That was the New Orleans playoff game all over again. Fantastic first quarter, and then… nothing. The offense started like a Porsche and finished like a PT Cruiser.
Similar to that game, this was also winnable. Neither the Saints nor the Patriots lit the world on fire with their respective performances; the Eagles just sputtered out entirely and watched their early momentum dissipate. It was a one-score game during a 22-minute period that saw the Patriots punt five straight times, but deep down we all knew the Birds weren’t coming back. It was an oddly lethargic second-half viewing experience until New England’s defense started to slip up a bit and allowed Philly to sniff their side of the field at the two-minute warning.
The extra-disappointing thing is that the Patriots were especially putrid offensively. Tom Brady was off for most of the evening and yet New England scraped by on three field goals, a trick-play, and a two-point conversion. The crowd sounded great on television and the Birds showed the appropriate juice coming off the bye week after two straight wins, but they just weren’t good enough offensively after rolling out to a 10-0 lead.
So the Eagles are who we thought they were. They’re a .500 team that will fall to 5-6 after getting pounded by Seattle next week, then it comes down to the Cowboys home game and matchups against Washington, New York, and Miami that may set offensive football back 25 years.
1. Obligatory Carson Wentz entry
Anybody else do a double take when they saw Wentz’s camouflage undershirt? I thought he got a full-sleeve tattoo up in North Dakota during the bye week.
Anyway, he played the same game we’ve seen him play this entire season, which features some good, some bad, and overall just not enough when it really matters. Yes, the receivers stink, and yes the Eagles played without Alshon Jeffery and Jordan Howard and Lane Johnson for a time, but the Wentz critics rightfully point out that sometimes a franchise quarterback just needs to put the team on his shoulders and find a way to get the job done. He closed out the Bears game with four straight third down conversions but otherwise has not been able to produce the same Nick Foles “clutchness” that can’t exactly be parsed and packaged into a generally accepted statistical form.
Here are my Wentz notes from Sunday –
- moving his feet to escape the pocket on the 1st play, leading to the deep heave and pass interference call
- generally did a nice job of keeping plays alive with his feet
- I thought the first end zone shot for Agholor was a nice pass… thought he put it where only his player could get it
- threw a dart to Dallas Goedert in the third quarter, which was dropped
- beautiful 4th quarter ball for Zach Ertz
- avoided the end zone sack and hit JJ Arcega-Whiteside for a big gain in the fourth
- 3rd and 10 of final drive, good throw to Nelson Agholor
- the final heave to Agholor was actually a decent toss, considering that New England blitzed and he had to just get the ball up there
- totally overshot Mack Hollins on 3rd and 9 on the second drive
- took the sack on 2nd down of the fourth drive (more on Miles Sanders, who got blown up on the play)
- the fumble on the fifth drive, right before halftime
- throwing five yards short of the marker on 3rd and 10
- took the sack on 3rd and 15
- looked slow getting rid of the ball on a number of occasions
- missed Ertz on the second 3rd and 10 of the final drive
He took four sacks in the first half, which is the first time that’s ever happened. I personally think he’s trying to extend plays in order to allow his plodding receivers to actually get open, which results in him putting himself in compromising positions. You can check down, sure, but over-use your safety valve and “you people” will start booing that as well, as Don Cherry would say.
Also, yes, losing Lane Johnson is a big deal. Losing your Pro Bowl right tackle is an issue, no matter if you’re Wentz, Foles, Tom Brady, or Y.A. fucking Tittle. Johnson, Jeffery, and Howard are three asterisks that combine to form one big asterisk. You’ll hear that excuse this week and there is validity to it.
The worst part about this game, truly, is that we’re going to get another full week of Wentz vs. Foles on social media and the radio. As such, I drew up this piece of abstract artwork, which I’ve titled, “Eagles Twitter” –
Get it? It’s symbolic. Eagles Twitter eats itself like the mythical Ouroboros snake creature.
2. The receivers
Hey listen, Mack Hollins was open on that deep ball and Wentz over-threw him.
