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Eagles vs. Rams: 9 winners, losers, and I dunnos

AT LEAST WE FIGURED OUT THEY WERE GONNA LOSE EARLIER THIS TIME

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles lost to the Rams.

Winners

Miles Sanders

Man, it was nice to have Miles Sanders back. That early fumble was very frustrating, as Sanders’ ball security was an issue in Penn State (10 fumbles), but he ran hard all game long and didn’t seem dedicated to bouncing runs for explosive plays the way he did in his rookie season. Sanders’ work with his blockers was also a good sign for his season play, and while his routes and catches weren’t perfect with Wentz this game, he remains dynamic with the ball in his hands.

The running game in general was critical for the Eagles against the Rams, as Los Angeles’ defense was pleased to play light in the box and cover the Eagles’ deep patterns. Wentz checked into runs consistently during the game and stayed ahead of the sticks, which was a luxury he sorely lacked during his Week 1 game against Washington.

Darius Slay

Darius Slay is a winner once again because once again, he was not targeted. Slay is filling the exact role that the Eagles envisioned when they acquired him: erasing the opponent’s primary receiving option and forcing the ball elsewhere. It is not his fault that the rest of the defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed.

The offensive coaching staff

I give a lot of credit to the Eagles’ coaching staff for the changes they made in the last seven days. This was about as stark of an about-face as you’ll see in the NFL.

The Eagles gave up eight sacks in Week 1 and none in Week 2. Carson Wentz’s depth of target was almost halved from Week 1 to Week 2 as he frequently got outside of the pocket on script. Jalen Reagor got schemed touches on newly-imagined screens. Jalen Hurts got involved (albeit exclusively as a distraction). The offense became so much less volatile, and the Eagles strung together several long drives. Away went the outside timing routes in favor of timing routes that stayed between the numbers, the deep play-action dropbacks without underneath options.

Things got choked in the red zone as space condensed, and the Eagles must become better there. In general, this nickel-and-dime approach works better when the quarterback is playing well, and Carson Wentz wasn’t playing well — they have to find a balance between the two ideas. But this was a move in the right direction.

Shaun Bradley and Davion Taylor

Rookies just got a lot closer to playing time! Remember when this Eagles team let Jordan Hicks walk?

Nate Herbig and Matt Pryor

To the point of the offensive coaching staff, a shout-out belongs to Nate Herbig and the second-half play of Matt Pryor, both of whom acquitted themselves as well as you can expect for bottom-of-the-barrel offensive linemen. Neither Herbig nor Pryor are quality pass protectors, but Herbig especially has held his own there in the early days — but the impressive work they put out is in the running game, where both are people movers who paved lanes all day. Kudos also belongs to Jeff Stoutland for the work he’s done getting this ragtag unit ready to play.

Losers

Literally the whole defense

Besides Darius Slay, I guess.

The Eagles’ expensive defensive line continues to not have the impact on the game that you’d hope for their price tag. Fault falls in a couple of spots: They’re underperforming, as Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are looking older, Javon Hargrave is still coming back from injury, Derek Barnett is mediocre, and Josh Sweat is too aggressive against the run. But they’re also getting no help, in the running or passing game, from their teammates.

Again, the fault falls in a couple of spots. The personnel is bad, as Jim Schwartz’s influence in the front office and roster management on defense has led to the continued play of Nate Gerry and Jalen Mills; the overestimation of Avonte Maddox and Rodney McLeod. The scheme is so oriented on penetration from the defensive line that corners inevitably play on islands, so aggressive that play-action and misdirection devastate the structure.

Oh...so it’s pretty much all on Jim Schwartz. Okay.

It’s not, of course, but this unit has gotten worse over the last few years, and now even the vaulted run defense is leaking, with the linebacking corps looking worse than ever. Who is the future of the defense?

Carson Wentz

Two bad Carson Wentz games to start the season for the 0-2 Eagles — as my co-host Michael Kist remarked last week, this entire team seems to go as the quarterback goes, with no ability to extend beyond his play. The offense did a better job in this regard this week, but it remains the case that Wentz’s bad plays are so crippling that the combined effort of the rest of the team cannot overcome his errors.

Wentz’s two really bad plays this week were the two most important plays for the offense — the interception down 5, and the 4th and 2 chuck into double coverage — and other than that, he really was just fine. Against Washington, he had so many quality third-down plays to keep drives alive to put the Eagles’ in scoring position — and then he had terrible third-down sacks to knock the Eagles out of scoring position, and interceptions to put the Football Team in scoring position. Here, he was only good before he hit the Rams’ 35 yard line, and the closer he got to the red zone, the worse he played.

What do you do with Wentz? Keep on trucking. He’s not playing any worse than he has for other stretches in his career, though it certainly is more frustrating when the receiving corps is better (in theory!) and he has another year of experience under his belt. Bad mechanics, imprecise window throws, and poor pocket management continue to keep his play from being consistently quality. The Eagles may have accelerated the clock on their patience with Wentz by picking Jalen Hurts this past year, but they also paid him a ton of money, and will continue searching for a consistent, explosive offense that they know they can get from him if they just get the formula right.

Howie Roseman

Many have voiced frustration with Roseman after this game, which I think is largely overblown. A lot of the defensive personnel decisions are heavily influenced by Schwartz, a lot of the draft picks by Joe Douglas. But the buck does stop with Roseman, and he is most accountable for the things that could have happened: namely, contributors being acquired with the second- and third-round pick of this past draft.

Davion Taylor and Jalen Hurts don’t make this team better right now, and this team needs to be better right now. The primary issue with the Hurts pick was never QB value — it was always the relative needs on the rest of the roster, which the Eagles actively ignored by picking a humongous project in Taylor. The Eagles’ problems on defense (CB, S, LB) and on offense (WR) were issues dating back to last season; they were not addressed, and again, that buck stops with Roseman.

I dunnos

Avonte Maddox

I really think Maddox is a quality player and deserves to start on a team, but I’m just not sure how he’s gonna fare at outside corner for the duration of this season. He’s not big enough to press successfully, which is how the Rams got so much easy underneath stuff early, and he struggles to close on the catch point on those plays on which he remained sticky. He’s a CB3, ideal for the slot. He’s gonna struggle this year, and it’s not fair for him, as it’s what he’s been asked to do.