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8 things we learned from the Eagles’ loss to the Lions

Ups, downs, and status quos.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles lost to the Lions by one point on Sunday. Until Carson Wentz threw an interception on the final Eagles drive of the game, I thought they would win. Here’s what I learned!

1. Mychal Kendricks is not long for this team

You might’ve missed it (just kidding, literally no one missed it) but Mychal Kendricks had a very bad game on Sunday.

He missed open tackles in one-on-one situations, simply bouncing off Theo Riddick. He was beat in coverage against Riddick on the Lions’ first touchdown of the day. And he was invisible on big gains by the Lions all throughout the first half, when he was featured more in the Eagles’ nickel defense than Nigel Bradham, who took over for Kendricks in the second half, when the Eagles played substantially better on defense.

Kendricks has had four bad games this season, after a disappointing end to 2015. There was a time when the Eagles’ organization saw Kendricks as a cornerstone of the team’s defense moving forward, and it was understandable at the time. He had a very good 2014 season, he’s incredibly athletic, and he seemed to be a raw talent capable of shaping into a stud linebacker.

But the game smarts and awareness just haven’t arrived, and now he’s actively costing them yards and points during games. His snaps need to remain limited, and Howie needs to get rid of him sooner rather than later, before his trade value sinks.

2. The Eagles’ defense needs to get better at starting games

Through three games, 17 of the 27 points allowed by Jim Schwartz’s unit came in the first half. On Sunday, the Eagles allowed 21 points in the first half and three in the second half. For those of you keeping score at home, 38 of the 51 points the Eagles have allowed this season have been scored in the first half.

It’s certainly a trend Schwartz would like his unit to break, although through the first three games it hardly cost the Eagles. Typically, the opposing team would have one or two successful series, but Carson Wentz and the offense would do enough to take a lead at halftime and give the defense time to rest.

This time around, Schwartz’s defense dug the Eagles a hole so deep that, despite only punting twice all game, the offense simply couldn’t overcome in the end. A 14-0 hole before the end of the first quarter is bad (not good). That can’t keep happening.

3. Nelson Agholor is just an inconsistent player

After Week 1, I wrote that it seemed Agholor was turning a corner. After Week 5, I’m writing that I may have been a little off, although I’m not saying he’s been bad, either. For example, he had a great play in Sunday’s game that probably went unnoticed because it seemed fairly routine.

I believe it was a curl route on the right side of the field, when Agholor was being covered closely by a Lions corner. Instead of waiting for the ball to come to his chest, Agholor extended his hands and attacked the pass from Wentz, and as the Lions defender swatted at his arms Agholor held on to the ball for a good eight-yard gain.

And then, of course, Agholor got absolutely out-worked on Wentz’s interception. There is certainly room for debate over whether the throw itself was a good decision (I think it was), but Agholor was dominated, both in awareness and positioning, on that play. He had a step on his man on the play, but once he got the edge, he didn’t do anything with it.

Agholor has flashed plenty of times this season, but he needs to be much better at stringing together a complete game.

4. Ryan Mathews can’t catch a damn break

Ryan Mathews fumbled away a very good chance at the Eagles beating the Lions. By now, we’ve been over this. We’ve digested it. We’ve accepted it.

I can’t get past feeling awful for Ryan Mathews.

By most every account, he’s a great guy. He and his mother have an incredible story of how they got here (read a little bit about his life, if you haven’t already) and, from everything I’ve seen at NovaCare and in practices, he’s an incredibly hard worker.

Mathews just can’t seem to win. Very often, he finds his body failing him, limiting how much he can contribute to teams despite his desire to run through 11 defenders on every single play. And then today, he’s healthy and plays well, but he gets a helmet to the football from a defender and can’t manage to hold on to it.

It probably wasn’t really his fault — good luck to anyone trying to hold on to the ball when a defender launches his helmet at it — but Mathews owned the mistake all the same:

My two cents: don’t pile on a man who can’t catch a dang break. He made a mistake. It happens.

