Washington Loss Epitomizes Eagles Issues

by: Ryan Waldis

(Note: I’ve included GIFs of some plays from the game. To view them, simply click on any of the links in this post.)

The final score was 27-20. Make no mistake, though: the Philadelphia Eagles were lucky to have lost by seven. In fact, with roughly four minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Eagles had an opportunity to tie up a game in which they had no business being a part of.

The offense–and especially the offensive line–looked putrid all day. The defense looked more like the squads we have seen dating back to the Dream Team and less like the one we saw over the first three weeks of the season: extremely poor tackling, almost non-existent coverage, trouble getting off the field, numerous bad penalties. If it wasn’t for an 86 yard kickoff return TD by rookie Wendell Smallwood and a pick-six by Malcolm Jenkins off of a terrible Kirk Cousins pass, the score would not have been as close as it was. Still, the Eagles had a chance to right all of their wrongs by scoring seven points and forcing overtime.

Alas, a win was not in the cards for the second consecutive week. On a 2nd and 6 before the two-minute warning, Carson Wentz was sacked for a loss of nine yards behind quite possibly the best protection he had all day. On the ensuing 3rd and 15, Wentz was sacked again for a loss of nine, bringing up a 4th and 24. There would be no 4th and 20-plus yard magic on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Landover. Donnie Jones would punt the ball away and, three plays later, Matt Jones would break a 57 yard run, icing the game and giving the Redskins their fourth consecutive victory.

The Eagles no longer look like the 3-0 team that had taken the league by the storm. Calling the team a dumpster fire is a bit much, but the Philadelphia squad that dismantled the Pittsburgh Steelers three weeks ago is nowhere to be found. The rookie QB, the first-year head coach, and the hotshot defensive coordinator are facing adversity for the first time all season, and for good reason: the loss to the now 4-2 Redskins showcased the plethora of flaws this Eagles team will have to overcome if they want to rebound from two consecutive lackluster performances and stay in the playoff hunt.

The Offensive Line is Offensive

Let’s start with the most glaring issue: the offensive line. Per Pro Football Focus, Wentz was pressured on 13 of his 27 dropbacks, or almost half the time. For reference, Kirk Cousins was pressured on just 11 of his 35 dropbacks, which equates to 31 percent. For most of the day, Wentz had little time to not only make reads but also get rid of the ball. Some of the blame can be placed on rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Vaitai let up three sacks, and constantly looked lost and befuddled. That he was back on the field for the Eagles first possession of the second half is mind-boggling. Despite the coaching staff hyping up Big V throughout the week, it’s clear that the fifth-round pick is not ready to be a starter in the NFL. Below are a couple of examples:

I know there will be an adjustment period when it comes to guys like Vaitai. That doesn’t take away from the fact that Vaitai did not look very good today.

Jason Kelce also looked terrible, as he has all season. Coming into the game, PFF’s grade for Kelce was 41.2, which placed him 33rd on the list of qualified centers. It’s almost hard to believe that just three years ago, Kelce was a key cog on one of the best offensive lines in all of football. Now, he looks like a back-up at best and, if we’re being honest, someone who doesn’t belong on a football field anymore. Without getting too sentimental, I truly believe Kelce will be a great coach when he retires from the NFL someday. His time as a player, though, may be nearing an end. He just hasn’t looked the same since his sports hernia injury in 2014, and at this point he’s hurting the Eagles more than he’s helping them. He won’t lose his starting job this season, but the Eagles desperately need to find a new center this offseason. Watching interior defenders and inside linebackers continually blow past Kelce is tough, and there’s no reason to think he’ll improve enough to cement himself as the starting center for the next several years.

Amateur Hour

The coaching also has to be called into question. There are three instances that I’d like to point out from today’s game. The first was previously mentioned: the punt on 4th and 24. I agree with the decision to punt. 4th and 10 is difficult to convert, much less 4th and 24. Let’s say the Eagles don’t convert. The Redskins now have excellent starting field position and, even if the Eagles are able to force a three-and-out, Tress Way is more than capable of downing the Eagles inside their own 20, if not deeper. I liked that Doug Pederson was playing the field position game instead of simply going for it just because they were losing by seven with less than two minutes to go.

What I didn’t like, however, was Doug’s decision to take a timeout before sending the punt unit out. It seemed eerily similar to something that Andy Reid would do which, I guess, isn’t too surprising. Still, burning that timeout left the Eagles with only two (naturally). Even if the Eagles forced a three-and-out after the punt, they would have only had about 40 seconds left on the clock to get into the endzone. If Pederson didn’t waste the timeout, and the Eagles stopped the ‘Skins, they would have had over a minute to drive down the field. Doug has since come out and explained that the timeout was planned, and the goal was to get the ball back with around 49 seconds left. If that was indeed the case, I question why you’d want to get the ball back with around 49 seconds left as opposed to over a minute.

Pederson not removing Vaitai from the game is also a bit confusing. After the game, Pederson said that early on Vaitai missed some assignments, but settled in after a while. That’s all well and fine, but you don’t have to be a coach or analyst to see that Vaitai wasn’t prepared enough for the game despite what the coaching staff had been saying during the week. I was hoping that, coming out of halftime, Barbre would have been switched to RT, with Stefan Wisniewski coming in at LG. At least in my mind, Barbre and Wisniewski would have been far more effective than Barbre and Vaitai. In his post-game press conference, Pederson said “I’ve got so much confidence in all the guys. That sends a bad message to the players, the team” in regards to not making a switch on the line. I admire Pederson for being as much of a player’s coach as he is, but at some point he has to take a step back and realize that if a player on the bench will provide more value than one of the guys currently on the field, he needs to make the switch. Vaitai wasn’t ready, and leaving him out there for the entire game was stupid.

