Can’t be mad after that one.
It was an entertaining game, Jalen Hurts impressed, and the Eagles didn’t damage their draft position. For a lot of fans, that was probably the best outcome you could ask for, i.e. “show me something” at the tail end of this forgettable season. They busted their butts in Arizona and there won’t be any criticism in this column about the effort and heart we saw on Sunday evening.
It’s glass half full today. A moral victory Monday in the Delaware Valley. Losing always sucks, but when you go on the road to play a good team and you’re missing three starters in the secondary, 80% of the offensive line, and playing a rookie QB in his second game ever, then expectations have to be adjusted appropriately. Considering the circumstances the Eagles found themselves in, that performance truly was admirable. They could have very easily folded after going down 16-0, called it a day, collected the paycheck, and got back on the plane.
I resigned myself to defeat when DeAndre Hopkins went up and caught that ridiculous fourth quarter touchdown pass. Every week we see an opposing skill player do something the Eagles’ skill players simply cannot do, and the only thing we can do as fans is accept this and hope that Howie Roseman (or a replacement) does a better job finding those players in the future.
Combine that gap in talent with a lot of self-inflicted mishaps and an appalling special teams day, and it’s easier for us to compartmentalize that performance and separate the good from the bad in a very obvious and constructive way.
1. Jalen Hurts – throwing the ball
It looked bleak when he air-mailed a pass that was almost picked off before taking an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone, resulting in a safety.
We blinked and looked at the TV screen and the Eagles were down by two full scores.
But there was so much to like about the 4th drive, when he took the Eagles 74 yards on seven plays, mostly with his arm. That was probably the most interesting part of playing from behind, because you’d think people would slap the “he can’t throw his way back into the game” label on Hurts, same way they slap it on Lamar Jackson.
Is Hurts capable of doing it with his arm?
Yeah, that appears to be the case. He had some really nice sideline tosses to Jalen Reagor and Alshon Jeffery on that drive, then hit an open Dallas Goedert before lofting a ball up to Reagor in the end zone that was just a little too floaty. Nice to see the downfield shot though.
Take a look at his passing chart and what I circled in yellow:
That is a ton of sideline targets, with barely anything around the hashmarks. This is very much the opposite of a typical Carson Wentz chart, where you would see a lot of those short middle seam and mesh zone buster type of routes to Zach Ertz.
Keep an eye on this moving forward, because it will trend in a direction where the receivers start to get more targets than the tight ends, and the Eagles will start to move away from 12 personnel.
2. Jalen Hurts – decision making
The safety on opening drive is a rookie mistake. It happens. When you commit intentional grounding in the end zone, you cough up two points.
I also saw a bad zone read on the second drive and thought there were a handful of plays where he was a little hesitant reading the defensive end. On that one in particular is was third down and he absolutely could have cooked the linebacker, Isaiah Simmons, for a first down.
The sacks are hard to evaluate properly. We’re talking about the 13th offensive line combination this team has rolled out in 14 games. NFL record, according to the broadcast, which is insane.
In general I though Hurts just showed a ton of poise and didn’t seem rattled or flustered by the poor start. That shouldn’t be a surprise, though. We’re talking about a guy who played more than 50 games for Alabama and Oklahoma. Big games against big teams, chock full of future NFL players. National title games and Big 12 and SEC title games. That’s the benefit of drafting a four-year player out of Bama and OU.
The only thing that feels like a concern at this point is ball security. Hurts fumbled again in this game and got lucky that the ball bounced out of play. If he’s gonna be moving and using his feet a lot, then it’s something to focus on moving forward.
All good otherwise.
3. special teams disasterpiece
Possibly the most brutal special teams day of my lifetime. I’m 36 years old and can’t remember anything worse, off the top of my head.
It started with a blocked punt, then they lost Cameron Johnston to a head injury, so Jake Elliott had to punt. Later on, with Zach Ertz filling in as the holder, Rick Lovato messed up a long snap and they blew an extra point.
Gotta be honest; I’ve been doing this column for four years now and I cannot remember ever writing Lovato’s name in here. Not once. He’s always been so consistent and steady that there has never been a need to mention him, and that’s how it should be if you’re a long snapper. It’s kind of like being an offensive lineman, where your name doesn’t pop up unless you screw up.
Doug Pederson mentioned after the game that Ertz is indeed the back up holder, and that he gets reps during the week. Doug said he wasn’t sure how much Lovato and Ertz were able to work on the sidelines following Johnston’s injury, because he was in the thick of the game and calling the plays.
