Throughout this season, the Eagles have demonstrated difficulties with the most fundamental part of catching the football. It was most apparent Sunday night in a 27-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers, when Eagles coach Chip Kelly counted at least eight dropped passes - and even that number could have been higher.

Kelly admits the drops are a problem, and the problem is not how quarterback Sam Bradford is passing the ball. It's the players who are catching - or not catching.

"I think you could argue two of them, but we had at least eight, could have been 10," Kelly said Monday. "And obviously, we're not going to win if we're doing that, you know what I mean? There are too many for us - we have to be able to sustain things and we have to be able to make catches out there."

Most of the drops did not appear to easy catches. They would have required the pass catchers to make plays on the ball. The Eagles' receivers haven't done that enough this season, and Bradford's ball placement has been erratic on occasion.

That creates a predicament for the Eagles. At least at this point, they have neither a quarterback who makes his receivers look better nor receivers who make their quarterback look better.

After the game and again on Monday, Kelly absolved Bradford from culpability with the drops. He said in the coaches' opinions, they were passes the receivers should have caught. The problem is fundamental football, but Kelly does not think it's symptomatic of a lack of talent among his receiving corps.

"I don't think it's talent," Kelly said. "I just think it's sometimes a concentration issue with some of those guys. I think sometimes they may actually be thinking too much instead of just relaxing and going to play.

"Some of them need to just take a big, deep breath and do what we know they can do. And they have made some big-time catches in games for us and can continue to do that for us. But I think sometimes they are overthinking a little bit."

The Eagles have 25 drops this season, according to Pro Football Focus. That's the most in the NFL. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews is tied for third in the NFL with six drops. He had two on Sunday, including one that resulted in an interception.

"It's embarrassing," Matthews said. "I feel like I'm No. 1 on that list of guys who will take the responsibility on my shoulder to get it fixed. It's not who we are as a team, it's not who I want to be as a player. It's got to get fixed."

The problem is not a lack of work, either. Kelly said he doesn't know anybody who catches more passes than Matthews, citing the oft-used example of Matthews catching passes from the JUGS machine at 7 a.m. each day. Kelly said Matthews has "outstanding hands" and "needs to take a deep breath." Kelly also said Matthews is not injured.

Matthews said his confidence has not wavered. He does not want to allow himself to think his process is flawed.

"The hardest part is individually, when you're going through those struggles, it hurts the whole team," Matthews said. "That's the sorry part, the part that [stinks] the most. I have to look at my teammates and know I didn't get my job done."

The drops have come from more than Matthews. Josh Huff dropped a catch in the end zone and the Eagles needed to settle for a field goal. Darren Sproles dropped a catch in the red zone. Zach Ertz and Miles Austin missed back-to-back catches on the Eagles' potential game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter.

"They happen," Bradford said. "Obviously, we don't like to see them. It's obviously not good for us, but they happen. You move on. Just because someone drops a ball, I don't lose any confidence in anyone out there."

But talent is something to consider, even if Kelly does not think it's the problem. The Eagles allowed Jeremy Maclin to leave in free agency. Maclin was sure-handed - and made his quarterbacks look better. He had the lowest drop rate of any NFL receiver last season, according to Pro Football Focus, dropping only one pass.

The Eagles replaced his spot with first-round pick Nelson Agholor, who missed the last two games because of an ankle injury. Riley Cooper, the other starting outside receiver, played on a limited basis because of a knee injury. The Eagles' top three wide receivers were Matthews, Huff, and Austin.

The receivers should be healthier after the bye week. Maybe they can clear their minds, too. Kelly said he expects them to return with "a good frame of mind" after a week off. If they can drop their drop habits, it would help the entire offense.

"I just know I need to get this thing fixed - quickly," Matthews said.

zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm