An Eagles vs Ravens Haiku
Slow out of the gate,
The offense came roaring back
So close, yet so far
The Eagles came off of a close loss to a difficult opponent in a disadvantageous spot in week 5 and followed it up with a close loss to another difficult opponent in yet another disadvantageous spot in week 6. What went wrong? What went right? Let’s dive in and talk about some individual performances from Sunday.
Jake Elliott has only made 1 of 4 field-goal attempts from beyond 50 yards this season. If you go back to the start of 2018 (when everything started to go downhill for this team), he is only 5 of 13, 2nd worst in the NFL in that time span. In 2017 I was positive Elliott would make a kick when he ran onto the field. Now I assume that he is going to miss and I’m pleasantly surprised when one goes through. The kicks he is missing aren’t exactly short, but when your only job is to kick the ball through the goalposts and you continue to fail on a weekly basis you get placed in the stock down portion of my column.
Catching Wide Open Passes
There were more than a few drops on Sunday, but 2 were especially damning. On the opening drive, John Hightower dropped a wide-open pass on 3rd and 23 that would have been a first down and maybe a touchdown. It would take the Eagles 25 minutes of game time to pick up their first 1st down following this drop. This drop took at least 3 points off of the board (assuming Elliott would have made the field goal attempt, which is no guarantee). The other drop of consequence happened late in the 2nd quarter when Miles Sanders dropped an open pass in the endzone.
The Eagles would end that possession with a turnover on downs. In a game that came down to a 2 point conversion attempt, 10 points taken off the board with 2 massive drops loomed large.
I don’t ask for a lot from NFL broadcasts. I don’t care if they have cool graphics or if they have sideline reporters. What I do care about is having someone in the booth who will talk intelligently about the game, especially while showing replays of big moments. The broadcast on Sunday, as well as many others this season, failed miserably in both of those areas. Heck, if giving informative commentary is too much to ask for I will gladly settle for just being able to see replays. Get on it NFL.
The Offensive Line
Carson Wentz was sacked 7 times and hit an additional 17 times on Sunday while drawing 2 roughing the passer calls. It isn’t exactly the offensive line’s fault. After all, they have started 3 left tackles, 2 left guards, 5 right guards, and 3 right tackles this season. But their performance was very bad on Sunday, and most of the issues started and ended with the play of Jamon Brown. If the Eagles weren’t on a short week I would imagine that Brown would have been cut today. But since it is a short week he will likely be the starter on Thursday night unless Matt Pryor is able to play.
The “Carson Wentz is Injury Prone” Narrative
Carson Wentz has been sacked 25 times this season, more than any other QB in the NFL. He has been hit who knows how many times. And every time he has gotten up, walked back to the huddle and played another down. This isn’t to say that Wentz won’t get injured sometime this season. In fact, it would be a miracle if he survives 10 more games of offensive line play like he has dealt with the first 6 games. But when you take as many shots as he has without getting injured you aren’t an injury-prone player. Wentz has a body that is built to withstand the pressure of the NFL, and 1 fluke knee injury didn’t change that.
End of Game Management
With 1:55 left in the game and 1 timeout, the Eagles faced the most important play of the game: a 2 point conversion to tie it up at 30. Breaking the huddle late, the Eagles got to the line and Wentz changed the play, rushing to snap the ball as the play clock dwindled down. The play ultimately failed and the Eagles lost the game.
Doug Pederson should have known what his 2 point conversion play was if they scored a touchdown before the drive ever started. The Eagles were down 8 points. It isn’t like there was ever an option to kick the PAT. When the play call came in late, the Eagles should have used their time out to figure out what they wanted to run. With 1:55 left it isn’t like that timeout was that important. If the 2 point conversion failed (which it did), and the onside kick failed (which it did), that time out wasn’t the difference between winning and losing the game.
With a 40-second play clock, the Ravens could drain about 15 seconds of time running plays (5 seconds per play) and another 80 seconds of time between plays with the Eagles only able to stop the clock after first down. If the punt also took 5 seconds, that would leave the Eagles with 15 seconds to go 40 yards and attempt a game-winning field goal.
The odds of that sequence of events: 1) The Eagles forcing a 3 and out 2) going 40 yards and getting out of bounds in 15 seconds 3) Jake Elliott hitting a long field goal to win the game were much lower than the odds of the time out making a difference on the 2 point conversion play.
Last week we saw the Eagles refuse to spend a time out with Nate Gerry lined up on Chase Claypool on a key 3rd down. This week it was the game-deciding 2 point conversion play. The Eagles must make better use of their timeout moving forward.
For 4 weeks Slay was everything we imagined. In week 5 the wheels came off and week 6 wasn’t much better. Slay struggled against Marquise Brown on Sunday despite what the stats say. The defense played much more zone than normal against the Ravens so the defense could keep eyes on Lamar Jackson, and I think it is likely that Slay is still playing at less than 100%, but his play has majorly regressed after such a strong start.
It isn’t often that you can sit on the bench and see your stock rise, but when Jamon Brown is your backup that is exactly what happens. Matt Pryor is suddenly one of the most important players on the team heading into Thursday night. Let’s all hope he is healthy.
