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Pumping The Brakes on Some Early Eagles Narratives

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It’s not as bad as it looks!

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Hey everyone! Remember last year when we were constantly subjected to the incessant reminder of how awful our wide receivers were, and how the Eagles needed to address those needs in the offseason, and how Carson Wentz was going to need weapons if we wanted him to be successful? Wasn’t that repetitive, doom-and-gloom storyline that we were constantly beat over the head with your favorite part of the season? No? It wasn’t?

WELL TOO BAD, because the Eagles 2017 season isn’t even 21 days old and we already have not one, not two, BUT THREE - yes, you heard me, THREE - negative narratives for us to argue with each other about. I really wanted to ride this one out since the season is so young but it’s just been so constant that I feel compelled to address them. Hold onto your hats because it’s time for some Matt Takes.

So what are these three big narratives? From what I’ve seen they generally follow along these lines:

  1. THE EAGLES OFFENSIVE LINE IS BAD!
  2. DOUG PEDERSON WON’T RUN THE DAMN BALL!
  3. THE RUNNING BACKS ARE TERRIBLE!

There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s dive in.

THE EAGLES OFFENSIVE LINE IS BAD!

I’ll address this one first, since it’s kind of connects all three storylines. It’s also the one that holds the most merit. On the whole, the Eagles’ line has generated little to no push up front and has allowed Carson Wentz to be hit nineteen times, which is most in the NFL. Offensive lines are unique in the NFL in that, outside of the quarterback, they are the only players on offense to play every snap together, so to play well they need cohesion. You can’t get cohesion unless everyone is working together, and there’s one player in particular who is throwing a monkey wrench in the whole thing: Isaac Seumalo.

Seumalo’s case is an interesting one considering that he started a few games at different positions last year and looked pretty good. He looked so good, in fact, that the coaching staff gave Howie the green light to unceremoniously dump Allen Barbre for a conditional seventh-round pick. From there, Seumalo’s play has declined dramatically.

My guess - outside of him not being at his natural position, center - is that Seumalo as a young player developed a case of the Agholors. His debut as a starter was a little rocky, and as a result he’s now thinking instead of simply just playing. Some time on the bench would probably do him good. Unfortunately, Doug has no plans of this just yet, which is mildly frustrating because there is a pretty clear contingency plan for this.

We have Wisniewski just sitting on the bench when he would probably be a starter on half the teams in the league (or at least on the Giants). Wiz’s natural position is also center, but give him a few games at guard to see if he plays better than Seumalo. In the meantime, you can start grooming Isaac to take over Kelce’s spot next season, because it’s increasingly clear that he needs to go. And if Wiz doesn’t seem like he’ll work out at center, throw Chance in there to the wolves and address the problem in free agency or the draft next year. If you’re down to your third-string guard you’re probably screwed at that point anyway.

It’s that simple. Bench Seumalo, prepare him for center, and see what Wiz can do. This isn’t hard, Doug.

DOUG PEDERSON WON’T RUN THE DAMN BALL!

I find this one to be the most annoying because it takes on a bunch of forms. The version that talks about the running portion of it usually relates back to the offensive line, so I’ll talk more about how EVERYONE’S FREAKING THE FUCK OUT ABOUT HOW MUCH CARSON WENTZ HAS THROWN THE BALL.

Discussion about this is everywhere, and almost none of it has context. The most egregious example I’ve seen so far has come from BGN alumnus Jimmy Kempski, who is one of my favorite Eagles’ writers, so I was disappointed to see someone I hold in such high esteem write something like this:

In 2017, Wentz has already attempted 85 passes through two games and is on pace for 690 pass attempts for the season. If he stays on that pace, it will be the third-highest number of pass attempts in a season behind only Matthew Stafford (727 in 2012) and Drew Bledsoe (691 in 1994).

Two games in and we’re doing season projections already? Let’s look at where the Eagles were at this point last year and do some retrospective projections:

  • Carson Wentz would have thrown for 3,744 yards, 24 touchdowns, 0 picks, and a 94.1 passer rating
  • The Eagles would have scored 464 points and allowed 192, for a differential of +272 (LOL)
  • Jordan Matthews would have caught 104 passes for 1,480 yards and 8 touchdowns

Projecting season performance from two games is simply not a worthwhile exercise and it proves nothing since football is not played in a vacuum. In the first two weeks the Eagles played two very talented front sevens on the road. Against the Redskins, the Eagles had 356 yards of offense and 19 first downs. Against the Chiefs, they had 406 yards of offense and 27 first downs. Can you honestly say you need to see more production from the offense? Sure, they need to finish drives and score touchdowns, but is running the ball more when it’s not working suddenly going to make that happen?

Gameplans are isolated. How many times have we seen the Patriots throw for 50 times one game and then come back and run it 40 times the next? Not trying to suggest Doug is the next Belichick (he’s not), but the point is that you have to prepare for that specific opponent every week. Sometimes that means finding out what’s working (the passing game) and daring your opponent to stop you.

And if none of this is enough, Doug himself has stated he wants to run the ball more. Given how they tried to run the ball last year whenever Ryan Mathews was healthy, I’m inclined to believe him. But until he figures that out he’s going to lean on his mobile, instinctive young quarterback to get the job done, and I really can’t blame him. Running for the sake of running is stupid, especially if your opponents are struggling to stop the pass (through two weeks Wentz is fourth league-wide in passing yards). That being said, I hope he figures it out sooner rather than later before Carson dies on the field, because that is the one true drawback of going pass-happy with this team.

THE RUNNING BACKS ARE TERRIBLE!

I’m not going to come out here and tell you lies by saying the Eagles’ running back stable is full of world-beaters. But they aren’t bad; they’re just being misused. What the Eagles have done is assembled a crew of “change-of-pace” backs. None of them can really serve the role of “starter” that sets the tone. The Giants mastered the “running back by committee” approach in the late 2000s with Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw. Jacobs was the established starter that would be the bruiser, Ward added some shiftiness, and Bradshaw was the pass-catching threat. The Eagles’ running backs are not capable of developing this dynamic, because they are all at their best when used sporadically throughout the game. None of them are talented enough to generate a ton of yardage in the trenches when the offensive line doesn’t provide any push up front. I would expect the Eagles to find more success when they play teams that are susceptible to sweeps and outside zones... say a team with slow linebackers... like, maybe, the Giants...

I think the Eagles can scheme a “phantom” starting role by honing the screen game. They have some good pass-catching backs (save Clement) and an athletic offensive line that can quickly get to the second level. Unfortunately, this has not really developed so far, but there is a lot of time left to improve.

Let’s recap each narrative really quickly here:

  1. The offensive line is struggling, but there is a sensible backup plan that makes use of both Wiz’s and Seumalo’s talents
  2. They haven’t run the ball much because their first two opponents provided matchups that favored the pass
  3. The running backs aren’t great, but they’re not terrible - they just need more of an identity

These narratives are way overblown and don’t deserve our attention after only the first two games of the season. This is an Eagles team with good talent and decent coaching. Good things will happen in time - but patience is the key.