The Eagles choked on the road and looked bad doing it, blowing fourth quarter and overtime leads en route to a walk-off touchdown loss.
That has to be the worst defeat of the Doug Pederson era, yeah? I can’t think of anything else that matches Sunday in terms of overall disappointment and distaste. Maybe you can look at the Detroit game back in 2016, when the Birds were 3-0 and coming off a bye week. That was a deflating loss that started the eventual tailspin, though expectations then weren’t even close to being what they are now.
Last year featured only one real clunker, the road loss in Seattle, but that was wiped out by a bounce-back win against the Rams just one week later. The season finale didn’t count for diddly poo and the Kansas City loss took place in week two, so whatever with those games.
Therefore, I think we’ve reached the following conclusion –
Yes, this was the worst defeat of the Doug Pederson era.
1) The secondary
Easy to point fingers at these guys, so we’ll start there.
First, the personnel was different with Rodney McLeod on the shelf. Jim Schwartz brought in Corey Graham as expected but decided to use Avonte Maddox at safety in dime looks while leaving Rasul Douglas on the bench. That amounted to 20 snaps (28% of the game) for Maddox, who had the big interception early but slipped on the Corey Davis touchdown. You saw several instances of confusion in the secondary with Maddox covering the deep middle third of the field and playing a position he says he never played before.
The tackling was poor, the Titans found some holes in the zone coverage, and you were just waiting for someone to step up and make a play, which didn’t happen, not in the fourth quarter or overtime at least. Ronald Darby missed tackles. Jalen Mills got beat deep a few times. Graham was culpable on the horrible 4th and 15 conversion. Sidney Jones and Malcolm Jenkins committed overtime penalties.
Individually it was poor, but I also don’t think they were set up the correct way, and that’s on Schwartz.
I honestly do think Douglas would make more sense as a 6th defensive back out there or converted safety, and I know what you’re thinking, ‘here goes Kinkead with his West Virginia shit again,’ but just hear me out:
Avonte Maddox has the body type and skill set to be a slot corner. 6’2″ Douglas played in an unorthodox 3-3-5 defense in college where he moved around in a nickel base. He’s taller, more rangy, a ball hawk who doesn’t have great speed but has soft hands and goes up and attacks passes. 5’9″ Maddox played hard-nosed stuff on the inside at Pittsburgh. I personally believe, as Miss Teen South Carolina once said, that you could use Douglas to cover for McLeod, move Sidney Jones to the outside, and play Maddox on the inside, where he competed during training camp and preseason. I really don’t understand using him as a dime safety.
It’s important to point out that Tennessee came into this game throwing the 2nd fewest passes in the NFL. Last week they ran it 35 times and only threw it 21 times in the win against Jacksonville. This time around they threw it 43 times and ran it 22 times, numbers that do skew a bit due to the extra minutes provided by the overtime period, but that’s pretty close to a 66% pass to run ratio, which is not their game at all.
In more simple terms, the Eagles got torched through the air by a running team.
2) Jalen Mills
Not a great game. I especially enjoyed the finger wagging after the dropped pass that literally had nothing to do with his play at all.
On the afternoon, he gave up 99 yards on three targets, including a 20 yard pass interference play where I thought he did a good job to recover from a stumble before wrapping the receiver prior to the ball arriving:
It’s really not bad coverage. He stays with Davis there, he just has to drop the hands, specifically the off-hand in front of the ref, which killed him last week.
I do wonder where the safety help was on the pair of plays where he got beat deep. That’s hard to identify without the all-22 film, which is released by the league on Wednesday, but here’s what I found going through the regular video:
That was the 51 yarder to Davis. The Eagles were in cover 3 and Graham bit on a shallow route, leaving Mills with no cover over the top.
The Titans run a couple of receivers on the strong side and Davis hits Mills with a double move on the outside. Graham can’t help because he’s trending to the side with multiple route runners.
Otherwise that’s it, Mills wasn’t targeted beyond those three times, not that I see when I go over the game film.
