The Philadelpia Eagles were defeated by the Tennessee Titans in overtime on Sunday, 26-23. Here’s a look at 11 things we learned from this frustrating game.
1 - The Eagles blew a great opportunity
Sunday had the potential to be a pretty good day. The Eagles were up 17-3 on the Titans. If they hold on to that lead, the NFC East is looking like this after four weeks:
1 - Eagles (3-1)
2 - Washington (2-1)
3 - Cowboys (2-2)
4 - Giants (1-3)
But no. The Eagles had to blow their 93.1% win probability and lose instead.
Now the NFC East looks like this:
1 - Washington (2-1)
2 - Cowboys (2-2)
3 - Eagles (2-2)
4 - Giants (1-3)
The Eagles choked on Sunday and it sucked.
2 - Jim Schwartz’s defense continues to struggle on the road
Look at the number one reason I wrote in my “Three reasons why the Eagles could lose to the Titans” for Music City Miracles last week.
1) Jim Schwartz’s defense struggles on the road. Philadelphia’s defense plays very well at the home. Since the beginning of the 2016 season, the Eagles have allowed just 13.8 points per game when playing at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles are 17-3 in that stretch. Playing on the road has been a different story for Schwartz’s unit, however. In that same time frame, the Eagles are allowing 24.3 points per game in away matchups. They’re 7-10 in those contests.
The Eagles are now 7-11 in road games.
Here’s a stat that helps put these struggles in context.
The Eagles’ last 5 road games:— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) October 1, 2018
Seahawks 24, Eagles 10
Eagles 43, Rams 35
Eagles 34, Giants 29
Bucs 27, Eagles 21
Titans 26, Eagles 23
They've have allowed 24 or more points in five straight road games. That’s the 4th-longest streak in franchise history [1968, 1973, 2010, 2016].
If you include the Super Bowl (neutral field site), the Eagles have allowed 29 points per game in their last six matchups away from the Linc.
It’s difficult to understand how this defense can be so good at home while also being so bad on the road.
3 - The secondary is a primary issue
Outside of Malcolm Jenkins, who had his valiant efforts spoiled, the Eagles’ secondary stunk against the Titans.
Facing a quarterback who doesn’t even have total feeling in his fingers, Philadelphia allowed Marcus Mariota to complete 70% of his attempts for 344 yards (8.0 average), two touchdowns, one interception, and a 99.4 passer rating.
The Eagles’ secondary turned out to be the remedy for the Titans’ deep passing game struggles. Corey Davis managed to log nine receptions for 161 yards in total.
Jalen Mills obviously deserves some blame for the struggles. He got beaten deep a number of times, as he often does, on double moves. Mills also got penalized to set up the Titans in goal-to-go territory on a momentum-killing drive right after the Eagles went up 17-3.
Mills is the easy target for fans to go after, but he’s hardly the only issue.
Ronald Darby gave up a number of completions. His missed tackles created YAC opportunities for Tennessee. Darby was also very lucky to get away with a pass interference penalty that wasn’t called on a deep shot early in the game.
There have been a number of calls for the Eagles to replace Mills with Sidney Jones on the outside. Perhaps that’s something the Eagles visit later on, but it seems a little naive to think that’s the instant fix. Jones gave up a touchdown to Tajae Sharpe and got flagged for pass interference that allowed the Titans to convert on 4th-and-4 in overtime. Don’t get me wrong, Jones had good moments and his potential is intriguing. But he absolutely contributed to the loss as well.
And then there’s Corey Graham. In addition to being a liability on the back end, Graham made the dumbest play of the game by failing to cover Taywan Taylor on 4th-and-15. He just left him wide open for no good reason and even admitted as much. This kind of mistake from Graham is unacceptable. It’s not like the Eagles are asking the 33-year-old to be a game-changing playmaker. They’re supposed to be able to count on him to be assignment sound and avoid mistakes that a rookie would make. He failed the team in a big way on Sunday.
Safety could continue to prove to be a real big issue with Rodney McLeod out. It’s not great that the Eagles’ best options right now are Graham and a rookie Avonte Maddox playing on the back end for the first time in his life.
