Why the Eagles offense has been struggling | Film breakdown
What's ailing the Eagles' offense? Jeff McLane takes a look at the tape to find out.
The Eagles are scoring 22 points a game, 6.4 fewer than they did through seven games last season. They've scored more than 23 points just once – a 34-13 win over the New York Giants two weeks ago – while they topped the 23-point bar six times at this point last year.
While teams like the Chiefs (37.1 points per game), Saints (34.0) and Rams (33.6) have taken advantage of the NFL's increasingly offense-friendly rules, the Eagles – who had the No. 3 scoring unit in 2017 (28.6) – have struggled to match last season's production.
"We'd like to be in that 30 range is where we'd like to be," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said Tuesday. "We know that if we get 25, then we've got a really good chance to win."
The Eagles defense surrendered 21 fourth-quarter points after the offense spotted it a 17-point lead Sunday against the Panthers. But those were 21 unanswered points.
As defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz noted, his unit had allowed 24 fourth-quarter points to the Giants last September, but the offense still managed to score 13 points during that span, including a game-winning 61-yard field goal.
"We've always sort of picked [the defense] up and made a play somewhere else along the way," Schwartz said. "Special teams made a play. Offense made a play. And then [with] this, we didn't get that done."
Schwartz was shifting blame a bit, and his group's failures Sunday and this season have been well documented. But the offensive inconsistencies have played an equal role in the Eagles' 3-4 start. There have been positives. Carson Wentz has been more efficient so far in his third season. Receiver Alshon Jeffery and tight end Zach Ertz are catching passes at career-best rates.
But there has been more wrong than right. And there isn't just one cause.
"I think there's a lot of factors involved in it," Groh said. "Unfortunately, it's not an easy answer and therefore it's not an easy fix."
Here's a closer look at some of the areas in which the Eagles have struggled on offense, looking specifically at the loss to Carolina, which in some ways was a microcosm of the season:
The Eagles have scored only 21 points in the first quarter this season vs. 44 points through seven games last season. They've scored two touchdowns on their opening drives, but the second came on a short field after a Giants turnover. The Eagles have gone three and out on 4 of their seven opening drives.
There have been myriad reasons for the lack of production (execution, personnel, injuries), but Doug Pederson's scripted starts — save for the up-tempo series that netted a touchdown against the Colts — have been inefficient. Wentz has targeted Agholor, for instance, on five short passes and only two were completed, for four yards.
Agholor (No. 13) led the team in yards after catch last season (4.85) and is again this season (4.97), but most of those yards have come on down-the-field passes rather than designed short ones. On Sunday's first play, the Eagles dialed up a swing pass to the slot receiver after jet sweep action.
The Eagles will often take their chances with Agholor in a one-on-one situation, but on this play linebacker Shaq Thompson (No. 54) – who dropped into a zone — diagnosed the play early and dropped him for no gain.
Groh: There's tight coverage there, so it's a completion and a quick tackle. Could he break a tackle? I guess.
Agholor: It's on tape. Defenses are seeing it. I have to do better job of making guys miss.
But in some circumstances, as in this run-pass option, Agholor can't be expected to beat two guys. The RPOs are an extension of the run game, but the Eagles are looking for more than one yard here on second and six.
Pederson is seemingly using Agholor more in the RPO game this season.
Agohlor: I enjoy those touches because it gives me an opportunity it to get the ball in my hands. It's going to be where I got one guy to beat and I got an angle on him.
He's beaten a few this season, but he's averaging only 8.5 yards per catch vs. 12.4 last season. On this first down RPO in the first quarter, Wentz (No. 11) saw the slot blitz pre-snap and didn't even read the unblocked linebacker. But safety Eric Reid (No. 25) jumped the route and held Agholor to miniscule 2-yard gain.
The Eagles want to feature Agholor. They need a viable third option through the air after Ertz and Jeffery, but most of Pederson's designs for the receiver have come closer to the line of scrimmage than downfield.
