A lot went wrong in this game, obviously. All of the Eagles linebackers were terrible, which is why Tampa broke big runs in the first half. Kiko Alonso gave up a TD to an unknown TE (Cameron Brate) that he was covering just by not turning around. On a third and three from the eight yard line.
The Bucs kept making big plays with simple formations that Philadelphia couldn’t adjust to, empty sets and Stanford-style extended offensive lines. Vincent Jackson scored a TD on a play where he and a TE were the only likely receivers. The odds were about 97% that they were passing to Jackson, but the Eagles played off of him and it was an easy TD. There was no reason not to double team him. Hell, triple team him.
But the most frustrating part of the game for me was how even the good things that happened for Philly just set up worse things to follow.
1. Near miss turnovers.
The Eagles gamble on a lot of turnovers, and often do well by it. They lead the NFL in forced fumbles. But it can also bite them.
At the start of the second quarter, the Eagles forced two fumbles in a stretch of three plays, but couldn’t come up with the ball. At least that resulted in a punt.
Near the end of the first half, the Birds batted down (and nearly intercepted) two passes — after which Charles Sims made an amazing catch for a touchdown on the next play. Byron Maxwell tried for an interception at the one yard line instead of breaking up Sims’ catch, which he easily could have done with a hard hit. Touchdown, Tampa Bay with 1:05 left in first half.
2. Over-aggressive play.
The Eagles clearly gave up in the second half, or (at least for the defense) maybe were just too exhausted to play hard. But when they did throw themselves into the game , that often helped the Bucs too.
Zach Ertz knocked himself out of the game attempting to vault over a defender on a shot pass that wasn’t going anywhere. He flipped and landed painfully on his head and neck, suffering a concussion. With only four days until the next game on Thanksgiving, there’s no way he’ll clear the protocol in time to play against Detroit.
There were three neutral zone infractions by linemen trying to get a jump on the pass rush, and one by Brandon Graham in the first half extended the drive that later included Doug Martin’s 58 yard run, and the Bucs first touchdown.
3. Josh Huff trying to do it all.
Huff had a great 39-yard catch and run for the Bird’s first touchdown, and 40- and 30-yard kick returns. But he also ran out a couple of kickoffs he probably should have downed. That resulted in a Philadelphia drives that started at the 8, and a weird confused handoff attempt with Riley Cooper that only got to the 16. Last year, he got injured and missed the first part of the season attempting to make something happen on a similar deep kick in a preseason game.
Still, it’s hard to argue with his perception that the Eagles desperately needed someone to step up and make a play today, and he was one of the few bright spots. By the fourth quarter, he was making better judgments about downing marginal kicks in the end zone, too. And that touchdown remains beautiful. (Click through for the GIF.) It’s exactly what I hoped he would bring to this team.
4. Nolan Carroll’s quickness.
Carroll showed his impressive speed today, running down two of the Bucs’ breakaway plays short of the end zone, but that’s about all he accomplished. Carroll was a defender on three of Winston’s TD passes, and failed to tackle Doug Martin for 20 yards of running after catching up to him on Martin’s 84-yard run, the longest in Tampa Bay history. (Connor Barwin finally knocked the RB out at the one, not that it stopped a TD.)
5. Sanchez’ passes over the middle.
There was a naive, innocent time (yesterday) when many people thought Mark Sanchez would actually be better than Sam Bradford running this team.
Sanchez wasn’t all bad. Just mostly. He missed a lot of easy passes in the flat and on screens, but he hit pass after pass over the middle, especially to tight ends, including three straight while driving at the end of the first half.
Unfortunately he seemed to decide he could just shut his eyes and keep throwing there. The fourth time, two linebackers were waiting to pounce, while Agholor was wide open to the right for an easy touchdown. But Sanchez has proved very reliable in throwing INTs in field goal range or closer, and today was no exception.
Sanchez showed the briefest glimpses of being good in the fourth before throwing another interception. This time Riley Cooper was open up the middle again. Sanchez threw to the seam, where Cooper had been somewhat earlier in the day. Don’t worry — Sanchez wasn’t done for the day just because he had thrown two interceptions. He had more to offer his opponents.
6. Slowing the Bucs’ roll.
In the third quarter, the Eagles stiffened a bit against the run, and Tampa Bay committed a number of offensive penalties. All this did was allow Tampa Bay to burn more clock, as the Eagles consistently gave up 3rd down conversions. The Bucs had received the second half kickoff and took 9:47 to drive 80 yards for the score.
No worries, in the fourth quarter Sanchez was able to use interceptions to speed up the Tampa Bay scoring again, giving his own defenders a much-needed rest.
By the end of the game, injuries were accumulating and the Eagles had clearly given up. Chip Kelly opted to kick a field goal from the 25 down 24 points with 5:14 left.
This is the easiest three-game stretch of the 2015 schedule, and the Birds have blown the two of those three games that were at home. Everything is set up for the final straw, a humiliating loss to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day.
The bright side? The Eagles are on track to get excellent draft position this year. Though of course they don’t have a second round pick.