With 4 games in the books, it’s time for our first “cumulative” assessment of the Eagles for the 2020 season, and, well, it’s not gone as I thought it would, to say the least. Don’t get me wrong, I was as thrilled as anyone that the Eagles gave us their first win this week, catapulting themselves to first place in an abysmally bad NFC East. Just like in 2018 against the Rams, or 2019 in Lambeau, Doug cobbled together one of his penchant “gotta have this one” wins. But that’s the thing - it was a win of desperation, seeded by three games of fielding the literal worst passing offense in the NFL according to Football Outsiders.
And that’s the problem with the Eagles in 2020, the same problem they’ve had since they won the Super Bowl - they win the games they have to win, but rarely win the games they should win, unless they’re playing divisional opponents. This gives us breathtaking highs and excruciating lows, and it also gives us mediocre 9-7 seasons and abrupt playoff exits. 9-7 (or 9-6-1, or 8-6-1, whatever) may even be a tall ask for this team this year, but that might not be necessary to win a horrendous division. Let’s start unpacking that statement.
In this article:
- The Eagles offense - is it overcooked or half-baked? Or both?
- Who’s to blame for these linebackers, Schwartz or Howie?
- Defining Carson Wentz
- Game predictions for the next 4 weeks
Offensive Soup is Bad for the Soul
When Doug went out and hired a platoon of offensive assistant coaches, some fans who had been clamoring for more outside hires swung in the other direction and became worried about “too many cooks” with their hands in the offense. I was not one of these people and, in spite of the pathetic excuse for an offense we’ve seen thus far, I still am not. Gathering these assistants under one roof wasn’t a bad idea - but the execution of that strategy was naive at best and careless at worst.
In a chaotic offseason where minicamps and workouts fell victim to a pandemic, to me a logical plan for the offense would be to start with what everyone on the team knows and slowly incorporate wrinkles from the various assistants hired during the offseason. Doug, it seems, in his never-ending quest to prove he is smarter than everyone else, saw an opportunity to “unleash” a hybrid Reid-Shanahan inspired offense right out of the gates, before anyone had tape.
The results were predictable in hindsight: an “offensive soup” with no clear direction or identity, with players out of position and unsure of their assignments. My greatest fear was that the ensuing chaos would make it impossible to return to a simpler offense. Everyone was already disheveled and out of sorts; you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. But Doug, in desperation mode against the 49ers, found one treatment for the offensive ills: going no-huddle, which by design forces an offense to employ simpler concepts that all players had likely run since college or even high school. This tactic bore fruit almost immediately, as the Eagles scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to take an early lead over the 49ers. Having established a shaky rhythm, they were able to try a more traditional approach as the game wore on, and while it was still full of mishaps and miscues, it was not enough to derail them like in games past. Case in point: the Eagles last offensive touchdown came in a drive marred with bad calls and blown assignments, but ended with a beautiful touchdown pass to the unheralded Travis Fulgham.
Will this be enough to help the Eagles start anew in their quest to right this ship? That remains to be seen, but if their last game was any indication they won’t be going down without a fight.
The Curious Case of Nathan Gerry
Nathan Gerry is bad at football. I know this. You know this. Everyone knows this, except Jim Schwartz, who insists on trotting him out on the field, and Howie Roseman, who has seemingly decided that he will just let Schwartz tell him how to manage defensive personnel. And so we will be stuck with Nathan Gerry and whatever other UFA that Schwartz decides is “good enough” to play on defense.
Now, the defense is admittedly halfway respectable this year, having performed well in numerous categories, albeit mostly against bad or undermanned offenses:
Four games in, the Eagles’ defense is #1 in the NFL in sacks, #9 in yards allowed, #5 in yards per play allowed and #5 on third down.— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) October 5, 2020
The keys to success? The defensive line has caught fire with 13 sacks in the past 2 games, and the secondary has some real bright spots with Slay, McLeod, and LeBlanc. But the linebackers remain a frustrating Achilles heel, consistently missing the first tackle and routinely failing to blow up plays in the backfield when they’re there to be had. Those are the kinds of plays that need to be made and could even cost the Eagles games against better, healthier opponents.
Ultimately, Roseman deserves the blame for taking Schwartz’s indifference to linebackers as an excuse to essentially ignore the position. They’ve gotten lucky so far. Some say Kyle Jusczczyk would still be running if Mullens hadn’t overthrown him after Gerry abandoned his assignment like he always does. But that luck will run out, and when it does Roseman needs to be the one left holding the bag.
Show Me the Real Carson Wentz
I’m thinking of a quarterback. He was a first-round pick out of a Division I-A, midwestern school. Something of a project, he was drafted mostly on the strength of his arm, his athleticism, and flashes of greatness that he showed on college tape. The team that drafted him was more enamored by his potential than his production. This ultimately paid off with a playoff berth in the quarterback’s second year.
Who am I thinking of?
If you said, “Carson Wentz,” you would be correct. If you said “Josh Allen,” you would also be correct.
It feels strange to draw comparisons between these two quarterbacks. Allen has been the butt of jokes for the majority of his starting career. Wentz is floated as an annual MVP candidate. And yet, are the two really that different? They both have shown stretches of brilliance between stretches of frustrating inconsistency. They both “WOW” with their big arm and scrambles. They both hold on to the ball too long, take too many frustrating sacks, and struggle with accuracy.
