Eagles news and notes for 11/30
Eagles-Packers: The hit was crushing in every regard, to both Aaron Rodgers and to the Eagles' chances of beating the Packers on Monday night, and the damnedest thing in its aftermath was that Fletcher Cox didn't think he had done anything wrong.
Third and 4 for the Packers late in the third quarter, the Eagles down by four points and desperate to get the ball back, and Cox couldn't help himself. Just after Rodgers threw an incomplete pass, Cox delivered a blow that a pro wrestler would have been proud of, using his left arm to clothesline Rodgers as if the removal of Rodgers' larynx were Cox's only aim. It was an obvious roughing-the-passer penalty, and it helped turn what should have been a Packers three-and-out into a 13-play touchdown drive - the third time this season that Cox has committed that infraction on third down, the third time that the opposing offense scored a touchdown on the extended possession. Yet in the Eagles' locker room after their 27-13 loss, Cox copped to disputing the call with the official who made it.
"He just said it was one of those things where it was close, so he's got to call it," Cox said. "That's how they're protecting the quarterbacks. . . . I thought it was a clean hit until I got up and saw the flag. I thought it was a clean hit. Like I said earlier, it's hard to really stop 300 pounds when you get going."
Hard to stop, sure, but lately, harder to start. For a six-year contract extension worth $63 million in guaranteed money and that could top out at $103 million, the Eagles have for seven consecutive games seen Cox deliver a sliver of the production that a player paid so much ought to deliver. After winning the NFC defensive player of the month award for September, after racking up 11 solo tackles and four sacks in his first four games, Cox has eight solo tackles and no sacks since. He had an assisted tackle Monday; that's all.
The Birds are far from being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but it wasn’t difficult to see how deeply their hopes were dashed on Monday Night Football. While Philadelphia is 1.5 games behind Washington for the second wild card spot, they rank 11th in the NFC behind five other teams vying for the final postseason berth.
The focus of the team seems to have shifted toward making sure guys don’t give up in the final five weeks of the season, which is a mentality you don’t typically see from a team who feels like they have a lot left to play for.
“We got to keep all the young guys in the right direction, staying positive, coming to work [and] not going off the reservation,” said Jason Peters, who felt the team “needed” to beat Green Bay to have a shot at the playoffs before the defeat.
“We just have to keep plugging along,” Carson Wentz added. “We can’t throw in the towel.”
“We’ll see what guys are made of,” Malcolm Jenkins noted. “You just want to make sure that the team stays together and that we just continue to prepare and continue the process.”
Doug Pederson set the tone when he addressed the team in the locker room after the game. His message? We’ll see over the next five weeks who really wants to be here.
Let’s start with something that should be an obvious fact in sports, no matter what level. Effort is a minimum. Forget about size, talent and everything else. Anyone on Earth can play hard. And they should.
Doug Pederson is sending the wrong message by talking about effort as if it is a big selling point on this team. I have no problem when a coach mentions effort. I can live with “We played poorly, but I liked our effort.” There is only so much a coach can say publicly after a tough game. Standing in front of the media and ripping the team to shreds just isn’t going to happen. I really don’t understand why some fans would even want that.
On Monday Tim McManus asked Pederson about the fact he went out of his way to praise the team’s effort. McManus pointed out that the Eagles have been in playoff contention all year. Why should effort be the standard for this team to shoot for? Why does the fact the team is still playing hard tell Pederson that the team is heading in the right direction? Great question and dead on the money.
Stammer. Deep sigh. Stammer. Stammer.
Pederson then eventually got into discussing that this team is building for the future. There is a plan. There is a process. He talked about where Seattle and Oakland are currently and that they’ve been building to this over the course of years. Pederson sees the Eagles there in 3 or 4 years. I sure hope he’s right.
Perhaps if the season was flipped on its head, this whole thing would be more palatable for Philadelphia fans. Perhaps if the Eagles started slowly, didn’t exceed expectations early and then showed signs of growth, everyone would have understood that this was a rebuilding year.
But it was fair for fans to forget all that while watching their team dispatch a Super Bowl contender and move to 3-0. At that point, “forget the damn rebuild; they can win this year!”
A lot has happened since then. The Eagles have shown their inexperience at several key positions, including at quarterback, where Carson Wentz has regressed into at least looking like a rookie. The team’s vaunted defensive line has failed to get much pressure in recent weeks and $100-million-man Fletcher Cox hasn’t had a sack in two months. And the team’s weaknesses at wide receiver and cornerback have been exposed time and time again.
It all hit a low point on Monday night when all those problems played out against an opponent that was on its heels. The Eagles just aren’t ready to deliver that knockout punch.
Still, for a team that has spent the majority of 2016 in playoff contention, effort seems like something that shouldn’t be questioned. Pederson on Monday was astutely asked why effort is now a benchmark for the team’s progression.
“I just think that we've given ourselves opportunities,” Pederson answered. “If we just make a few more plays, just one or two more plays in some of these ballgames, the outcomes are different and we're not talking about this right now.
It wasn’t like the Eagles gave up a ton of points — or even a ton of yards, at least by current NFL standards — in the loss. No, it was death by a thousand cuts for the Birds. Or, if you prefer, death by a thousand third down conversions.
"Yeah, I think so," Malcolm Jenkins said when asked if this was the most frustrating defensive performance of the season. "We're one or two plays here and there on every drive where [if we make the stop] we're off the field. It was just one of those things where we knew we had to be patient. We knew [Rodgers] was going to run around and make plays. We would just have to hunker down and eventually make a stop, so we knew the drives would be long but we just couldn't find a way to get that one play."
As Jenkins said, the Eagles defense just couldn’t get off the field, allowing the Packers to go 10-for-14 on third down. That’s not just bad, that’s the worst performance by any team in the league this season.
And, suddenly, something that had been a strength became a glaring weakness for the Birds.