How It Began:
2:15 PM. Sunday afternoon.
All was well in Philadelphia.
Football was finally back and the city was excited. The Philadelphia Eagles were putting the usual pounding on the Washington Football Team, leading the game 17-0. Philadelphia was clearly on their way to their seventh-straight win against that team from D.C.
Even after a bad interception by Carson Wentz towards the end of the second quarter, allowing the score to reach 17-7 at halftime, there was little reason for worry. During halftime, my neighbors were out in the street with their Eagles jerseys on, laughing and throwing a football.
Then, the unthinkable happened.
Merely an hour later, it was clear to every household in Philadelphia that all was, indeed, not well. By the time the last pass fell incomplete and the game ended, the neighborhood was full of quiet unrest. I spent the late afternoon out on my block with neighbors, and there was no longer positive energy in the air.
No one was in their Eagles jersey.
No one was talking about the game.
The joy of football being back, was gone.
So, what in the world happened between 2:15 PM and 4:00 PM, from a sure victory to the agony of defeat?
I will start with how we got to feeling so good, in the first place.
The Eagles started the game off just as everyone expected. The defense was playing well, suffocating Washington QB Dwayne Haskins, not allowing him much time to throw, and making him uncomfortable in the pocket.
On the other hand, the Eagles offense also started off well. Carson Wentz was finding TE Dallas Goedert open with space all over the field. The Washington pass rush was as disruptive as advertised; but, Wentz started off handling it well, putting up 17 points on the Eagles’ first four drives.
While the Eagles were putting up points, their opponents looked as bad as expected in the first quarter-and-a-half. They were playing extremely sloppy, Haskins was erratic and inaccurate, and the defense was committing unnecessary penalties. Washington looked like a bad team playing their first game with a new coach.
Washington started the game with three-straight series that ended in punts, including a couple of three-and-outs. Eventually, they moved the ball a little bit, but Dustin Hopkins missed a 48-yard field goal attempt wide-left in the second quarter. A few drives later, the Eagles got the ball back with less than two minutes to go in the half, up 17-0.
Looking to add to their lead before the break, Carson Wentz threw a bad interception intended for Jalen Reagor.
From that play on, the rest of the game spiraled out of control.
But, before we get to all the bad that happened in Week 1, let me highlight a couple of players you should feel good about despite this Sunday’s result.
First of all, Dallas Goedert had himself a day. Eagles fans, get used to hearing this name a lot. He is a bright spot on this team. Goedert and Wentz had a great connection on Sunday.
One of the unfortunate realities of this team is the salary cap situation; Goedert stepping up is important for this team, because they can’t afford to give a long term deal to Zach Ertz. But Eagles fans, don’t fret: when Ertz gets a huge deal somewhere else, the TE position will be in fine hands with Dallas Goedert.
On the other side of the ball, Darius Slay was as good as advertised. As a rookie, Washington WR Terry McLaurin had two huge games against the Eagles; on Sunday, McLaurin was held in check with only five catches for 61 yards. Slay is a true number-one CB, who excels in man coverage and can take away the opposing WR1, proving that he is worth his big contract. They are going to need him to play well this season, as they go up against the likes of Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, Amari Cooper (twice), and DeAndre Hopkins.
In my Week 1 Preview, I said that the key to this game would be how the Eagles offensive line would handle the defensive line of the Washington Football Team. That was before it was announced that starting RT Lane Johnson would not be able to play. With Johnson active, it would have been challenging enough to keep Carson Wentz protected. When it was announced on Saturday evening that he was ruled out, it became clear that the Eagles offensive line would be in trouble.
While Wentz had some success early in the game, he was under duress from beginning-to-end. By the end of the game, he was sacked a total of eight times. After throwing an interception late in the second quarter, he looked like a completely different quarterback.
In the first half, Wentz was 14-of-22 with two TDs and one INT. In the second half, he was 10-of-20, adding another interception without a touchdown to match. Wentz was sacked four times in each half, and watching the game, you could tell the pressures had an accumulative effect. As the game went on, he became increasingly uncomfortable. It is easy to pin the blame for this game on the depleted O-line, but it is more appropriate to look to the QB and the head coach.