Early in the season, I began calling Wentz a “rich man’s Josh Allen” to describe his poor play. Now I’m not sure if I can even say that. Allen is on a tear, piloting the Bills to an impressive 4-0 start with spectacular play reminiscent of what we saw from Carson in a now-faded 2017 season. Wentz, on the other hand, is Football Outsider’s worst quarterback. Allen is first by DYAR and second by DVOA to Aaron Rodgers.
The point of all this is that maybe we need to reframe our endless discussions about who Carson Wentz actually is. Maybe he is both the great quarterback plagued by a talentless offense and the “one-hit wonder” that only succeeded when things went right around him. Maybe he won’t always save the day on a whim when everything around him is falling apart - but he can if you set him up for it.
Through this perspective, Carson’s struggles are as much his own fault as they are the fault of the coaches and general manager. Yes, he makes poor decisions under duress - but if the coaches simply acknowledge this, instead of trying to make him better, they could plan around it. With Josh Allen, the coaches seemed to ask, “What does he do well?” and put together an offense that maximizes that while minimizing his shortcomings. They have more or less abandoned trying to help Allen overcome all of his weaknesses, preferring to assemble an offense that masks them.
Similarly, Doug and his endless staff of assistants need to stop hoping Carson will improve at this point in his career and execute the offense they want him to execute and instead give him an offense they know he can execute. That offense may be limited right now due to a lack of talent, but as we saw on Sunday with the hurry-up and rollouts, he can still make great things happen when put in the right situation.
Carson is always somewhere on the “Allen/Wentz spectrum.” He’s probably never going to transcend that, and the coaches need to face that fact and tailor the offense accordingly. Until then, we’re going to be stuck with 2018 Josh Allen while the Bills keep rolling with 2017 Carson Wentz.
Win-Loss Predictions, Games 5-8
Well, the Eagles are a far cry from the 3-1 record I envisioned a month ago. But that 3-1 record would have been more than enough to lead the division, which the Eagles currently do, so... I was half-right? Yes? No? We don’t care? Okay then, let’s look at their next 4 games, where they should be getting healthier on offense. It’s not as bad as you think, I promise.
- Week 5, at Pittsburgh: The Eagles have their work cut out for them against the Steelers, who are coming off a surprise week of rest due to Tennessee’s COVID outbreak and currently boast the league’s third-best defense by DVOA. But, call me crazy - I like the Eagles in this one. I think Doug will be galvanized by his ballsy gameplan paying off against the 49ers, and he’ll find a way to get the offense to crawl down the field in Pittsburgh. The Steelers’ offense has actually been mediocre this year, and Schwartz has the defense playing good football after a shaky start. There is zero room for error here, but if the Eagles play a clean game (and that’s a big if) I think they squeak out a victory at Heinz Field. Eagles win, 17-13
- Week 6, vs Baltimore: Last year’s darlings, the Baltimore Ravens, kick off a three-game home stretch for the Eagles. I could go into some detail about this one, but really there are only two questions that matter here: “Do you think the Eagles defensive line can contain Lamar Jackson?” and “Do you think the Eagles linebackers can tackle Lamar Jackson?” Yeah, me neither. Eagles lose, 31-14
- Week 7, vs New York Giants: After the Bengals game, I really considered that the games against the Giants would be toss-ups. But after seeing a spark of life in the Eagles on Sunday, and watching the Giants somehow field an offense that looks worse than the Eagles’, I’ll fall back on my old stance - I’ll believe the Eagles lose to the Giants when I see it. Eagles win, 20-10
- Week 8, vs Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys should be running away with the division since they are the only team in the NFC East to produce something that actually resembles an NFL offense. But their defense is just so unbelievably bad that they’ve found a way to mess that up. (Is Mike McCarthy the only person on Earth that knows Mike Nolan is a terrible defensive coordinator? It sure seems that way.) This game reminds me of the game against the Saints back in 2012. That Saints team had a historically bad defense as well, and I was thinking, “If the offense can’t get right against the Saints, they aren’t getting right against anyone.” The Eagles lost that game, 28-13. Fortunately, 2020 Doug Pederson is not 2012 Andy Reid (he’s not 2020 Andy Reid, either, unfortunately) and has already shown signs of injecting life into the offense against the 49ers. The Cowboys always give the Eagles a tough time, and there’s no way they can really slow down that offense, but I think the “better” defense comes out on top. Eagles win, 34-31
So I have the Eagles going 3-1 (again) here, which honestly surprised me. I actually debated going back up to give them a loss to the Steelers, but screw that. Ride or die with the team, man. If this actually - miraculously - comes to pass, your Philadelphia Eagles will be 4-3-1, with a 2-1 division record. That might be enough to have a “commanding lead” in the NFC East at the break. And, really, if they (very plausibly) drop that game to the Steelers but steal very winnable games against the Giants and Cowboys, they will be 3-4-1 and absolutely in the thick of it, given how bad this division is. Hell, they’ll still be alive at 2-5-1 with another loss to the Cowboys.
Speculating records may seem pointless in a “lost” season, but I’m done rooting for draft picks. The Browns root for draft picks. We are not the Browns. If there’s any lesson from 2020, it’s that life is short and I’ll take any Eagles win I can get. Change, if necessary, will eventually arrive, but until then I want to see my team hosting a game on a frosty January evening.
How will the Eagles fare over the next 4 games?
This poll is closed