CINCINNATI – The Eagles laid an egg at three-quarters-full Paul Brown Stadium and fell to the Bengals, 32-14, on Sunday. Here's what we learned:
1. The Eagles aren't a good team. Duh. OK, we knew this for some time. But I didn't think the Eagles were capable of playing as poorly as they did Sunday. If they had been blown out by Tom Brady and the Patriots, that's another story. But the Bengals, despite making the playoffs in five straight seasons, were reeling entering the game. They had won only once in their previous seven games. Their offense was struggling to score. Their defense couldn't sustain a consistent pass rush. And the Bengals were without their best receiver (A.J. Green) and their best running back (Giovani Bernard). But they whipped the Eagles. I know the Eagles roster is lacking, probably the No. 1 reason the team has gone into a tailspin. I know that a first-time head coach and a rookie quarterback are leading the Eagles. But some of what occurred Sunday was self-inflicted. There were 10 penalties, four personal fouls, dropped passes, turnovers, a missed field goal, and just plain, ol' sloppy football. One play stood out in particular. The Eagles were trailing, 10-0, early in the second quarter. They drove 43 yards to the Bengals' 32 and faced third down and 9. Carson Wentz seemed surprised by the quick snap and handed off to Wendell Smallwood on a draw. The running back was promptly dropped for a 1-yard loss. Center Jason Kelce turned and had some words with Wentz. Something seemed awry. "It was a pass-run option," coach Doug Pederson said. "I believe the snap was snapped quicker than what we wanted. I believe it was one of our cadence plays." Pederson cited communication as the issue. Mistakes are going to happen, but this wasn't the first time that Kelce and Wentz hadn't been on the same page. And, of course, the miscommunication came at a crucial point. The Eagles had to settle for a 51-yard field-goal attempt. Caleb Sturgis, who has been solid for most of the season, had the distance, but hit the right upright and missed.
2. Doug Pederson isn't a good coach. Could Pederson eventually develop into a good coach? Perhaps. But there has been a lot of ugly over the last two months and Pederson hasn't done much – whether it's play-calling or game management – to instill confidence in his ability to turn things around. I wrote more about Pederson needing to prove he can lead this team beyond this season for my newspaper column. He has four games to show it, and his players have four games to show they still want to play for him. I know a lot of fans want Pederson gone and have asked if Jeffrey Lurie would be willing to pull the trigger after one season. But I just can't see it happening unless someone would be available whom they desperately want and could get. Lurie used to be known for his patience, but then he dropped last December's bomb and fired Chip Kelly with a game to play. So I guess anything is possible. But Pederson is one of Lurie's own. And the owner cares deeply about optics and how another quick firing would be viewed around the league. If Lurie is honest with himself, he looks at the roster Howie Roseman has assembled and comes to the conclusion that the Eagles executive vice president of football operations is just as responsible for the downward spiral.
3. Carson Wentz isn't a good quarterback. He's a rookie and there aren't many rookies who are good quarterbacks. And I still believe that Wentz can be a very good one. But he has regressed. There's no other way to put it. In the big picture, his performance Sunday might not mean much. It could be just one blip on the radar. But there has been an increasing number of blips over the last seven games. Wentz has 12 turnovers in that span. He has as many interceptions (10) as he has had touchdowns (5). He threw three picks Sunday and could have doubled that number had Bengals defenders not dropped three errant passes. Wentz couldn't seem to find passing lanes. Six of his passes were batted at the line – four to the ground, one that was intercepted, and one that he caught himself. I don't think I need to rehash in detail the ways his supporting cast has hindered his effectiveness. But his receivers weren't the problem (although they also weren't the solution). His offensive line wasn't the issue (although protection was shaky). And Pederson's play-calling wasn't the hindrance. Wentz was chiefly responsible for most of his mistakes. And while it is important to show prudence in his first season, I was a little disappointed – for the first time, really – in how he handled questions after the game. Was Sunday a step back? "Hard to say." Why are so many of your errant passes sailing high? "Bad throw." Is it mechanics as Pederson said? "I don't think so. You throw the ball 60 times, you're going to miss some." Wentz is permitted to have bad days both on the field and off. He has shown in-game that he can rebound from low moments. He's a poised young man and capable of introspection. It'll be interesting to see how he responds next week.
