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12 things we learned from the Eagles’ loss to the Panthers

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Takeaways from the game.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Despite jumping out to a 17-0 lead, the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, 21-17. Here’s a look at what we learned from this incredibly frustrating loss.

1 - The 2018 Eagles are chokers

The Eagles had a win probability as high as 93.1% in their Week 4 Titans game:

They had Tennessee down to 4th-and-15 in overtime before Corey Graham simply forgot to cover a wide receiver on the play. The Titans then drove down the field for a game-winning Corey Davis touchdown.

This time around, the Eagles had the Panthers down three at 4th-and-10 on Carolina’s own 31-yard line with 2:06 left to play. Naturally, Jalen Mills slipped in man coverage to leave Torrey Smith wide open over the middle. The defense then failed to tackle him to allow a 35-yard game. The Panthers went on to score the go-ahead touchdown and Philadelphia’s last offensive drive amounted to a game-ending turnover on fourth down in the red zone.

The Eagles had a game-high 98% win probability when Carson Wentz completed a real nice 3rd-and-3 pass to Zach Ertz for a first down. And yet they ultimately blew it once again.

Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Total choke job.

2 - The script was so close to being flipped

It’s hard not to think about the world where the Eagles don’t blow this loss. It would’ve been so nice, right?

If the Eagles hold on, they’re 4-3 and riding a two-game winning streak into a game against a Jaguars team that’s in disarray. Jacksonville is averaging a mere 9.3 points scored in their last three games. Their struggles have reached the point where Blake Bortles was benched. 5-3 was well within reach before heading into the bye week.

Unfortunately, that’s no longer possible. The Eagles now have to hope they can get to 4-4 before entering a second half schedule that features five division matchups as well as road games against two NFC juggernauts: the Saints and Rams.

Sunday could’ve ended with people feeling happy about the Eagles turning a corner on the season. Instead, it ended up being a miserable day that doesn’t bode well for the rest of 2018.

Ugh.

3 - Carson Wentz needs to come up bigger in big moments

Allow to me to start this point by saying that Carson Wentz was not 100% the reason the Eagles lost on Sunday. I can’t believe there are some people out there who are actually arguing otherwise.

For the most part, Wentz was really great. He finished the game 30/37 for 310 yards (8.4 average), two touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 119.6 passer rating. That brings him up to 138/195 for 1,502 yards (7.7 average), 10 touchdowns, one interception, and a 108.1 passer rating on the season. And there’s this:

Of course, with that said, Wentz ultimately didn’t come up big when the Eagles needed him most on Sunday. He deserves credit for leading the Eagles into the red zone with his deep shot for Alshon Jeffery, which rightfully drew a pass interference penalty. But he obviously deserves blame for not being able to finish the job.

Wentz clearly had Wendell Smallwood open for a first down conversion (at least) on 3rd-and-2 late in the game. He was even looking right to that side of the field early in the play. Instead, he forced a ball to Jeffery in the end zone.

As BGN’s Benjamin Solak noted, Wentz’s failed comeback brings him to 5-10 in 15 close games. He’s only successfully converted three of his 12 game-winning drive attempts. Here’s another stat that I don’t enjoy showing you:

It’s not fair to write off Wentz as a perpetual choker just yet. He’s not even 2.5 seasons into his career. A lot of these late game struggles happened in 2016 when he was a rookie and the Eagles didn’t have much talent around him. And there’s some bad luck involved here that will likely even out over time with a progression to the mean.

I just feel like Wentz is too talented and too sharp for these late game issues to persist forever. In the meantime, it’s absolutely fair to say he needs to be better in these situations.

4 - Jim Schwartz is frustrating

It’s hard to say Jim Schwartz is a flat out bad defensive coordinator when you look at his track record. In his five seasons as a DC prior to 2018, his units have consistently ranked as top seven defenses. This year, the Eagles ranked 11th in DVOA heading into Week 7. That’s not to suggest he’s been perfect, but the numbers show us it could be MUCH worse.

Still, it’s also hard to not be frustrated with him when his defense surrenders 21 points in the fourth quarter to a team that hadn’t been able to do much for most of the game.

Not everything was his fault. There’s certainly blame to share with his players.

Schwartz ultimately got outcoached when it counted, though. The defense wasn’t able to effectively adjust to the Panthers’ offensive adjustments. That’s frustrating.

5 - The offense also deserves blame

It’s true that the defense deserves blame for blowing the lead. It’s also true that the offense isn’t performing well enough.

The Eagles should’ve been up more than 17-0 on the Panthers the way they were dominating Carolina for most of the game.

The Eagles were not good enough in key areas. They successfully converted just two of their four red zone opportunities. They only moved the chains on three out of their 12 third down tries. This is where the losses of Frank Reich and John DeFilippo are tangibly being felt.

6 - Running the ball is still viewed as a magical panacea

One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen coming out of this game is that Doug Pederson didn’t run the ball enough. Somehow, running the ball is still viewed as this cure-all solution when in reality that’s just not the biggest issue with this team.

