This feature is a weekly piece on BleedingGreenNation.com titled From The Eagles, featuring Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro. The intention is to provide a perspective directly from the Philadelphia Eagles in this forum for the great fans who visit BGN.
By DAVE SPADARO
The call is coming for the Eagles to take more “shots” down the field in the passing game, to open things up, to curb, however much, the dinks and the dunks that largely defined the attack in the 29-23 overtime loss to Dallas on Sunday night.
Clearly, the Eagles need to be more explosive in the offense with the personnel they have. No magic answers are coming. The players on the field are the players the Eagles are going to have the rest of the season. This is, as we all know, a work in progress.
But the Eagles can tweak some things, and head coach Doug Pederson knows it. He’s been tough on himself as he spends the night of and the day after games analyzing every call and every execution of every call. And he’s come to some conclusions.
1. Yes, he will look for opportunities to challenge defenses more with a vertical passing game. “I don’t think I’ve called enough (shot plays) in the last couple of games,” Pederson said to me on Tuesday. “That’s part of my assessment. I’ve got to make sure I’m helping my team that way. Sometimes, too, it comes down to how well we are pass protecting, how is the pass rush. We’re on the road in a loud stadium, we’re using the silent count, we have a rookie right tackle so there are some things that play into it … I would agree that I need to call more of those down-the-field throws.”
2. The Eagles have had big plays in the making and haven’t pulled off the execution. “We’re really, really close,” Pederson said. Whether it’s a protection breakdown, a wrong route, a dropped pass or a decision from quarterback Carson Wentz to go elsewhere, Pederson looks at the film and sees that the play design and the play call is right. But in the course of the play, mistakes are made and plays break down.
This isn’t to excuse Pederson or the players. The Eagles scored 23 points at Dallas and it wasn’t enough. They rank near the bottom of the NFL in third-down effectiveness and they are 22nd in the NFL in the red zone in terms of touchdown efficiency. They have had some critical turnovers in the fourth quarters of losses at Detroit (Ryan Mathews fumble, Wentz interception) and at Dallas (Wendell Smallwood fumble) and including the Mathews fumble in the win over Minnesota, the Eagles have four turnovers in the fourth quarter of games this season. That isn’t acceptable. And it’s certainly not going to help close out games.
The level of talent throughout this offense is, of course, a question mark that collectively has to be answered. Are the Eagles good enough at wide receiver? Can they develop, or do they need to develop, a go-to running back? How is the offensive line, which was so good when Lane Johnson was on the field and now is playing two backups as starters? Can Zach Ertz become a week-in, week-out threat at tight end?
And then there is the quarterback, Wentz. He’s got every tool and he’s got the poise and he’s a leader and everybody loves him. Wentz is going to be a great quarterback in his league for the Eagles for many years. He needs more production around him, yes, and he needs to be better himself. Wentz is not perfect in his decision making, but he’s been pretty darn good. He has an accuracy that belies his lack of NFL experience, but at the end of the day, Wentz is still a rookie with seven professional starts under his belt. So he isn’t perfect.
The upshot? I think the Eagles will be more aggressive trying to push the ball down the field, as long as they are getting adequate pass protection. But I also think Pederson really believes in his scheme, and the challenge is to get players to execute the offense. You aren’t going to necessarily see a crazy, scheme-altering approach.
“We’re a little bit young at some positions on offense,” Pederson said. “My messaging to the team is, ‘No excuses.’ We’re not going to make any excuses for being young, for being old, for not being fast enough, for whatever. We’re not making excuses. It comes as a mentality. It comes as a mindset.
“Sometimes in those situations you rely on your offensive line. Your run game takes over a little bit and we’ve got to do a little bit better there. We’ve fumbled a couple of times in the run game, especially late in games and we’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s an aggressive mentality, a put-the-team-away mentality that we’ve got to continue to talk about and continue to work on each week.”