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The Eagles are a good team playing very badly

Can they figure out how to play good again?

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

This will not be a defense of the Eagles’ 33-13 defeat at the hands of a more motivated, confident, and sharp Dallas Cowboys team last night. This will not be an excuse for the turnovers, penalties, and overall sloppy play the Birds forced us to watch in prime time. This will not be an escape hatch for some truly awful coaching that starts at the top with head coach/CEO Nick Sirianni and filters down to first-year coordinators Sean Desai and Brian Johnson.

There is no excuse for what happened last night in Dallas, or the week before against the 49ers. The 10-3 Eagles, still in control of their own destiny in the NFC East but now trailing San Francisco for the top seed in the conference, are too talented to explain away the truly galling inability to compile a complete game this season, as well as two horrific performances in back-to-back weeks.

We haven’t seen the Philadelphia Eagles play this poorly since before Sirianni’s “blooming flowers” speech midway through his rookie season in 2021. We haven’t seen the team looked overmatched in any way since their loss to Tampa in the wild card game that season. We haven’t seen defeated faces like we’ve seen these last two weeks with this group, ever.

Right now, the Philadelphia Eagles don’t have an answer for what ails them, and that’s potentially troubling, but before the fanbase jumps off the bandwagon and buries them completely, the smarter money supports the belief that things are not as dire as they may appear.

The Eagles are a good team playing badly. They are not a mediocre team that played over the heads in running their record to 10-1.

It’s hard to argue that, right now, the 49ers and Cowboys aren’t better than the Birds. The last two weeks have made that painfully obvious, albeit in different ways. San Francisco came into Philly and bullied the Eagles all over the field. It wasn’t a contest. Last night, Dallas was the crisper, more disciplined team, while the Eagles’ stars committed a number of uncharacteristic blunders — specifically the wide receivers.

The Eagles fumbled the ball three times deep in Cowboys’ territory, killing scoring drives each and every time. There were multiple drops by both A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith that would have put the offense in prime position to score. The talented offensive line committed a number of penalties that shot them in the foot, and inside the red zone, the team often stalled due to an inability to handle Dallas’ all-too-obvious blitzes and mystifying play-calling.

The offensive gameplan has been vanilla and stagnant for weeks, and if you thought Sirianni was going to be more inventive this week in Dallas, you were wrong.

Last night, Jalen Hurts targeted just three players: A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith and Dallas Goedert. For the record, the Eagles did have more players on the field. And don’t talk about the running game. The offense fell behind so fast, it was a pointless exercise.

Defensively, Desai’s unit was a step slow and outmuscled throughout the first half before finally showing a little life in the second half. Of course, by then, Dak Prescott and the Dallas offense was playing for field goals, knowing the Philadelphia offense couldn’t get on track. The lack of pressure from the defensive front early failed to generate consistent pressure on Prescott, who took advantage of soft coverage schemes by an Eagles’ secondary that looks older and creakier with each passing week. This group plays a passive, bland, un-physical brand of defense that is hard to watch too easy to score on.

But I don’t believe this is who the Eagles truly are. I believe they are closer to the team that went 10-1 and was in control of the NFC two weeks ago.

Why?

  • Not to make excuses, but this schedule has been the most difficult I can ever remember in Eagles’ history. The last stretch that remotely compares was in 2006, when Jeff Garcia had to navigate through three straight road games against divisional opponents in December in order to get to the postseason — and they did it. In the last seven weeks, these Eagles have played the Dolphins, Cowboys, Chiefs, Bills, 49ers and Cowboys again. Those opponents have a combined record of 44-20. That’s a winning percentage of .687.
  • They’re a team with older players at key positions and it’s clear the physical and mental toll of this string of games has gassed them. They look like they’ve hit a brick wall, particularly the defense. Last night, they were on the field for 82 snaps. Against the 49ers, they played 72 snaps, the week before in the OT win against the Bills, an insane 95 snaps, and against the Chiefs were on the field for 79.
  • In addition to the Eagles’ fatigue, both San Francisco and Dallas came into these games with mini-byes, 10 days of rest each. That’s a big advantage this time of year, and while that shouldn’t take anything away from how both teams pummeled the Birds, I do believe it is a big reason why both teams seemed to have had more of a hop in their step than Philadelphia. This Eagles team was built to dominate the trenches, but have been manhandled each of the last two weeks in those spots.
  • After having so many bounces to go their way in the three-game winning streak against Dallas, K.C. and Buffalo, turnover/drop reversion to the mean hit this team like a freight train the last two weeks. Remember when Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped a sure TD pass and a slew of other Chiefs receivers couldn’t hold onto the ball? That was balanced out in part last night by Brown and Smith’s troubles. It’s football!
  • This is not an upstart Eagles team that came out of nowhere to start 10-1 this season. They went to the Super Bowl last year. They have Pro Bowlers littered throughout. While they have rarely played four solid quarters in succession in 2023, they do have playmakers all over the field who have a history of making big plays in big moments. They have a pedigree. This isn’t a young team playing over their heads.

That said, if they’re going to make another Super Bowl run, this good team needs to start playing, well, good. They remind me a lot of this year’s Phillies offense that started off so slowly in April, May and June before finally catching fire over the season’s final three months. Sure, it didn’t result in a World Series, and this year’s Eagles team may simply not be as good as Dallas or San Francisco, but those Phils were too talented to play that poorly for that long.

The Eagles aren’t helping themselves with vanilla play design, uninspired defensive schemes, or personnel issues in the back-seven of the defense. The coaching staff is doing absolutely nothing to confuse opposing offenses or defenses, instead stubbornly asking their tired core to outperform their opponents mano-a-mano, when they’re clearly not in a position to do that. They can’t get off the field on third downs, defensively. They can’t run the ball when they need to offensively. Hurts played well last night, but didn’t do anything special to lift his team when they most needed it, either, and his running game has disappeared entirely. They are more one dimensional, and need to figure out a way around that.

But this is a good squad. They have a challenging road game in Seattle this week, but with the game flexed to Monday night, they’ll have at least one extra day of rest against a team that may not have their starting quarterback (Geno Smith’s going injury could keep him out against the Eagles). After that, they have three punching bags that should help them restore confidence and right the ship.

No one expected the Eagles to go undefeated through this gauntlet, but we also didn’t expect them to get spanked like this, either. There is a mental hurdle that Sirianni, Hurts and the rest of a veteran team must clear in order to overcome this current wave of adversity.

The Eagles aren’t the bullies right now. They’re getting bullied. But I believe they’re still a good team that simply isn’t playing good, rather than a mediocre team that played over its head.

They’ve got a month to prove me right.

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