McLane: Eagles have few alternatives at wide receiver
This is a story about a young, talented quarterback and his burdensome wide receivers. Eagles receivers not named Jordan Matthews caught only two out of five targeted passes for 7 yards Sunday in the 24-15 win over the Falcons.
This is a story about a young, talented quarterback and his burdensome wide receivers.
Eagles receivers not named Jordan Matthews caught only two out of five targeted passes for 7 yards Sunday in the 24-15 win over the Falcons.
While those numbers are alarmingly low considering that Nelson Agholor (91 percent), Dorial Green-Beckham (56) and Bryce Treggs (19) played a combined 34.4 percent of the skill-position snaps, the passes that Carson Wentz threw in their collective direction were about all that were warranted.
The bad news: Wentz doesn't have reliable outside receivers. The good news (at least in terms of Sunday's game): He has not come to rely on them.
"There is only one football and there are, like, five skill guys, you know?" Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Monday when asked to explain his receivers' lack of production. "It's something, too, that maybe by the design of the play, it's not necessarily designed for Nelson on this play or [Green-Beckham] on this play.
"We do have plays intended for those guys, but . . . keep in mind, this is a progression offense, and if one is not there, then two should be there and three should be there."
Translation: If either Agholor or Green-Beckham was the first or second read, they often weren't open and Wentz had to go to his second or third read. But a review of the game confirmed the obvious: Neither receiver was intended to be a focal point, whether the passes came on quick, timing routes or longer-developing progression routes.
To Pederson and Wentz's credit, they enacted a ball-control game plan that established the run and stayed balanced. The Eagles, for various reasons, placed too much on Wentz's shoulders and too much emphasis on getting the ball to Agholor and Green-Beckham in the previous two games.
They weren't the primary options in either game - Agholor caught 7 of 11 passes for 66 yards and Green-Beckham caught 5 of 14 for 55 yards - but it was too much. Treggs didn't play against the Cowboys two weeks ago, but he caught 2 of 4 targeted passes for 69 yards in his debut against the New York Giants last week.
Treggs gets significant slack. But Agholor and Green-Beckham are now more than a year and a half into their careers, more than a half season into playing in the Eagles' new offense, and they have seemingly hit a plateau that would normally result in less playing time.
Aside from playing Treggs more or signing Paul Turner off the practice squad, the Eagles have few alternatives. And someone has to line up on the outside. Approximately 87 percent of the offensive plays the team has run this season have had at least two receivers on the field at the same time.
Green-Beckham and Treggs didn't have a single targeted pass on Sunday. Agholor had all five for the group. He bobbled one pass that was initially ruled incomplete before being overturned, and he dropped another on a Wentz throw that was slightly behind him but nevertheless should have been caught.
Wentz completed 25 of 36 passes for 231 yards with neither a touchdown nor an interception. He was very accurate (69.4 percent) and could have had more success if not for drops by Agholor, Matthews, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood. Wentz has had throws sail on him at intermittent points this season, but Pederson said his mechanics were sharp on Sunday.
"His target line with his feet," Pedersaon said, "he's worked on that the last couple of weeks."
The rookie still had a few moments he'd like back - he held the ball too long and took a sack, he threw the ball away with time left on the clock before the half, he fumbled once, and he took a costly delay-of-game penalty - but Wentz exorcised a fourth-quarter comeback demon.
It wasn't quite John Elway and "The Drive," but he drove the Eagles 76 yards to pull back ahead of the Falcons for good with seven minutes left. After falling short on five previous late fourth-quarter opportunities to win games, Wentz took a baby step forward.
"I thought it was OK," Wentz said of his overall performance.
He was more than OK on third down. Wentz completed 8 of 11 passes for 67 yards and converted five third downs. The Falcons didn't blitz much, but when they sent extra rushers, Wentz completed 6 of 7 passes for 38 yards.
The early success of the running game allowed Wentz to utilize the play-action fake, particularly on the Eagles' second possession. Overall, he connected on 4 of 4 passes for 41 yards off play action. He was also sacked once.
"The play-action game can be something that really is big now that we're getting the run game going again," Wentz said.
So, too, could his budding rapport with tight end Zach Ertz, who finished with six catches for 55 yards. Ertz has 14 catches for 152 yards over the last two weeks after catching only 14 passes for 150 yards in his previous five games.
"It's a step in the right direction," Ertz said, "but we're not satisfied."
Pederson also dialed back on the zone-read option plays that recently resulted in Wentz keeping the ball and often getting dropped for losses. He did run once, but only after a screen was busted. Wentz scrambled 13 yards for a first down.
"It was kind of like the Red Sea parted," Wentz said. But he added, "I want to be a throw-first quarterback."
If only he had more first-rate receivers to throw to.