5. Dorial Green-Beckham is getting better, but man, you can’t drop that TD

The header kind of says it all on this topic. Green-Beckham looked better than he had all season long. His 26-yard pickup on third and eight early in the third quarter, complete with broken tackle and breakaway speed, was a great example of his speed, and his ability to play physical — when he wants to.

Because, while he looked better, he still shrank in a big moment. Carson Wentz threw DGB a dart in the end zone, right into his hands with a defender boxed out behind him. It was a perfectly-placed pass, where only Green-Beckham could catch it. And he dropped it. No interference, no post-catch strip, nothing. He just flat-out dropped the pass, a touchdown about as easy as you could ask for.

Green-Beckham, with his mind-boggling combination of size and speed, has so much potential, but he’s still playing way short of his potential.

6. Carson Wentz is an absolute stud, no matter the air yards

The air yards debate seems very silly to me, but I’m not going to enter that fray. I’m just going to call Carson Wentz a very, very good quarterback, because after four games as a professional, he’s done nothing to prove otherwise.

In those four games, Wentz has completed 67.4 of his passes, thrown for 1,007 yards, and tossed seven touchdowns to one interception. His yards per attempt? 7.46. If you’d told literally anyone, a month ago, that Wentz would have those stats one-fourth of the way through his rookie season, they would be impressed. Because those are impressive numbers.

And he makes big throws multiple times a game. Take the throw he scorched into Jordan Matthews’ hands with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter. He took advantage of a comfortable pocket and absolutely threaded the needle.

Later in the fourth quarter, with just under four minutes left, Wentz threw another dart to Matthews on a third down, keeping the clock ticking towards what, at the time, seemed to be a huge comeback win for the rookie.

Yes, he threw an interception. Some take umbrage with his decision on that play. I thought it was admirable, even if the execution was lacking. But it was just one play. For about 130 of his 135 completions, Wentz has looked like a pro, the kind of quarterback every team in the league would like under center.

7. Doug Pederson’s offense can work back from a deficit

Before Sunday, the Eagles had only trailed once this season — a 7-3 deficit against the Bears in week 2.

And then Matthew Stafford threw three first-half touchdowns and the Lions were up big on the Eagles.

What we saw from Doug Pederson’s offense, and Carson Wentz, was very reassuring: they can handle working from behind. In fact, if not for a Ryan Mathews fumble, they would have come back from a double-digit halftime deficit, certainly no small feat.

The key was not forcing the issue. Yes, Carson Wentz is the best player in your offense. You’d like to use him as much as possible, especially when you’re trailing by 11 points. But when the Eagles got the ball to start the second half, Pederson called three runs in the first five plays to move to the Lions’ 31-yard line.

Then, of course, Wentz continued to play smart football and not force any throws — until, I suppose, his final pass of the game — as they worked back and took the lead late in the fourth quarter.

Pederson showed a willingness to work within his system and scheme, and an ability to not panic when the score tilts the other way. It didn’t result in a win, but the end result was far from Pederson’s fault.

8. The Eagles are still a pretty good team

The win over the Steelers had most people feeling very bullish on this Eagles team. After all, they bludgeoned a team widely accepted as good, and looked clean doing it.

Today’s loss should temper expectations a little bit — there is room for improvement in basically every arena — but it shouldn’t deflate them completely. The Eagles are still good at football. They still have a talented defense. They still have a rookie quarterback who is as good as, and who plays like, a veteran. They still have a head coach who can call a very good game.

They also still have a running game without much consistency, but certainly enough productivity to get through the week. They also still have a wide receiving corps good enough, but certainly not without faults.

Really, the loss doesn’t change much other than the team’s record. The Eagles are for real, and the way they responded to an early hole on Sunday showed as much. They just need to be a little bit better everywhere if they want to be true contenders in the NFC.

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