After a week 4 victory in prime time over the San Francisco 49ers, I was ready for the Eagles to hurt me again. They didn’t disappoint. After slogging to a slow start and digging a big hole, the Eagles fought back to give themselves a chance. But ultimately, they dropped their 3rd game of the year to the fighting Claypools. So let’s dive in and talk about some individual performances from Sunday.
It seemed like every time Slay was targeted on Sunday it was either a reception, a penalty, or a fortunate out of bounds catch that was ruled incomplete upon review. Slay did have a nice tackle early in the game, and on the aforementioned reviewed play Slay did an excellent job pushing the route to the boundary, but overall Slay really struggled and turned in his worst game as an Eagle.
If you are looking for someone to say that officiating is the reason that the Eagles lost on Sunday then you are going to have to keep scrolling. That said, the officiating was a travesty. After watching that game I don’t feel like I even understand what a catch is anymore much less pass interference.
In the last 2 games Zach Ertz has been targeted 11 times and has 15 receiving yards. This from a guy who took to the media to complain that the Eagles didn’t renegotiate his contract that still has 2 years left on it. Ertz body language looks terrible nearly every time he is on camera. It’s a bad look to throw your hands up looking for a flag while a linebacker is intercepting a pass mere feet away. Should it have been a penalty? Undoubtedly. But next time, try playing through the whistle and complain after the play.
2nd Round Draft Picks
Jalen Hurts played 2 snaps. JJAW played 8 snaps. The Eagles 2 most recent 2nd round picks combined to play 10 snaps, which is almost less receptions than the Steelers 2nd round pick Chase Claypool had.
The Eagles pass rush put up phenomenal numbers the last 2 weeks before falling flat against the Steelers. Facing a Steelers offensive line down their RT and RG, they only managed to put up 1 sack and 2 QB hits. The Eagles have poured a lot (re: too many) resources into this unit and it simply can’t have games without making a major impact.
First Down Play Calls
The offense routinely found themselves behind the sticks on 2nd down. Philadelphia faced 19 2nd down attempts on the day and the average yardage to gain was 9.6 yards. It’s hard to sustain drives when you are so ineffective on 1st down.
End of Half Clock Management
Attempting to cut the lead prior to halftime, the Eagles made a litany of errors that an NFL football team simply shouldn’t be making. John Hightower caught a pass with a clear path out of bounds and instead of taking it, he cut inside to gain 2 more yards and force the Eagles to spend a timeout. On 3rd and 1 with only 32 seconds left the Eagles called a run play to pick up the first down, forcing them to burn their final timeout. Three plays later JJAW made his first catch of the season and promptly jumped up to celebrate while time expired. Not that it would have mattered (there wasn’t enough time to spike the ball anyways), but celebrating that catch was such a bad look.
Poor clock management by the coaching staff and the players cost the Eagles at least 3 points to close the 1st half.
When you have given up 152 rushing yards and 3 rushing TDs to wide receivers in 3 games and are facing a hyper aggressive defensive front, maybe try a jet sweep or an end around? Opponents have shown the Eagles how to beat teams who prioritize up-field penetration above all and the Eagles staff seems unable to learn from watching the film. That aside, the end of game management was puzzling at best from Doug.
With 5:58 left in the 3rd quarter the Eagles score to cut the Steelers lead to 11. Rather than kicking the PAT to cut the lead to 10, the Eagles go for 2 and succeed, thus cutting the lead to 9. I love this call. Pederson was aggressive in doing so, and set himself up for 1 of 2 scenarios: kicking 3 FGs to tie the game or scoring 2 TDs with 1 additional 2 point conversion while giving up 1 TD to tie a game. If the Eagles failed to convert their 2 point attempt they simply would have gone for 2 after a subsequent touchdown to still be within a FG.
With 11:27 left in the 4th quarter the Eagles score to cut the Steelers lead to 3. They precede to kick a PAT to cut the lead to 2. Why go for the first 2 point attempt and not the 2nd? What does it gain you to be down by 2 instead of down by 3? The Eagles lost the potential to gain a possession on the Steelers when they kicked the extra point. If the Steelers score a TD it is back to a 2 possession game. If the Eagles go for 2 and miss it is the same scenario; a Steelers TD makes it a 2 possession game. But if the Eagles convert a 2 point conversion, the Steelers can’t make it a 2 possession game again unless they also convert a 2 point play. Pederson’s decision #1 set them up perfectly to go for 2 a second time to gain a possession which he didn’t take. That is baffling to me.
With 3:18 left in the game the Eagles opted to attempt a 57 yard FG attempt to take a 1 point lead rather than attempting to convert a 4th and 5. Darius Slay was out of the game at this point and the Steelers had scored on 5 of their last 7 possessions when he was in the game. Only a fluke fumble stopped the Steelers last drive. But the team was content to attempt the longest FG in the history of Heinz field and give the ball back to that offense with over 3 minutes left?
