Plus, grading the Birds and Jets
Last Sunday against the New York Jets was the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense’s turn for a complete game. The unit dominated from beginning to end. If not for a trick play run right after a turnover by punt returner Corey Clement, the Eagles’ 31-6 victory would have been a shutout.
As it is, the win was punctuated by 10 sacks, three takeaways, two defensive scores and just 128 net yards for the opponent.
So when will it be the offense’s turn? After all, this unit hasn’t had one of those kinds of games yet in which it clicked from the beginning and just kept going.
Nobody is quite sure, but everyone agrees that the offense hasn’t been as potent as everyone expected.
Injuries to wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery and tight end Dallas Goedert certainly have played a big role. However, nobody is ready to use that as an excuse. Quarterback Carson Wentz hasn’t been as accurate as usual, either, with a completion percentage of just 60.3%, which ranks near the bottom of the NFL.
Victimized by a league-high 10 drops, according to the Washington Post, Wentz would have a completion percentage of 66.1% had receivers held on to every one. Yet that still would rank just 15th in the league.
What’s more, they’re heading to Minnesota this Sunday to face the Vikings, who feature a defense that’s “about as good as you’re going to see in the NFL,” according to Eagles center Jason Kelce.
So perhaps a complete-game expectation for the offense is unrealistic at this time.
“I mean, you know, I don’t think [the offense has] been terrible,” Kelce said. “I think we can definitely do better. And obviously it wasn’t great last week against New York. But it’s not like we’re out there not putting up any points. I think this notion that we’re going to go out there and play a complete perfect game, every single week is a little far-fetched. These guys are good that we’re playing against too, especially this week.
“But that’s the goal every week. So we’ve been working on starting off faster, working on trying to iron things out. The run game has been there one week. The next week it kind of stalls out. So we’re just working on trying to get better at all facets.”
Wide receiver Nelson Agholor pointed out how work doesn’t always produce immediate results but always produces eventual ones.
“What you put in doesn’t always show itself right away, but it’s going to show up at the right time,” Agholor said, “and I’ve got a lot of faith that we’re going to keep working and we’re going to cash in soon.”
Putting together a complete game, as always, starts with the little things. For the Eagles’ offense this week, that means not allowing the crowd noise at U.S. Bank Stadium to create false starts, picking up the confusing blitz packages the Vikings throw at opponents, limiting penalties and not forcing the deep ball if it’s not there
Then there’s the No. 1 priority: ball security.
Wentz talked about that when asked if the offense has the potential to produce multiple long scoring drives if the vertical component is taken away, which has been mostly the case since Jackson was injured in Week 2.
“Take care of the ball,” Wentz said. “I know last year that’s something we didn’t do as well against these guys. We were able to move the ball ... but we’ve just got to take care of the ball and stay ahead of the chains.”
Pederson acknowledged this game is just the first of six straight against exceptional defenses. But he too had no answer on when the elusive complete game will come.
“This is a really good opponent,” he said. “It’s a good test. They have a good defense, good offense, they’re well-coached, and they’re a disciplined group. But this is the start of kind of that run you’re talking about for us. If you want to get to where you want to get to at the end the year, these are games that are sort of benchmark games for us.
“We need a great game plan on both sides of the ball, really all three phases. Players have to execute that game plan. We have to handle crowd noise this week. It’s a loud, loud stadium obviously, so it needs to be a great week of preparation. Guys need to be dialed in.”
And they need to go for the full 60 minutes. Or longer, if necessary.
No more long stretches of offensive inefficiency. That won’t work anymore, regardless of how good a punter Cameron Johnston may be.
Grading the Game
Here’s how the Philadelphia Eagles graded out in their 31-6 triumph over the New York Jets
Offensive line: B-
Protected quarterback Carson Wentz and cleared the path for an effective running game, even though the Eagles averaged just 2.9 yards per attempt. Excessive penalties bring the grade down a notch.
“The penalties just put us in too many long situations today, second-and-long, third-and-long,” coach Doug Pederson said.
“We could have played a lot better offensively, especially up front and in the run game,” center Jason Kelce added.
Wentz didn’t turn the ball over and made some good decisions to check out of potential trouble at the line of scrimmage. However, he misfired more than usual (17 for 29) and continued to put himself at an elevated risk by scrambling on some plays when he just should have thrown it away. After five games, there is just about no chance of him making it through all 16 in the regular season (and whatever might come after it) if he continues down this path.
“You always want to make a play for your team, especially on third down,” Wentz said. “That fighter mentality, that I’m not going to go down and I’m going to make a play, is something that I am always trying to juggle and balance.”
Wide receivers: C
This is just a guess because of how little they were involved in the offense on this day. Alshon Jeffery was targeted eight times (with six catches), Nelson Agholor three times (one catch) and Mack Hollins once (no catch) — and that was it. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside played a total of just two offensive snaps and none on special teams. So why exactly was he dressed?
Tight ends: B-
Zach Erz (five catches, 57 yards) caught his first TD pass of the season. Dallas Goedert had two drops but continues to do the job in the running game.
Running backs: C
Jordan Howard has established himself at the top of the pecking order and had another nice game (13 carries, 62 yards). Rookie Miles Sanders is still trying to balance the downhill approach vs. bouncing outside and sometimes gets caught in the middle with indecisiveness. Darren Sproles is injured. Again. What a surprise.
Defensive line: A+
Let’s see, this group was primarily responsible for stuffing Le’Veon Bell (15 carries, 43 yards) and pressuring the quarterback. Eight of the Eagles’ 10 sacks came from this group, and Brandon Graham finished with a career-best three. Keep in mind, too, that defensive tackles Malik Jackson (out for the season) and Timmy Jernigan (reportedly out 4-6 weeks) as well are out of the picture.
“They have a great running back is very patient and balanced,” defensive end Derek Barnett said. “He usually makes the first guy miss, so we had to rally to the ball a lot. After we were able to do that, we were able to get our chances to rush a little bit.”
Nate Gerry’s 51-yard interception return for a touchdown punctuated the day for this group. Nigel Bradham is rarely out of position. Kamu Grugier-Hill is still finding his way back, though one of his three tackles was behind the line of scrimmage.
Defensive backs: B
Many of the sacks, including the strip that cornerback Orlando Scandrick returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, were the result of blanket coverage on the back end. Safety Rodney McLeod (interception, team-high six tackles) is quietly having himself one hell of a bounce-back season after a knee injury wiped out most of 2018.
“I told Malcolm [Jenkins] during the week that safeties need to get on the board some way, one of us, and I was glad to do that,” McLeod said.
Special teams: B
Cameron Johnston’s 44.4-yard net average included three punts that pinned the hapless Jets inside their 20. Sproles added a 16-yard punt return. Jake Elliott remained perfect on field goals and extra points. But what in the world was Corey Clement, a third-year veteran who should know better, thinking on the muffed punt that cost the Eagles a chance at a shutout?
He originally made the choice to get away from it, then decided to try to field the bouncing ball in traffic, thinking it might have bounced off teammate Ryan Lewis. It didn’t.
The preparation, game plan and play-calling all were on point offensively. Head coach Doug Pederson couldn’t help it that Wentz wasn’t his best and was victimized by drops on top of his misfires. He also didn’t have anything to do with all the penalties that set his squad back.
The defense was burned on a trick play (reverse) immediately following a turnover after the winner had been decided. For that, coordinator Jim Schwartz gets a mulligan.
Pederson said in a TV interview after the game that they wouldn’t have been able to beat a playoff-caliber opponent with the game they played on Sunday.