The Eagles entered a crucial week 2 matchup with the Rams with major questions about the offensive line and its ability to withstand the pass rush by Aaron Donald. They left the game with that question answered, but so many new questions popped up to take its place. Rather than rehash the play-by-play of the painful matchup, I want to zoom out and give some context on some individual performances from Sunday.
Let’s start with the most important player on the field, the quarterback. Wentz has been dreadful through the first two games of the season. In fact, he has had the same amount of games with a passer rating under 73 this season already as he did in the last 3 seasons combined. He has logged 20 off-target passes through two weeks, tops in the NFL. He hasn’t had the best protection upfront, but 75% of those off-target passes have come from a clean pocket. Carson Wentz has never been particularly accurate with a completion percentage above the expectation of 0.7%, 2.9%, and -1.4% in the last three seasons, but through two weeks of the 2020 season, his -8.8% number is truly astonishing. Which begs the question: why is this happening?
Quarterbacks don’t just suddenly regress in terms of accuracy like this.
Carson Wentz has been conditioned to believe he has to do everything for the #Eagles because they have surrounded him with no weapons. Now he has weapons and that mentality is killing him. Old habits die hard, but if they don’t die soon they will kill this season.— Shane Haff (@HAFFnHAFF_TPL) September 21, 2020
There are likely several factors contributing including new passing targets, being pressured, lack of offseason, and just being on a cold streak. I fully expect the accuracy issues to work themselves out over the next few weeks. What is more troubling is the processing mistakes that Wentz is making, most notably on the interception in the endzone while targeting JJAW.
- It was first down in a 5-point game. Don’t go for the risky throw.
- If you are going to go for the risky throw, don’t make it to a receiver who hasn’t caught a pass in over 9 months.
This is Carson Wentz though. He makes that throw 10 times out of 10. Sometimes it will result in a spectacular highlight play, and sometimes it will cost you a game. This is the double-edged sword of Carson Wentz. He doesn’t manage risk well and is always in search of the big play, and right now that big play is proving ever elusive.
It’s amazing that we live in a day and age where Siri can tell me I need to set my alarm early to catch a flight but the #Eagles can’t figure out how to get Carson Wentz out of the pocket. Droids really are going to take over the world.— Shane Haff (@HAFFnHAFF_TPL) September 17, 2020
Fire this man now. No, this isn’t an overreaction to one game. This is a drum I have been banging for years now. Schwartz had no answer for Sean McVay’s offense. None. Coming into the game, everyone knew that the Rams wanted to get Goff out of the pocket, get the ball out of his hands quickly to his first read within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, and run the ball.
Armed with that information, Schwartz devised a defensive gameplan that allowed the Rams to walk down the field on drive after drive doing exactly what everyone already knew they wanted to do. Jared Goff isn’t Kurt Warner, but the Eagles‘ defense sure made him look like it on Sunday.
Game-planning aside, the final nail in the coffin for Schwartz has to be his influence over personnel decisions. It is well documented that Schwartz is given tremendous latitude with the management of personnel on the defensive side of the ball. Let’s just run through a few of those for fun:
- Marcus Epps took the 3rd safety reps over K’von Wallace. This is the same Marcus Epps who is a marginal NFL talent at best (and that is pushing it). There was never a snap that I saw Epps in the right position to make a play.
- Nate Gerry – There isn’t one other team in the NFL where Nate Gerry would be a starter. He might not even make a roster. Gerry is not only slow (which is baffeling since he is a safety convert), but he has no clue what he is doing after the ball is snapped. I know Davion Taylor has barely played football before, but put him in the game. He can’t be worse than Gerry.
- Jalen Mills – Mills was a bad corner for the majority of his time in Philadelphia. Schwartz jumped at the chance to make him a safety, and that experiment has officially flopped. Mills isn’t a safety. For all the finger wagging and swagger that Schwartz loves, he simply isn’t a good football player. No amount of swagger can make up for poor play week in and week out.
- LJ Fort – You know what would help this team a lot? Having a competent linebacker that deserves an NFL roster spot. Be as critical of Howie Roseman as you want, but he signed that guy in LJ Fort. Jim Schwartz refused to play him and so Howie cut him. Now the Eagles are sitting here with a historically bad linebacker group while Fort is balling out in Baltimore.
I think Jim Schwartz is an average defensive coordinator in the NFL. If you could strip away all control over player personnel, I would be ok with him staying. But you can’t. Schwartz is a big ego and will have his way with his players. For that reason, he must go.
Nate Gerry is just a bad football player. He always has been, and he always will be. He will continue to be a starter as long as Jim Schwartz is the defensive coordinator, but as soon as Schwartz is gone, Gerry will be gone too.
Nickell Robey-Coleman & Avonte Maddox
Nickell Robey-Coleman was supposedly the best slot corner in the NFL, and no one could understand why the Rams let him walk in free agency. Turns out the Rams might have known something that we didn’t. Through two weeks NRC has been targeted 9 times. Those 9 targets have turned into 9 completions for 102 yards, 8 first downs, and 1 TD.