I wrote a column last week that basically amounted to “Jalen Mills is what he is,” which is a 7th round draft pick, a solid tackler, a physical overachiever who really does not have elite speed or elite athleticism. I think people have to remember that he beat out guys like Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks and Aarony Grymes for a spot, which brings us to where we are now.
The thing with Mills, is that when he gets beat, it looks bad. Ronald Darby got beat yesterday and Sidney Jones committed a horrendous penalty in overtime. Those plays are killers, but they don’t happen 35 yards down the field. When Mills bites on a double move in space with no safety help over the top, the optics of his fuck ups just look worse than the optics of other people’s fuck ups, even though everyone is fucking up.
Is that a fair point?
I’m not saying he’s an amazing player, I’m just trying to come at it from an angle other than “omg Jalen Mills sucks cut his ass right now.”
3) Personnel and play calling
I thought Carson Wentz looked pretty good on the day. I wouldn’t put too much of the fumble on him since Lane Johnson did his best turnstile impersonation on that play.
Defensively, I mentioned the Maddox deployment earlier. Fletcher Cox played 60 snaps for an 85% mark and Haloti Ngata was up to 52%. He and Michael Bennett (51%) have been preferred to Destiny Vaeao on the inside and Bennett has been playing a lot of time there also because the depth at DT is not what it is at DE.
Offensively, they gave Jay Ajayi 15 carries, nine of which took place later in the game. Wendell Smallwood carried the ball five times and Josh Adams was given zero carries while Corey Clement missed the game through injury. The Eagles really did not run the ball much through the early part of the game, just six times out of 25 play calls through the Birds’ first four series. Doug didn’t commit to the ground game until later on.
Pederson also only showed eight under center sets on the entire day. Most of the running came out of the shotgun, and a lot of the under center play-action passes were disastrous, with the offensive line struggling to allow those slow-developing sequences to flourish against a strong Tennessee pass rush.
As for special teams, DeAndre Carter had a really nice punt return doing spot duty back there. The Eagles had zero kick returns, which would have gone to Smallwood if Ryan Succop hadn’t booted every single thing into the end zone.
4) Offensive line
Poor game from the Eagles’ best unit.
I don’t feel like this was talked about much during the week, but Tennessee was the first 3-4 base defense the Birds played against this year. I don’t know how much that played a role in the O-line struggles, but I want to think it did. Harold Landry and Jayon Brown had good games on the left side of that D, and they really do show you a lot of looks that fluctuate from a front three to a front four or five, with guys coming at you from different angles than what you’d get in a typical 4-3.
Here’s an example of one of those slow under center play-action passes that just took too long to develop:
I have no idea what Lane Johnson is doing there. He sticks a hand out and holds position while Brown runs right by him, so it makes me think they were trying to set up some sort of screen.
But look at this Titans’ front –
They’re only running two defensive linemen here, a pair of tackles in DaQuan Jones and Bennie Logan. They put three linebackers on the line of scrimmage and rush five while using Rashaan Evans and safety Kendrick Lewis in shallow coverage:
Looks like some 2012 Eagles wide-9 shit there. I like the 3-4 base because you can do a lot of different things with hybrid defensive end/linebacker tweeners, which Tennessee has plenty of, studs like Landry, Brian Orakpo, and Sharif Finch.
Carson Wentz was sacked four times Sunday, which follows five sacks allowed last week and three the week before. Wentz was hit 11 times total on 52 drop backs and the line conceded six tackles for loss.
The Eagles defense held Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry to 24 rushing yards.
Marcus Mariota accounted for 46 of the Titans’ 70 rushing yards, which was their lowest total of the year, even with an extra overtime period to pad their numbers.
Again, it’s not really a defensive line thing. They make teams one-dimensional, and when they do, the secondary should be able to clamp down in nickel assuming you can get a decent pass rush going or throw some different blitz looks at the opponent. They sacked Marcus Mariota three times, flushed him from the pocket other times, hit him on six occasions, and did do a decent job overall, decent enough to the point where that game should have been won in regulation.
