Addressing the Hot Takes

In the aftermath of a truly putrid loss, there’s been a ton of blame flying around. Let’s dig in!

Howie Roseman has drafted poorly

This is the most common sentiment I’ve seen. Does this have any basis in reality?

Not really.

At the outset, it’s important to question just how much input Roseman has had in pretty much any draft selection. Andy Reid and Chip Kelly both wielded significant power when they were here, and Joe Douglas had major input as well during his tenure. For purposes of this exercise, I am assigning 2013-2015 picks to Kelly and 2016-onward picks to Roseman. This may not be entirely accurate, but it’s the most accurate based on public knowledge. Since 2013:

First round picks: Lane Johnson (4th overall 2013), Marcus Smith (26th overall 2014), Nelson Agholor (20th overall 2015), Carson Wentz (2nd overall 2016), Derek Barnett (14th overall 2017), Andre Dillard (22nd overall 2019)

Notable day 2 picks: Zach Ertz (35th overall 2013), Bennie Logan (3rd round 2013), Jordan Matthews (2nd round 2014), Jordan Hicks (3rd round 2015), Isaac Seumalo (3rd round 2016), Sidney Jones (2nd round 2017), Rasul Douglas (3rd round 2017), Dallas Goedert (2nd round 2018), Miles Sanders (2nd round 2019)

Notable day 3 picks: 2013-2015 none, Smallwood, Vaitai, Mills (2016), Gerry (2017), Maddox (2018)

Overall, I do not think it’s fair to say Roseman has drafted poorly. He has only made three first round picks. If you subscribe to the theory that franchise QB is the most important position and that Wentz is a high quality franchise QB, Roseman has drafted extremely well. To the extent that Roseman is making draft mistakes, it appears that Roseman is often thinking too far into the future rather than looking for help now. Dillard, Jones, Goedert, Sanders, and Arcega-Whiteside were all picks for the future at the time they were made, and needing help now, none of them are in a position to make large contributions. Judging Roseman’s 2018-19 drafts right now is judging them on a different scale than he is, whether fair or not.

I do question Roseman’s roster construction especially on defense, but I don’t think that stems from the draft, and I don’t know the balance of power between Roseman and the coaching staff.

Rating: Fallacy from frustration

Doug Pederson is hurting the team with his early scripts

The basis for this one is that the Eagles consistently get off to slow starts, and since the opening plays are scripted, Doug is to blame. Does this have any basis in reality?

Eh.

Earlier this season, Baker Mayfield deflected criticism from Browns’ HC Freddie Kitchens by saying that there’s only so much the head coach can do when the players on the field aren’t executing. Right now, the Eagles aren’t executing early.

There are two major recurring problems at the start of games. First, the offensive line is extremely slow to get started. Isaac Seumalo is the weakest of the linemen and Jason Peters takes a long time to limber up. The Eagles’ running game has not been getting the job done early in the game.

Carson Wentz is 15-30 (50%) for 188 yards (6.3 Y/A), 0 TD, and 1 INT in the first quarter. That is bad. Carson Wentz takes a long time to work into the game. His processing speed and accuracy have both been extremely sub-par early in games this year. Wentz has had his lowest passer rating in the first quarter in three of his four seasons now. There is no evidence on tape that Pederson is calling significantly different plays in the first quarter.

When your OL is slow to start and your QB is slow to start, what is a playcaller supposed to do? I’m not sure there’s a solution here. Doug’s playcalling hasn’t been great, but I haven’t seen any evidence to corroborate this one.

Rating: The slow starts are real, the blame on Pederson is likely misplaced

Wentz’s receivers aren’t playing well enough

Should a franchise QB help elevate his skill position players, or should his skill positions elevate him?

Let’s look at the skill position talent the Eagles have healthy: Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Nelson Agholor, Miles Sanders. Is that an elite group without Jackson? No. Is it still a good group? Absolutely. You can look at what QBs like Kyle Allen and Jimmy Garoppolo are doing with less talent. Jacoby Brissett is doing about as well with T.Y. Hilton and a bunch of sub-mediocre talent. The Eagles’ receivers are certainly good enough.

But the question isn’t are they good enough, but are they playing well enough?

