Eagles notes and news for 10/22
THE EAGLES have lost their last two games mainly because they were outplayed early; they fell behind, 14-0, at Detroit and at Washington. In both games, they took a ridiculous amount of penalties and were mistake-ridden enough that, had they managed to pull out a win in the final minutes, it would have felt like thievery.
And yet, both weeks, that opportunity was there. Carson Wentz and the offense failed to seize it.
The bigger-picture issues of Sam Bradford facing Wentz, or the defense's inability to stop the run Sunday, or rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai's awful debut in place of Lane Johnson, have tended to dominate Eagles discussion this week. But with the Birds facing a Minnesota Vikings defense that has allowed the fewest points in the NFL, and Minnesota ranking 30th in NFL offense, it's quite possible we're looking at a close, low-scoring game Sunday.
The kind of contest that could be won or lost on a late-game drive.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Friday he thinks Wentz has the right stuff to prevail in such situations, but, as a rookie with only five starts under his belt, he's still figuring out the logistics.
"The thing you want to see from that guy is, you just don't want to see him waver. You want to see zero doubt. You want to see all confidence," Pederson said. "And, obviously, the one player that comes to mind is Brett Favre for me, the one that I spent eight years with (as a backup QB in Green Bay).
The decision to trade Sam Bradford, who will return to Philadelphia with the Vikings on Sunday, and promote Wentz into the starting quarterback spot was done for myriad reasons, but mostly to get on with the future.
That the future could come so quickly seemed improbable, but Wentz proved to be at a level beyond his years, and a 3-0 start suggested that perhaps the Eagles were farther along than had been projected. But two straight losses, especially an all-encompassing defeat at the hands of the Redskins, substantiated the preseason belief that the roster had holes.
Does that mean the Eagles can't topple 5-0 Minnesota or navigate through a difficult remaining schedule - opponents have a 43-21 combined record - and contend for the postseason? No. Wentz gives them there most formidable presence at quarterback in a decade and it's not as if the lineup is without talent.
But he is still a rookie, and the Eagles are weak at too many key spots to think that a new right tackle would turn the squad's fortunes. Halapoulivaati Vaitai will start in Johnson's place for the second straight week, not because he's the best option, as coach Doug Pederson said, but because the powers-that-be see something in the fifth-round rookie.
Is he ready? No. Could he be benched by the half? Maybe. Will he develop into a starter? Who knows? But there's only one way to find out. And the Eagles are seemingly willing to roll the dice because as much as it may seem on a micro level that they can compete, this season ultimately should be about the macro.
Sunday’s game is a huge test for the Eagles’ rookie quarterback. The Birds really need a win after dropping their last two game. Wentz will be looking to rebound after having the worst outing of his young career against Washington.
It won’t be easy for Wentz. The 23-year-old passer will be tasked with trying to have success against the best defense in the NFL. Minnesota leads the league in interceptions (7). The Vikings also rank first in sacks per game (3.8).
Mike Zimmer’s team is bound to make life very hard on Wentz. Minnesota was the best blitzing team in 2015, per Football Outsiders. Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich had very high praise for Zimmer’s defense this week.
“Everybody runs the Double-A Gap system, but in my mind, this guy is the master of it,” said Reich. “Zimmer is the master of it. It’s his baby. He probably didn’t invent it, but he’s mastered it. They run every kind of combination there is known to man. They know exactly what you’re doing. What takes it to a different level, is they know what you’re trying to do. They know what teams have done to try to counter it. So they try to counter that and it’s just a cat-and-mouse game that you play.
Two moments stand out to Mychal Kendricks from his playing days with his brother, Eric Kendricks.
The first came against rival Fresno High. Mychal was a senior and Eric just a sophomore at Hoover High School that year. Both linebackers, Mychal manned the middle while Eric played the weakside, where he took his share of lumps early on.
“It was a crack toss, and he got cracked and broke his ribs,” said Mychal, whose Philadelphia Eagles host Eric’s Minnesota Vikings Sunday. “I remember going into, like, super-insane mode. I was crazy. I started crying, like, ‘They hurt my brother!’ Like red in the eyes, bro. And I just took over that game. We came out with the win.
“That was a real moment for me, just because when you’ve got a guy who goes down who you work with all the time, and then he’s your brother, it sinks in a little deeper.”
Father Marvin Kendricks recalls a slightly less sympathetic version of the story.
“I remember that game. It was kind of funny because Eric came to the sideline, and was whining like a little baby, you know? ‘I’m hurt.’ Mychal said, ‘Eric, welcome to the varsity... This is varsity football, don’t be whining.’”
Defenders aren’t running to the ball. They are running to where the ball will be in 1 or 1.5 seconds. You have to take the correct angle of pursuit. Eagles players are not getting to the right spot. They are compounding that by not being in good tackling position. You see them reaching and grabbing. You would rather have them wrapping up, using the whole upper body to take down targets. It is harder to miss when you wrap and it is much harder for the offensive player to break the tackle.
It felt like the defense was trying to do too much the last couple of weeks. Defense requires the right combination of discipline and aggression. The aggression is there, but the discipline is not. Schwartz talked about the importance of the 2 penalties on Fletcher Cox the last 2 weeks. They cost the team 8 points (maybe more…never know if those teams miss the FG). The Eagles might have won the Lions game without that penalty.
Schwartz talked about he motto we’ve heard a lot in the NFL in recent years – Do Your Job! That’s defense at its best, 11 guys doing what they are supposed to. That helps them to function as one and makes life tough on offenses. Defenses get into trouble when players either freelance or try to do too much. Suddenly there is a gap open or a receiver isn’t covered. Just do your job. Don’t overcompensate for the guys around you.
Schwartz needs his guys to slow down and just play fast. Huh? Right now they are too fast. Don’t go 75 mph when the road calls for 55 mph. Be smart. Be disciplined. Do your job.