The Eagles’ offense has battled through a host of injuries through the first five games of the season, they’ve seen two different starting quarterbacks and three of their offensive weapons have already landed on IR.
From slow starts to mental mistakes, offensive coordinator Mike Groh and quarterback Carson Wentz spoke to the media on Tuesday about some of the concerns heading into their first division game of the year, and their plans to improve.
Here’s what the OC and QB had to say:
On the running back situation
Groh opened by talking about losing Jay Ajayi. He admitted that Ajayi was a big part of what they’ve done and it’s an injury that will impact the team. Specifically he pointed to Ajayi’s physicality missing from the field, but touted the guys they have.
He did point out though that Wendell Smallwood has “done a really nice job in the playing time he’s gotten” and the coaches are pleased with his production thus far this season. Smallwood, along with Corey Clement and Darren Sproles once they get back, is enough for the team to be happy with the guys they have on roster.
Clement is one of the guys Groh thinks could be a featured back for the team, and said he’s close to being 100% again. Groh pointed out Clement having some of Ajayi’s physicality when he runs, plus “he’s an outstanding receiver out of the backfield”.
Later on he was asked about Ajayi coming in mid-season last year, and whether they’ll have the time to bring in someone after Thursday’s game and get them acclimated. Groh admitted there’s a learning curve for any player you bring in during the season, but Duce Staley is an outstanding teacher and could get someone ready again, just like he did with Ajayi.
On the offensive game plan
Groh said that they aren’t giving the guys a pass for not lining up where they should be or looking unprepared. Those things can’t happen, the guys need to get out of the huddle and know where they are lining up and know what their assignment is.
“We’ve gotta do a better job collectively of, I guess, teaching that,” Groh noted.
He was such to emphasize that those things have to be eliminated moving forward.
The OC also spoke on the use of RPOs and how the team tries to balance their run and passing looks. Groh talked about having a strong group at running back, but ultimately circumstances affect the calls each week and they haven’t been able to get the run as involved as they had planned/liked.
Groh likened some of those issues to not getting off to a quick start like they want. It was then pointed out that they have only scored three touchdowns in the first half of games so far this season. The offensive coordinator again pointed to some of the self-inflicted wounds with turnovers and penalties that have killed some of that momentum.
On personnel moves on the OL
Groh was also asked about Isaac Seumalo and the role he’s taking on, and the offensive coordinator said they had been talking about Seumalo throughout training camp and are happy with his versatility along the line. He noted that Isaac has been playing with a lot of confidence, and not only hears the calls but is starting to be able to make those calls out there on the run.
“He’s done a nice job and earned some playing time,” Groh stated.
Later on he was asked if they were concerned about the chemistry of the offensive line by moving some players around and whether the coaches talked to guys like Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce before making the move. Groh said they are always evaluating players — something we know — and that they talked about the move as a group, but no, they didn’t ask for input from players about it.
On pass protection
Groh said the linemen didn’t have egg timers in their heads when it comes to how long they need to hold the pocket. They know that Carson Wentz has the ability and tendency to extend plays, and they need to protect him for as long as needed.
On losing Jay Ajayi
Wentz admitted it was tough to lose the running back, but noted “more than anything, I feel for him”. The quarterback was in a similar situation last year with a torn ACL, and knows what that comes with both mentally and physically.
He said that he’s reached out and told Ajayi that he’s here for him, and praying for him. On the field, Wentz knows that those are pretty big shoes to fill, but he feels the Eagles have the guys they need to step up and who are ready for that kind of role.
Later he was asked how specifically they plan on filling Ajayi’s role, and Wentz emphasized that it’ll be challenging. Ajayi is “a violent down-hill runner that sought contact and loved to just feed off that,” but that they have confidence that the other backs will step up.
Wentz continued to talk about Wendell Smallwood stepping up over the last two games, and Corey Clement coming back will be big for them. He also touched on Josh Adams having to have an increased role as well.
The quarterback said he still feels like they have a stable of workhorses there, but it’s tough losing Jay. Wentz would agree that it’ll be more of a running back by committee approach, but he also pointed out that’s kind of been their strategy all along, even with Ajayi.
On the offense and their potential
It wasn’t just turnovers the QB was talking about — which he admitted need to be eliminated —, he was also asked if things are more challenging for the offensive line due to his tendency to hold onto the ball a bit longer. Wentz admitted that it happens, but he thinks that’s just the nature of his game and what he brings to the offense.
Later, Wentz was asked if he thinks that this team could be one of the high-scoring, super efficient offenses that some teams have showed so far this season. Wentz acknowledged that the players feel like they have that potential, and to get the kind of production they had last year.
He said it’s unfortunate that they’ve had so many of those small mistakes, but the expect to be better moving forward.
Wentz also said that the team looks and feels great in practice, but that for some reason that isn’t translating to the field on game day. He pointed out, “it’s never perfect”, but he doesn’t see anything in practice that he’s concerned about.
He also wouldn’t get into the Isaac Seumalo vs. Stephen Wisniewski debate, and rather lauded both of them and said he — and the rest of the o-line — is comfortable and confident with whomever is in the game.
On opponents making adjustments
One of the more common storylines over the past couple weeks, has been that opposing defenses have been making adjustments to better cover the Eagles offense. Wentz was asked what he saw from teams they’ve faced, but he admitted that no one has really done anything outlandish or off the wall to prepare for Philadelphia.
He continued to say that it’s usually something small, like teams playing a little softer zone or “taking away some of that stuff” but that overall it’s nothing crazy.
On Giants prep
Wentz admitted that they are seeing some different things schematically with the Giants defense, especially with the new coaches, but a lot of similar faces with the players.
Personnel-wise, Wentz said it seems like both teams know each other pretty well at this point, and scheme-wise, it’ll be interesting to see what they deal against the Eagles on Thursday.
He said he’s sure they’ll bring something new, just like it seems every team has done so far this season.