THERE'S A tendency to overcomplicate shellackings like the one the Eagles received from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Was there something wrong with the scheme? The effort? The focus? The preparation? Are the players starting to doubt their coach?
Surely, there had to be some explanation beyond what met the eye. A team like the Eagles doesn't lose by 45-17 to a team like the Buccaneers on talent alone, does it?
Actually, it is looking increasingly likely that it does.
Thought experiment: If Sunday's game took place on a playground and Chip Kelly and Lovie Smith were captains selecting their teams, who would be the first player from the Eagles' offense to go? Would he go before Jameis Winston? Mike Evans? Vincent Jackson? Doug Martin? Perhaps Lane Johnson would get picked somewhere in there. Otherwise, who ya got? Jason Peters in a healthy season, sure, but that's not this season.
That's not to suggest that the Eagles lost this game on offense. It's to suggest that talent prevails. It's to ask a simple question: Where were the matchups that the Eagles were supposed to win?
In the first quarter, when Gerald McCoy tossed aside Matt Tobin and buried Mark Sanchez for a drive-ending sack, was that a surprise? When Evans went up over Nolan Carroll and came down with the Bucs' first touchdown, did you score it as an upset?
Was the performance of the run defense, which was gashed for 283 yards on 42 carries, as unexpected as Kelly claimed after the game? A unit that allowed the ghost of Darren McFadden to gain 117 yards on 27 carries in the second Dallas game? That allowed Jonathan Stewart to rush for 125 yards on 24 carries in a loss to the Panthers?
On Doug Martin's two 50-yard-plus runs, it was painfully easy to see where the problem was. On the first, DeMeco Ryans got pushed to the ground, got up from the ground, got turned around, then watched Martin burst by him before Nolan Carroll finally dragged down the running back at the Eagles' 8-yard line. On the second, Kiko Alonso was so badly buried by a lead blocker that he was unable to even lay a hand on Martin as he exploded past him. Ryans might have been playing on half of a hamstring, and Alonso on half of a knee, but, as the baseball manager here used to say, that's all part of it.
The Bucs had five offensive linemen. Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton are talented, but they are also constrained by the same physical laws as the rest of of us, and are thus unable to be everywhere at once. It didn't take a scout to see that the Bucs' Lavante David brought more to the field than the Eagles could hope to receive from any of their linebackers.
It's pretty simple. Malcolm Jenkins was saying it yesterday. Once the ball is snapped, the game is won and lost at the point of attack. The Bucs won more of those battles, and while Jenkins didn't get into specifics, on most of those occasions, it was pretty clear why.
"We are what our record says we are," the safety said. "Let's not get that twisted . . . You are what you put on tape every week, so a lot of us are going to have to turn on that tape and watch that and swallow that pill. The good thing is we can always change that next week."
One play does not a player make. Not even one game. But the more the plays and the games stack up, the closer you come to concluding that the Eagles simply do not have the level of talent required to consistently make the plays that win the games.
Nobody will dispute the notion that it starts at quarterback, or that yesterday's loss was a vivid example of the difference between a team with The Franchise and a team with The Sanchize. But to focus solely on the Eagles' need to find their Jameis Winston is to ignore the talent deficit that was evident across the rest of the field.
The remarkable thing was how obvious that deficit looked against the Bucs. One team looked big and fast. The other team looked small and slow. The Bucs did not do anything complex. There was no trickery, very little misdirection, zero bad luck. There was no Ted Ginn Jr. running around end or Jarvis Landry coming down with a deflected ball.
When the Eagles loaded up against the run, Evans and Jackson were able to easily work themselves free against Carroll and Byron Maxwell and whatever zone combinations Davis threw at them. When they went nickel and/or two-deep, Martin was able to feast.
The problem isn't that the Eagles are beating themselves but that they aren't good enough to erase all of those moments. The Bucs were penalized nine times for 82 yards, more than three times as much yardage as the Eagles. They fumbled away their first possession. They also played well enough to overcome those hiccups. When bad teams make those mistakes, you remember them.
By now, it should be apparent that the Eagles are a bad team. You are what your record says you are, and your record is what your talent says it is. Asked if he believed that his players had the requisite talent, Kelly said yesterday, "I do. I really do."
You can take his word for it, or you can trust your eyes.