Anyone who witnessed Carson Wentz’ second half collapse, a coaching staff who couldn’t put their players in a position to succeed, and roster construction issues that were exacerbated by another incredible rash of injuries, would be fools not to be very concerned about the state of the Philadelphia football franchise.
The optimist will proclaim it is too soon to worry, that it is only Week 1. They would be correct. The Dallas Cowboys did not look good in their Sunday Night loss to the Los Angeles Rams last night, although the Rams are believed to be one of the better teams in the conference while Washington is objectively dreadful. But both are 0-1 to start the season, so the Eagles’ 2020 postseason dreams are by no means shot. Many good teams have gotten off to 0-1 starts and lived to talk about it.
But the pessimist will note the injuries continue. The team ignored the linebacker and strong safety position this off-season, and paid for it in a big way yesterday. The offensive line depth that was tested when Andre Dillard and Brandon Brooks were lost for the season was glaring, DeSean Jackson strangely disappeared for big portions of the game, young players who looked good in training camp were invisible in Week 1, and perhaps most worrisome, Wentz played like a rookie, not the five-year veteran QB he is.
So who was most to blame for Sunday’s disaster in the District? Here is my list, from least to most responsible.
10. The Pandemic
The Eagles don’t play many of their starters in the preseason to begin with, but it was costly for the rookies and younger players not to have any game action together until yesterday. John Hightower didn’t drop a pass in all of training camp, but things escalate when you’re going over the middle to haul in a pass and hear the footsteps of approaching linebackers and safeties. JJ Arcega-Whiteside supposedly had an awesome camp, but Wentz didn’t look his way once. Jalen Mills and Nate Gerry looked lost at times on defense, and Carson just didn’t look comfortable with his young receivers, especially in the second half. It was a weird off-season and that perhaps had something to do with what we saw in Week 1.
9. DeSean Jackson
Jackson, who says he wasn’t injured, played in just 54% of the offensive snaps yesterday, apparently splitting time with Jalen Raegor at the X position. Was this part of the gameplan? If so, Jackson didn’t seem thrilled about it, and if it was, it doesn’t seem wise. You want Jackson, the only receiver with any real experience on the team, involved as much as his body will allow. His absence during much of yesterday’s game was bizarre, and he failed to have as big an impact in Week 1 this year as he did last year.
8. Jason Peters
Peters wasn’t the offensive line’s biggest problem yesterday, but he wasn’t much of a solution, either. After getting paid more to switch back to his old position, Chase Young made Peters look old. Perhaps Peters needed a week under his belt to reacclimate to left tackle after having played right guard all summer, but that seems unlikely. Peters has played that position all his life. The line had enough problems on the right side, and a bad day from Peters on the left side didn’t help.
7. Zach Ertz
I’d love for the Eagles to sign Ertz to a contract extension, but one can understand why Roseman and Jeff Lurie are reluctant to do that. Dallas Goedert looks ready for a breakout season after his performance yesterday (8 catches for 101 yards and a TD), and the Eagles can’t afford to keep both guys at big cap numbers moving forward. Ertz was vocal about his belief that the Birds didn’t want to keep him around after this year, and reports indicated an airing of grievances between Ertz and Roseman at some point in the last week. Given all that, Ertz needed to haul in that 4th-and-3 pass late in the 4th quarter yesterday. That was the final nail in the coffin.
6. Jalen Mills
No one was expecting Mills to be as good as Malcolm Jenkins right away, but Mills was making basic mistakes that he should be well past. Passing off wide receiver Steven Sims to, well, nobody was a glaring error, and there appeared to be miscommunication between himself, Avonte Maddox and the linebackers. Again, could just be first week confusion. We’ll see.
You cannot punt an entire position on the field, I don’t care how highly or how lowly you value the position. The linebackers have to make plays and aside from a couple of Nate Gerry moments, the linebackers are a serious weakness that will get exploited this year.
