Well that was one of the most embarrassing things we’ve ever seen.
The Eagles were up 17-0 and then gave up 27 unanswered points, losing to a team that doesn’t even have a name.
They lost to the “Washington Football Team,” which was shamed into changing their moniker this summer as owner Daniel Snyder faces (unrelated) allegations of running an organization that engaged in sexual misconduct and fostered a hostile work environment. His team hasn’t won a playoff game in 15 years and really truly does not have that much talent, as they begin a rebuild under new head coach Ron Rivera.
Maybe, however, this was inevitable. Should we even be surprised? The Eagles took the field without 60% of their starting offensive line, which couldn’t even stay healthy enough to play the season opener. Same for the #1 running back in Miles Sanders and a starting, veteran receiver in Alshon Jeffery. Jalen Reagor, the rookie first round draft pick, did play despite being questionable earlier in the week, and the second round draft pick is the third string quarterback, so Jalen Hurts was inactive.
They weren’t even close to being 100% healthy going into this game, and there were no preseason tune ups because of the pandemic, which is why we were all shocked when they came out humming and took an early lead. After that, I dunno, it’s like Washington made a couple of adjustments and the Eagles just totally crumbled.
Ultimately they did have a chance to come back and tie it in the fourth quarter, when Washington cowardly rushed three on a 4th and 3 attempt. The Eagles took advantage of their first clean pocket in two full quarters when Carson Wentz hit Zach Ertz right in the hands, only for the disgruntled tight end to drop the pass instead.
Speaking of the quarterback:
1. Carson Wentz, proving his detractors right
Hope you’re ready for another year of Wentz talk on social media and various Philadelphia sports platforms. It was REALLY bad two years ago, when Nick Foles was still around, and it was a little less bad last year, before Carson ripped off four-straight solid performances to win the division.
Funny thing about that is the haters mostly decided to quiet down, since Wentz answered a lot of questions about whether he really had it or not when leading a group of practice squad guys to the NFC East title. Nick Foles, meantime, was busy losing his job to Gardner Minshew, so that also helped Carson’s cause. But all of that good will goes right into the toilet now, because even though the offensive line playing in front of him resembled a sieve, he made a lot of unforced errors to compound the problem.
Let’s focus on the interceptions, because we love to assign blame as Philadelphia sports fans. Who deserves blame for those picks? Carson? Rookie wide receivers? Play calling?
Here’s the first one:
— Washington Football Team (@WashingtonNFL) September 13, 2020
He’s gotta throw that on the outside shoulder or else it’s just a 50/50 jump ball, which hopefully was not the plan.
The problem is that you’re throwing these intermediate sideline routes for rookies. If Alshon was the target, he’d certainly go up and attack those balls, but when guys like Jalen Reagor and John Hightower are the receivers, you just don’t get the same aggression and instinct from them, not yet. You also don’t have the same connection when you haven’t played a lot of snaps together, and these types of routes retire top-level QB/receiver timing.
So that’s on everybody – Wentz for getting the ball out late, and the receivers for not attacking those.
Beyond that, Carson was disastrous. A couple of high throws, bad sacks, fumbles, and six-straight incompletions during the stretch when Washington began to close the gap. He didn’t throw away one single ball the entire game, which, look – sometimes that’s hard to do when you’re ducking under a guy, and/or you’re near the center of the field and can’t get a clean toss away. But still, he has to rework the clock inside his head and stop taking these bad sacks.
Said Wentz after the game:
“I’ve got to be better, I know that. I’ve got to clean up the interceptions, I put our defense in a bad spot on a couple occasions and we definitely lost some momentum and we didn’t make the plays we needed to make. I’ve got to be better. It starts with me. I’ve got to protect the ball and lead these guys better, and I’ll own that.”
He finished 24/42 for 270 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions, and two fumbles. The blame is shared between the line, coaching, and skill players, but the quarterback was bad in this game. There’s no sugar coating it, and with the Eagles going out and giving a vote of no confidence by picking up Hurts with a second round draft pick, the pressure is on Wentz to turn it around quickly.
2. The offensive line, resembling a colander
Raise your hand if you had Nate Herbig and Jack Driscoll starting the season on the right side of the line.
Yeah, didn’t think so.