4 - Carson Wentz’s progress is a big positive
One reason why I still feel relatively optimistic about this team’s outlook is because the Eagles still have one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
Overall, Wentz looked sharp on Sunday. Despite facing a ton of pressure, Wentz managed to complete 66% of his 50 attempts for 348 yards (6.96 average), two touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 99.4 passer rating. Wentz threw with great velocity and accuracy. His numbers would look even better if he didn’t have to deal with an inordinate amount of drops.
That’s not to say Wentz was perfect. He threw a dropped interception late in the game. There was a play where he had a ton of open field in front of him to run and yet he got caught from behind after he hesitated.
It was still an encouraging outing for No. 11, especially considering it was only his second game back from injury.
There’s no denying the Eagles have a lot of issues outside of quarterback right now. But having Wentz is going to at least give the Eagles a chance to win every week.
5 - With that said, the Eagles need to protect Carson Wentz better
The Eagles’ offensive line is mightily struggling in pass protection. Jeff Stoutland’s unit ultimately allowed Wentz to get sacked four times and hit 11 times in Tennessee. As Sheil Kapadia pointed out, Wentz has been sacked the third most times since returning to the lineup last week. In that same span, only one quarterback has been hit more often.
That’s just not good enough. We know this unit is capable of being better than that. The Eagles had one of the best offensive lines in the league last year and they’re one of only a handful of teams returning all five starters, so it’s not like continuity is an issue.
Former Eagles All-Pro offensive tackle (and friend of BGN) Tra Thomas pointed out some o-line issues on Twitter.
Wentz gets lit up by 3 Defenders and no one on the Line tries to help him up pic.twitter.com/FkBjEECd3a— Tra Thomas (@72TraThomas) October 1, 2018
Baldy also noted how terrible Wendell Smallwood is in pass protection. Smallwood had a good day as a runner but boy is he brutal when it comes to protecting the quarterback. This is where not having Darren Sproles and/or Corey Clement really hurt on Sunday.
.@eagles get beat by a “zone dogg “ that they are in perfect position to pick up. Another communication breakdown and @cj_wentz has had just about enough. #eagles v #titans. #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/LHp0giWHpU— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) October 1, 2018
6 - It’s great to have Alshon Jeffery back
Some tried to make the case last week that Jeffery returning wouldn’t help the Eagles’ offense. They were predictably wrong.
In his first game back from shoulder surgery (not to mention dealing with an illness), Jeffery logged eight receptions for 105 yards and one touchdown. Jeffery’s scoring play showed his value as a jump ball target. The way Wentz was able to connect with him on some back shoulder throws was also an encouraging sign moving forward.
Jeffery wasn’t the most efficient target for the Eagles last year when you consider he only had 57 receptions on 120 total targets. On Sunday, however, Jeffery only had one target where he didn’t catch a pass. And that was when he had the ball knocked out of his hands. It’d be nice to see Jeffery improve upon his reliability this year. He’s off to a good start in that regard.
7 - Doug Pederson made a mistake that could’ve been the difference
Pederson’s biggest mistake was his decision to not take a shot into the end zone on 3rd-and-3 from the 10-yard line with 11 seconds remaining in the first half. Calling a run there instead was dumb.
After the game, Pederson said the plan was to run the ball, get the first down, and then take a shot into the end zone. The problem is that he said he felt the run play was only going to take three seconds, which would’ve left the Eagles with eight seconds.
Doug, there is no run play that lasts three seconds. That play would’ve taken at least, like, five or six seconds … at best. So even if the Eagles did get the first down there, they’d still have to settle for a field goal.
There’s no guarantee the Eagles would’ve gotten a touchdown on 3rd-and-3 if they threw it. But it’s not just about the results. It’s about the process; the thinking behind the decision-making. Pederson showed a big lapse in judgement there. James Franklin-esque.
8 - Nelson Agholor picked a terrible time to revert to pre-2017 form
I think Agholor is getting off a little too easy after this loss. Everyone’s mad at Schwartz and the secondary, and rightfully so, but four drops and a fumble is an abysmal outing. Especially when two of those drops came on potential third down conversions, with one of them happening on 3rd-and-21. Agholor wasn’t THE biggest issue, but he was a really big issue.
9 - The Eagles’ punter has a flaw
There’s no question Cameron Johnston has a strong leg. Against the Titans, Johnston punted six times for 308 yards and a 51.3 average. His longest punt was a 68-yarder.