4. Jim Schwartz isn't a good defensive coordinator. Well, at least he hasn't been one over the last three games. His resume says otherwise, and I believe Schwartz to be a good coach. But how does a defense that looked so stout for most of the first half of the season become toothless over the last several weeks? There has been some focus on Schwartz's lack of blitzing. The Eagles' pass rush has been stagnant. They have only one sack over the last three games and that lone sack was a "0-yard" loss against the Seahawks' Russell Wilson. The front four isn't getting home. Yes, some of the quarterbacks have been getting the ball out quicker to counter an aggressive front. And, yes, the secondary hasn't been able to hold its coverage long enough to help the rush. But you would think that a line in which the Eagles sank so much money could win a few one-on-ones. Schwartz can blitz, and he can blitz creatively. He blitzed the heck out of Sam Bradford and shut the Vikings down. But he'd rather not. Still, when the four-man rush isn't getting pressure, it might be time to send extra bodies. I'd excuse Schwartz, like Pederson, because of personnel, but he had a voice in helping Roseman pick players this offseason. He didn't want Eric Rowe and Roseman traded him, even though the Eagles are thin at cornerback.
5. Fletcher Cox is delusional. I get the argument that Cox isn't worth the $100 million contract he signed this offseason. Fact: Few players are. But he has been the least of the Eagles' problems up front. He's seeing more blockers than anyone else – although not as many as he did the week before – and has been good against the run. But his answer to a question about the Eagles' lack of pressure was excuse-making at its worst. "It's definitely not a problem," Cox said. "Obviously, we aren't getting to the quarterback the way we should. When teams have success of dinking and dunking on us … teams are going to do that and get rid of the ball quick. When they're ready to go deep, they seven-man-protect. We're rushing four, so you do the math." But Andy Dalton didn't dink and dunk that much. He was throwing downfield constantly through the first three quarters. Pederson said during his Monday news conference that the Eagles generated 19 quarterback pressures, but I'm not sure which game he was watching. The Eagles recorded no sacks and were credited with just one quarterback hit on the official stat sheet.
6. The Eagles' cornerbacks are worse than we thought. It was going to be hard to top last week's effort, or lack thereof, but the Eagles cornerbacks did – with an assist from the safeties. Nolan Carroll, Leodis McKelvin and Jalen Mills had no answers for what Dalton and company threw at them. They couldn't cover consistently in zone and couldn't cover in man. Brandon Lafell is a decent second receiver, and rookie Tyler Boyd looks as if he's going to be a nice player. But the Eagles corners got beaten repeatedly by receivers named James Wright, Cody Core and Alex Erickson. No disrespect to those guys, but they shouldn't have had it so easy. Dalton had time and was mostly accurate, but McKelvin (55 of 64 snaps), Carroll (51) and Mills (23) were trailing receivers all day. Corners are going to give up catches. They're going to get beaten over the top on occasion. But Sunday shouldn't have been that bad. The Eagles need to address the position during the offseason. Mills has some ability, but he doesn't project as a No. 1 corner. C.J. Smith is the only other young corner the Eagles have in the pipeline.
7. The Eagles' receivers are worse than we thought. Yeah, even worse. Nelson Agholor returned and played all 80 snaps on offense (!), but he was the same old, same old. He nearly dropped his first target and did little thereafter, finishing with four catches for 23 yards. He blocked well, I hear. Dorial Green-Beckham had a couple of decent early grabs, but he ended up with only four catches for 29 yards. He left with an oblique contusion. He avoided penalties, though. Jordan Matthews' absence allowed for Paul Turner to play more. For most of the game, Turner was silent, but he finished with six catches for 80 yards – 16 more yards than Agholor's career best in a game. But it's difficult to put much stock in garbage-time catches. Bryce Treggs, for some reason, played only two snaps.
8. Zach Ertz lacks intestinal fortitude. The Eagles tight end had the perfect opportunity to knock Burfict on his rear, but Ertz danced out of the way of the oncoming linebacker. Maybe he thought he could get flagged for an illegal block, but it would have been a legal play with Burfict squared as he ran toward him. Maybe he thought the play was over, but a big block there and Ertz has the opportunity to set the tone and maybe take Burfict out. Pederson said he had yet to talk to Ertz about the play. He said he would want him to block in that situation. There were other questionable plays in which players didn't appear to be giving 100 percent effort. Safety Rodney McLeod appeared to back off when running back Tyler Hill eked over the goal line for a 3-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Pederson initially said that he thought players were giving full effort on Monday, but he reversed course later and said "not everybody" was playing hard. He said he would hold those players accountable, but I wouldn't expect Pederson to bench anyone.
9. Howie Roseman isn't winning Executive of the Year. Maybe next year.