The Eagles gave up eight sacks, 10 tackles for loss, and 14 quarterback hits, and it went from bad to worse when Driscoll came out of the game, leading to… Jordan Mailata? Where the hell is Matt Pryor?
Doug on why he didn't use Matt Pryor: "We made decisions on quite a few factors. Nate Herbig had a good week in practice." didn't say why Mailata over Pryor at RT when Driscoll got hurt… #Eagles
— Martin Frank (@Mfranknfl) September 13, 2020
So.. not much of an answer. Maybe Pryor didn’t have the best camp, but this is a guy who filled in for Brandon Brooks in years past and at least had experience playing at the pro level. What exactly did Pederson think was going to happen starting an inexperienced guard next to a rookie right tackle? And then you bring in a former pro rugby player when the rookie goes out?
They are overthinking this. Just put Pryor on the field.
3. Pass/run splits
42 passes to 17 runs, though one of those was a broken screen play that Wentz tucked and ran, so the skew I think is actually 43 called throws and 16 called runs, which would give us a 73% to 27% split. That’s a LOT, even for Doug, and even without Miles Sanders in the game.
Every year, for the first couple of games, I log how Doug splits up his runs and passes via shotgun and under center looks. Typically he’s a shotgun guy, then they’ll play action from under center, but with a depleted personnel group Sunday, this is what I ended up with:
- under center runs: eight (one QB sneak included)
- under center passes: 11 (one screen, one failed screen, and four play-action looks)
- shotgun runs: seven
- shotgun passes: 35
Those numbers aren’t entirely wonky. Doug likes running out of the shotgun, but obviously you’re not doing a lot of inside or outside zone behind a line that’s missing three starters. You’re not running that stretch behind Herbig and Driscoll, right? They just ended up throwing a ton out of the shotgun because the personnel and nature of the game dictated it.
4. Five-wide and 12 personnel
Early on, the Eagles had success using 12 personnel (two tight ends) and playing a more linear kind of game. They were attacking the middle of the field and Wentz was getting rid of the ball with more speed and purpose.
One of those instances resulted in a touchdown, and it was the Dallas Goedert score from a five-wide, 12-personnel set, that looked like this:
Most NFL defenses are spending the bulk of their time in nickel packages, so that’s four linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs. In this case, Washington has three corners and two safeties on the field, while the Eagles go two tight ends and three receivers.
Getting this kind of look is always going to be able to afford you a matchup you like, and having Goedert on Kevin Pierre-Louis is more often winnable than not. They had DeSean Jackson stay at home and dummy a flat pass, Ertz ran a short curl to hold the strong safety and second linebacker, and then you have two vertical routes on the weak side to draw the free safety’s attention.
It was really well done, a nice scheme for what Washington currently had on the field. Theoretically, if Sanders is out, and your tight ends are a strength, then more of the 12 personnel looks with Jackson, Reagor, and a third receiver would have been ideal.
5. First play struggles
When the Eagles began to slip up, the main issue is that they couldn’t do jack shit on the opening play of their drives. They were taking yardage losses, throwing picks, and failing to run the ball, which put them in some really bad 2nd and 3rd down positions.
Starting at 1:37 in the second quarter, with the Eagles up 17-0 and cruising, they did the following on the first play of each drive to finish out the game:
- incomplete pass
- run for a five-yard loss
- run for a seven-yard gain
- incomplete pass
- sacked for 10-yard loss
- pass for a 10-yard completion
That’s not gonna cut it, and it’s atypical Eagles football. They are usually very good about playing a situational game and putting themselves in tenable positions where they’re able to dictate the terms. It wasn’t the case this time around because they ended up behind the sticks frequently and became even further one-dimensional, which let Washington’s really good defensive line just tee off on a team with no protection.
6. Mistakes and breaks
This entire column could have just been a list of Eagles mistakes, and that’s not even taking into account missed connections and communications that we aren’t able to accurately evaluate without knowing the play calls and route trees. Of course Wentz is not going to be 100% on the same page with his new receivers right away, especially with the shortened preseason being what it is.