The Josh Sweat hype train continues to move ahead at full steam. Sweat logged 5 tackles, 3 TFL, and deflected a pass on Sunday. He continues to outperform Derek Barnett (who also is having a good year) and push for more playing time. If Sweat continues to play at this level he will force the Eagles to make a difficult decision about Derek Barnett and his 5th-year option at the end of this season.
I think it is safe to say that Travis Fulgham wasn’t a flash in the pan. Against elite cornerbacks, Fulgham still answered the bell with 75 yards and 1 TD on 6 catches. He also drew a pass interference call that moved the ball another 49 yards. Carson Wentz having someone that he can trust to throw the ball up to when nothing else is working is invaluable for this offense, especially since nothing else is really working right now. On Sunday Fulgham became the first Eagles since Terrell Owens to score a touchdown in each of his first 3 games.
I make no secret about the fact that I don’t like Jim Schwartz. But, I’m always willing to give credit where credit is due and Schwartz made some smart adjustments on Sunday. Facing an athletic QB Schwartz chose to play athletic freak Davion Taylor at linebacker. Schwartz moved Rodney McLeod into the box and put Elijah Riley in centerfield, rightly discerning that the Ravens rushing attack was more important to focus on than vertical routes down the middle of the field.
Schwartz schemed for his defensive ends to attack the mesh point hard and spun his outside linebackers outside into contain, forcing the Ravens to make quick decisions in the read-option game. It all translated into a containing the Ravens rushing attack until it didn’t. Given the talent deficit on the field, Lamar Jackson finally got his yards, but Schwartz didn’t make it easy on him.
When you play 1 snap and you catch a TD pass your stock goes up. I don’t make the rules.*
*I have been informed by my editor that I do indeed make the rules. So I hereby decree that if you score a TD on 100% of your snaps you will always have a place reserved in the Stock Up column.
The offense was floundering. Six straight possessions without a first down. Six possessions with a total of -12 yards of offense. Then Jalen Hurts entered the game and picked up the Eagles first down. Hurts ended the day with 23 rushing yards and a three-yard reception, but he also played a large role in Miles Sanders’ big run. When Hurts is on the field defenses have to account for him. The Eagles would be wise to continue to expand his role as the season goes along. Ideally, they won’t wait until they are in a 17-0 hole next time.
2020 has been an unprecedented year in a lot of ways. The wave of unprecedented activity has extended to the Eagles injury report. The number of injuries that the Eagles have had to deal with this season is insane.
How do you overcome that? What is the solution? I don’t know the answer to either of those questions, but I do know that I’m beyond ready to get back to normal. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards anytime soon as the Eagles have confirmed that Zach Ertz is expected to miss a month with a high ankle sprain, Miles Sanders is out for at least Thursday, Jack Driscoll is out at least 2 weeks, and Malik Jackson is out for 2 weeks. K’Von Wallace also sustained an injury on Sunday but there has been no word on his timeline.
Doug Pederson’s Job Security
Doug Pederson isn’t going anywhere. Not that he ever was, but when seasons go south people start talking crazy. Regardless of media or fan perception of this team, they are still fighting every week. Playing the odds stacked against them they play hard every week. They buy into what Doug Pederson is telling them and they fight. Doug Pederson is exactly the leader that this team needs right now.
Building off of the previous point, the Eagles have faced the 2 best DVOA defenses in the NFL in back to back weeks while being SIGNIFICANTLY shorthanded. The Steelers defense gives up an average of 16.3 points per game, but the Eagles scored 29. The Ravens defense gives up an average of 15.2 points per game, but the Eagles put up 28. Sunday was the first time this year that the offense hasn’t put up more points than they did the week before (missing the mark by 2 points). If they can start getting some guys back imagine what the offense can do?
Davion Taylor finally made his defensive debut on Sunday. He didn’t play a lot, but he got on the field which is a milestone worth celebrating. Taylor only played 11 snaps but he made 3 tackles including a great play to run down Lamar Jackson.
Make no mistake, Taylor misplays his assignment on this play. He is responsible for contain, spinning to the outside to fill the void left by the defensive end. The difference between Taylor and Nate Gerry is this: Both would have messed up the assignment; only one of them has the athleticism to recover. Davion Taylor should continue to play and eat into Nate Gerry’s snaps.
If you walked away from Sunday’s game blaming Carson Wentz then I don’t know what to tell you. You obviously have a vendetta against the man that nothing I can write will change. Wentz was a warrior on Sunday. He was sacked 7 times, hit 17 times, and pressured on 47% of his dropbacks. And yet, he clawed his way back into the game. He finished the game with 49 rushing yards, 213 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, and only 1 turnover (a fumble that was the result of a fantastic defensive play).
Wentz had a time to throw of 3.27 seconds against the Ravens, only faster than Baker Mayfield for the week. His aggressiveness rating was 22.5%, 6th in the league. Translation: Wentz held the ball longer than 30 other starting quarterbacks and still had to throw into tight windows more often than 26 other quarterbacks.
Playing behind an offensive line who couldn’t block anyone, throwing to receivers that nobody has ever heard of (seriously, tell me you know who Jason Croom was before the game), against the best defense in the NFL, Wentz was a dropped pass away from winning the game. Incredible.
Up next, the Eagles face a pitiful Giants team on a short week. If the last 2 weeks have been difficult opponents in disadvantageous spots, this week is an easy opponent in a disadvantageous spot. Hopefully this week the moral victories will translate into an actual victory and the Eagles will regain the division lead.