It was a cowardly decision by Pederson and, as the ensuing possession showed, would have led to a loss even if the FG had been good.
Jim Schwartz is oft a topic of this column. By my view he should have been fired years ago. Schwartz the game planner is streaky at best, and Schwartz the personnel manager is atrocious. Facing a struggling Steelers offense with an aging QB and a banged up OL, Schwartz’s defense gave up 38 points and once again let an opposing WR set a single game record.
The defense has poured so many resources into the defensive line and have failed to field a competent LB corps and secondary behind them, leading to opposing QBs simply getting the ball out of their hands quickly and Schwartz having no answer. Big Ben’s time to throw of 2.26 was 2nd lowest in the league for week 5, and the Eagles routinely allowed him to mitigate the pass rush by taking one step drops and getting the ball out to a WR on a free release. When the Eagles did get the Steelers to 3rd down the results were even worse. The Steelers converted 11 of 15 3rd down attempts and Big Ben was 13 for 13 passing for 158 yards, 2 TDs, and a perfect QB rating on those downs.
Schwartz continues to be unable to deal with pre-snap motion and WR runs, surrendering 66 yards rushing and 1 rushing TD to the Steelers a mere week after allowing 48 yards and a ground TD to the 49ers WRs.
But the most egregious instance of Schwartz’s ineptitude on Sunday came on a key 3rd and 8 when the Steelers came out in 01 personnel (1 TE, 4 WRs) out of an empty backfield. Schwartz chose to align Nate Gerry on WR Chase Claypool with the game on the line. The same Chase Claypool who had eviscerated Darius Slay all day. The same Nate Gerry that seems to wake up mid play and wonder why he is on a football field instead of bagging groceries in Nebraska. I’m sure you can guess how that turned out, even if you missed the game.
When the announcers are calling out that match-up pre-snap, when Big Ben literally walks towards Chase Claypool and tells him what route to run, how do you not have the sense to call a time out? Why is Gerry even on the field when there isn’t a running back there?
On a day when Sidney Jones had a career game in another city, in a year where Rasul Douglas has become a shutdown corner in another city, a year after L.J. Fort became a solid presence in the middle of the field for a Super Bowl contender, Jim Schwartz’s shortcomings as a coordinator and personnel evaluator have never been more glaring. But hey, at least we are doing the Jalen Mills at cornerback thing again to the same awful results.
I previously wrote this in a scouting report:
He is going to remind a lot of Eagles fans of Alshon Jeffrey. He excels in traffic, using his 225 pound frame to box out defenders and secure tough catches. He was deployed as a constant red zone threat in college, where he won despite his relative lack of athleticism and separation, with great hands an physicality.
Of course, that scouting part was about JJ Arcega-Whiteside, but I digress.
As a player, Travis Fulgham is who JJAW was supposed to be. He isn’t the most athletic, but he runs great routes and makes contested catches. Fulgham put on a clinic on Sunday, hauling in 10 of his 13 targets for 152 yards and 1 TD. He now has more career receptions, yards, and TDs in 2 games than JJAW has in 21 games. His PFF grade of 93.0 was the highest grade for a WR in the NFL in week 5. Could it all be a flash in the pan? Perhaps, but there is no reason that Fulgham should see his snaps decrease over the next several weeks. The only WR on this roster that I would give more snaps is Jalen Reagor if/when he is healthy.
Is it really even a debate who the better TE on the Eagles roster is anymore?
The Eagles fell behind by halftime, came out off the locker room and gave up an opening TD to make the deficit worse followed quickly by a Carson Wentz interception to blow the game wide open, only to battle back and put themselves into prime position to win the game before missing a field goal and then Nate Gerry getting torched for the game sealing TD. It feels like this could be the TV Guide description of every Eagles game this season.
The Offensive Line
Once again, Jeff Stoutland did a great job getting his young guys ready to go. Facing the most fearsome defensive front in the league while losing their RT early, the group played a very good game and gave themselves a chance to win. Things aren’t getting any easier with Baltimore looming next week, but you have to feel optimistic about this group moving forward. Given the level of play that Stoutland has been able to get out of them, you have to wonder if it is a misuse of resources to have so many highly paid veteran offensive linemen on the roster.
The statline may not be impressive but make no mistake: Sunday was Carson Wentz’s best game of the year. Wentz dsiplayed much better accuracy and decision making and was able to remain calm in a pocket that was constantly being pushed by one of the best defensive units in the league.
His 2 interceptions came on a timing route that 1) should have been flagged for illegal contact and 2) should have seen his TE fight through said contact to the ball, and then on a 4th and 20 desperation shot. While the interception numbers remain high, Wentz is playing much smarter football and appears to be settling in and getting more confident. 37.1% of Wentz’s passes were into tight coverage (11% higher than 2nd place) and he still managed to move the ball down the field and put up 29 points, largely without the benefit of any help from the running game or the defense.