The Eagles generally have trouble with Russell Wilson type quarterbacks who can run around like a chicken with their head cut off then heave a 50 yard ball to one of five receivers running a route. That wasn’t Tennessee yesterday, but there were a few occasions where Mariota was able to extend plays with his feet and they rolled him and bootlegged him about 6-7 times during this game.
I think the line was pretty gassed by the time the Titans were on their 34th and 35th minute of possession in overtime. You can’t sustain a pass rush against a team going 66% to 33% in a pass/run ratio for five periods of play. It just doesn’t happen. At some point, the secondary needs to make a play, and they didn’t.
Also, can people stop saying the Titans suck? They don’t suck. They were 9-7 last season and won a road playoff game. They are 3-1 this year. They are a decent team.
6) Zach Ertz
He’s on pace to have a million targets this season, or at least it seems that way.
Seriously though, he’s been targeted 33 times through four games, so he’s projected to receive 132 targets over the course of 16 games.
For context, DeAndre Hopkins led the NFL with 176 targets last season. Travis Kelce was the top tight end with 123 looks. Ertz hit 110 on the season, so he’s well on pace to shatter that mark.
I drew a diagram of what I believe was his route chart and heatmap:
Ertz just kept finding that soft spot in the middle of the zone, and Wentz hit him there over and over and over again.
Ok, here’s the real thing.
White lines are completed passes and green is yards after the catch:
Ertz caught 10 of 14 targets for 110 yards Sunday, though Wentz didn’t find him in the end zone.
That honor went to:
7) Alshon Jeffery
Gotta be the biggest positive from otherwise shitty afternoon.
He just makes plays that other receivers can’t make. I’m talking about tough sideline grabs, contested back shoulder throws, jump balls in the corner, and key red zone receptions.
Alshon caught eight balls for 105 yards and a score, and while the touchdown might have been his best grab, he really had a couple of early snags to get himself and the Eagles going. Particularly, there was a great 34 yard reception he made on a 3rd and 4 to keep the chains moving. He caught another one later going up against Malcolm Butler and the only blemish on the day was the catch and fumble that disallowed a first down in Tennessee’s half of the field.
Welcome back Alshon Jeffery, or “Jefferies” if you’re a moron and still can’t get his name right.
8) Doug’s best call?
Probably the decision to pound the ball with the running game to begin overtime.
That’s about it.
9) Doug’s worst call?
Obviously I hated the choice to punt with three minutes left in the fourth quarter on that fourth down and four. The Eagles got the stop and got the ball back to force overtime, but that punt felt antithetical to everything we’ve seen from Doug over the last year or so.
I also did not like the third down draw play right before halftime, the run on 3rd and 3 at Tennessee’s ten yard line. You’ve got Alshon matched up 1v1 in the red zone. Throw him the damn ball.
That felt like the same shit Penn State did on Saturday night in their Ohio State choke job, running the ball when everyone knows you should have thrown it instead.
This just didn’t feel like a Doug Pederson type of game. Mike Vrabel was the coach making gutsy fourth down decisions on the other sideline.
10) Like deja vu all over again
We got Chris Myers and Daryl Johnston and Laura Okmin for the second straight week. Shouldn’t that be a violation in and of itself? Why not just rotate the crews so they aren’t calling the same team two weeks in a row?
The good thing was that Myers was unable to mispronounce “Clement” this time, since Corey Clement didn’t play. It did sound like one of the pair kept saying “Ajayi” wrong, but I honestly did not pay much attention to the broadcast. This group is fine, but they just don’t do anything to get me super excited OR super annoyed. They just sort of exist, which isn’t the worst thing in the world.
My only real complaint with the broadcast is that we got that commercial with the hypnotist sitting in his front yard. He snaps his fingers and asks some guy to clean his gutters, then says this:
“Todd, you go make me a “fertata”
I don’t know why he pronounces it that way because the dish is a “frittata.” It’s an Italian egg-based casserole type of thing, and it’s spelled with the F-R-I, not F-E-R. There’s no such thing as a “fertata.”
Anyway, that annoys me, but not as much as the Eagles losing on a 16 play, 75 yard drive in overtime.