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Eagles vs. Steelers: 13 winners, losers, and I dunnos

A star is born

Philadelphia Eagles v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Eagles didn’t win — but the offense finally looked better! So we’re gonna chalk this up as a happy day. Everything is delicious.

Winners

Travis Fulgham

When the team’s social account is self-aware, you know you’re really having a special day.

What can be said about Fulgham’s implosion? It was the first 10-catch, 150-yard performance by an Eagles WR since 2014, when Jeremy Maclin had 162 on 12 against the Cardinals. In fact, only seven Eagles WRs since 1970 have ever posted such a day: Maclin (twice), DeSean Jackson, Terrell Owens, Harold Carmichael, Fred Barnett, James Thrash (!), and Kevin Curtis (!!).

That’s a good list to be on, though obviously there are a couple of anomalies. Will Fulgham end up another one? Probably — even after his performance today, Fulgham is more likely to be a blip than a franchise piece...but why shouldn’t he have the opportunity?

No, really, why shouldn’t he? Wentz showed more trust in him and confidence throwing to him — as well as accuracy — than he has over Greg Ward or John Hightower. It took Fulgham two weeks to become the player the Eagles have been trying to get out of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside for the last two years. He’s a deeper target than Zach Ertz or Miles Sanders. There is no reason to take Fulgham out of the outside WR role, and there won’t be when Reagor comes back, or when DeSean Jackson comes back, until those two players prove their superior playmaking as Fulgham potentially comes back to earth.

At the very least, the Eagles finally have someone that Wentz looks happy to throw the ball to. What a treat!

Carson Wentz

Speaking of Carson Wentz, if you still want to bench him for Jalen Hurts, raise your hand so I can high-five you for your resiliency of spirit. Wentz was no good, very bad to start the season, and a lot of that belonged to him, and a lot of that belonged to the circumstances around him. All it took was some better pass protection and one 6-foot-2 Old Dominion Monarch for Wentz to shake some of the jitters and just start playing better ball.

Wentz still isn’t playing perfectly; he misses throws, forces throws, panics under pressure. He can still play much better — but he’s playing more than well enough now, not just to sustain the offense, but to elevate the offense. This is far closer to the guy the Eagles paid than the guy the Eagles saw through the first couple of weeks — tremendous, steadying news.

Rodney McLeod

Always tough to judge safeties based off of live broadcast film, but McLeod looked like he had the high impact game that the Eagles needed from one of their most veteran defenders. The pass breakup on Ebron and some hard hits into the line of scrimmage on quick screens and running play stand out.

The offensive line

I don’t know what Jeff Stoutland feeds his guys, but it’s something special. The Eagles once again fielded Jason Kelce and the Neighborhood Boys on the offensive line, with all backups flanking their pivot. Jack Driscoll had his second consecutive quality week at RT in relief of Lane Johnson after his shaky play in Week 1; Matt Pryor looked more assertive and confident in pass protection; Jordan Mailata got dusted by Bud Dupree once, late in the fourth. This defensive line was facing arguably the biggest mismatch in the week against the Eagles’ young backups, and the Eagles didn’t just overperform relative to expectations — they flat-out won the battle.

Kudos to that unit, man. Their continued development could spell future starters for 2021 and beyond.

Dallas Goedert

Any doubt remaining who the better receiving Eagles TE is?

Losers

Referees

What in the name of heaven was going one with the officiating in this game? It feels good to complain about officiating in a game that I’m generally okay with losing, but it was also wildly confusing to follow this game. Wentz’s first pick came on a clear penalty, as Zach Ertz was inhibited from getting into his route on a Vince Williams hit. Chase Claypool’s fourth, maybe fifth touchdown was wiped off the board by a phantom OPI after he dusted Craig James. An incomplete pass that maybe looked like a fumble for 0.2 seconds was called an interception on the field. Nobody knew what was going on.

Jim Schwartz

As seems to be his way, Schwartz followed up a great performance with a terrible one. The Eagles were broken-record bamboozled by pre-snap motion, reverses, and any quick-game isolation route combinations. Without Darius Slay erasing his assignment, the man coverage script went from passable to putrid, and with Claypool dominating snap to snap, no adjustments were made. The Eagles churned out a 29-point outing on offense — by far their best of the season, and more than enough for what has been invested in that defense — and the unit didn’t deliver.

The most damning play was, as often for Schwartz’s defense, a critical late-game third down. Everyone on both sidelines saw Chase Claypool against Nate Gerry and should have known the ball was going there — for some reason, the Eagles were okay with that. Protecting the timeout would have been nice, but the timeout is useless if you’re down by 9.

The Eagles were also flummoxed by a quads set in the goal line and gave up multiple easy completions to Jalen Mills’ side of the field as they tried to drop into their zones. The team isn’t well-coached.

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

How sad is it that he had an objectively good deep reception, and not only is it totally useless because the timeouts have been squandered, but it comes on a day you’ve been completely supplanted by a street free agent in Fulgham? Poor dude.

Alshon Jeffery

It took him 27 games to get his first 150-yard performance in an Eagles uniform. It took Fulgham, who is like Jeffery, but better in every way, 2.

John Hightower

I promise I’m not trying to do a “every WR but Fulgham” bit (I kinda am). But Hightower had a couple of backbreakers, which is frustrating for a player who has been featured in clutch situations. A fifth-round rookie should not be saddled with the responsibility he has carried, and while his 4th and four catch against the Niners was essentially game-winning, his failed catch at the end of the first half, as well as his failure to get out of bounds in the two-minute drill, took at least 3 if not 7 points off the board.

Growing player, but his mistakes hurt us here.

Nate Gerry

I Dunnos

The Dave Fipp/Jake Elliott/Doug Pederson/Headset Analytics Guy Chain

The Eagles’ management of the down and distance in near field goal range has been extremely weird this year. We had the decision to attempt the 59-, but not attempt the 64-yard field goal in overtime against the Bengals in what was largely a kick without consequence. We had multiple plays behind the line of scrimmage against the 49ers to take the Eagles from field goal range. And then we had the decision to kick the 57-yarder in Heinz Field, where long field goals are rarely kicked with any success.

It sounded like Elliott was booming them in the pregame — so you trust him now on 4th and 5 when you didn’t trust him two weeks ago from 64? At the Pittsburgh 49 with time and no timeouts, the Eagles took two deep shots before they ever established field goal range, and accordingly never got a chance at grabbing three before the half. The Eagles never seem to prioritize managing the fringe of field goal range. They don’t play for them, don’t care if they get in range, and don’t get care if they get out. I understand playing for touchdowns and not field goals, but it feels careless, especially when you suddenly hit a 4th and 5 in fringe field goal range and decide to lean on your kicker — when analytically, going for it seemed like a much better decision.

So what’s the solution? Unsure. The decision-making process is a bit jumbled, so the Eagles coaching staff and kicking unit should sit down and iron that out.

Darius Slay

It was Slay’s worst day as an Eagle; it was better than most Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby days in the last three years. Slay has been playing as a Top-5 corner for most of the season, and clearly banged up, he didn’t deliver at the same caliber today — that’s okay. I dunno what more you could want from him than what you’ve got thus far.