Doug Pederson knew, going into this game, that he was without Lane Johnson. He knew that he would be relying on a rookie right-tackle to protect his QB against one of the best defensive lines in the league. Yet, Pederson’s game plan relied on slow-developing plays with five- and seven-step drops. That is inexcusable, especially for a coach whose strength is supposed to be offensive creativity. To compound the issue, Wentz made matters worse by trying to play hero-ball instead of just throwing the ball away.
Everyone knows that one of Wentz’s strengths is making something out of nothing by extending plays and pulling off the unexpected. But, in this scenario, the QB must have the awareness to realize that any chance at success is going to be contingent on him getting the ball out quickly. On one particularly frustrating play in the third quarter, Wentz took a 13-yard sack on 3rd-and-seven at the Washington 22-yard line. The next play, kicker Jake Elliot missed a 53-yard field goal attempt, coming up just short.
Wentz must be aware, in that scenario, that he absolutely cannot take a sack. But instead, he got caught trying to extend the play and backed them up 13 extra yards — those kind of mistakes are not acceptable from a player in his fifth season. Wentz also had two fumbles, one of which was lost. It is not news to anyone that he struggles to hold onto the ball when he is hit, as he’s had 48 fumbles in 57 career games.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I still believe Carson Wentz is the answer at QB for this team; but, Sunday was not a good showing for him, and if this team is going to fight for a playoff spot, he must be better.
Which brings me back to the head coach.
Doug Pederson’s game plan to start the game was a good one, but he never adjusted. After having his QB sacked four times in the first half, he seemingly made no adjustment in the game plan to get the ball out faster.
As is often the case with Pederson’s play calling, the run game was virtually non-existent. That is understandable, considering the state of the offensive line and Miles Sanders being out for the game, but it was so ineffective that they couldn’t even keep the Washington defense honest in the second half.
As for the Eagles defense, overall, they didn’t play a terrible game. The Washington Football Team only had one drive that was longer than ten plays. The Philadelphia run defense looked great, as they held Washington to a measly 2.2 yards-per-carry. But, the Eagles defense was continually put in bad situations where the opposing team had a short field. 17 of the 27 points scored against the Eagles defense were the result of giveaways or turnovers-on-downs. Both of Carson Wentz’s interceptions led to Washington touchdowns.
In an ideal world, you hope that the defense picks up their QB and holds the opposing team to, at least, a field goal in those situations; however, it is not very often that a team wins a game when they lose the turnover battle, 3-0.
WTP (WHAT THE PHILLY):
One play on Sunday stands out from the rest as a microcosm of how the Eagles’ day went.
Late in the third quarter, Doug Pederson decided to go for it on a 4th-and-4 from the Washington 45-yard line. Full disclosure: I am usually a huge fan of all the analytics that go into these kind of decisions, these days.
But, in this situation, the Eagles are clinging to a 17-14 lead.
Carson Wentz has not looked himself for much of the third quarter, having just thrown incomplete passes on second and third down. You are up against a team with a lackluster offense and a young QB. Your defense has been playing pretty well but has given up two touchdowns when you gave the other team a short field.
The decision is easy: punt the ball. Force Dwayne Haskins to march down the field against you. Play the field-position game.
But instead, the Eagles decide to go for it on fourth down, and the play is over before it begins.
As soon as Wentz gets the snap, LB Jon Bostic is in the backfield and sacks him for a nine-yard loss. Haskins gets the ball at the Eagles’ 46-yard line, gets a couple of first downs, and kicks a field goal to tie the game early in the fourth quarter — and Eagles fans everywhere were left to sit on their couches saying, “What The Philly!”
There is a lot of work to be done for Philadelphia as they enter Week 2. The season is not lost; it is just one game — but they need to fix their issues quickly.
The offensive line is not going to be a strength overnight, or at all this season, for that matter. But, the head coach needs to understand his team’s weaknesses and game plan accordingly. The star QB needs to play as well as he is being paid to play.
This team does not have enough offensive talent for Carson Wentz to be anything other than the best player on the field.
Next up, the Philadelphia Eagles face the Los Angeles Rams, another talented defense that specializes in getting to the quarterback. The question remains, will Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz adjust enough to give their team a chance to win?
(Featured Image Credit: Philadelphia Eagles)