Pederson: It's just me calling the plays designed for him and getting him targeted basically. That's really what it comes down to. Has nothing to do with his ability, his skill.
Pederson has said for weeks that teams, after an offseason of film study, have done a better job of defending the Eagles' RPOs. The offensive line will run block, and depending upon Wentz's post-snap read of an unblocked defender he will either hand off to a running back, throw a quick pass, or in some circumstances, keep and run. There can be multiple pass options depending upon the play.
On this third and five play in the second quarter, Wentz kept the ball and looked to Jeffery. But the Panthers were in man coverage on the outside and the underneath unblocked safety took the slant away.
Wentz took a sack and the Eagles were forced to settle for a field goal.
Pederson: It's a split-second decision, so [Wentz is] making a decision based on a linebacker or a safety or somebody moving six inches. … With the team speed we've seen from our opponents in the last couple weeks, it sometimes negates the throw.
Eagles center Jason Kelce: On running downs, teams are just playing closer to the line, trying to take away those quick throws.
There are many possibilities with RPOs. You can switch up the unblocked defender, the routes, the blocking, the options, etc., but there has to be variety to keep defenses honest.
Ertz: It's a staple of our offense and a lot of times we're pulling the ball to pass it because the defense is attacking the line of scrimmage. The guy we're reading is playing the run, so you got to throw it because he's unblocked if you don't throw the ball.
THE RUN GAME
Eagles running backs are averaging 4 yards a carry, but only 3 yards in the last two games — since Jay Ajayi was lost for the season. The offensive line had trouble against the Panthers front for most of the game. On this carry, defensive tackle Kawann Short (No. 99) got inside penetration and Corey Clement (No. 30) was held to a yard.
Pederson: Those two dudes are about 700 pounds in there, so those are big guys trying to get out of the way. Credit them, too. [Linebacker] Luke Kuechly (No. 59) is a smart guy. He ran behind some blocks, he's fast, he tackled us for loss.
The Panthers have a talented front, but they allowed 4.6 yards per rush coming into the game.
In the second quarter, the Wendell Smallwood ran into wall and lost a yard.
Last year, the Eagles were the best team running out of "11" personnel (three receivers). This year, they're the worst. On this play, the Eagles ran out a "12" (two tight ends), but Carolina had an 8 to 7 advantage in the box and Smallwood again lost ground.
Ertz: We've just not been efficient running the ball on first down. Multitude of factors. Can't put our finger on one thing.
But even if there's an extra man, it's sometimes incumbent upon the running back to either beat him or pick up yards after contact.
Smallwood and Clement and solid runners, but they've yet to show that they're more than complementary pieces. Darren Sproles is expected to return from a hamstring injury at some point, but if the Eagles don't add a body before a trade deadline, it may be too late.
The Eagles have had mixed results with their screen game. Screens to Jeffery (20 yards) and tight end Dallas Goedert (19 yards) were effective. Clement gained 11 yards on an early misdirection screen, but defenses have seemingly snuffed out more of the Eagles' running back screens this season.
On second and eight late in the fourth, Pederson called one to Smallwood, who had a 50-yard screen negated by a holding penalty before the end of the first half. But the jet action here didn't fool anyone, and Kuechly somehow avoided getting blocked.
Kelce: They were in a great defense. They pressured away from the screen. The d-tackle frontside didn't rush. It's just not an ideal situation for the screen.
Penalties have been a season-long issues. The Eagles have cut down on the number the last two weeks, but penalties are still coming sometimes at the worst possible moment (see: Smallwood's 50-yard screen).
Groh: We feel like we're hurting ourselves in a lot of those cases, falling behind the chains and making it more difficult on ourselves than we need to.
There are countless reasons why one play could go wrong. Take, for instance, this Goedert chop block penalty that brought back a Smallwood 10-yard run. Goedert said that Kuechly called out the play – a split inside zone run — before the snap. The linebacker was then able to skirt a block by Jason Peters (No. 71). Goedert's responsibility was to wham block the end, but Kuechly was suddenly in his way and he went low.
