THE PHILADELPHIA EAGLES BABY
Never a doubt!
Carson Wentz is an emphatic winner from Sunday Night, and it is difficult to overstate the importance of that. Wentz still had his misses and was still jumpy in the pocket at times. Playing with the worst offensive line and arguably the worst receiving corps of his career, coming off of his worst three game stretch, captaining a winless and reeling team, I don’t think anyone expected a perfect Wentz game. In the first quarter, Wentz missed a Miles Sanders checkdown, limited YAC on a Greg Ward slant, and floated a catchable, but late ball to Richard Rodgers. His interception, also in the first quarter, came as the result of a panicked reaction to manageable pressure.
But his mistakes weren’t as devastating this time. He used his legs to move the sticks, took underneath routes as they developed, and continued to look accurate on the move. Once the team as a whole withstood his bumps, he really settled in. Wentz was accurate as he’s been all year especially in the second half, including on his 4th down conversion throw to John Hightower, his second and 22 heroic play to Boston Scott, and of course, the deep bomb to WR Travis Fulgham, a real person who plays football for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Wentz’s best throws of the season came in this game, which was his most desperate game with the least support. There’s something about his back against the wall that he responds to, and while that’s an exhausting process to endure as a fan, it is admirable to watch in practice. Wentz is still quite far from the player the Eagles want him to be, but he was indeed gutsy, as HC Pederson would describe him postgame. He was what the Eagles needed.
Travis Fulgham (also Genard Avery (also Alex Singleton))
It’s tough decide which moniker this game will don in Eagles infamy: the Genard Avery game, for his sack, TFL, and the QB hit which led to the Eagles’ first INT? The Alex Singleton game, for his relief of the Eagles’ putrid LB play with plays near the line of scrimmage and a pick-six? For my money, it has to be the Travis Fulgham game. He only had two catches, but the one — a 42-yard TD catch along the left sideline — was one of the most absurd plays of recent memory.
From a quarterback who can’t seem to hit an angle route, Fulgham saw a 40-yard dot on the left rail, brought it in through contact, and careened into the end zone. Every Eagles fan watching was stunned that nothing went wrong the entire time: that a WR wearing 13 didn’t drop a critical pass, or that Fulgham hadn’t stepped out of bounds at any point, or that there wasn’t a penalty to take the wind out of the Eagles’ sails. Fulgham’s play was ludicrous not only that no Eagles WRs seems to have made any plays like that in ages, but that Fulgham wasn’t even the long-term practice squad darling, like Greg Ward was last year or Alex Singleton was before this game. Fulgham was as far down to the bottom of the barrel at WR as the Eagles have ever gotten. That he made such a play just suspends disbelief.
But also, shoutout Genard Avery, who was acquired for a fourth-round pick and generally forgotten. His power rushes showed up nicely in this game, as Schwartz put him in a two-point stance to take advantage of his first step. And Alex Singleton, who played fast and aggressive at linebacker, and was rewarded with a gift pick-six at a position from which the Eagles don’t really expect playmaking.
Jordan Mailata and Joe Ostman
Here’s an extremely sweet thing.
Here’s why this is an extremely sweet thing.
Jordan Mailata and Joe Ostman getting extra reps in, more than 20 minutes after practice ended pic.twitter.com/HCnObnzxbe— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) August 3, 2018
Practice-squad players have taken on a different role this year given the short-term IRs, widened rosters, and overall increased roster turnover. But in typical years, while they are young, protected players for development, they also serve the role of acting on the scout team. And in the case of Joe Ostman, the technician from Central Michigan, he’s had one extra job since he landed in Philadelphia: raising Jordan Mailata.
A football baby when the Eagles drafted him in 2018, Mailata took his first start last night against the Niners, and while he was protected often by alignment and scheme, he made only one critical error: a 3rd and 1 false start that lead to a fruitless 3rd and 6. With that said, Mailata was anything but a liability, which is as solid as you can expect from a project like him. It remains to be seen if he can grow into further responsibility with more playing time — he’s likely the starter for the foreseeable future.
