. But Carson Palmer completed only one pass that traveled farther than 20 yards - a 29-yarder to Michael Floyd.
But that was about all the Eagles did right on defense. Davis' unit was severely shorthanded after cornerbacks Byron Maxwell (shoulder) and Eric Rowe (concussion) left. E.J. Biggers and Jaylen Watkins did fine in coverage considering the circumstances, but Arians attacked them on the edges with runs and short passes and exploited poor tackling technique.
The run defense - and I'll have more a detailed take below - was abysmal. Davis, at some point, has to be held responsible for scheme deficiencies and for not having his players ready. Many were underwhelmed by Kelly's initial hiring of Davis. He has been nothing more than a middling defensive coordinator. It's clear the Eagles need more. A change might have to occur this offseason. Can Kelly get it right the second time?
3. But 17 points won't get the job done, either. The regression of Kelly's offense still remains the No. 1 story of this season. Davis was supposed to have been given more talent, but are Maxwell and Kiko Alonso his fault
Kelly the GM also hurt his offense. The decisions made at running back and receiver and on the offensive line will forever haunt this team. I still believe Kelly is a good enough play-caller to succeed in the NFL. His scheme needs to be altered some, however. There needs to be more variety both in speed and plays.
The Eagles were able to move the ball against the Cardinals. They gained 424 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per play. But they came up small in key spots - in particular, on fourth and 1 in the second quarter. But the fourth-down denial was only one of many plays that went against the Eagles. Two fumbles on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter were back-breakers.
4. Sam Bradford can't carry the offense on his own. For three quarters, Bradford was nearly perfect. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown. The fumble - he was blindsided - was hardly all his fault. Jason Peters was beaten by Markus Golden.
Bradford had a number of big-league throws. There were a 30-yard crosser to Jordan Matthews, a 22-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz on a post route, a back-shoulder toss to Brent Celek for 21 yards, and a 22-yard, third-down heave to Josh Huff from the end zone with a defender in Bradford's face.
Bradford has been the Eagles' most consistent performer on offense since the bye. He did have the two poor throws in the fourth quarter that were intercepted - one of which was returned for a touchdown. Those can't be forgotten. But overall, Bradford was solid. Give him better outside receivers and a more consistent offensive line and his 2015 season could have been different.
5. The Eagles can't tackle. I've yet to review the film completely and log all the missed tackles. But I know there were about five on David Johnson's 47-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Taylor Hart wasn't even one of the guilty defenders, but watching him flail to the ground as Johnson darted through a hole kind of summed up his season for me.
The missed tackles on that run came from Walter Thurmond, Malcolm Jenkins, Watkins, Ed Reynolds and Biggers. Those are five defensive backs. At least they were close enough to make contact. Where were the linebackers? It just got worse from that point. Watkins and Biggers were lacking in space.
The tackling was poor during the Bucs-Lions stretch of games. But it has reared its ugly head again. It's difficult to say if there has been a lack of effort. There have been times when guys such as Maxwell have seemed to be giving less than 100 percent. But playoff-caliber teams don't fail to tackle this woefully late in the season.
6. The run defense is no longer the team's strength. Jordan Hicks, despite playing only eight games this season, is clearly the Eagles' MVP on defense. OK, Fletcher Cox really deserves that honor. But the run defense has plummeted since the rookie inside linebacker tore his pectoral against the Cowboys in early November.
It's not as if the Eagles were great before Hicks went down. Opposing offenses averaged 4.1 yards a carry in the first eight games. And it's not as if the Eagles' run defense has been putrid in each of the last six games. But, overall, they allowed 5.0 yards a rush over that span.
The Cardinals rushed for 230 yards on 39 tries (5.9 avg.). Johnson gained 187 yards on 29 carries and scored three touchdowns on the ground. Cox and the Eagles' defensive front don't get a pass.
But the inside linebackers have been chiefly responsible for the struggles against the run. DeMeco Ryans hasn't been the same since suffering a hamstring injury and clearly has little burst left. Mychal Kendricks is a hit-or-miss-big run stopper. And the next time Kiko Alonso makes a stop anywhere close to the line of scrimmage will be the first time this season. He can't be anywhere close to 100 percent. Can he?
7. Nelson Agholor isn't yet ready for prime time. Agholor played more than any other skill-position player on offense - 57 of 64 snaps. He had only one target and zero catches. That isn't remotely enough production. Patrick Peterson is a top-flight cornerback. He covered Agholor for most of the game. Bradford rightfully went to his two best receivers (Matthews, 8 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown; Ertz, 8 catches for 78 yards and a touchdown), but Agholor can't be that invisible.
It's difficult to say what his problems are at this point in his rookie season. He made a nice 53-yard touchdown grab last week, but he also dropped two third-down throws. Is it a lack of talent, or does he just need more time?
There are reasons to believe that it might be the former. Agholor hasn't shown that he can make difficult grabs in traffic. His routes have been sloppy. He keeps picking up ill-timed penalties. And even when the Eagles have tried to get the ball in his hands to make something after the catch, he has been underwhelming. There are still two games to play. Finishing on a strong note could carry over. But next offseason will be key. The former first-round draft pick needs to step up at some point.
8. Cornerback is a problem. Well, it was a bit of problem before the Maxwell-Rowe injuries. But if one or neither of those guys can play against the Redskins, the Eagles will have to start Biggers or Watkins on the outside. Yikes.
DeSean Jackson, who caught six passes for 153 yards and a touchdown Sunday against the Bills, seems to be rounding into form. We all remember what he did to the Eagles last season. Jackson can be taken out of a game. But Davis can't leave his cornerbacks on an island for all 60 minutes. Saturday could be a referendum on his scheme. Maxwell will have an MRI on his shoulder today. I saw a dazed Rowe after the game, but it would be presumptuous to say he won't be back in time.
9. DeMarco Murray may not be worth bringing back. Here's my column for the Inquirer on Murray and the run game's performance against the Cards. Murray played only 8 of 64 snaps and had two carries for three yards. Darren Sproles (6 rushes for 9 yards) played 30 snaps and Ryan Mathews (11 rushes for 58 yards and a fumble) played 26.
Murray is clearly the No. 3 tailback at this point. He said he's still committed to returning next year even if he's used the same amount. But Kelly might have to bite the bullet on this one, even if it means the Eagles take a significant cap hit. He could pay Murray's guaranteed figure for next season ($8 million) in a roster bonus, take the blow and get something, anything (a sixth-rounder), for him.