That said –
- Jalen Reagor bobbling his first punt, thankfully recovered by a teammate
- Wentz third down fumble, leading to a field goal
- Avonte Maddox had a great shot at a pick, but couldn’t haul it in
- John Hightower dropping a wide open pass (though he got the personal foul penalty anyway)
- Wentz interception, leading to WASTEAM touchdown
- Blown coverage on the first Washington score
- Second interception
- Horrible 3rd down sack on the 10th drive, knocking the Eagles out of field goal position
- Jake Elliott missed field goal
- Cam Johnston not great 4th quarter punt
- Zach Ertz ridiculous drop
First Washington touchdown, it’s just presnap motion with the running back flaring out to the opposite side, and the Eagles messed up who was supposed to go with who. Jalen Mills takes the RB while Avonte Maddox just gets stuck with the linebackers as Logan Thomas is wide open for the score:
- Chase Young offside on 3rd and 5 on the opening drive, for an automatic first down
- Washington offside on 3rd and 7 on second drive, Eagles convert next play
- Landon Collins 15-yards for a late hit out of bounds
- Washington missed field goal (probably should have gone on 4th down anyway)
- Bonehead illegal touching penalty that wiped out a really good Tress Way punt
Washington committed some absolutely backbreaking third down penalties in this game, three of them to be exact, which resulted in the Eagles moving the sticks and/or finishing those drives.
7. Ancillary wins and losses
Let’s take a look at some of the sidebar stats that usually help tell the story:
- won time of possession 30:39 to 29:21
- -3 turnover margin
- 5-14 on third down (35.7%)
- 0-2 on fourth down
- held Washington to 5-18 on third down (27.7%)
- lost 62 yards on eight sacks
- 1-2 success rate in the red zone
- 3 penalties for 20 yards
- 19 first downs, 18 for Washington
- ran 67 total plays, Washington 70
Most of these numbers are well below what they typically average.
The Eagles have always out-volumed other teams during Doug Pederson’s tenure, winning time of possession, moving the sticks, and oftentimes coming out flat or positive in turnover margin. But that TOP number is two and a half minutes below their 2019 number, which ranked 4th in the NFL. The third down rate was way down from the 44.5% number they posted last year, which was also fourth in the league.
When you can’t move the sticks and control the clock, you lose the war of attrition, which is what the Eagles have very typically won over the years.
8. Doug’s best call?
None that I can think of. I thought they opened smartly by using 12 personnel, showing some tempo, and attacking the middle right away.
They got away from it though, and couldn’t run the ball with Boston Scott, Corey Clement, or anybody carrying the rock behind this offensive line. They didn’t have success in the screen game, which would have helped alleviate Washington’s pressure.
9. Doug’s worst call?
Why in God’s name are you going for it on 4th and 4 at the Washington 45? You’re up 17-14 and your defense is playing well.
POOCH THE FUCKING BALL INTO THE CORNER!!!!!!!!
Is this new wave of analytics and aggression making us allergic to field flipping?
Have your punter aim at the pylon and kick it there. If he boots it into the end zone, fine – you move the ball a net 25 yards up the field, but the thing that you have to take into consideration is MOMENTUM, and Washington was absolutely juiced to rip off that sack and take over in Eagles territory.
Here’s the play, followed by Washington’s boosted-confidence shot down the middle of the field on their first down play:
Don’t know if that’s on Kelce, Herbig, or both, but Jon Bostic was on Wentz before any one of the four downfield receivers had even turned their head.
Just an absolutely disastrous decision with 1:18 in the third quarter. Trust your defense, flip the field, and don’t give these losers more momentum while deflating your own team’s confidence at the same time.
10. The section about the broadcast
Kevin Burkhardt and Daryl Johnston working together for the first time. Pam Oliver on the sidelines.
Admittedly I didn’t hear too much of the broadcast because my daughter is 17 months old and running around making a racket during the games. As a general statement, I’ll say that I think these two generally do a pretty good job. It was perhaps a little goofy to have a sideline reporter away from the bench with empty seats behind her, but it is what is during the pandemic. Everybody is trying to adapt.
RE: the national anthem, the Eagles stayed inside the locker room, if you care about that. One thing that was wonky was that the in-arena anthem didn’t seem to sync with the broadcast, so some of the Washington players started clapping and moving on before it was over on our screens.
Finally, the fake crowd noise is just – ugh. I dunno, it just seems forced to me, and when somebody there is pressing the buttons it’s never going to feel organic, no matter how well you think you know the hometown fans.
Maybe it’ll be a good thing that nobody is there in person to watch the Eagles’ home opener, because if it’s anything like this one, it’s gonna be ugly.