Last night’s game ended very late. Publishing things at 2:00 A.M. doesn’t make much sense, and also I was tired. So here’s a handful of spare observations from last night’s game:
1. A bad decision
Doug Pederson’s explanation for punting the ball away from the Dallas 36-yard line with 7:17 to play, up seven points, is excruciating:
Pederson cites field position for why he punted in instead of kicking a 53yard field goal in the fourth. #Eagles— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroCSN) October 31, 2016
I think that’s a pretty bad explanation, no matter who your kicker is. If you hit that field goal, you get to pin the team behind the 25-yard line on the ensuing kickoff. That’s good field position. If you miss the field goal, the opposing team gets the ball on the 36-yard line. Not ideal, but it certainly isn’t midfield. Trust your defense.
However, the Eagles don’t have just any old kicker. They have Caleb Sturgis. It sounds funny to phrase it like that, but Sturgis has made 17 of 18 field goals this season, including three of three from 50+ yards. He’d made a 55-yarder just a couple hours earlier, on the same field, in the same arena, at the end of the first half. I’m not sure what magic is happening in Sturgis’s leg, but he’s basically automatic right now.
In that scenario, Pederson absolutely has to trust his players: trust Sturgis to make the kick, or trust the defense to hold up if Sturgis misses.
But don’t play field position when a 10-point lead changes the dynamic of the game entirely.
2. Marcus Smith, super hero
On last week’s post-victory BGN Radio, I said Marcus Smith was starting to really impress me, and John Barchard and James Seltzer laughed at me. Ha! Smith looked very good again on Sunday night. He picked up a sack on Prescott, made a handful of very solid plays against the run, and generally flashed on a good number of his 15 snaps. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m surprised he didn’t see the field more often.
He’s no Brandon Graham, but considering the way his first two seasons played out, Smith’s growth is definitely encouraging.
3. Just catch the dang ball
In 2015, according to Sporting Charts, the Eagles led the league (if you can call it that) in drop rate, dropping 6 percent of targets from Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez. The second-closest team had a drop rate of 5.2 percent. Through seven weeks, the Eagles ranked seventh in the league at 4.4 percent, which feels conservative.
In Sunday night’s game, Carson Wentz had 11 incompletions on 43 attempts, at least six of which were drops. A friend texted me last night after Dorial Green-Beckham’s egregious drop on a slant route and basically asked how it’s possible that professional wide receivers are dropping this many passes. It’s reached the point where it’s hard to believe. It almost feels like a prank.
Carson Wentz’s most ardent critics want him to take more shots down the field, which is a flawed criticism for more than one reason, but since we’re talking about drops — why? So his receivers can just drop the ball further down the field? So his contributions can be wasted in a more spectacular manner? Wentz wasn’t perfect last night. At least a half-dozen passes needed to be placed much better.
But when his wideouts and tight ends are flat-out dropping passes at a mind-boggling rate, it sure is hard to blame the rookie.
4. DGB looks better
All that said, Sunday showed a legitimate step forward from Dorial Green-Beckham. He had a few bad drops of his own, as he has all season long. But on the plays in which the ball was actually caught, Green-Beckham showed a level of production we hadn’t seen this season. Wentz was clearly looking for him early on, and it showed in the five catches for 55 yards he finished with.
The Eagles still need more wide receiver talent, but if Green-Beckham can become even a semi-reliable playmaker for Wentz to trust, that changes the dynamic of the Eagles’ offense immensely.
5. Keeping Zeke contained
The Eagles held Ezekiel Elliot to 17 carries for 78 yards in regulation on Sunday night. He finished with 22 carries for 94 yards because Jim Schwartz’s unit couldn’t hold up against a Cowboys offense which found a rhythm at the worst time for the Birds.
But, overall, keeping Elliot in check like that is quite a feat. He came into the game averaging over 140 yards per game — ONE HUNDRED FORTY — in his last four outings. That’s an insane number. To go to overtime and still keep him under 100 yards, without Bennie Logan in the lineup? I was very impressed.