DOUG PEDERSON is worried about Nelson Agholor being consumed by the mounting flames of the Eagles' tire fire at wide receiver. I'm more concerned about Carson Wentz succumbing to smoke inhalation.
Pederson announced Monday that preseason phenom Paul Turner is finally coming up from the practice squad, and could be active Monday night against the Packers, depending on how practice goes, and on Pederson's thinking after he sits down with Agholor later in the week.
The subtext there is the meltdown Agholor suffered Sunday at Seattle, Agholor acknowledging "I just have to get out of my own head" after his failure to toe the line of scrimmage got Zach Ertz's 57-yard touchdown reception called back. Then Agholor dropped a 20-plus-yard pass, before ultimately finishing the 26-15 loss without a reception, despite having played 70 snaps.
Pederson said that the remarks concerned him, and that he wants to get a better feel for the mental and emotional state of the Eagles' 2015 No. 1 pick.
"I will definitely have a conversation with Nelson . . . Those are definitely concerns that I have, now that he's come out and said that publicly. My concern is for him as an individual, as a person," Pederson said. "I want to make sure that he's in a good spot . . . football aside."
Pederson didn't say Agholor will sit Monday night, but he seemed to indicate it is a strong possibility. He said he can't recall having dealt with anything quite like this.
"Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to go forward," Pederson said.
Pederson's mentor, Andy Reid, often voiced that thought when sitting a player down - for example, when he benched Donovan McNabb at halftime of a loss to Baltimore in 2008. McNabb played well in beating Arizona four days later, on Thanksgiving.
"Sometimes that can help clear your head . . . see it (from the sideline) where you don't have the pressure of performing on you all the time," Pederson said.
Pederson said he will decide Agholor's status after they talk.
I feel for Agholor, whose anguish seems genuine, and whose teammates stick up for how hard he works. But we've been building to this moment a while; Pederson said weeks ago that he thought the pressure of Agholor trying to prove himself was getting to the former USC star. The Eagles' strategy of trying to boost Agholor's confidence while hoping he somehow comes around hasn't worked. Agholor, who played 142 total snaps against Atlanta and Seattle, catching two passes for 7 yards, might be a lost cause, at least for this season. And making Wentz work around him every week doesn't help anybody.
I think there's a real danger here, that as Wentz tries to singlehandedly drag a moribund passing offense back toward some sense of productivity, the rookie quarterback will develop bad habits, such as cutting loose on that no-chance interception he threw deep down the middle Sunday in Seattle, trying to hit double-covered Bryce Treggs.
Treggs didn't pick up the ball until Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman was reeling it in, a couple of steps in front of the rookie receiver.
"The ball was directly over my head. I couldn't see it. I could hear the crowd cheering. That's when I knew he threw it," Treggs said. "I just tried to break it up, make a bad situation better. That's just a credit to their defense. I wouldn't say there was anything else I could have done or Carson could have done. It was just a testament to their defense."
When Wentz was asked about the play, he said: "I just forced it. We called the shot. It wasn't there, and I should have just checked it down."
You can't blame him for not being excited about that concept. As Pederson reminded us Monday, Wentz isn't used to this - he has lost as many times in his first 10 NFL games (five) as his North Dakota State team lost in the 76 games it played while he was enrolled there.
There were drops Sunday, yes, as usual for the Eagles, but there were as many throws Wentz hurried, or just didn't place very well. But no wonder. He had Allen Barbre playing three different offensive line positions as injuries mounted, he lost Darren Sproles (rib) and Ryan Mathews (knee) in the first half. Agholor and Treggs gave him nothing. Wentz was not holding a winning hand against the Legion of Boom. By halftime, everyone on both sidelines knew it.
Pederson spoke Monday of Agholor perhaps being under too much pressure. "I've seen him trying to just do things a little out of character for him, and that's obviously a sign that maybe things are not going well for him. As athletes, you've just got to let the game sort of come to you," Pederson said.
The same holds true for quarterbacks, and as defenses have realized just how weaponless the Eagles are, everything has gotten harder for Wentz. His passer rating has declined seven weeks in a row, from 103.7 following the Detroit game, to 103.5, 99.9, 92.7, 92.5, 87.7, 87.6, and now, 84.2.
"The way to get him back on track is, I've got to do a better job with the run game," Pederson said. "We've got to handle the run a little bit better and manage it like we did in the Atlanta game (38 rushes for 208 yards) . . . I've said all along, you can't put 45 pass attempts on a young quarterback in this league, against (Seattle's) defense, in that stadium. You're doing him a disservice."
Wentz was 23-for-45 for 218 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions Sunday.
