Of two in a row, mind you! Talk about getting hot at the right time!
Philadelphia Eagles bettors
For those of you who risk it all on professional sports (of which I am one such degenerate), WHAT A BACKDOOR. The Eagles vacillated anywhere between a 6 and 4.5 point favorite for the Redskins game, and following Greg Ward’s game-winning touchdown, were only up by 4. The Redskins were going to cover.
And then they didn’t.
We had multiple crazy backdoors in Vegas this week, and the Eagles were perhaps the unlikeliest. Go Green!
Carson Wentz played some fantastic ball on offense, and as always, as the team goes, he goes — if they play well, it’s to his credit; if he plays poorly, it’s to his fault. So we’ll say good things about Carson in a second.
But to me, the credit for the past two wins falls squarely on Doug Pederson’s shoulders. In both must-winners against divisional opponents, he took a team into the halftime locker room that was losing and struggling on offense: the Eagles have scored 13 offensive points in the first half of their last two games, and 34 in the second half. In both games, the Eagles have flirted with the brink of total combustion: the fourth-quarter Carson Wentz fumble in a tie game against Washington; the end-of-half busted coverage to give the Giants a 14 point lead.
And in both games, they’ve won. They’ve gotten quality defensive play at the most important moments, tremendous offensive designs to conjure up long drives out of limited personnel and sub-starting talent, and some Carson Wentz heroics.
After the Miami loss, it became clear that the Giants and Redskins wins weren’t going to be gimmes, if the Eagles wanted to fight for the division in Week 16. And they weren’t — but Pederson won them anyway, and he won them with essentially no starting receivers, without his bellcow back from the middle of the season, and without his big-money right tackle as well. It is so difficult to explain just how impressive Pederson’s X’s and O’s work has been in these past couple weeks, and if the Eagles squeak by the Cowboys, it will deserve another opus.
I promise you we’d get to him, so we will: Carson Wentz had the clutchest game of a notoriously un-clutch career, and that deserves commendation in and of itself, regardless of the quality of the play.
In the game's final 23 minutes, Carson was 14-for-14 for 104 yards and 3 touchdowns.— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) December 16, 2019
Now, if the Eagles hadn’t pulled it out late, all anyone would talk about would be Carson’s fumble, a characteristically careless play in the pocket that gave the Redskins scoring field position in a tie game in the fourth quarter. Those plays are debilitating for an offense.
But these plays are transcendent for an offense.
#Eagles — QB Carson Wentz made some throws today in the 2nd half vs. WASH. And this might be the best one. Scramble drill. Look-up Miles Sanders in the corner of the end zone. That’s a rocket. @NFLMatchup pic.twitter.com/cQCZ5Tw3HC— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) December 16, 2019
So a couple of big bads from Carson in this game, but as always, aggressive playmaking QBs will have groan-worthy moments. The strengths of Wentz continue to outweigh the bad, which is why he was extended, why he’s a franchise quarterback, and why suggesting anything otherwise was silly.
It wasn’t a dominant day for Greg Ward, but it was a dominant drive: he grabbed 4 receptions on 4 targets, for 40 yards and of course, the penultimate touchdown. That final push buttressed an effort that was originally just average: 5 targets, 3 receptions, 21 yards.
But what’s important about Ward is what he has from Carson Wentz: a budding trust, a willingness to target in key situations. Ward had 9 targets on 58 snaps: rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had 2 targets on 71 snaps, and quasi-WR Josh Perkins and practice-squader Robert Davis both had 0 targets on 16 snaps. The Eagles wanted to get the ball to Ward, and even if that’s the desperation of dire straits, he’s the least of all the evils.
Expect Ward to be a big part of each game plan the Eagles execute for the remainder of the season.
Dallas Goedert/Zach Ertz
Goedert’s strength as a blocker continues to add value as the Eagles struggle to replace Lane Johnson with Halapoulivaati Vaitai; he’s becoming more and more effective on screens and had a heroic catch on the game-winning drive. Zach Ertz remains Sir Reliable on the third down and in the red zone, and with no wideouts available, he doesn’t have to block nearly as much, which is good for his overall impact.
The Eagles’ elite TE duo is keeping them alive.
Miles Sanders/Boston Scott
And the same thing is true of their unlikely 1-2 punch in the backfield.
It wasn’t the Scott game this week, it was the Sanders game, but the deployments were much the same: Sanders just got the big money plays, in the deep touchdown and the long run. Scott was a plus target on late downs and in the flats; Sanders was electric in space and continues to improve his decision-making.
If the Eagles ever get Jordan Howard back, it will be interesting to see how they recalibrate the touches. But for now, the backfield has once again settled into a perfect harmony.
Young man played well! That’s good news in Washington — though, having the best game of your career against Jim Schwartz isn’t exactly a mind-blowing event.
But it’s okay. Urban Meyer was in the building. If he’s anywhere near the head coaching job for 2020, that’s good news in Washington.
Washington Redskins bettors
Don’t know what to say, guys.
Man, this is just awful stuff. Arcega-Whiteside has taken 222 snaps over the last three weeks and has 7 targets to show for it.
Now, it’s clear the Eagles don’t want to run their base offense through their depleted WR corps. Makes sense, too: anytime you’re playing preseason WR5, 6 and ?, you’re likely going to look to other positions in the passing game. That’s fine.
But when receivers get targeted, it isn’t J-JAW. And when J-JAW gets targeted, it isn’t good: he’s fading away from contested catches, allowing for recovery angles from opposing CBs. He hasn’t developed any timing with Carson Wentz at all. He had a tremendous adjustment on a key catch against the Giants late in the game; then he nearly ruined a tremendous Dallas Goedert adjustment on a key catch against the Redskins late in the game by misunderstanding his route distribution.
I have no idea what happened to the wideout from his final dominant snap at Stanford and his solid preseason to this atrocious rookie season, but he’s gotten worse since the moment the season kicked off. Wish I could explain that, but I can’t.
The Eagles CB room
Avonte Maddox, Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas. If you can remember a good play that any of them made against the Redskins and their all-rookie WR team, drop it in the comments right now.
I really wanted to see Josh McCown play wide receiver.
I know that I want Mike Groh to be fired and replaced with a more creative offensive designer with hopefully a different background than the West Coast system. I know that Mike Groh has never really done anything that we can point to and say: “See, this is why he’s here, this is what he brings.”
But I don’t know to what degree Groh is responsible for the offensive success in recent weeks. It takes hard work and great ingenuity to design a workable offense without wide receivers, but that’s what the Eagles have done, and the offensive coordinator had to be a part of that, right?