The problem is that Johnston also had three touchbacks. Johnston didn’t even give the special teams coverage unit a chance to down the ball on those punts. Instead, the ball went straight into the end zone.
If Johnston isn’t going to give the ball a chance to be downed, it’d be nice to see him try to kick it out of bounds deep along the sideline. It just doesn’t seem like directional kicking is his strength, though. Johnston’s five touchbacks this season lead the NFL. No other punter has more than three.
In a so-called game of inches, every yard counts. Johnston gave the Titans 60 yards on Sunday instead of being able to pin their offense back deep. That surely didn’t help a struggling Eagles road defense.
10 - The Eagles should’ve traded Nick Foles
A very surprising take coming from me, I know, but I can’t help but feel frustrated with how the Eagles didn’t maximize Foles’ value this offseason.
I look at Foles’ $13.6 million cap number, second highest on the team behind Fletcher Cox, and can’t help but wonder if the Eagles could be using that cap space in a better way that helps the team win now instead of being used on a guy who ideally won’t even play again this season.
I think about how Eagles could’ve added a useful player with the No. 35 overall pick they turned down from the Browns. What if Harold Landry (who went at No. 41) was selected by the Eagles instead of strip-sacking Wentz on Sunday?
I get that the Eagles wanted to keep Foles around given the relative uncertainty about Wentz’s status. But I don’t think what the Eagles got out of two games of Foles this season is worth the opportunity cost. Is what Foles did really that much better than what, say, Nate Sudfeld could’ve provided?
I’ll always be appreciative of Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. And who knows, maybe the Eagles need him to step in again this year and he plays great and I look dumb for saying they shouldn’t have kept him around. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time I was wrong.
For now, though, I just don’t think keeping him was the best use of resources.
It’s still possible they trade Foles before the October 30 deadline but I just don’t see the market for him at this point.
(Side note: Another frustrating waste of resources is Chance Warmack, who is carrying a $2 million cap number just to be a healthy scratch each week. These mistakes add up and ultimately hurt the team. Between Warmack and Foles combined, that’s $15.6 million of the cap — nearly 11% of the top 51 — going unused on game day. Wasteful.)
11 - We are going to find out a lot about this team next week
How the Eagles respond to this loss will be very telling. Philadelphia returns home for a Week 5 game at Lincoln Financial Field against a very desperate Minnesota Vikings team. In addition to wanting to avenge their 38-7 NFC Championship Game loss, the Vikings will be looking to avoid dropping to 1-3-1.
I don’t know about you, but I still have faith in this Eagles team. I’m not yet among who are willing to write this off as a 7-9 season.
I’ve seen a number of people say that the Eagles aren’t that far away from being 1-3. There’s some truth to that. But that’s just how the NFL works. And it goes both ways. The Eagles could easily be 3-1 if Graham doesn’t make that dumb mistake on 4th-and-15.
It’s entirely fair to be very frustrated with Sunday’s result. It’s entirely fair to point out that this team has some real issues.
But I don’t think they’re doomed just yet.
Think about where this team was last year at this time. They were 3-1 instead of 2-2, so they were in a better spot, sure. But their three wins were very close. They beat Washington in Week 1 on a controversial Kirk Cousins fumble call at the end of the game. It took a miracle 61-yard field goal to beat the Giants. Then they only beat the Chargers by two points. It wasn’t until Week 5, when the Eagles hosted the Cardinals, that they had their first blowout win and started to look dominant. What if the Vikings come to town and the Eagles stomp them again to advance to 3-2? Is the season still over then?
Obviously, there’s no guarantee that happens. Minnesota figures to be a tough challenge not only due to their desperation but how this secondary matches up against a quarterback that’s played well against the Eagles in the past, Kirk Cousins, and a dangerous wide receiver duo of Stefan Diggs and Adam Thielen. The Vikings boast another advantage since they’ll be playing on extra rest.
So, yeah, it’ll be a tough challenge for the Eagles. In some ways, it might be the perfect game for them after that Week 4 loss. It’s time to see what this 2018 team is really made of.
Doug Pederson on the Eagles’ loss: “You have to hate this feeling more than you do enjoy winning.”— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) September 30, 2018