I was driving home from The Station Taphouse in Doylestown last night listening to 97.5 the Fanatic after the Eagles’ 23-21 loss.
A caller, apparently on hold for 31 minutes, finally got on the air, proclaimed he was “too drunk to talk,” apologized to Joe Tordy and Joe Staszak, then hung up.
Similar to the Philadelphia Eagles, this guy wasted a good 30 minutes, tried to rally, and ultimately fell short.
Same story, different day for the Birds, who again found a way to underwhelm and disappoint, this time on home turf against a beatable team. They made mistakes, committed penalties, failed to finish drives, and couldn’t get a defensive stop when it mattered most.
It’s hard to find a single area where this team has not regressed since last season. The offensive line has been inexplicably poor. The defense continues to give up big plays at bad times. Doug Pederson does not look like the stone cold killer we saw in 2017 and Carson Wentz does not seem to be anywhere near 100% as he continues to find his feet after the ACL injury and months-long layoff.
I don’t know if it’s a Super Bowl hangover or what, but whatever moxie this team had last year is missing. Think of it as a “mojo” or a “mettle,” the sort of intangible trait that you can’t really define, but you know exists, and it pops up when guys are required to make clutch plays or get big stops or rise to the occasion with everything on the line.
That trait is totally missing right now. In addition to committing head-scratching screw ups week-in and week-out, they just don’t have the “it” factor, to use an old cliche.
It’s true that the NFC East is extremely blah right now, so that’s the glass half-full takeaway from this game. Maybe a short turnaround against a divisional foe this Thursday gets the blood pumping again and pulls the team back to .500, but they better figure it out fast, because 9-7 gets you nothing but a postseason trip to Los Angeles and 7-9 gets you nothing at all.
1) Play calling
41 called passes to 12 called running plays isn’t going to get it done.
Jay Ajayi carried the ball eight times, Wendell Smallwood three times, and Josh Adams once on what may have been Doug’s worst call of the game.
More than just the off-balance run/pass ratio, the problem here is that the Eagles aren’t establishing the ground game early. Doug ran it just five times on 19 first-half plays, one of which was a bullshit handoff before the clock ran out during the sixth series. Take that carry away and it was four runs on 18 first half plays for a 78% to 22% pass/run ratio.
Not only does that screw up the rhythm and flow in general, but offensive linemen prefer to run block instead of pass block. When you ask Isaac Seumalo to pass protect on the first four plays of the first game he’s started this season, what do you think is going to happen? Furthermore, you cannot run play-action passes when you haven’t even established the run in the first place. If I see the Eagles line up under center and use play-action one more time my head is going to explode. If you insist on trying to misdirect defenses in that way, go back to your RPO package out of the shotgun.
Sure, Ajayi might not be 100%. Corey Clement was unavailable for this one and same thing with Darren Sproles, but Smallwood is more than capable of running the ball 6-10 times per game. This is the same situation with LeGarrette Blount not getting enough work last season, then the Eagles magically got better when he started getting more involved in the offense.
Here’s a telling quote from Ajayi after the game, via Zack Rosenblatt at NJ.com:
“Obviously we want to be able to run the ball early and start that rhythm early in the beginning of the game,” Ajayi said in the locker room after the game. “If I remember correctly we had maybe three carries at the end of the first quarter.
“With the offensive line we have on this team, running the ball like that, that doesn’t make sense to me.”
Ding ding ding! We have a winner!
Run the ball Doug:
2) Fringe battles and situational football
I’ve written in the past about how the Eagles generally have a lot of success winning in peripheral phases of the game – things like time of possession, third down conversion, stuff like that.
It was not the case yesterday evening:
- lost time of possession, 33 minutes to 27 minutes
- -1 turnover margin
- 2 for 9 on third down (22.2% conversion rate)
- allowed Minnesota to go 4-9 on third down (36.4%)
- lost 28 yards on three sacks
- 2 for 5 success rate in red zone
- 8 penalties for 52 yards
- allowed a defensive touchdown
Honestly, it’s hard to believe they only fell by two points when you consider that they lost just about every fringe battle in this game. The Vikings missing a pair of field goals, which made the game seem a lot closer than maybe it actually was.
In no particular order:
- Wendell Smallwood’s 3rd down drop
- missed tackles in first half (corners were especially poor)
- Lane Johnson getting beat easily on the Wentz fumble
- Ajayi fumble
- two illegal formation penalties on the offense
- Jordan Matthews running out of bounds when the clock was going to stop anyway at two-minute warning
- two false starts on the same drive
- intentional grounding and false start on a three play, -15 yard drive after a Minnesota fumble
Similar to the above entry, this is stuff the Eagles just don’t do, or at least they didn’t do last year.
4) Personnel problems and scapegoating
Swapping Isaac Seumalo for Stefen Wisniewski is going to solve the offensive line problem?
