The Eagles suffered a bad loss to the Redskins. As always, we learn things about a team after a game. After a loss, they’re usually not good.
Hot start was a bit misleading
The Eagles last two games don’t erase the previous three, but a lot of controllable things that went right in the 3-0 start are suddenly absent during their two game losing streak. Doug Pederson was pragmatic, thoughtful, and consistent before the bye. Since then, he’s done a 180 in some regards. After excellent clock management to start the season, he had a highly questionable timeout strategy on Sunday when he chose to take a timeout before punting. He once again failed to lean on his tight ends to supplement a struggling group of WRs. The struggles of the offensive line contributed, but there is no reason for Zach Ertz to not get targeted until the 4th quarter. Defensively, the slow starts before the bye didn’t harm the team, but since then have put the team in a hole it can’t dig out of.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai wasn’t ready
The Eagles coaching staff, in particular Jeff Stoutland, spent all week praising the readiness of Vaitai, and they were embarrassingly wrong. The decision to keep Allen Barbre at guard, where he’s been good, for continuity was logical, but it was prefaced on Vaitai being good enough to warrant starting. He wasn’t, and we shouldn’t have expected a 5th round rookie who spent all season inactive to step in and ward off a good veteran pass rusher in Ryan Kerrigan. The coaches should have too. It’s not Vaitai’s fault he wasn’t good enough, blame the team for thinking he was.
Jeff Stoutland needs to shoulder blame
Speaking of Stoutland, it’s fair to question the job he has done. In 2013 the Eagles line was great, but it had four returning starters we already knew were good to great, with the fifth member the 4th overall pick. And no one missed any time. Of course the line was good. In 2014 and 2015 the team didn’t draft any linemen (though they did sign Alejandro Villanueva, who is starting for the Steelers at left tackle, as an UDFA. But they tried to make him a DE), in part because of the confidence they had in Stoutland to coach up journeyman veterans and undrafted free agents. He hasn’t. As noted above, Allen Barbre has played well this year, but he didn’t in 2014 and 2015. Matt Tobin looked like he might be a useful player early in his career, since then he’s been passed by Vaitai, who needed help after three plays in the NFL. Dennis Kelly, Tanner Hawkinson (you probably don’t even remember him) and Barrett Jones were 2012 and 2013 draft picks, and UDFAs Malcolm Bunche, Michael Bamiro, Brett Boyko and now Darrelle Greene (whose roster status will change while you’re reading this) were all touted as diamonds who needed some polishing. It’s not Stoutland’s fault the team has given him so many UDFAs to work with, but the total lack of development of any of them is concerning. As is the play of veterans. The line struggled in 2014 when starters were replaced through injury and suspension, and in 2015 it capitulated when the team started the season with first choice players. The lone starter he had in his prime, Jason Kelce, has regressed under his watch. And his players have been fairly undisciplined, committing too many and too costly penalties.
Stoutland came with a strong reputation in the college ranks at Miami and Alabama, and the Eagles liked him enough to keep him on the staff when they changed head coaches, but in the NFL he hasn’t done much to maintain that reputation.
Jalen Mills needs to cool it before he gets a reputation
Jalen Mills had another rough start, getting picked on short and then beat deep, with Kirk Cousins bailing him out on one occasion by missing DeSean Jackson and Jackson dropping a pass. That’s going to happen when you’re a rookie giving up a couple of steps on a WR. But when the going wasn’t bad, Mills was pathetically cocky. Anything remotely positive happening in front of him, he was waving his finger like he was Dikembe Mutombo. Except Mutombo would do that after actually making plays, while Mills was finger wagging off target passes. He’s going to look like an even bigger fool against the better QBs coming up on the schedule.
Doug Pederson gets another emotional intelligence test
Jeffrey Lurie hired Pederson in part because he felt he had the “emotional intelligence” to lead a team of adults. He got his first test this summer when Sam Bradford pouted about the Eagles drafting Carson Wentz, and Pederson passed it with flying colors when Bradford ended Operation Shutdown II and praised Pederson’s leadership during it.
This week he gets a more immediate challenge: Stefen Wisniewski’s selfish and negative behavior. Wisniewski’s comments are the kind that start a rift in a locker room, and it’s up to Pederson to navigate it to a resolution that is best for the team, whatever the outcome may be.
Carson Wentz is the offense
The Eagles can’t run the ball with any consistency. They can’t catch the ball with any consistency. The offensive line looks really bad without Lane Johnson. And yet the offense isn’t completely inept, because Carson Wentz is running the show. This entire season gets graded on a curve due to a rookie quarterback, and while Wentz’s end of the last possession plays were poor in both games, his overall performance has been hugely impressive. The next game they play poorly because of him will be the first. Just a little bit of help for him would go a long way for the offense.
Eagles depth is almost non-existent
We hoped that Chip Kelly’s predictable system was making players look worse than they were, which in some cases was true, but mostly the depth on this team is bad because the players are bad. The offensive line went from good to bad when one starter went down. It will be downright awful if another is lost, and with two starters over 30 and another with an injury history, the chances are sky high that happens. The secondary is solid when everyone is in the lineup, but when Leodis McKelvin misses time it struggles, because they have no real depth. The Eric Rowe trade was questionable at best and now looks pretty much indefensible. Mychal Kendricks struggles when he sees playing time, and Stephen Tulloch has looked like a guy who was available in mid-August, which he was. The further you go down the WR depth chart, the more lost you get. When the Eagles have everyone available and playing, they play well. But they just don’t have the horses to compete when they’re missing pieces. Over the course of a season, depth can sink or swim teams.
Jim Schwartz ain’t going anywhere
Before the season started, some were concerned that a good season by the Eagles defense would see someone scoop up Jim Schwartz. When the defense started the season playing lights out, that fear grew. The those fears were always premature, and the last two games have illustrated that. Jim Schwartz is still a top tier defensive coordinator, but if there’s stock to had in coaches, his isn’t high.
It’s not all bad: special teams are still good
There was legitimate concern that the lower tempo of practices under Pederson would have a large negative impact on Dave Fipp’s special teams units. That fear hasn’t been realized. Wendell Smallwood had a clear path to the end zone on his kick return touchdown to highlight the unit on Sunday, but they’ve been good all year. Donnie Jones has had a good year so far, after looking lost in Miami Caleb Sturgis looks like a bonafide kicker under Fipp, Darren Sproles is still a good punter returner, and the coverage units have been fine. We probably won’t get one of those games where special teams accounts for three scores, but it’s shown up every week as a solid unit.
Sunday is going to be ugly
Even with Lane Johnson, the Vikings wrecking ball of a defensive line was going to give the Eagles problems. Without him, Carson Wentz is going to be under attack all day. It could be a very long game if the Eagles can’t suddenly fix it. And they won’t, because they had months to figure it out for Sunday and didn’t.