Kudos to Mailata for what he’s done to get ready; kudos to Ostman for how he’s helped him.
Jim Schwartz (until the final two drives)
While both coaches have their highs and lows on this one, Schwartz deserves a mention in the winner’s column for the bulk of the work he did. On an 18-point outing from the offense, Schwartz’s group had little room for error, and they delivered. Three turnovers is huge — the Eagles only had two such games in 2019 — and swung multiple scores in what ended up being a one-score game. Schwartz’s embrace of man coverage is delightful, where Darius Slay remains a top player, and while he needs an answer when a team has such an elite option as George Kittle operating from multiple alignments, his defense won as they were expected to this week: devastating front-four pressure with a deep rotation, and enough tight man coverage to take away the first read.
Best Derek Barnett game we’ve had in a while! I don’t really have anything smarmy. Great performance there. He’s had a good start to the year.
Miles Sanders or Duce Staley
Miles Sanders continue to be a huge part of the Eagles’ game plan until he suddenly isn’t. Last week, Sanders faded out of the offense against the Bengals due to the conditioning issues that he admitted to enduring in his opening game against Los Angeles, and this week, after being a huge part of the first three drives, he once again disappeared down the stretch. With one first down a potential ice late in the game, the Eagles handed off to Corey Clement and then Boston Scott. Sanders is supposed to be the bellcow — it’s four weeks into the season, and he can’t withstand a 1A’s rotation right now. He was banged up to start the year, but now he needs to be in shape.
In the event that this wasn’t conditioning related, Duce, please just run the top dog.
Two things are true regarding Zach Ertz.
One: without Dallas Goedert, let alone any other receiving threats at wide receiver, he is receiving more defensive attention than perhaps ever before. Defenses want anyone else to get the ball on third down, and rightfully so. Throw in the fact that the Eagles wanted to keep him in-line to assist the tackles, and the script was not set for Ertz to be a high-impact player today.
Two: if he wants to get paid like Kittle, he should produce a little bit more like Kittle — even under adverse situations.
Pretty clear why Pryor lost the starting gig to Nate Herbig before Week 1 of the season. Herbig was the worst of the lot in pass protection this week, which was an inglorious crowd to trail: Jordan Mailata and Jack Driscoll both did better, while Pryor has the most experience of the entire group. He was an effective run-blocker, which would matter more if the rest of the line was strong in that regard — but Arik Armstead did him badly all game long. He needs to be better.
Duke Riley and Nate Gerry
The dead horse is well-beaten, but it bears repeating exclusively for my mental health: the Eagles LB corps is terrible. When RBs make it through the defensive line, they’re rarely stopped at the second level. When underneath receivers release through the middle of the field, they’re rarely picked up. With the Eagles’ pass coverage issues from years past largely eliminated this year, the linebackers are the greatest liability on the defense by a comfortable margin.
I get the narrative, but I dunno what Pederson did that much differently than he’d already tried this season, especially in Week 2. Pederson got Wentz out of the pocket more, worked some crossing patterns, kept things simple and quick to free up his quarterback’s processing while not stressing protection. That was a pretty familiar approach to Week 2, and to a lesser extent, Week 3. Execution was just better, mostly by the quarterback.
With that said, I also dunno how the risk management calculus worked this week. The immediate go-for-two to open the game was entertainingly aggro and ended up affecting the game in a big way, but the play-calling on the final offensive drive of the game was meek, and the obsession with Hurts packages and plays behind the line of scrimmage in near-field goal range is inexcusably negligent. His decision-making was much like Wentz’s accuracy — improved, but still a little uncertain and scattershot.
And finally, I dunno what it about Pederson’s motivational abilities, but this team always comes out tough against ludicrous odds. His teams never say die, and that’s an admirable thing for a head coach.
He’s only here because I refuse to put him in the winners column. I have dignity.