SEATTLE – The Eagles lost to the Seahawks, 26-15, Sunday and while the 11-point margin makes it appear as if the game was relatively close, it was not. Here are 10 things we learned:
1. The Eagles are still alive. I wrote the same thing last week. "Alive" in this case still means the Eagles haven't been eliminated from the postseason hunt. Say what you want about their ultimate legitimacy in terms of the Super Bowl, but a strong finish, even if they fall short of a playoff berth, would be significant for a young team with a young quarterback headed by a first-time head coach. But the Eagles have to respond after they laid an egg at CenturyLink Field. Three of their next four games are against opponents with a .500 record or worse. The reeling 4-6 Packers are next, followed by the A.J. Green-less 3-6-1 Bengals, then the 6-3-1 Redskins and finally the treading 5-5 Ravens. The Eagles will host the 7-3 Giants and 9-1 Cowboys to end the season. An NFC East title is essentially long gone with Dallas four games ahead with six to play. But a wild-card slot is still in the cards. If the season ended today, the Giants and Redskins would win the berths. The Lions (6-4) and Vikings (6-4) are tied atop the NFC North. The Buccaneers (5-5) are a game behind the Falcons (6-4) in the NFC South. And there are five other teams still in contention: the Cardinals (4-5-1), Saints (4-6), Panthers (4-6), Rams (4-6) and Packers. But make no mistake -- the Eagles just aren't playing like a playoff-worthy team right now. They hung with the Seahawks until the unfortunate Nelson Agholor illegal formation penalty, and who knows what would have happened had Zach Ertz's 57-yard touchdown stood, but I saw two teams not remotely in the same class. "We have a long season still," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "A lot of football to be played, and nothing saying we can't win out."
2. Mental mistakes are the mark of a poorly coached team. I'm not saying that Doug Pederson is a poor coach – at least not yet – because the mistakes haven't been there as much at home. But for whatever reason, the Eagles have looked completely different on the road. And it has cost them dearly. I'll get to Agholor and his blunder. But he wasn't the only one to have mistakes. Brandon Graham took a costly penalty when he bit on a Russell Wilson hard count and jumped in the neutral zone on a third and 16 in the second quarter. Wilson might have taken a shot downfield knowing he had a free play, but the pass was incomplete. On the retry, the Seahawks quarterback bought time and somehow found tight end Jimmy Graham, who outmuscled Jaylen Watkins for a jump ball. Graham then broke free of the Eagles safety and ran into the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown. It was another killer turn of events. The Eagles ended up with only eight penalties for 48 yards, but each one seemed to come at the worst possible time. Agholor's penalty, though, was the most damaging. "You would think you could get lined up," Jenkins said. "That's the basics of football."
3. Nelson Agholor might be a lost cause. I wrote my newspaper column on the particulars of Agholor's penalty and on his loss of confidence, but there's much more to consider. I don't think I've ever heard an NFL player publicly express as much doubt. "I did it myself," Agholor said. "I started getting in my own head and trying so hard to think about being perfect and the miscues were there and they were exposed and I let it just eat me." As Jordan Matthews said, Agholor gets credit for being honest, but the fact that he said it seemed to shock his teammate and others who were told of his big reveal. The fact that the receiver has let the pressure get to him has been pretty clear based on his play. When he's locked in, he's fine. He'll likely never be anything special, but Agholor has enough talent to be a serviceable receiver in the NFL. But when he's distracted, he's a hot mess. It's tough to be a first-round pick who doesn't deliver right away. It's even more difficult for it to happen in Philly. "You're not even a person anymore," Matthews said. "You're a label." So what should Pederson do? The Eagles aren't going to release Agholor at this point. They simply don't have much else at receiver. But I'd play Bryce Treggs more and sign Paul Turner off the practice squad. I'd use those two more and take some of Agholor's snaps away. Maybe Pederson should give him a week off – not as punishment, but to let him get his head straight. Some think that Agholor should be called out, rather than coddled. I think that method works with players who aren't giving full effort. But Agholor, according to every Eagles coach and player, and from my own observations, does everything he's asked to do and much more. He's harder on himself than anyone else could be. "I'm going to keep encouraging him," Pederson said. "He works hard every single day."