Could the Eagles have chosen to run a little more often in specific spots? Sure. A perceived lack of balance is not the reason why they lost this game, though. The passing attack was working effectively up until it wasn’t.

People keep saying that the Eagles would’ve been able to run the clock if they ran more often. Yet, the clock stopped exactly ONCE on the Eagles’ final two drives where they had they lead; Wentz’s incomplete 3rd-and-10 throw to Jeffery. So that doesn’t hold up.

Also, why is there such a desire to take the ball out of Wentz’s hands? He was having a very a strong game against the Panthers. Why’s there such a rush to give the ball to a trio of running backs who were averaging 2.6 yards per carry?

This isn’t to say that Doug Pederson’s play-calling was exceptional down the stretch. He could’ve called better, more aggressive non-running plays. He didn’t, though, so he rightfully deserves some blame. As do the players for not executing properly.

Side note: if you truly believe “balance” is so imperative to winning, how did the Panthers possibly get back into the game by throwing 24 times and only running four times (three runs were quarterback scrambles) on their final three drives?

7 - Toxic differential explains a lot of the Eagles’ struggles

Hey, you know what IS a real issue with the Eagles? Toxic differential.

Toxic differential is a stat that combines turnover differential and big play differential. These are two areas where the Eagles are struggling in 2018.

Heading into Week 7, the Eagles ranked 22nd in big play rate offensively and 28th defensively. In other words, the Eagles have generated few too big plays and surrendered too many. Philadelphia clearly lacks explosive play-makers and their 5.3 yards per play this season reflects that. Only six teams rank worse in that category.

The Eagles haven’t been absolutely dreadful in terms of turning the ball over. Their 10 giveaways rank tied for 18th in the league. Not great, but it could be worse. The bigger issue is that they’re not taking the ball away. Their six takeaways rank tied for 24th in the league.

Until the Eagles improve in these key areas, their struggles will likely persist.

8 - Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz continue to be key contributors

It took forever but we’ve finally reached a positive from Sunday’s game. The offense certainly needs more help, but again, it could always be worse. And it’s not worse thanks to Jeffery and Ertz.

Jeffery caught seven of his 10 targets for 88 yards and one touchdown. It was great to see him make some tough contested catches along the sideline. Those plays explain why the Eagles brought him to Philly. Jeffery now has 14 touchdown receptions in his last 16 Eagles games.

Ertz, meanwhile, continues to have a monster season. He caught nine of his 11 targets for 138 yards. Ertz is such a reliable chain-mover; he ranks first on the team in first down conversions this season with 31. Jeffery is next closest with 18.

9 - Nelson Agholor has gone missing

Take away the Giants matchup where he had pair of out of structure big catches and Agholor is averaging 5.8 receptions for 38.6 yards and 0.16 touchdowns per game this season. That’s ... not good.

I don’t think Agholor’s lack of production is entirely his fault. It’s not like he’s getting a ton of run after the catch opportunities and not taking advantage of them. But it’s also not like he’s getting wide open and being available all the time for Wentz. The Eagles need much better efficiency and production from Agholor in the slot.

10 - The Eagles need help at running back

Wendell Smallwood has performed admirably relative to incredibly low expectations entering the season. With that said, he’s just not good enough and he’s ultimately part of the problem with this offense.

The Eagles need explosive plays and Smallwood just hasn’t shown he can generate those.

That’s not to say the Eagles should cut him or bench him. Sadly, they don’t have better options right now. Corey Clement, who I’m choosing to believe is still dealing with an injury issue, picked up just six yards on eight carries against Carolina. Josh Adams was the most efficient player on Sunday with 17 yards on four carries. It’s hard to expect the undrafted rookie to suddenly be the full-time answer, though.

Maybe getting Darren Sproles back, assuming his hamstring ever heals, will help the offense. But maybe relying on a gimpy 35-year-old won’t work out so well.

In any case, the Eagles could really use some backfield help moving forward. It might not come until after this season.

Just gonna leave this here.

11 - The cornerbacks continue to frustrate as well

Shockingly, the Eagles continue to prove to be vulnerable at cornerback. It was Mills who gave up the 4th-and-10 after he slipped and left Torrey Smith wide open. He made matters worse by whiffing on the tackle attempt. Ronald Darby left Devin Funchess open for an easy touchdown after biting on a sluggo at a time when he should’ve been more conservative in the game.

In possibly related news, the Eagles are reportedly interested in trading for Patrick Peterson.

12 - The Eagles might have a kicker problem?

Jake Elliott missed a 36-yard attempt early in the game. Maybe he deserves a break given that it was windy at that end of the stadium and Graham Gano missed a 33-yard extra point try as well.

Still, the Eagles rank tied for 26th out of 32 teams in field goal accuracy this year. Elliott has only made 11 of his 15 attempts (73.3%). Not time to panic just yet but he could be in danger down the road if the misses continue.