Otherwise… I dunno. They’re slow, they don’t separate, and they lack dynamism and play-making ability. Other than that, they’re fine.
Doug Pederson was asked after the game if Wentz was maybe holding on to the ball too long and very politely shaded the receiving corps:
You know, I think a couple times it might have been the case (holding the ball too long). But again with so much man-to-man coverage and some of (New England’s) cover-2 stuff, we’ve gotta do a better job on the perimeter and execute, help him out.
If you’re playing against man-to-man coverage, you have to win individual battles, which the Eagles receivers do not. I’m a Carson Wentz fence-sitter and don’t really take one side or the other, but I really don’t believe Nick Foles would be doing much better with this personnel group.
Jordan Matthews played 64 snaps against the Patriots. He signed a week ago.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside played 19 snaps. He’s been here since the draft.
Not exactly a vote of confidence for the rookie. #Eagles
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) November 18, 2019
3. Can’t blame the defense
They showed up big time, allowing just 74 rushing yards and limiting Brady to a line of 26-47 for 216 yards. They hit him six times, sacked him once, and defended five passes.
Nice game from Jim Schwartz, who mixed together some blitzing and press coverage and called a relatively aggressive game. They didn’t spend 80% of the game sitting 10 yards back in off coverage, which was the case earlier in the year.
You could take your pick of plays from Sunday, but the series after the Wentz fumble stood out to me as a perfect response, with a quick three and out resulting in a field goal for New England:
3rd and 9 man coverage with single-high safety is not typically what you’d see from Schwartz, but the cornerbacks were up for this game and the improved secondary health really helps unlock some things schematically for the Birds’ defensive coordinator.
4. The third drive
Quite possibly the best drive the Eagles have put together this season, especially when you consider the personnel limitations.
It went 16 plays for 95 yards and ate up 9:33 of clock, a beautiful drive that saw the Eagles stay ahead of the chains and only face two third downs. Doug mixed it up with a nice blend of run/pass with some wrinkles too, including that wacky screen pass where Jason Kelce was lined up as a receiver on the opposite side of the field.
Here’s how that drive played out:
- run – Boston Scott up the middle
- three short passes to Miles Sanders and Zach Ertz
- Wentz scramble and a New England penalty
- wide receiver bubble screen
- tight end screen
- two runs behind Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks
- Wentz scramble for 8 yards
- Sanders off the left end
- four straight plays with Miles Sanders touches
What do you see there? You see Wentz keeping plays alive with his feet. You see tight ends and running backs. You see short yardage passes and a couple of screens. That is the Eagles’ strength with this group, all of those things. They committed to the run, Carson did things on the ground, and they leaned on Miles Sanders.
Then they got away from all of that.
5. Stool Presidente
Dave Portnoy was at the game and he was trolling everybody:
I wanna fight him. pic.twitter.com/bLLjxI1iKs
— Gina Lewis (@GinaMarie0125) November 17, 2019
I hate it, but in a weird way I also love it. You have to have some gall to wear a jersey like that to an NFL game, and Portnoy is probably feeling ultra-confident in himself right now, considering that his arch-nemeses at Deadspin resigned en masse a few weeks ago.
“BRALES” isn’t bad for a spliced-together jersey. If you reversed it, it would say “FOLADY,” assuming you’d have to have three letters from each guy’s name to make it work.
6. Mistakes and breaks
Stopped keeping track about midway through the fourth quarter, but wrote these down:
- the Jason Peters false start hurt that first drive
- slow release on the RPO to JJ Arcega-Whiteside
- fumble right before halftime
- bad snap on the 3rd and 5 that took place on the final Birds’ drive of the 1st half
- Nate Gerry big missed tackle on the Rex Burkhead shovel pass, which went for 30 yards
Allow me to elaborate on the RPO, which was the play in which Peters flagged for being ineligible downfield –
When you run RPO, you have to release the ball quickly, or else you’re going to have linemen beyond the one-yard range for disguised pass blocking. Wentz had to wait for JJAW to wriggle free, and by the time he released the ball Peters, Isaac Seumalo, and Jason Kelce were all ineligible. They could have flagged three different linemen on that play (this is what Pat Fitzgerald was complaining about when he called the RPO “Communism”).