I don’t know what Doug Pederson or Jeff Stoutland have against Wis, but they jerked him around with the left guard rotation last year, which gave us a few games of Chance Warmack instead. Thing is, everybody KNEW Wisniewski was the better player and the coaching staff finally caved and ended the ridiculous platoon thing, whatever that was.
On film this year, the entire offensive line has been poor, though the tackles have been probably worse than the any of the interior linemen thus far. But you can’t bench Lane Johnson, right? That’s too risky from an optics standpoint. Wis is the safest guy to bench to send a message.
Right, so this is how Seumalo did on the first series:
Terrible series for Isaac Seumalo. Got driven back on each play. Questionable play-calling by Doug as well. Do you really want him pass blocking all 3 plays?
— Tommy Lawlor (@lawlornfl) October 7, 2018
It feels like Wisniewski is just the week five scapegoat because it’s easier to justify his benching rather than that of a bigger name player (cough, Jalen Mills).
Doug gave a non-answer when asked why he made the switch at guard:
“Obviously in fairness of both Isaac and Stefen, I want to make sure that we evaluate the film on this, and it’s going to be hard, though, because it’s a short week, short turnaround and we’re on to the Giants.
I thought initially, he played well. Isaac played well. We’ll evaluate it again and make the decision moving forward.”
Wis had a different take:
Wisniewski: “I’m going to be honest. I’ve been playing pretty well. I really don’t think that was it. I have some theories, but I’m not going to share those publicly.
…It’s frustrating. If I wasn’t a Christian, I’d probably be losing my mind."
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) October 8, 2018
Good for him for saying that.
Also, not sure how many snaps Shelton Gibson got, but he clearly has an ability to get down the field and catch the ball. Jeffery was targeted eight times and only caught two balls, one of which came from a hard hit on a long third down pass. Dallas Goedert was not very involved on Sunday, nor was Jordan Matthews. I don’t know if Wentz isn’t seeing guys down the field or if they’re not getting open, but he’s holding the ball waaaaaaay too long and does not have the running and scrambling ability that he had pre-surgery.
For what it’s worth, the common theme among the players post-game was that they were beating themselves, shooting themselves in the foot, self-inflicted mistakes, stuff like that.
A few quotes:
Jason Peters, on whether opposing defenses are doing a better job of scheming the Eagles offense:
“I can’t say that. We had mental errors. We killed ourselves a couple of times in the red zone. We got pushed back, we didn’t get points at times, and sometimes we got three points instead of seven. Right now we’re just killing ourselves.”
Zach Ertz, on the offense’s slow start:
“Not making plays, not executing. The players, we’re just not executing, and that’s the bottom line. We’re getting to the red zone, messed up consistently in the first half, then our backs are against the walls, then we start rolling. We just have to find a way to start fast. We preach it and we emphasize it during the week. It’s talked about, but we have to go out there when the game is on the line and the bullets are flying, start the game, we have to go. Our team isn’t made to – no team in the league first of all is made to – play from a deficit of 17-3. Our team, in particular, is definitely not. We want to give our defense the lead, so those guys can take off with the four guys and dominate like they always do. We just have to play better. It starts with me, I have to play better, we just have to execute.”
Malcolm Jenkins, on if he agrees with the term ‘self-inflicted’ when describing the loss:
“It’s kind of been the thing where [we’re] giving up plays when we know we shouldn’t, penalties, takeaways, turnovers, and then the lack of takeaways; most things we feel like we are doing to ourselves. We haven’t played a game yet where we felt like the team just flat out beat us. That’s the most frustrating part, but it’s up to us to correct those. Obviously with a short week it’s something that we are going to have to trust each individual to look at themselves critically, really, without practice and try to be a more disciplined team this week.”
Fair enough I guess.
6) Jalen Mills vs. Fletcher Cox
It was around 7:35 in the third quarter when Jalen Mills broke up a pair of passes to keep the Vikings out of the end zone.
Problem is, he allowed a 68-yard reception to let Minnesota into the red zone in the first place (of course the Eagles blitzed on that play and didn’t get there, but whatever).
While jawing with Adam Thielen, Fletcher Cox came over and told Mills to get back to the sideline:
— Matt Mullin (@matt_mullin) October 7, 2018
The thing here is that Mills doesn’t understand that:
- you probably should just take the moral victory and get off the field after giving up a 68 yard pass play
- the optics of celebrating a pass break-up or mouthing off at an opponent look terrible WHEN JUXTAPOSED with a bad defensive play
Again, I don’t think Mills was totally horrendous on the day. He only gave up 19 yards outside of the big third quarter play and logged three PBUs in this game, but, like I wrote last week, his transgressions always look worse because he’s getting beat in open space. In this game he had zero penalties and did well in the red zone, he just got cooked badly on the one drive. Ronald Darby got beat on the Thielen touchdown, if you care about those kinds of things.
But good on Cox for telling Mills to get on with it.