Goedert made up for the penalty on the next play with the 19-yard screen, but the Eagles still couldn't manage and a first down and had to settle for a 36-yard field goal attempt that Jake Elliott would miss.
LACK OF QUICK STRIKE
The Eagles have had two 17-play, touchdown scoring drives this season. That's great, but it isn't a consistent winning formula in today's NFL. The Eagles have just one touchdown over 20 yards in length (Jordan Matthews' 58-yard catch against the Titans) and 24 plays total. At this same point last year, they had five touchdowns and 30 plays.
The Eagles had five 20-plus-yard plays on Sunday and likely would have had another had Jeffery not drawn a 48-yard pass interference penalty on the final drive. Wentz strung together two explosive plays on back-to-back passes to Jeffery and Ertz in the second quarter.
Groh: We flipped the field in a hurry.
But the drive stalled with three negative-yard plays – one was a penalty – and the Eagles kicked a field goal.
Mike Wallace was supposed to be the game-breaker on the outside opposite Jeffery, but they've yet to play with each other after Wallace broke his leg in Week 2. The Eagles don't know when and if he will return, but they got bulk-yard plays from more than just Torrey Smith last year.
Groh: We did get some of those quick strike touchdowns last year that we haven't gotten this year. It's hard to drive five times in a game 80 yards. You need those plays to get the points up. That's one of the things that we're trying to clue in on and put those guys in those situations.
WENTZ IN THE CLUTCH
Wentz's career arc has trended up in nearly every category except for his performance in the clutch. In three seasons, the quarterback has had the opportunity to win a game on the final drive in eight games and the Eagles record in those games is 1-7 — the win coming on that 61-yard field goal against the Giants. To be fair, Wentz led the Eagles to a touchdown against the Ravens in 2016, but Pederson went for two and the win and the conversion try failed.
Still, Wentz hasn't played his best with the game on the line. He's still young and the sample isn't large enough yet to make any sweeping proclamations, but he will need to start delivering if he's to be considered among the NFL's elite.
The final two plays of the Panthers game have been dissected to pieces, but on third and two, Wentz looked away from an open Smallwood in the flat and threw to a double-covered Jeffery in the end zone.
Wentz: I tried to force one in there that I probably shouldn't have.
Smallwood had dropped a pass just two weeks earlier in similar red zone situation. But even if Wentz subconsciously took that into consideration, he needed to take what they defense had given.
Groh: There's plays every week that we all look at and examine, if we are being honest with ourselves and say, 'I'd like to have this play back or that call back,' or whatever the case may be. He has a lot of confidence in Alshon. He thought he saw something [where] he could make a play.
Just a week earlier, Wentz threw across his body late in the down and connected with Jeffery for a touchdown. The book says to throw that ball away, but his aggressiveness paid off.
Groh: I think there's a balance there and certainly don't want to take away one of his strengths, which we know has been a really successful formula for us.
On fourth down, the Panthers doubled Wentz's first read (Ertz). Jeffery got open on a high-low route concept, but Wentz didn't see him quick enough. Offensive linemen Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks had trouble with a stunt and the pocket collapsed.
Wentz: I saw Alshon open across the middle. As I stepped up and tried to make the throw, got hit and the ball came out.
Wentz has already lost more fumbles this season (four) than he did in either of his first two seasons (three and three).
Groh: We emphasize it and we talk to him about it, and obviously pocket security is really important and he understands that.
Overall, Wentz is probably the least of the problems on offense. And his inability to put games away this season – he had two chances to win vs. the Titans and an opportunity to take a late-game lead vs. the Vikings – could be more on byproduct of all the Eagles' other issues. But the best quarterbacks compensate.
Pederson: We're going to continue to work through it. We're going to continue to coach, teach and instruct. But at the end of the day, I want the ball in his hands to help us win a game.
Wentz: I think we've shown that we can do it, but offensively we have to look hard in the mirror, myself included, and know late in games we have to be better.