Anyway, the Birds also got torched on a fake punt in the fourth quarter, with the game tied at 26. Luckily the defense came back in and got a stop to force a punt.
And from a macro-level viewpoint, they keep putting Greg Ward back there to return punts even though Reagor had a TD return two weeks ago.
Safe to say, this has not been a good season for Dave Fipp. Might be time to starting thinking about a replacement.
4. red zone bread and butter
Little bit of Xs and Os here.
Doug Pederson LOVES this Greg Ward corner target in the red zone. He’s run variations of it over the past two years, most famously when the Eagles beat Washington in Washington last year. In that case, they put Ward in the slot and ran some interference to the strong side while sliding him out the back.
In this game, the Eagles show double stacks, they get man coverage, and then it’s a seven route (corner) for Ward with Alshon Jeffery below him running a five-yard out route:
— Nitrogen Sports (@NitrogenSports) December 20, 2020
It’s basically two receivers, one going to each pylon, high and low.
Ward is great on these. He’s only 5’10”, a slot receiver, so common knowledge would say he’s not a typical red zone target. But he’s really good at getting up and timing these jumps, and he’s got a lot of athleticism. Good day for him, good play call here from Doug.
5. Josina Anderson needs to give it a rest
Big nothing burger before the game when Adam Schefter came out and reported that Carson Wentz was “not pleased” with his benching and how it was handled. Wentz, according to sources, would seek to go elsewhere if Jalen Hurts remained starting quarterback in 2021.
This is not a story. Seriously. A guy is unhappy with benching and seeks trade? This happens regularly in professional sports. Do we expect Carson to just take his benching in stride? The guy is competitor and he wants to play. It would be more of a concern if he took his benching with no problem and didn’t put up a fight.
Of course, like clockwork, here comes… Josina Anderson! Again! She cannot help herself and jumped in to slander Wentz for the umpteenth time:
Wentz is good person, going through a frustrating time in his young career. Doesn’t change he’s a central figure in his own performance, despite contributing factors. It’d be wiser to remain a good sport, rather than hv stories leak making him appear selfish hours b4 game time.
— IG: JosinaAnderson (@JosinaAnderson) December 20, 2020
“Rather than have stories leak” is her roundabout way of saying that Wentz’s camp leaked the story on game day. What we know about Anderson, however, is she cannot be trusted and nothing she says can be taken at face value because she has had an agenda against Carson Wentz for years now.
I don’t know what her problem is, but it’s so obvious, so ridiculous, and so unprofessional. And Adam Schefter is Captain Obvious, reporting from the bridge of the U.S.S. Obvious, currently sailing over Obvious Bay. OF COURSE Carson Wentz is disappointed with his benching. Schefter’s report may be 100% true, but this Wentz pile-on is pretty sad to witness. I feel like we’re raking him over the coals and kicking him when he’s down when none of us as fans know the guy personally, nor can we speak to his behavior in the locker room. All we have to go by is reporting from media types, some of whom are reputable and some who are not.
6. Mistakes and breaks
I was hammering out the mistakes list in the first quarter, but grateful to slow up as the game progressed and they started getting it together.
- having to burn early timeout to get settled on defense
- Kevon Seymour hit to the head to wipe out a third down stop
- Hurts first quarter safety
- Miles Sanders dancing around on 2nd down and doesn’t move the sticks
- bad zone read on 3rd and 1 to end a drive
- Derek Barnett with another dumbass late hit
- Jalen Mills missed tackle on first ‘Zona scoring drive
- blocked punt
- Javon Hargrave 3rd and 5 neutral zone infraction for an automatic first down
- fumbled snap on extra point
- Hargrave with another 3rd down penalty (negated by an immediate false start)
“We self destructed in the first quarter,” Pederson said afterward.
RE: Barnett, I don’t know if he’s a “dirty” player per se, but he seems to pull at least one stupid penalty per game. Only he knows if he’s intentionally being a butthead, but defensive players should know by now that refs are calling pretty much anything these days. If it looks like the guy is going out of bounds, just let him go out of bounds. There’s very little upside in planting Hopkins on his ass in that situation.
