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11 things I think about the Eagles following their loss to the Cowboys

On Jalen Hurts, Doug Pederson, Philly’s depressing future outlook, and more.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get to some very important thoughts following the Philadelphia Eagles’ Week 16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

1 - I think the Eagles fans can be relieved the playoff charade is over

There was a part of me that really believed the Eagles were going to make an unlikely run to the playoffs for the third year in a row. The New York Giants lost, the Carolina Panthers got out to an early lead over the Washington Football Team, and the Philadelphia Eagles were up 11 points on Dallas.

It was really happening again.

Until it wasn’t.

The Eagles’ December magic ran out with the Cowboys going on a 34 to 3 run to officially eliminate the Birds from the playoff picture they clearly didn’t deserve to be in anyway.

A playoff run could’ve been fun. There’s always some level of excitement to be had with the Eagles winning.

In the grand scheme of things, though, such an outcome would’ve done nothing to change the reality that big, meaningful changes are needed in Philly. And now the team doesn’t have a fraudulent playoff berth to distract them from as much.

Quite frankly, it’s a relief that we only have to watch the 2020 Eagles play one more game. It’s been such a joyless season. Stinks that the NFL had to make it even worse by flexing the Week 17 game to prime-time. No one should have to stay up late for that garbage!

But at least it’ll be over when it’s over.

2 - I think it’s pathetic how the Eagles were the first team eliminated from one of the worst divisions in NFL history

Back in the offseason, several members of the Eagles — including Doug Pederson and Brandon Graham — talked about how they had a continuity advantage. Whereas their three division rivals hired new head coaches ahead of a pandemic-shortened offseason, the Eagles had the same head coach, starting quarterback, and defensive coordinator in place for the past five seasons.

Turns out that didn’t really matter. The Eagles became the first NFC East team to be eliminated from playoff contention in one of the worst divisions in NFL history. A division that might be clinched with as low as six wins and seven at most.

The Eagles’ futility looks even worse when you consider all the quarterback issues and injuries their rivals had to deal with:

Pathetic. Embarrassing.

3 - I think the offensive ineptitude was lame

The Eagles’ offense put up 17 points against a Dallas defense that was allowing 29.2 offensive points per game, third most in the NFL. Second lowest point total the Cowboys have allowed all season. Only the Brandon Allen-led Bengals fared worse with seven points.

Doug Pederson deserves his fair share of blame. Wasn’t a good game from the Eagles’ head coach. Too often lacked aggression. Too many pre-snap penalties. Wasn’t able to adjust to adjustments. On that note, the Eagles have only scored 13 points in the second halves of their last three games combined.

4 - I think Jalen Hurts looked like a rookie

In last week’s edition of this weekly post, I wrote that “the Eagles should move forward with Jalen Hurts.” Some were quick to shove that line in my face following Hurts’ struggles against the Cowboys.

Sunday’s game obviously didn’t do anything to boost Hurts’ stock. But I can’t say I’m feeling dramatically worse about him. He looked like what you would’ve expected from a rookie out there.

Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of concerning stuff. Hurts throws with nice touch but repetitive accuracy is an issue, as reflected by his 54.7% completion rate this season. Hurts failed to read the field well and too often bailed from clean pockets. His mobility remains a plus but there are questions about the viability of him running so much, especially when he got banged up in this game. Hurts unwisely forced the ball into coverage on both of his interceptions and he’s now up to six fumbles through three starts.

But the argument for moving forward with Hurts — who did have some good moments on Sunday — isn’t about definitively knowing that he’s The Guy. The Eagles aren’t making a long-term commitment to him. They can have him be the starter next year and figure out where to go from there based on how he performs. It’s an admittedly risky approach — just look at how the Denver Broncos fared after putting faith in Drew Lock — but there’s also risk in holding on to Carson Wentz for too long. Not moving Wentz this offseason could cause the team to miss out on value in return and it requires making an extended financial commitment to him ($15 million of 2022 salary becomes fully guaranteed on third day of 2021 league year), not just next season.

The reality is there’s no simple, obvious answer to the Eagles’ quarterback situation ... and that’s kind of a problem!

5 - I think Hurts playing poorly doesn’t suddenly justify Carson Wentz’s struggles

Saw a decent amount of “See, Wentz wasn’t the problem!” takes floating around after the game. Uh, no, Wentz was still pretty awful independent of surrounding circumstances and there is still serious concern about his viability moving forward.

Also, not exactly comparing apples-to-apples here. Wentz is a fifth-year player who turns 28 in two days. Hurts is a 22-year-old rookie who never started an NFL game until a few weeks ago. And Hurts, though not great, has been the better starting quarterback this season.

