If you are an astute observer of football, you’ve probably picked up on some problems with the Eagles’ offense during their 0-2-1 start. They are 24th in yards per game (336.3), 25th in passing yards (218.7), 17th in rushing yards (117.7), and have scored the 6th-fewest points per game through the first three weeks (19.7).
Carson Wentz’s 63.9 passer rating is the worst in the NFL.
Read that again. In a league that employs Mitch Trubisky (87.4), Sam Darnold (70.7), Dwayne Haskins (75.7), and Daniel Jones (69.2), Carson Wentz has been worse than all of them so far.
There are some who believe he’s going to turn things around, and he certainly has the ability to do that, but a number of obstacles block his path back to prominence.
Too Many Cooks?
Head coach Doug Pederson is in charge of the offense. He designs the gameplan and, for now anyway, he calls the plays. But since the Super Bowl season of 2017, Pederson’s gameplans have become a bit stale, to the point general manager Howie Roseman fired offensive coordinator Mike Groh last season and hired a slew of new people to rejuvenate the offense and improve its efficiency.
So far, the Eagles’ EPA (Expected Points Added) per snap is 28th in the NFL. In other words... they’ve been bad.
Rich Scangarello helms the newly-created post of Senior Offensive Assistant after just one year as Denver’s offensive coordinator. The Broncos finished 26th in offensive efficiency in 2019, per Football Outsiders, and averaged the fifth-fewest yards (298.6) and points (17.6) per game. Prior to that, Scangarello achieved some success tailoring an offense around Broncos rookie QB Drew Lock in the last five games of the rookie’s season in 2018, but didn’t follow that up with similar success last year.
Press Taylor remained as QB coach and was also promoted to the position of Passing Game Coordinator. Matt Burke was hired to be the team’s Run Game Coordinator (and Defensive Line Coach), Andrew Breiner arrived from Mississippi State after two years as the passing game coordinator/QB coach there to become the Eagles’ new Pass Game Analyst, and former Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg assumed a new role as Offensive Consultant.
That’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen.
It was clear the Eagles needed some fresh perspective and new ideas for an offense that had grown plodding and stale, but the addition of so many voices in an offseason with no OTAs and no preseason games perhaps has not given the team the advantage they thought it would, at least early in the season.
The addition of so many new names and faces runs the risk of causing confusion. Does Wentz know who to go to during practice when something goes wrong? Who gives him positive or negative feedback? Without a singular “offensive coordinator,” do the Eagles have a structure in place that makes it clear who’s in charge of what?
Pederson said this week they plan to “declutter” the gameplan and make it simpler for Wentz pre-snap. Perhaps that will help, but it’s fair to wonder if all these new voices and a COVID-induced summer without structure have made things more complicated in the first few weeks of the season.
While injuries have certainly played their part in Wentz and the Eagles’ early struggles, it’s not fair to lay all the blame at the feet of the huddled wounded. Nevertheless, those football ouchies continue to plague this football team, specifically the offense.
Last week, already without Jalen Reagor and Alshon Jeffery, Wentz lost Dallas Goedert, perhaps as important a player in the entire offense as anyone given how much Pederson plays two tight-end sets, in the first half, and then DeSean Jackson later in the second half. Miles Sanders tired as the game wore on and was largely unavailable in the second half, as well. It’s not easy to compensate for that.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Jackson did not practice and is day-to-day with a hamstring strain. It’s a crapshoot as to whether he plays this weekend. Reagor and Goedert are both on IR, JJ Arcega-Whiteside did not practice on Wednesday either (although even when he’s on the field he’s not really there), Sanders didn’t play the first week of the season, and three-fifths of the presumed 2020 offensive line — Andre Dillard, Brandon Brooks, and Isaac Seumalo, are either out for the year or for multiple weeks. Lane Johnson and Jason Peters have dealt with nagging injuries, too.