- no review on the possible first quarter fumble, but they forced an Arizona fumble on the very next play
- Cardinals not securing that interception on first Philly drive
- Cardinals running a ridiculous two-minute drill before halftime
- Travis Fulgham able to fall on Hurts fumble
- Kyler Murray horrendous red zone interception
- not sure that was defensive pass interference on Patrick Peterson, the long sideline toss for Alshon Jeffery
- Kliff Kingsbury using a timeout on that 4th and 8 at the end of the game to get defensive personnel set
Anybody else think Kyler Murray wasn’t totally himself in this game? Lots of sliding, didn’t want to take any hits, almost like that shoulder was still bothering him and he was trying to play it safe. He still had a 400-yard passing game and put up some great stats, which is insane, but something about him felt… off. Not sure if that’s a reasonable take or not.
7. Ancillary wins and losses
Look at this and tell me how they lost:
- won time of possession 32:13 to 27:47
- +3 turnover margin
- 6-18 on third down (33%)
- 3-4 on fourth down
- held Arizona to 3-10 on third down (30%)
- lost 33 yards on six sacks
- 3-4 success rate in the red zone
- 9 penalties for 69 yards
- 26 first downs, 26 for Cardinals
- ran 79 total plays, Cardinals 68
On a normal day, 32:13 in TOP with a +3 turnover margin would see the Eagles win by double digits. Those are numbers that look very similar to what we saw from the 2017 squad. Good example here of just how much that first quarter hurt them, plus the special teams errors.
8. Doug’s best call?
The 4th and 3 touchdown call for sure. Obviously they had nothing to lose in that position, down 19-7 and looking for momentum after going down 16-0 early. That’s the one benefit of having very little to play for and finding yourself with your back against the wall.
The 4th and 6 near midfield, down one score, was a LOT more risky, but not unexpected considering the fact that their punter was injured and not available at the time. I just wonder if they should have gone for two on the extra point that ended up being a bad snap. True, it wasn’t Ertz’s fault, but considering that Johnston wasn’t available, maybe in hindsight it would have been better avoid that situation entirely.
9. Doug’s worst call?
That 10 yard loss on the failed reverse, I think you just chalk that up to a good defensive play and missed Dallas Goedert block.
But the 3rd and 6 screen pass on the first drive of the second half left something be desired. They didn’t need to throw sideways there because they were having success driving the ball down the field. There were a couple of instances, where I felt like they were just wasting plays, if that makes any sense. Too many no-gain or low-gain plays where they just weren’t setting up 2nd and 3rd downs that were as manageable as they were last week. In the Saints game, Doug seemed to link together his play-calling in a really smooth and sequential fashion, whereas this week I felt like there were hiccups along the way.
10. The Aqib Talib contrarian take
Brandon Gaudin and Aqib Talib called this game. We don’t get the A or B broadcasting teams anymore.
I’m pretty sure Talib said the word “man” at least 200 times in this game, which Glen noticed right away:
If you take a drink every time Aqib Talib says “man,” you’ll be unconscious by the end of the 1st Quarter.
— Glen Macnow (@RealGlenMacnow) December 20, 2020
…but I thought his analysis was pretty good. He’s a five-time Pro Bowl cornerback and his knowledge of the defensive backfield is second to none. There were a couple of moments where he was describing coverages and strategy and explaining rules in a way where you could tell he played the game at a very high level.
Obviously people had a problem with his delivery. Not sure if you’re one of them, but I personally don’t care how the color commentator delivers his words if he or she is accurately describing what’s happening in the game and helping the viewer learn. You can coach him up on public speaking and enunciation and help him eliminate those crutch words, which a lot of new broadcasters struggle with.
Think about Ike Reese, Jon Ritchie, Ron Jaworski, Hollis Thomas, and any number of local football guys who went on to do radio and television. Were these guys linguistic virtuosos right away? No, they were athletes making a transition, and there was always going to be a learning curve when entering a brand new profession. To their credit, these guys typically improve over time as they became more comfortable with the job and act on the advice they receive.
So I understand, it’s distracting to hear Talib say “man” 400 times on the broadcast, but you can fix that. You can coach that and polish that up. What you can’t artificially infuse is the wealth of playing experience he brings to the broadcast. He knows what he’s talking about, and he was excited to call the game, which is a breath of fresh air after listening to numerous old dudes who are just phoning it in, going through the motions, and collecting a paycheck.
For those reasons, I’m not gonna kill Aqib Talib. It’s hard to go from playing football to talking about football on a television broadcast that millions of people are watching.
That’s my take. Good morning.