7) The Michael Bennett “penalty”
Here it is, in all of its glory:
Esto fue marcado como "Rudeza al Pasador".
DE Michael Bennett (#FlyEaglesFly) llega tropezando al QB, pero no hay intención de taclearlo debajo de las rodillas.
— Ivis Aburto (@IvisAburto) October 7, 2018
I get it; you can’t go low into the quarterback. But when a defensive end is rounding a blocker and getting shoved to the ground, what exactly is he supposed to do there? Nothing? Put his hands in the air and let the quarterback get away? If anything, he sort of slid down his legs and onto the ankles, where he wrapped him up and held on.
Minnesota took the 15 yard penalty and went on to score there. It was a crucial play in this game.
Bennett blew off reporters in the locker room like he always does, but Malcolm Jenkins had some good things to say about the play:
“I don’t know what he’s supposed to do. If the quarterback has the ball, I know they don’t want low hits on the quarterback, but if you’re falling down, I guess you’re supposed to just let the quarterback go. The explanation from the official was that he has to avoid that hit which means that he can’t do his job; you can’t tackle the quarterback while the quarterback has the ball.
What do I tell my teammate to do in that situation where he’s already falling onto the ground? The quarterback has the ball in his hands and he has to avoid the play, which literally means he has to fall and allow the quarterback to continue the down which is the antithesis of his job. It was a tough call, but we have to find a way to overcome it.”
“The antithesis of his job.” That’s an excellent way to explain how absurd it is.
Anyway, since this was a huge play in the game, I’ll drop in the entire exchange with the refereeing crew via pool reporter Reuben Frank (transcription provided by the Eagles’ PR staff):
Can you provide an explanation – at the end of the second quarter, Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett’s sack on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was called for roughing the passer. What did Bennett do wrong on that play?
Walt Coleman: “He went low into the quarterback’s knees with his shoulder, with force. And the rule is that you cannot hit the quarterback low at the knee area or below with force. He got him there with his shoulder, so that’s what I had as far as roughing the passer.”
There was a crowd around Cousins. If he is coming down, how does that change the interpretation?
Coleman: “It wouldn’t really change it at all. Somebody would have to basically push him and change his direction, change everything, in order for that not to be a foul. You just can’t hit the quarterback at the knee area or below and he got him with his shoulder with force. So that’s what I had as far as the roughing the passer.”
Is that a new rule or interpretation?
Coleman: “No, that’s the one that’s been there for quite some time. That’s the one they put in several years ago. So that’s not a new roughing the passer. That’s a classic. That one has been there for quite some time now.”
(A “pool reporter” is basically one media member who speaks to the official after the game on behalf of everyone else. He or she shares the quotes with other outlets. There are no traditional scrums or press conferences with referees because it would just turn into a slaughter.)
8) Doug’s best call?
I do think he made the right call to kick the field goal in the third quarter to cut the lead to 14.
Why not? There was plenty of time to get a couple of scores to tie the game, more than 18 minutes.
Then, he went for two to cut the lead to six, which meant all you needed was a field goal, stop, and field goal to tie the game, OR a touchdown and PAT to win the game.
I thought that was a key momentum play at the time, and the Eagles had found a rhythm and were executing during that window of the game, so I didn’t have any issue going for two at that point.
9) Doug’s worst call?
Not a fan of the pitch to Josh Adams, the Eagles’ slowest running back, on 3rd and short during the second drive.
I also was not a fan of the 4th and 1 pass in the 4th quarter, the empty backfield shotgun look, but credit to Alshon Jeffery for making a hell of a catch to move the chains. Carson Wentz would have been allowed to sneak that last year, but I have a feeling they just don’t want him doing that this year on a repaired leg.
And sweet Jesus in Heaven that was a bad challenge flag on the Stefon Diggs catch. Not only did the receiver have two feet in bounds, he might have done three toe taps before getting out of bounds. I don’t know what Doug was doing there.
I didn’t have a problem with the decision to punt after the fourth quarter turnover on 4th and 20. Right then it was a six point game with 9:17 remaining, and you knew you were getting the ball back eventually in a situation where a touchdown could win it. The defense needed to make a stop and didn’t get the job done.
10) Silent broadcasting
I was watching the game at a restaurant with friends, so I couldn’t hear the broadcast very well over the speakers, but I assume Eagles fans thought Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were biased and/or sucked.
I’ve personally never had a problem with either one of them, and I would prefer to listen to that pair plus Erin Andrews vs. a large majority of the other FOX crews currently working NFL games. I would certainly take Aikman and Buck over Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, for sure.
The one thing I couldn’t wrap my head around was that it appeared as though they cut to commercial when the Panthers were about to hit that 63-yard field goal to beat the Giants. I thought the restaurant changed the channel, but nope, FOX failed to show the end of that game and went right to the Eagles jawn because of the ridiculous NFL broadcasting rules that put the networks in terrible positions.
It’s an outrage.