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The Eagles’ first quarter offense stinks

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Blame starts at the top

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The Eagles had two weeks to prepare for the Cowboys and scored all of three points in the first quarter. That was actually an improvement for the season. The Eagles have gone scoreless in the first quarter in six games. That’s pathetic.

Injuries have certainly been a factor for the Eagles struggles. But coaching is another. The fear of a “brain drain” when Doug Pederson lost two top offensive assistants is being realized.

The Eagles were never going to be able to retain John DeFilippo, whose contract expired and was wanted as a play caller prior to the 2017 season. Thankfully his loss has been minimal. Carson Wentz has had some decisions and throws he’d like back, but for the most part he’s been great. Passing stats are up league wide, but Wentz has taken a huge leap: his completion percentage is up over 10 points. His individual preparation under Press Taylor has been good.

Where the Eagles are suffering is the loss of Frank Reich. It’s only been 9 games, but Reich looks like he’s a solid coach, while his replacement Mike Groh looks in over his head.

First, Reich. The Colts offense outside of Andrew Luck is low on talent to begin with, and they’ve had injuries to starters T.Y. Hilton, Marlon Mack, Jack Doyle and all over the offensive line. No skill position player has started 9 games. 11 offensive lineman have seen playing time. Only three players on offense have played two thirds of snaps. Andrew Luck hadn’t played in a year. The Colts offense was set up to fail. It hasn’t. Luck is 2nd in the league in touchdown passes. Eric Ebron caught 11 touchdowns in four seasons in Detroit, he is second in the league with 9. 11 different Colts have caught a touchdown. Entering this season Andrew Luck was sacked on 5.6% of his drop backs, this season he’s been sacked on only 2.6%, the Colts ragtag offensive line has the best sack rate in the league. Indianapolis is 6th in points scored, 9th in yards, and entering Week 10 14th in DVOA. It’s only been nine games, but Frank Reich looks like a good hire for the Colts.

His replacement on the Eagles hasn’t.

The Peter Principle is the concept that people are hired to the level of their incompetence. People are generally promoted based on their abilities and success in one job, and not on their abilities for the promotion. We see it all the time in sports, most notably when coordinators of statistically good units or successful teams become head coaches and fail miserably. But it happens at every level of coaching.

Mike Groh is a very good wide receivers coach. He had a good track record prior to the Eagles hiring him last year, and he added to it in 2017. As an offensive coordinator, he appears to be out his depth. Game plans for this season have been miserable. Doug Pederson calls the plays and hold the ultimate responsibility for the success and failure of the offense, but Groh, like Reich before him, is heavily involved creating the game plan. The first quarter failures of the offense can be ascribed in part to the game plan. The Eagles were great last year at getting off to early leads and keeping their foot on the gas. This year they can’t get out of first in the first quarter.

The Eagles offense is gaining 4.51 yards per play in the first quarter, down over a yard per play from last year. They’re 29th in the league (the Colts, in case you were wondering, are 19th). The 2017 Eagles had the 2nd best scoring offense in the first quarter, averaging 6.4 points. This year they have the league’s worst first quarter offense at 2.3 points (again if you’re wondering, the Colts are 7th).

The Eagles aren’t running the ball as well as they were last year, but they’re really hurting in the first quarter. In 2017 they ran the ball for 4.5 yards per carry in quarters 2-4. This season they’re getting 4.2 yards per carry in quarters 2-4. The first quarter drop off is severe. After averaging 4.6 yards per carry in the 1st quarter in 2017, they’re averaging an abysmal 3.4 yards per carry.

The NFL is full of small sample size problems and misleading stats. But the Eagles aren’t passing the eye test either, there are plenty of individual plays to critique. It seems that too many times this season the Eagles have taken the ball out of Carson Wentz’s hands.

Finally, consider this: it’s understandable that Golden Tate wouldn’t be heavily involved in the offense on Sunday but he was targeted just four times. He played just 18 snaps. His counterpart Amari Cooper was targeted 8 times in his Cowboys debut. They weren’t brought in to fill the same role, but the Cowboys staff had no problems integrating Cooper into the game plan. Only Stefen Wisniewski, who was the 6th OL for a play and Shelton Gibson, who appeared for one snap, played less than Tate. Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan shouldn’t be doing a better coaching job.