"There's a little bit of that," Pederson said, when asked about Wentz being frustrated, and forcing the ball. "Anytime you go against a fine defense like Seattle, it's OK sometimes to check the ball down. We've just got to continue to talk and work through these situations with him."
Developing story lines
* Week 3 of Bryce Treggs, and he is not the answer. This wideout mess is killing the season. The Eagles knew they had a problem from early last offseason, tried to finesse it with Rueben Randle and Chris Givens, that didn't work. They decided to give Dorial Green-Beckham a try, because the cost was low. He can run that one slant pattern real well. Not much else. Josh Huff wasn't a good receiver, but he was dangerous if you could figure out how to get the ball into his hands in space; now he's banished. What's going on with Nelson Agholor right now is a little like if they had to play Marcus Smith every down at defensive end, and desperately needed him to be dominant. Now, Eagles Nation turns its lonely eyes to Paul Turner.
* Jordan Matthews is tied for 25th in NFL receiving yards, with 639. The Eagles' second most prolific receiver, tight end Zach Ertz, has 337, which ranks him 101st. The Eagles have four 40-yard-plus pass plays, which ties them for 24th in the league. Of course, they briefly seemed to have a fifth one Sunday afternoon in Seattle, maybe you've heard.
* The biggest surprise at Seattle for me was that the Eagles' defensive line and linebackers couldn't get more done against a Seattle offensive line that isn't considered dominant. I understand Russell Wilson is elusive, but really, he didn't have to do an extraordinary amount of eluding. Pressure wasn't there consistently.
* When you don't notice Jordan Hicks, that means the Eagles lost.
* Still don't understand why the Eagles can't get more catches and yards from Brent Celek. He had a 19-yard reception on that early touchdown drive, and was never targeted again.
* Zach Ertz had five catches in the first half. The rest of the Eagles' receiving corps combined for five catches in the first half.
* Fletcher Cox came up with the Eagles' only tackle for a loss. Again, really disappointing day for the d-line.
* I've swiped harder at credit-card readers than Jalen Mills swiped at C.J. Prosise on that 72-yard touchdown run. Cox and Nigel Bradham were caught flowing the wrong way and sealed off, Jaylen Watkins was stymied by a block from wideout Doug Baldwin. Sheesh.
* Jim Schwartz really loves Mills' aggressive competitiveness. The problem for me would be, sometimes it seems that's about all Mills has going.
* Cornerback Aaron Grymes was cut to make room for Paul Turner, with safety/special teams guy Terrence Brooks back this week from a hamstring problem. One would think Grymes gets his old practice squad spot back if he clears waivers. Fans who have been clamoring for Turner get their wish. "We gave him some work last week in practice, and just feel like this is a good opportunity now, not only for him, but for us to see where he's at, see what he can do, give him an opportunity," Pederson said of Turner. "So we'll give him some work this week and then we'll make a decision whether he'll be up or not later in the week."
That planning to have Ryan Mathews carry the ball a lot two weeks in a row was going to lead to him getting dinged again? (Imagine eyeroll emoji here.)
Despite the Eagles' critical lack of passing game firepower the past several weeks, Carson Wentz has the exact same completion percentage (63.2) for the season as this coming week's opponent, Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has thrown for 25 touchdowns, though, to Wentz's 11.
End of the line for Big V?
The injury picture coming out of Seattle looked better Monday than what seemed to be shaping up as the Eagles limped out of CenturyLink Field on Sunday night.
Assuming cornerback Leodis McKelvin is able to move through the concussion protocol, the biggest setback is to rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who suffered a Grade 2 left MCL sprain. Doug Pederson called Vaitai "week-to-week." A source close to the situation said four weeks would probably be about right - which, coincidentally, is exactly how much time is left in the 10-game suspension being served by the man Vaitai replaced, Lane Johnson.
Pederson said the Eagles will go back to the summertime Johnson replacement plan, before Vaitai showed he could handle the job. Left guard Allen Barbre will move to right tackle, as he did after Vaitai went down Sunday, with Stefen Wisniewski taking Barbre's left guard spot. Pederson said he would also work in rookie Isaac Seumalo there.
Pederson said running back Ryan Mathews is "day-to-day" with a less serious MCL sprain, to his right knee. Running back/returner Darren Sproles won't practice Wednesday or Thursday with a seventh rib fracture, Pederson said, but Sproles should be able to play with it. Ditto defensive end Connor Barwin's bone bruise, Pederson said.
If part of the reason Vaitai was starting was to see how viable it might be to start him next season and have Johnson replace Jason Peters, who will be 35, it's hard to say how that experiment went. Vaitai started out horribly, improved quite a bit, still didn't look dominant. Meanwhile, Peters is again the Eagles' best offensive lineman. And Johnson remains one more failed urine test away from a ban that probably would end his career.