The Eagles found yet another way to lose, falling to the 4-5 Cowboys, 27-20, with double-reverse, offense-defense, good-bad halves. Doug Pederson's squad just hasn't put a complete game together this season — aside from the win over the woeful New York Giants last month — and stand at 4-5 after Sunday night's loss. Here's what we learned:
1. Playoffs (!?!). The Eagles, theoretically, still control their own fate. The postseason seems unrealistic, but stranger things have happened. There are still seven games and four in the division left. The Eagles have yet to face the NFC East-leading Redskins (6-3). Even if they were to win all four intradivision games, they would probably need to beat one of their three other remaining opponents.
The 8-1 Saints will be first up, Sunday in New Orleans. But it won't get any easier four weeks later in Los Angeles at the 9-1 Rams. The 6-3 Texans are the last of their out-of-division foes. In other words, the task is tall. Doug Pederson shouldn't focus on the big picture with his team. It's a cliché, but the team must approach each week as its own entity. "We just got to keep fighting," Pederson said. "1-1 in the division. A lot of division games ahead of us and some good football left."
I know a lot of fans are starting to turn the page on the season. Can't really blame them. The Eagles have been given the benefit of the doubt for most of the season. They earned some, at least based on last year's success. But the days of comparing 2018 to 2017 should be over. Kaput. The 2018 Eagles just aren't very good. They have a losing mark, and we know what Bill Parcells once said about the reality of a team's record. Anything's possible, but the 2018 Eagles have a definition-of-insanity feel about them. They keep doing the same thing over again, and in some weeks, they've managed to squeak by, but mostly the results haven't changed.
2. The defensive meltdowns fall on Jim Schwartz. The offense is the problem. The defense is the problem. It's both. End of story. But the way Schwartz has handled his Tuesday press conferences after losses has made it seem as if he believes that because his unit is allowing only so many points a game — in a league that is increasingly high-scoring — it shouldn't shoulder as much culpability as Pederson's offense.
On paper, yes, the defense has been good on third down, in the red zone, and in points allowed. But the results, again, just haven't been there. Schwartz's group has forced just seven turnovers. Only two NFL teams have had fewer takeaways. The Eagles have surrendered 63 fourth-quarter points — 17 more than in any other quarter. Schwartz was shorthanded in the secondary, again. He's doesn't have a full deck on the line.
He still has horses, though. The defense kept the Eagles in the game through most of the first half. But there was another third-and-long breakdown before halftime. The line looked gassed down the stretch. And the Eagles made a rather vanilla offense with a limited quarterback look much better than it was. Ezekiel Elliott is a handful. But the holes he was running through in the fourth quarter were significant. Dak Prescott had far too many easy throws. A further study of the film should give a better grasp on what Schwartz could have done better in terms of calls and scheme, but whatever he did, it wasn't enough.
3. Doug Pederson probably misses Frank Reich and John DeFilippo. I devoted my column off the game to the Eagles coach. That alone might indicate that I'm placing sole blame on Pederson, but there are plenty of fingers to point, as noted above. But he's the head coach. He got a boatload of credit for the Super Bowl championship, as he should. The same thinking should apply when the opposite occurs.
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But I want to address the theory that Pederson was some puppet for former offensive coordinator Frank Reich and former quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. I think that's an oversimplification. I've talked to too many players and assistants, including Reich and Flip, to subscribe to that notion. But I am starting to come around to the idea that the Pederson-Reich-DeFilippo trifecta was an effective melding of three offensive minds
Pederson's unorthodox play-calling worked because the game plan was efficiently scripted to take advantage of a defense's flaws. The Eagles were among the league leaders on third down (Reich) and in the red zone (Flip) because the assistants brought vast experience and knowledge to those situations. I think Mike Groh was a good receivers coach. He deserved credit for helping Nelson Agholor turn his career around. But there was scant evidence for why he was promoted, other than Pederson's word. The same could be said of quarterbacks coach Press Taylor, although his role isn't as important and I've heard significantly more testimony as to why he earned a bump up.
Pederson scripts his first 15 plays. The Eagles have practiced those plays during the week, and he goes over the final picks the night before with Groh. But the opening drives, for the most part, have been dreadful this season. The Eagles are averaging only 2.3 points in the first quarter this season — dead last in the NFL. Last year, they averaged a third-best 6.6 points. Something's missing.
4. The Eagles are wasting Carson Wentz's development. The Eagles quarterback is putting up some impressive numbers in Year 3. He's completing 71 percent of his passes. He's averaging 8 yards per attempt. He has a 15-3 touchdown-interception ratio. And his passer rating is 108.5. And yet, the Eagles are averaging just 22.7 points in the seven games in which Wentz has played.