- Tom Brady missing a wide open Julian Edelman on the Pats’ opening drive
- Brady being off in general
- no roughing the passer on the Derek Barnett half-suplex
- Boston Scott fumble on the kick return being knocked out of bounds by Jake Bailey
- Julian Edelman dropped TD in the end zone
The Pats’ offense was pretty stinky. Brady doesn’t have a lot of weapons out there, and he was misfiring left and right, especially in the early part of the game when the Eagles had opportunities to build on their lead.
7. Ancillary wins and losses
Two outliers here. If you read this column regularly, you’ll pick them out rather easily:
- won time of possession 31:35 to 28:25
- -1 turnover margin
- 3-13 on third down (23%)
- 0-1 on fourth down
- allowed Patriots to go 5-16 on third down (31.3%)
- lost 40 yards on 5 sacks
- 1-2 success rate in the red zone
- 7 penalties for 39 yards
- 21 first downs, 19 for New England
- ran 66 total plays, New England 71
Third down rate and sacks. They went hand-in-hand last night, because they were finding themselves behind the chains frequently, which killed them in an area where they are typically very good.
8. Doug’s best call?
The entire third series. He even saw a bubble screen go for five yards because the correct personnel was utilized:
Nice block from Mack Hollins there, seriously. That’s what those quick-hit bubble and smoke screens are supposed to look like. Give it to your faster SLOT RECEIVER and let him work in space. That play went for five yards and would have gone for a few more if not for a nice tackle by Jonathan Jones.
9. Doug’s worst call?
They stopped running the ball. Why? That early drive was the blueprint for success and then they got away from that in the second half.
Here’s what Doug said postgame:
“You’d always like to maybe run it a few more times. Sometimes you get into a game like this, you’re either 2nd and 10, 2nd and 11, maybe 2nd and 9, and you’re not staying ahead (of the chains), know what I mean? That was kind of our struggle in the run game tonight and something we gotta look at and fix before next week.
If you go down the second-half drive chart, these are the distances the Eagles faced on their second downs:
- 2nd and 10
- 2nd and 9
- 2nd and 14
- 2nd and 10
- 2nd and 10
- 2nd and 10
- 2nd and 10
- 2nd and 5
- 2nd and 10
- 2nd and 10
They had a couple of first down runs that went nowhere and a couple of passes that also went nowhere, setting them up with 2nd and long for most of the second half.
Pederson also said Jay Ajayi didn’t play because the turnaround was too quick, so there’s your answer on that.
10. The segment about the broadcast
Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, and Tracy Wolfson.
Did Romo seem a bit subdued to you in the first quarter? He wasn’t calling out a lot of the pre-snap reads how he typically does, then, like clockwork, he guessed that the Patriots might try “something unique” right before Julian Edelman threw the third quarter touchdown pass. It’s fantastic man, what an experience.
Also pretty sure I heard Nantz call Carson Wentz “Foles” on one of the scrambles where he picked up some yards on the ground. That was pretty good. I honestly wasn’t paying much attention because my six-month old was squealing in a high-pitched voice.
One thing I did see was the stereotypical shot of Geno’s Steaks on the broadcast. It would not be a national broadcast without a shot of a cheesesteak, the Liberty Bell, or Rocky Steps.
- the Aramingo Avenue Wawa
- 63rd and Passyunk
- the roundabout at Castor and Wyoming
- the pristine waters of the Schuylkill
- inside a Fishtown zoning meeting (total disaster)
- the Philly Pretzel Factory on Cottman Avenue
- any stop on the EL
- that randomly-placed strip club on Columbus Boulevard (if you keep driving past the IKEA and Best Buy)
Finally, a shout out to Mike Barkann and his beard. It’s a good look for him, very Wolf Blitzer-esque: