Plus team notes for this week.
Not a lot went right for the befuddled Philadelphia Eagles in Sunday’s 38-20 drubbing at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings. Beaten on both sides of the ball, their shortcomings on defense were exposed most of all.
Here’s a closer look at the game’s most crucial plays and what exactly went wrong.
• Vikings’ 3rd-and-13 conversion from Eagles 49.
This play on Minnesota’s opening series was labeled by defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz as a “big play in the game” He was correct.
With the Eagles in quarters coverage, the Vikings kept eight in at the snap, using their tight ends to chip the defensive ends as the Eagles countered with a standard four-man rush. Adam Thielen ran a route straight down the left side before cutting to his right, where safety Rodney McLeod had been stationed perfectly for the breakup or interception — until he vacated his post and moved into teammate Rasul Douglas’ outside quarter zone in anticipation of a pass that wasn’t thrown there.
Thielen broke in behind McLeod for a 16-yard reception to keep a game-opening touchdown drive going, and the Vikings would never trail.
“I mean, we gave up a first down,” Schwartz said. “That’s all that needs to be said. Whether it’s a missed tackle, whether it’s a miscommunication, technique error, nobody cares. They still moved the sticks. ... Obviously we address it in meetings, on the sideline, and talk about how next time we have to play it this way. This is what happened on this play. You don’t put your head in the sand on any of those
“... For us to get our team to where we want our team to be, we have to do a better job of that defensively, particularly early in the game. Saw it in the Jets. Quick three-and-out. All of a sudden that was rolling. Getting momentum can change quickly in games, and I think that’s a good example right there.”
• Eagles’ failed third-and-2 conversion from the 15.
After a penalty by Rudy Ford on the kickoff return had them starting on the seven, the Eagles soon after faced this third-and-two and decided to run it with Howard, who was stopped by Shamar Stephen for no gain.
Stephen was guard Isaac Seumalo’s responsibility. But Seumalo actually did his job on that play, initially blocking Stephen before having to peel off in an attempt to cut off speedy middle linebacker Eric Kendricks, who was crashing in uncovered.
Howard would have been able to bounce out to the left side for a big gain had wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who was in motion from the right and prides himself on his blocking, sealed off cornerback Xavier Rhodes. But he didn’t, and Howard was trapped inside and dropped at the line of scrimmage.
Maybe the quicker Miles Sanders would have been the better option to carry the ball there.
Regardless, that failure helped set the tone for the game.
• Vikings’ second-and-5 play from their 49.
The faulty instincts of third-year cornerback Sidney Jones were on display on this simple quick out from Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs, who turned it into an 18-yard gain to originally put the Vikings into range for Dan Bailey, who eventually converted from 39 yards to give his team a 10-0 lead.
Jones was singled up with Diggs on the outside before the snap, giving him a seven-yard cushion that probably was a little too generous. Then at the snap, as Diggs turned sideways to catch the instant pass, Jones took an initial step backward, creating a cushion of almost nine yards.
By the time the ball arrived, Jones had closed the gap considerably. But perhaps because he felt he wasn’t close enough to keep going straight at his target for a tackle, he stopped in his tracks, allowing Diggs to make an inside move and produce a damaging play.
• Vikings’ 62-yard TD pass from Cousins to Diggs.
Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas clearly was playing outside leverage on Diggs, who simply ran past Douglas like he was standing still to help the Vikings go out to a 17-3 lead.
However, Douglas was playing as if expecting deep help where Diggs was running. Instead, McLeod, who was on Douglas’ side, locked his eyes and body on the receiver cutting across an underneath seam, Thielen, allowing Diggs to run unchecked on a slight slant toward the hashmarks.
The Eagles plugged up those gaping holes on defense for the most part in the second half, but too little too late against an opponent with a defense that was not going to allow them to get to 39 points under any circumstance.
The most troubling aspect is that the small details are killing the team just as much as the big ones, and there’s not enough talent to overcome the confusion.
This Week's Team Notes
As expected, the Eagles on Tuesday cleared cornerback Jalen Mills, who remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list with a foot injury, to practice.
The clearance gives them two options over the next 21 days: Activate him or place him on injured reserve, which would require him to miss at least eight more games from the time of the transaction.
Clearly the Eagles are hoping he can contribute this year, especially because injuries to Ronald Darby, Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones and Cre’Von LeBlanc have thinned their depth all season.
Le’Blanc (foot) won’t be eligible to play until they host the Chicago Bears in Week 9 (Nov. 3). Maddox on Tuesday was spotted for the first time without the neck brace he had been wearing since he was injured late in a Week 4 win at Green Bay.
Jones already has returned from his hamstring injury, and coach Doug Pederson on Monday sounded optimistic that Darby (hamstring) will be able to follow suit soon.
Mills declined interview requests on Tuesday, saying he’ll speak Wednesday.
Last week, linebacker Zach Brown criticized Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins, a former teammate of his, as the weak link in the Vikings’ offense. Cousins would go on to thrash them for 333 yards and four touchdown passes in a 38-20 victory Sunday.
Brown was released the next day. More on that in a minute.
Listen to former longtime Dallas Cowboy Orlando Scandrick’s praise of the Cowboys offense as he and the Eagles prepare to face their division rivals Sunday Night football.
“Dynamic running back, dynamic receivers, hall-of-fame tight end, amazing offensive line, a lot of good complementary players,” the veteran cornerback said. “When they’re clicking on all cylinders, they’re executing, they have a heck of a football team over there.”
No mention of quarterback Dak Prescott, another one of his former teammates.
Sure sounds like Scandrick is hinting that the goal for the defense this week is to get the ball into Prescott’s hands as much as possible, which is what Brown spelled out about Cousins the week before.
Despite starting every game and most recently playing 82 percent of the defensive snaps in Sunday’s loss, Brown’s Eagles career is over after just six games.
Could it be because of his ill-advised comments about Cousins?
Possibly. But there is little question that if he had been more productive, he’d still be on the squad.
Because the move wasn’t announced until after Pederson spoke on Monday, we won’t hear from him about Brown until Wednesday before practice.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz wouldn’t shed much light on the decision during his Tuesday press conference.
“Well, that is probably more of a question for Doug and [general manager] Howie [Roseman],” Schwartz said. “I will say this: We need more production from our linebacker position in general. We are also trending to get — Kamu [Grugier-Hill] is coming off of his preseason, so to speak. We’re excited about getting him back in a role that he had done a good job in through the spring and summer until he got injured, so that will be good to get him back. Had a little experience last year.”