6 - I think the defense was too depleted and Jim Schwartz struggled to make the most of it

Tough to expect a shutdown performance when Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett, and Josh Sweat were missing and the following players saw meaningful playing time:

  • Grayland Arnold — 2020 undrafted rookie free agent
  • Marcus Epps — 2019 sixth-round pick cut by team that drafted him
  • Michael Jacquet — 2020 undrafted rookie free agent
  • Genard Avery — Has been a healthy scratch multiple times this year
  • T.Y. McGill — Fringe talent who’s been on 8 different teams since 2015
  • K’Von Wallace — 2020 fourth-round pick
  • Raequan Williams — 2020 undrafted rookie free agent
  • Joe Bachie — Someone you didn’t even realize was on the roster

Still, hard to say Schwartz made the most of things. Replacing Jacquet with Jalen Mills took too long. Playing so much man coverage clearly wasn’t a great plan.

Truth be told, I have a hard time getting extremely worked up about the defense when the offense stinks so bad. The Eagles rank third to last in defensive spending. The Eagles rank third highest in offensive spending. The latter unit is underachieving so much more.

That’s not to say Schwartz can’t be criticized. He can. And the Eagles might be able to do better at defensive coordinator. But they could also do worse.

7 - I think DeSean Jackson’s return went exactly as expected

Made a big play with his 81-yard touchdown. Looked like vintage DJax out there. And then didn’t see a target the rest of the game due to injury.

There’s no point of playing the 34-year-old wide receiver in Week 17.

8 - I think Brandon Graham getting to 10 sacks is one of the best things that can come out of this miserable season

Pretty sad that the bar is this low but fans should be rooting hard for BLG to pick up at least two sacks against Washington. He got the Pro Bowl bid. Now let’s get him to double-digit sacks for the first time in his career. Graham’s an all-time Eagle who deserves it.

9 - I think Week 17 is a must-lose game

We can’t reasonably expect the coaches and the players to intentionally lose. They have their careers to worry about, not what’s best in the long-term interest of the franchise. But fans are obviously most invested in the latter. And you should be rooting for the Eagles to lose.

The idea that the Eagles can build positive momentum into 2021 with a meaningless Week 17 is BS. I remember when people thought four straight wins to reach 8-8 in 2011 would really help the Eagles in 2012. It didn’t. They went 4-12 and Andy Reid got fired.

Eagles fans should be rooting hard for the team to lose to Washington. Couple reasons why:

  • The Eagles will pick no lower than No. 6 and as high as No. 3 in the 2021 NFL Draft with a loss. Prime position to get a stud and less room for error.
  • The Eagles will send Washington, which sorely lacks a long-term quarterback answer, to the playoffs instead of delivering the division to the winner of the Giants vs. Cowboys game (1:00 PM start time). The Eagles winning to get Dallas in the postseason would be disgusting.

Here’s to a loss!

10 - I think the Eagles are a mess and it’s hard to have hope for the future

Not trying to be a Debbie-downer here but it’s just the reality of the Eagles’ situation. They’re a mess! They’re a bad team with major questions at quarterback, head coach, and general manager. It’s hard to have faith in the current regime fixing things when they’re the ones who created this chaos. There isn’t an easy fix on the horizon with the Eagles largely locked in to this same roster for 2021.

The NFL is typically a year-to-year to league and, in that vein, maybe I’m underrating the Eagles’ ability to turn things around faster than expected. But what’s there to really feel good about? Which young players truly excite you? Am I supposed to believe Roseman isn’t going to whiff badly again in the 2021 NFL Draft?

I worry that the Eagles’ 2020 struggles aren’t so much a blip on the radar as a sign of an extended dark period to come.

11 - I think the Eagles need to clean house, not just fire the head coach

Pederson’s tone following the Eagles’ loss to the Cowboys has been interesting. He’s talking like a head coach who’s been assured that his job is safe. Maybe he really will be back. Or maybe it doesn’t mean anything. (Can’t get this kind of insight elsewhere, folks.)

Maybe the Eagles are willing to chalk up 2020 as ‘one bad season’ for a franchise that’s won a Super Bowl and logged three playoff berths over the last four years. Maybe they keep Roseman and Pederson but make some half-measure changes like making John Dorsey a full-time hire and making Pederson give up play-calling duty to hire a real offensive coordinator.

The feeling here is those attempts would be half-measures not likely to result in meaningful change.

The Eagles can’t just make it as simple as “we made the playoffs three straight years before this one, we’ll be fine.” There’s been an argument — not just in hindsight this year but back in the offseason — that this team was worse off than it appeared. They were awesome in 2017, sure, but they barely made the postseason in 2018 and 2019.

Jeffrey Lurie can’t get caught up in thinking about what was. The Eagles’ owner needs to come to grips with what is.

And “what is” is a franchise that’s 23-26-1 since winning Super Bowl LII with a very bleak future.

Lurie cleaning house feels unlikely. But it’s probably the best way for him to go. A fresh start is needed with such a critical offseason ahead.

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Leftovers

Wrote some thoughts on Jalen Reagor and many others in this week’s snap counts article. In case you’re wondering why someone was left off in this post.