The big argument against the receivers has been the drops. Through six games, the Eagles have 10 drops. That is tied for most in the league, but it’s still a fairly insignificant amount – the middle teams have 5 drops, and at just 4.6% of passes, it’s just not a significant factor. There’s nothing in the NFL’s next gen stats that point to any major problems with the receivers – for the most part, they are generating the same or more separation as they were last year. Put simply, there’s absolutely no evidence that the receivers are letting down Wentz. It is more a matter of remembering a few killer plays (the Agholor and Goedert drops in particular) than something with a serious basis in reality.

The common wisdom is that if a receiver gets his hands on the ball, he should catch it. This is simply bad wisdom, which is why drops aren’t charted that way. Some catches are easier than others, and the easier a QB makes the catch, the more often the catch will be made. Have the Eagles dropped some easy balls? Absolutely. Every team does. You can make a drop reel for Josh Rosen. But the Eagles’ receivers are getting blamed for dropping a lot of really difficult balls, and that’s not their fault. The NFL isn’t a video game. There’s no magic that makes a bad ball instantly stick in a receiver’s hands if he gets his hands to the ball.

The receivers are dropping a lot less balls than it seems and are making a lot more difficult catches than people realize.

Rating: Misplaced blame/10

Carson Wentz played well against the Vikings and has played well all year

According to Eagles fans, Wentz has played well and his teammates are letting him down.

This is just wrong. I don’t know how else to say it. So I charted it

(As a quick aside for how I chart – I chart distance, pass quality, receiver openness, and pressure for all pass attempts intended for receivers that are not a penalty. Distance charts air yards (not total yards) as <10, 10-20, and >20. Pass quality is bad-average-good. A bad pass is one that is uncatchable or more catchable by the defense than the offense. A good pass is one that is on time and properly placed, leading the receiver and/or fitting it into a tight window. An average pass is a catchable ball that is either late or not properly placed, forcing the receiver to make a more difficult catch or slow down. Openness and Pressure are tracked as they can indicate that receivers are not getting separation or that the QB is under siege.)

Wentz has had a major issue this season with throwing catchable but misplaced balls. As a result, his receivers have looked bad as they have been unable to make difficult catches. Wentz’s poor passes are hurting his receivers more than his receivers are hurting him by dropping good passes.

Perhaps more problematically is how many yards Wentz is leaving on the field with poorly placed balls. Many big plays come from a short throw that has huge YAC. By properly leading receivers, a QB allows them to make big plays. Wentz has short circuited numerous potential big plays by forcing his receivers to slow down or turn around to make catches. Miles Sanders in particular has seen many of his wheel routes thrown well short, turning potential TDs into merely nice gains.

Against the Vikings, Carson Wentz was bad. There is no other way to put it. He threw one awful interception, but he threw three other balls that should have been intercepted, two other balls that could have been intercepted, and one other ball that required an (uncalled) OPI to avoid a potential interception. That is an absolutely abysmal rate that is completely on Wentz. I also charted an entire 0 drops, with the only receiver letdown being Ertz’s late fumble. On a few plays, receivers bailed Wentz out with difficult catches.

Wentz shows a few other issues on tape. His pocket feel appeared to be completely shot. He abandoned clean pockets and stepped into collapsing pockets. He got stuck on his first read way too long way too often. Despite not having all-22 tape, there were still multiple occasions where it was clear Wentz threw to the wrong receiver or never saw an open receiver on the broadcast angles. Alshon Jeffery in particular won many routes where Wentz never looked at him in favor of forcing a ball elsewhere. Wentz also had a habit of holding the ball too long and then forcing it to a receiver when it was too late.

Would it be nice to have D-Jax back? Absolutely. Would it be nice if Agholor was better? Yeah. Is the playcalling good? Probably closer to average. Are the receivers generating separation? Not on every play. But regardless of how everybody else is playing, when it comes down to it, Wentz has been bad. If I charted the other games, it wouldn’t be much better, if at all. You pay a franchise QB the money you do to elevate the guys you have. Wentz is doing the opposite more often than not.

Wentz has been lucky to not be picked more often than he has, but even as such, Wentz’s thousand paper cuts, in the form of difficult to catch and misplaced balls, are hurting far more than the much rarer big receiver error. The blame for the offense not functioning, right now, falls squarely on the guy short-circuiting it. On a play-to-play basis, that guy is Carson Wentz. Maybe it doesn’t seem that way while watching the game live, but going back and breaking it down on a play to play basis, it’s too glaringly obvious to ignore.