The playcalling was questionable at times, but there was one play that stuck out to me. Early in the fourth quarter, the Eagles were at the Washington 20, facing a third-and-four. I would understand why they would be hesitant to pass the ball since the pass protection was shoddy all game, but a delay/misdirection run on third down isn’t very appealing. If you’re going to run the ball on third down, I’d prefer to see the back go straight up the middle. I know they’re trying to fool the defense, but clearly that didn’t work.

Raining Yellow

Penalties, as they were last week, were a major issue. I don’t know what happened, but the Eagles have become extremely undisciplined over the past two weeks. Some of the calls were weak. I think we can all agree on that. However, the team (and the fans) can’t blame the refs week in and week out. I’ll go on the record as saying that the officiating this season has been the worst in my lifetime. I don’t know what can be done to fix the issue this season, but something has to be discussed during the offseason. In any case, take a look at some crucial Eagles penalties from today’s contest:

  • 2:22, 1st quarter: Marcus Smith got called for a chop block. Donnie Jones had just pinned Washington at their own 14, but the penalty caused the ball to be spotted at the 29. The Redskins proceeded to score a touchdown on this drive.
  • 0:25, 2nd quarter: The Eagles stopped the ‘Skins on a third-and-goal, seemingly forcing a field goal attempt. However, Fletcher Cox was tagged with a roughing the passer penalty, giving the Redskins a fresh set of downs. They scored, giving them a 21-14 lead heading into the half.
  • 10:01, 3rd quarter: On a 1st and 20, Pierre Garcon came down with a two yard reception. Ron Brooks took him down by the facemask, though, and instead of a 2nd and 18 from the 27, the Redskins found themselves with a 1st and 10 from the 13. Washington ended this drive with a field goal.
  • 5:23, 3rd quarter: The controversial block in the back penalty. Wentz had managed to evade pressure and complete a pass to Dorial Green-Beckham, who was eventually pushed out of bounds at the Washington 27 for a 38 yard gain. The penalty on Smallwood negated the gain, though, and instead of a 1st and 10 from inside ‘Skins territory, they faced a 3rd and 21 from their own 25. They punted the ball away on the next play.

Penalties are drive killers. You can blame the refs as much as you’d like (I know I was guilty of that a time or two today), but becoming more disciplined has to be a major key. It’s not a coincidence that as soon as the Eagles starting committing double-digit penalties, they started to lose games.

There are plenty of other issues that were on display today as well that I won’t go as in-depth with.

  • The defense let up 21 points in the first half for the second consecutive week. They still haven’t allowed a second-half TD, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve played exceptionally well in the second-half, more-so in the last two games than the prior three.
  • The defensive line couldn’t generate a consistent pass rush. Remember when I said that Cousins was only pressured on 31 percent of his dropbacks, whereas Wentz was pressured on close to 50? That’s a major issue with this team, and one that I pointed out before the Chicago game. This defense is built upon generating pressure from the defensive line. The safeties are obviously very talented, but they can’t make up for the shortcomings that the Eagles have at the cornerback position. When the Eagles aren’t able to generate pressure, the QB has more time to exploit the secondary.
  • Speaking of the secondary, there were several occasions where I saw Jalen Mills wagging his finger after preventing a receiver from making a catch. I admire his confidence, but my man, you need to learn that there is a time and a place for everything. You were getting torched by DeSean Jackson and Co. It’s okay to take pride when something goes your way, but don’t act like you were a shutdown corner.
  • I don’t know what it is, but it seems like this defense hasn’t been able to tackle properly since 2010, and maybe even before then. Missed tackle after missed tackle after missed tackle. It’s embarrassing.
  • This team is devoid of playmakers. I’m not trying to suggest that I want the Eagles to bring back Jackson, but this team needs someone to open the field. Agholor can be special when he gets the ball in his hands, but that’s the issue: it’s tough to get the ball in his hands. He drops his fair share of passes, and gaining separation from the defense while running routes seems to be an issue. Huff? No. Matthews? I wouldn’t categorize him as a playmaker. He’s a solid WR with the potential to be above-average, but he won’t open the field for your offense. Ertz? That dropped pass today was a killer. He’s already a top-10 TE, and he might make a run for top-five status if the team around him improves. Barner has flashes but he’s not used enough, ditto for Smallwood. Sproles is the only true playmaker on this team, but he’s being utilized as much as he can. There’s only so much he can do.

I doubt the Eagles win against Minnesota despite being at home. I don’t know when they’ll bounce back. Two consecutive divisional road games await the team after the Vikings contest. I said before this five game stretch started that the Eagles could be 6-2 going into the Atlanta game. I also said that they could be 3-5. Whatever the case, the Eagles need to regroup, battle this adversity, and come back stronger. Pederson told the team, “There are two types of people: The ones that learn from it, and the ones that don’t.” Over the next several weeks, we’ll see what category the Eagles fall under.

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