Likewise, Maddox has struggled this season. Maddox is a better slot player than outside corner. He is simply being asked to play a position that doesn’t fit his skill set. As such, he will continue to struggle.
JJAW has more drops than receptions this season (and he only has 1 drop).
The Entire Defense
Remember last week when we talked about how well the defense played? That was a fun week. The defense was atrocious on Sunday. The defensive line is filled with highly drafted and highly paid players who simply don’t make an impact. The Eagles’ defensive line sports three former first round picks in Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Fletcher Cox. They have the highest paid trio of defensive tackles in the NFL. And they have all been outperformed by a 4th round role player in Josh Sweat. The Eagles are spending $60 million on defensive tackles this season, and through two games they have combined for 0 sacks and 2 QB hits.
The linebackers are horrible as evidenced by the big runs. The Rams’ rushing attack was either stopped at the line if the defensive line won, or stopped 10+ yards downfield when a safety made a tackle. The linebackers were invisible all day.
The QB Factory
If the Eagles are a QB factory, then why is their QB1 regressing? How do they expect to develop multiple players at the position when they can’t even develop the most important one?
Doug keeps talking about having new faces. The reality is they have the same play caller on both sides, the same offense except for Reagor, and the same defense except for Hargrave and Slay. It’s a pitiful excuse that isn’t remotely backed by facts.— Shane Haff (@HAFFnHAFF_TPL) September 21, 2020
The Eagles’ Future
This is an aging team mired in big contracts and mediocrity. This is a team that has gotten off to horrible starts in each of the last two years and then squeaked into the playoffs. This is a .500 football team in the worst division in the NFL over the last two seasons. That’s not ideal. What is even worse is looking down the road a couple of seasons.
Who is there on this team that is young and worth being excited about? The only two names that come to mind are Jalen Reagor and Miles Sanders. While they are exciting players, Miles Sanders plays one of the least valuable positions with one of the shortest shelf lives in the game, and Jalen Reagor has less yards in two games than CeeDee Lamb had on Sunday.
It is even worse if you look back at the draft pick history over the last several years.
2017 – Only Derek Barnett and Nate Gerry remain. Barnett has more career penalties than sacks, and Nate Gerry is the worst starting linebacker in the NFL.
2018 – Dallas Goedert is a very good TE, but he plays behind another TE who is a top 5 player in the league. The time is coming when the Eagles will have to pick one, but for now they divide targets amongst themselves. Avonte Maddox looked promising as a rookie but has never hit his stride since. Josh Sweat tops out as a role player due to medical history, and neither Matt Pryor nor Jordan Mailata have developed to the point that the Eagles feel comfortable playing them.
2019 – Andre Dillard looked like a bust and that was before he tore his biceps. Miles Sanders is the real deal, but then again running backs are easy to find (unless you are the Eagles in a historic RB class that is). JJAW is a disaster.
2020 – Jalen Reagor looks like he could be the real deal. But on a mediocre, aging team, the Eagles’ 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round pick have combined to play 3 snaps.
Yeah, the future looks pretty bleak.
Enough of the negatives. I’m sure you didn’t come here to feel depressed. So, what went right for the Eagles on Sunday?
The Offensive Think Tank
Week 1 was an abysmal showing for the Doug Pederson offense. How did they respond in Week 2? With Aaron Donald smelling blood in the water after the Washington Football Team sacked Carson Wentz 8 times, the offense made the necessary adjustments. They rolled Carson out of the pocket, moved the launch point inside the pocket, focused on more 3-step drops, mixed in a few WR screens, and dropped the intended air yards from 12 yards in week 1 to 6.1 yards in week 2.
They even put in Jalen Hurts for a few plays, albeit as a distraction. I guess if he is going to distract the Eagles, he might as well be used to distract other teams. Ideally, you would like to meet in the middle somewhere with the depth of target on passes and still take a few deep shots, but overall the offensive gameplan pushed the right buttons in week 2.
The Offensive Line
The offensive line allowed 0 sacks one week after allowing 8 sacks. I would call that a win.
Nate Herbig allowed only 1 QB hurry on the day. A week ago I thought he played pretty well for a first start. He was very good in week 2 and perhaps can become a dependable player for the Eagles week in and week out.
Sanders’ early fumble was infuriating, and there is no excuse for it. But from that point forward, Sanders played great football. He ended the day with 95 rushing yards, 36 receiving yards, and 23 total touches. It appears that the Eagles will use Sanders as a bell cow back, finally abandoning the running back by committee approach that has been the norm under Doug Pederson.
The Eagles’ PA Operator
Whoever was running the Eagles PA system began piping in boos through the stadium loudspeakers in the first quarter. Not only was it hilarious, it was perfectly appropriate for the situation.