Rating: Blinders are good for horse racing but not for evaluating QB play

The Eagles secondary sucks

This has been a common refrain all season, but it has gotten especially loud after the Vikings game. But is it true?

No. It is more false than true. Look at the Eagles’ six games this season:

Against the Jets, Luke Falk played QB. That doesn’t count, though obviously the defense was fantastic.

Against the Packers, the Eagles’ D gave up lots of yards but made multiple red zone stands including two huge goal line stands late. Was it an amazing performance? No. But it certainly wasn’t “sucks” level.

Against the Lions, the first TD was a KOR, the D held the Lions to two FGs after fumbles, and had multiple fantastic drives in the second half. Despite giving up 27 points, this was a very good defensive performance, as 13 of the 27 had nothing to do with the D.

Against the Falcons, the first TD was after an interception (though still a 65 yard field), they intercepted Ryan to give the offense a chance to score (FG), intercepted Ryan again to give the offense a chance to score (27 yard TD drive), generated another interception and punt to keep the Eagles in it, and the Eagles had the ball with the chance to win at the end. If anything, the Eagles’ secondary pretty much singlehandedly kept the team in the game while the offense failed all game.

Against Washington, the Eagles’ secondary allowed two long TDs prior to garbage time. They allowed very little else.

Prior to the Vikings game, the Eagles’ defense (including secondary) was more than pulling its weight. They are tied for 4th in the league in INTs. They have been susceptible to the big play, but on a play-to-play basis, they’ve been around league average by most metrics. So the secondary has sucked at preventing big plays, but have been relatively good outside of that.

Importantly, big plays have very little to do with cornerback play. Big plays typically happen when one or more safeties fail to execute their responsibilities. On Vernon Davis and Julio Jones’ TDs, both McLeod and Sendejo made major errors. When burned by McLaurin’s TD and Diggs’ two TDs, Douglas was left defending very deep routes. On at least two of those three, a deep safety got sucked up to a shorter route leaving Douglas helpless where he expected to have and should have had help.

If the Eagles make a move for a defensive back, it should be a true free safety. McLeod has lost at least a step since his injury. Jenkins isn’t as fast as he once was. Sendejo was never known for his speed. Regardless of what corner(s) they trade for, without pressure or help, no corner will survive on an island against a fast receiver.

Ultimately, outside of a few plays, the Eagles’ defense and secondary have been good. If they want to shore up the “outside a few plays” part, they need safety help, not corner help.

Rating: Sucks is too strong, but there are problems that need addressing

Going forward

The Eagles have scored 20 TDs this season. Two of those were defensive TDs. Of the remaining 18, five (27.8%) were on drives of less than 50 yards. Four (22.2%) were on drives between 50 and 65 yards, and the remaining nine (50%) were 75 yards. The Eagles have not scored on a drive longer than 75 yards.

The stats tell a simple story for the Eagles this season. The defense is playing far better than it is getting credit for because the big plays they’ve given up have been memorable, but on a play-to-play basis, they’ve been far better than people think because they’re getting the job done on the normal unmemorable plays. The offense (and Wentz in particular) is playing far worse than it is getting credit for because they’ve been far worse than people think on those normal unmemorable plays, but many short fields created by the defense and special teams have created memorable offensive moments.

The Eagles need a better free safety. That should be priority one in the trade market and should significantly help shore up the defense’s biggest weakness. I know Jalen Ramsey is the big name, but the Eagles may be better off targeting a guy such as the Broncos’ Kareem Jackson, who would come significantly cheaper and has more versatility. The Eagles could also use upgrade(s) at LB. To the extent this roster doesn’t have enough talent, FS and LB are the areas it is most glaring.

The Eagles need better from everybody on offense. Doug has room to improve. The receivers have room to improve. Seumalo has room to sit on the bench, because it’s time to try somebody else there. But ultimately, the Eagles need better from Carson Wentz, because the QB is still the engine of the offense, and he’s sputtering.

And through all of this, the Eagles are tied for first in what could be the worst division in the NFL. If they win in Dallas next week, they’ll be in the driver’s seat with winnable games against the Bills and Bears heading into the bye and only two more particularly difficult games left on their schedule, a much easier schedule than the Cowboys. Basically, the Eagles don’t really need to be good to make the playoffs. They just need to be a little better than the Cowboys and beat up on mediocre teams.

They can do it. I think.