This Sunday, Carson Wentz will have an offensive line that consists of Peters at left tackle, Nate Herbig at left guard, Jason Kelce at center, Matt Pryor at right guard and Johnson at right tackle. Sanders should be ready to rock and roll for a full game by now, but with Goedert out, the Eagles will likely go with less 12 personnel for a while. That wouldn’t be such a big deal if Pederson had his full compliment of receivers, but on Sunday, it could be Greg Ward, John Hightower and... um... well Alshon Jeffery practiced this week with the hopes of being ready for Week 4, and rookie Quez Watkins was activated off IR and could see his first action as a pro against San Francisco, too. Maybe DeSean and JJAW will play too, but you get the point. It’s ugly.
Carson Has Spiders In His Head
Everything with Wentz is a mess. His mechanics are off, his decision-making has been faulty, and yet there are still moments where he makes a terrific play and you see the ability that lies beneath. But you don’t get to be the lowest-rated passer in the NFL by being anything other than awful, and whether it’s confusion with the coaching staff, the lack of cohesion in the gameplan, the injuries, or some other mental block, Wentz just ain’t right.
In many ways, Wentz is still chasing 2017 and that’s no way to play football. Yes, he probably would have been the league MVP and, yes, I’m almost certain the Eagles would have won the Super Bowl with Wentz playing at the level he was that season. He had to stand and watch his back-up quarterback take the team on that magical run, knowing it should have been him up there. As a result, he rushed back from his injury to get back on the field in 2018, struggles, suffered a back injury in the process, and watched as Foles took the team on another brief run to the playoffs.
Last year, he dealt with a cavalcade of injuries and dropped passes that would have shaken the confidence of any quarterback. But after struggling in the middle of the season in much the same way he’s struggling now, he recovered with a group of practice squad players to reach the postseason, only to be robbed of playing in his first playoff game by a cheap shot from Jadaveon Clowney in the first quarter.
All that bad luck can mess up a guy’s mind, and despite what he may say in his Zoom calls, it’s clear Wentz is pressing. He desperately wants that Super Bowl that eluded him in 2017, but knows the clock is ticking. He’s trying to force it, and you can’t win that way.
There’s also the selection of his back-up QB, Jalen Hurts, in the second round of last year’s draft, a decision that had to send mixed messages to Wentz. Sure, Roseman signed Wentz to the contract extension last year, so it’s clear Carson’s not going anywhere for a while, but what kind of message did Hurts’ selection send to the locker room, the coaching staff and, most importantly, to Wentz himself?
These are not excuses for Wentz’ poor performance, by the way. He has to be mentally tough enough to overcome the Hurts pick and say to himself “Screw that, I’m keeping this job,” and then play at a high level. As a quarterback in his fifth year in the NFL, he simply has to be better. But how realistic is it Carson can actually be better, given the injuries and coaching staff issues?
Time Heals All Wounds?
The macro issue facing the offense is they do not have an identity. They want to be a play-action, down-the-field defense stretching operation, but don’t have the offensive line or skill players to pull it off. They don’t trust the run game enough to pound the rock and set up the play action, and Wentz doesn’t have the time to turn his back to the defense and let the plays establish themselves.
The good news is the entire NFC East is a dumpster fire. Even at 0-2-1, the Eagles aren’t in last place and only trail the 1-2 Cowboys and Football Team by half a game. Pederson’s decision to punt at the end of overtime might actually be a blessing come season’s end if, as in 2008, an 8-6-1 record bests a number of 9-7 teams for a wild card spot or perhaps the NFC East title.
If the issues facing the offense are time-related, then there is hope. There is hope the coaching staff can figure out how to formulate a gameplan that is consistent and gives the team an identity, hope that Wentz may get some of his injured players back, and hope that he eventually pulls out of whatever mental and/or physical funk he’s in right now. There’s not much time, mind you, but there is still some.
Things look bad right now, no doubt about it. The schedule gets real ugly real quick and, if the Eagles don’t surprise some people and win two of their next three games, this team could turn into a seller pretty quick. The 49ers are banged up too, perhaps even more so than the Eagles, so this would be a good time to pull off an upset in a game no one expects Wentz and the offense to win.
But they must overcome their offensive issues first, and there just may be too many of them to do that.