For the second time in three years, the Eagles overhauled their medical and training staff, but it hasn’t seemed to make a difference. What’s to blame for all the injuries? I mean, this team came into Week 1, with NO preseason games mind you, as banged up as most teams do going into Week 7. And it wasn’t just old guys who were hurt, as Derek Barnett and Miles Sanders were both out, too. Up and down the roster, offense and defense, young and old, this Eagles team continues to suffer injury after injury, which makes putting together a roster all the more challenging. Is it the practice field? Pederson’s practices? Bad cleats? What is it???
3. Howie Roseman
It was kind of a bummer that the Eagles’ second round pick in this year’s draft was inactive yesterday, especially with two starting offensive linemen out and a third playing a position he wasn’t supposed to play this year. It was kind of a bummer they came into the season having ignored the linebacker position and were forced to give Nate Gerry 99% of the defensive snaps yesterday. Duke Riley played OK, but he’s no playmaker, and with Derek Barnett, Javon Hargrave and, later, Brandon Graham all out with injuries, and no Malcolm Jenkins to cover up mistakes, the Eagles had no linebackers on the field who seemed to know what they were doing.
Recent drafts have yielded little fruit with which the Eagles can work. They wasted a fourth round pick on Genard Avery. JJ Arcega-Whiteside was once again invisible yesterday. Dillard looked like a huge question mark before he got hurt. Sidney Jones was a wasted pick, and Rasul Douglas underperformed for a third rounder. Using Mills at safety seems like a bad decision.
Certainly injuries have played a part in some of the holes on the roster, but a lack of successful draft picks in recent seasons have left the Birds’ depth in woeful shape. This is Howie Roseman’s roster, and yesterday, it wasn’t good enough.
2. Doug Pederson & Offensive Coaching Staff
As was noted by Ben Solak on the Eagles’ postgame Kist & Solak podcast yesterday, Doug Pederson and Rick Scangarello did their players no favors by continuing to call long-developing play action passes while the Eagles had no running threat to speak of and an offensive line that was getting manhandled. Having Carson Wentz turn his back to the defense as he’s constantly under siege and, for the record, isn’t good at handling pressure to begin with, was foolish at best and moronic at worst.
Yes, we all wanted the offense to look different in 2020, but that was dependent on the offensive line not being anchored by a rookie fourth-round draft pick in Jack Driscoll and the undrafted Nate Herbig. It’s possible those two will get better as the season goes along, and hopefully Lane will be back soon, but on a day when the Washington pass rush was eating, adjustments needed to be made. Pederson is a smart coach. He has to be smarter than that.
1. Carson Wentz
No one has been a bigger Wentz supporter than me, but games like yesterday’s just can’t happen to a supposed top-10 player and former MVP candidate in his fifth season. Wentz can own it in the postgame press conferences all he wants, but until he learns not to play “hero ball” on every snap and take what the defense (and offensive line) gives him, he’s going to be a limited quarterback.
Wentz cannot be this inconsistent. He cannot be this erratic. If the Eagles are going to make a postseason run, Wentz simply has to be better. While I still vehemently disapprove of drafting Jalen Hurts in the second round of the draft this year, yesterday was the first time I understood why Eagles’ brass may be hedging their bets. There’s no doubt he’s had to deal with a number of headwinds in his career, but many of Washington’s eight sacks were squarely on his shoulders. He put the ball on the ground twice. He missed open receivers. He threw two picks. He handed Washington at least 20 points.
Maybe this was all just a matter of first week kinks. After all, Wentz and the offensive coaching staff did not have any preseason games together. He was not able to work with Hightower or Raegor in game situations before yesterday. This was Pederson and Scangarello’s first game action working as a team. Perhaps this was just shaking off the rust, but for as hot as Wentz began the game, for him to completely fall apart the way he did is inexcusable, no matter the difficulties he faced.
It’s year No. 5 for Carson Wentz and games like yesterday’s are simply inexcusable.