It feels as if Pederson isn't helping his quarterback, or more accurately, is trying too hard to help him. Wentz isn't Nick Foles. He doesn't need to be schemed up. Last season, again, is not this season. Pederson and his crew did a wonderful job of catering to Foles' skill set in the postseason. But Wentz has elite talent. He doesn't need as many gimmicks.
He didn't get rolling until the second half when the kid gloves seemingly came off. There were more seven-step drops. There were more vertical routes. There were more progression reads. To echo a former Eagles quarterback, let Carson be Carson.
5. Golden Tate must be more involved. The Eagles expended a third-round draft pick in acquiring the former Lions receiver before the trade deadline. It was a debatable move. The Eagles had other positions that could have just as been easily addressed – running back, defensive back, defensive line. But they told us that Tate gave the offense another explosive piece. That would warrant the move to add another receiver.
In his first game, however, Tate played only 19 of 62 snaps (29 percent). You can say that it was going to be difficult for him to be fully immersed having only recently gotten the playbook. But the Eagles had only eight games left. What was Pederson waiting for? Pare down the game plan and make him a focal point – or at least utilize him as a decoy.
He wasn't on the field for the first two plays. He was on for third-and-9, but a screen pass was the best Pederson could come up with? How about a screen on first down? Tate is great after the catch, but nine yards was asking too much. Pederson said Monday that he had a package designed for Tate, but that he sacrificed some of those plays because he wanted to go up-tempo, to inject some energy into the offense in the first half. How did that work out?
6. Howie Roseman's offseason is looking worse by the week. The Eagles GM batted near 1.000 two offseasons ago. He was named executive of the year by the Pro Football Writers, and deservedly so. But he essentially copied the template this offseason and signed or acquired or brought back a bunch of over-30 veterans. The only one of those moves that has really panned out was trading for defensive end Michael Bennett. Mike Wallace, Haloti Ngata, Darren Sproles, and Corey Graham have disappointed for various reasons. I'm not sure I agree with the notion that the Eagles should have moved on from Jason Peters. But it's a fair argument.
Then there are some of the moves Roseman didn't make. Was it worth keeping Nick Foles? Why wasn't another running back acquired? Should the Eagles have brought back cornerback Patrick Robinson rather than linebacker Nigel Bradham? Tim Jernigan's injury in May was unlucky, but there were still months to add an upgrade at defensive tackle. Tight end Dallas Goedert looks like a good top draft pick, and there are some promising young pieces, but there haven't been enough slam-dunk selections — aside from Wentz — the last three years.
7. The defensive line needs help. When the front four are getting pressure, all is well with the Eagles defense. But when they aren't, look out. The Eagles sacked Prescott three times by halftime. They hit him several times more. Bennett recorded his second sack and the team's fourth on the first play of the second half. But from that point onward, the Eagles pass defense was wretched. The same could be said of the run defense. But Prescott shouldn't look that good. On the Cowboys' two fourth-quarter drives, he completed 5 of 8 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown.
Schwartz has cut into his D-end rotation with Derek Barnett done for the season. He's gone with essentially a three-man rotation. Sunday, the snaps were spread among Brandon Graham (55 of 69), Bennett (50), Chris Long (46) and Josh Sweat (6). Graham, Bennett and Long are all older than 30. They were great for three quarters, but quiet down the stretch. Could fatigue have been a factor? I don't know if there's a solution, though. Has Sweat shown he deserves more snaps?
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8. The Eagles secondary has been battered, and the news just got worse. Ronald Darby tore his ACL in the second half, Pederson announced Monday. He's done for the season. Jalen Mills (foot) could miss a second straight game against the Saints.
The two starting outside cornerbacks have received a large share of the grief from fans. Some of it is justified. But we saw Sunday, for instance, why Schwartz favors Mills over Rasul Douglas. My argument earlier in the season was for Sidney Jones to move outside. I might get my wish. He could be back from a hamstring injury, and with Darby and potentially Mills sidelined, Jones should get his shot to play somewhere else besides the slot. He has the skill set.
9. Injuries have been one of the underlying issues bludgeoning the Eagles all season. The team's new medical staff can't possibly be faulted for most of them. But there has seemingly been an inordinate number of soft-tissue injuries, and there have been dubious recoveries and setbacks. Why? That's a good question. The Eagles don't allow their doctors to talk to reporters, and understandably so, but Roseman was responsible for overhauling the staff this offseason. The least he could do is answer questions in the name of transparency.