4. Carson Wentz can't be expected to carry the offense. At least not yet. There might not be a more difficult stadium to win at for a visiting quarterback. It was rainy here. It was loud. The Seahawks might have the best defense in the NFL. Wentz struggled early, completing just 1 of 5 passes, but he started to turn it around on the Eagles' third drive. He completed 5 of 5 throws for 47 yards and a touchdown in the series and then his next two passes before he went to Ertz on third and 6. Wentz's day, too, might have been different had the touchdown held up, or had Agholor caught a pass that hit him in the hands on the next drive. But Wentz started to crack after the mistakes. He went to Dorial Green-Beckham late in the second quarter, but didn't see Kam Chancellor underneath and was intercepted. And he went deep to Treggs early in the third quarter, when the Eagles were backed up, on second down. His receiver eased up some, but Wentz threw into double coverage and was intercepted by cornerback Richard Sherman. "I just forced it," Wentz said. "We called the shot. It wasn't there and I should have just checked it down." The Seahawks scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Wentz would end up throwing for 218 yards and another touchdown, but he padded his stats in the fourth quarter when the game was no longer in doubt. The Eagles' No. 1 priority this offseason might be to get Wentz some help on offense, but he showed again that he remains a work in progress.
5. The offensive line depth was tested and held up, but things could get worse. Jason Peters left early with a left forearm injury. Allen Barbre slid out to left tackle and Stefen Wisniewski took his place at left guard. They did a solid job despite the shakeup. Peters eventually returned, wearing some sort of splint. He had three penalties – two false starts and a declined hold. But Peters seemed fine after the game. The concern now for the Eagles is whether Halapoulivaati Vaitai can still play. The right tackle, who has shown marginal progress, left late in the game with a left knee injury. He had to be helped off by two Eagles trainers. Pederson didn't have an update after the game, but Vaitai was scheduled for an MRI this morning. If he's out, the Eagles might do as they did during the game – move Barbre to right tackle and Wisniewski to left guard. Matt Tobin, who wasn't active on Sunday, is an option, but the Eagles seem to think he's much better at left tackle.
6. The running back depth was tested and held up, but things could get worse. Ryan Mathews left early with another knee injury, and Darren Sproles exited a little later with a rib injury. Neither returned. Mathews left the locker room with a brace on his right knee. He, too, will have an MRI. He can't ever seem to stay healthy. Sproles has a fractured rib. It will be difficult for him to play through that injury. Rookie Wendell Smallwood (13 carries for 48 yards) did a solid job as the lead tailback once the two veterans left. But more will be asked of him. He came to the NFL with a reputation as a good receiver, but the Eagles hadn't thrown to him much until Sunday. He caught four passes for 31 yards. He could be productive in that area. But he has to improve his blocking on third downs. Kenjon Barner made the most of his three totes, running for 17 yards. He'll be featured, as well, if Mathews and Sproles are out for an extended period. If the Eagles feel that they need another tailback, they could sign Byron Marshall off the practice squad.
7. The Eagles defense doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the Seahawks. Jim Schwartz's unit is a good, but come on. Some pushed the Eagles-might-be-as-good-as the-Seahawks storyline heading into the game, but the team simply doesn't have enough playmakers, particularly in the secondary, to be placed in that category. I thought Schwartz's crew hung tough for stretches, but there were too many breakdowns that led to big plays – the C.J. Prosise 72-yard touchdown run, the Graham touchdown catch, a 44-yard grab by Doug Baldwin, a 30-yard catch by Tyler Lockette and Baldwin's 15-yard trick touchdown pass to Wilson. Good defenses don't get burned for that many big plays.
8. The cornerback problems aren't going away. Schwartz went with a three-man rotation again. Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin started, but Jalen Mills was inserted during the second drive. He immediately took a terrible angle on Prosise's touchdown burst. Overall, Carroll and McKelin were actually OK. And Mills had some good moments, as well. But the rookie sometimes can't back up his swagger. Even the best cornerbacks in the NFL are going to get beaten from time to time. But the Mills finger wag needs to be shelved until he can be more consistent. Mills will likely get more opportunities. McKelvin left the game with another injury.
9. The defensive line was a mild disappointment. It has been a mild disappointment all season. Wilson is as hard to corral as any quarterback in the NFL. Even when the Eagles got pressure, he was able to skirt away, buy time, and often make a play. But the front four simply didn't win enough battles up front against a very suspect offensive line. The Eagles generated just one sack – a Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith split – and hit Wilson only six times. Curry played only 26 snaps because he, too, left with an apparent injury. But he might have had his best game of the season. Smith showed some life, as well. But the starters – ends Graham and Connor Barwin and defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan -- came up short. They each had moments when they pressured Wilson, but they didn't do enough to influence the outcome.