December 03, 2017
Philadelphia fans should know better than anybody that the good times can't roll on forever. A chance to take the NFC East title and strengthen their hold of the No. 1 seed in the NFC fell by the wayside, and the Seahawks reminded the Eagles of their own mortality in a 24-10 drubbing on Sunday Night Football.
• If Carson Wentz looked off the pace and a little timid to start the game, he at least proved a little more adventurous in the second half. The Eagles began attacking the intermediate zones to open the half, with Wentz finally putting an emphasis on targeting his two big targets, Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery.
Ertz and Jeffery were targeted just once in the first half, they had 4 receptions on that last drive. Despite the fumble, there were positive signs on that series. pic.twitter.com/tSFcuBxmCI— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) December 4, 2017
But the real star of the offense on Sunday night was Nelson Agholor, who probably — okay, definitely — had his best game as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Agholor absolutely torched the Seattle secondary all night, finding gaps in the coverage early and often.
Carson Wentz missed him twice on plays that should have turned into touchdowns, but they did make the third time the charm. Wentz threw a beautiful pass to a streaking Agholor on third-and-long, and the Eagles finally made the game interesting at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
There’s the Byron Maxwell we know and love! pic.twitter.com/La62LkttRt— Patrick (@PatrickMCausey) December 4, 2017
Agholor breaking out against the Seahawks to the tune of 141 yards and a score is a bit of poetic justice, considering the stinker he had there last season. Wentz's play and the team's record have overshadowed lots of cool things happening in Eagles world, but Agholor turning into a legit piece on this offense is one of the great stories of the season. Talk about bouncing back from adversity.
• Panic will begin to set in around Philadelphia in the week following this loss. "They've been exposed! A good team showed them what they really are!" But I will stress that it's important to keep this game in the proper perspective.
The Eagles are still 10-2. They still control their own destiny and have a team that has played lights out football for most of the season. They have an MVP candidate and a coach who has consistently out-schemed teams in the second half, both of which bode well for when things get chippy in the playoffs.
No one will want to hear this, but even if this season ultimately ends up in disappointment, the Eagles have the structure in place to sustain their success over multiple seasons. They have a coach and a quarterback who are still learning, and yet they're still achieving at a high level in year two together.
• The challenge Doug Pederson decided to use in the third quarter was correct on pure merit. Unfortunately, I think it showed a poor understanding of how the NFL tends to officiate on spot situations, particularly when the difference between their spot and your hopeful spot is minimal.
Even if the call had been overturned, I think that's bad process on Pederson's part. He and his staff are more aware of the challenge trends than I'll ever be, and I think they need to show some better situational awareness there. What made it even worse was that it was only a fourth and inches play at worst, and Philadelphia immediately converted it on a QB sneak after the challenge didn't go their way. No reason to put a timeout and a lost challenge at risk there.
• Wentz certainly looked more assured as a passer in the second half, but he made a costly error on the opening possession of the second half, fumbling the ball near the goal line and putting possession back in Seattle's hands.
1st red zone turnover of the season for Wentz pic.twitter.com/XVmKlhm6bc— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) December 4, 2017
Up until that point, it looked like the Eagles were finally about to get rolling. Wentz has done his team a great service by not throwing many interceptions this season, and Philadelphia's red-zone efficiency, in particular, has been absolutely elite. Nothing is worse than coming away from a long drive with nothing to show for it.
As in the first half, the Seahawks immediately made the Eagles pay for blowing their opportunity. After a long throw down the field nearly resulted in a touchdown for Doug Baldwin, the Seahawks punched it in from the one-yard line and took a commanding lead late in the third quarter.
Eagles get burned by the blitz, Wilson gets the ball out before it gets to him and Baldwin beats McLeod deep pic.twitter.com/jk9OjKJsH5— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) December 4, 2017
On Philadelphia's next possession, there was another missed opportunity that Wentz squandered. Agholor found himself with nothing but turf between him and the end zone, and all Wentz had to do was allow him to run after the catch. He underthrew Agholor badly, and he had to go to ground to make sure he brought it in.
Wentz overthrew Agholor earlier and underthrew him here. Could've been 6. pic.twitter.com/YQXdoFZr3B— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) December 4, 2017
If Wentz is going to be judged as an MVP-caliber player — and he deserves to be for his play this season — he also has to take responsibility when he falters. Wentz got outplayed by the man behind center for Seattle, and he had several high-profile mistakes that cost his team points. Nothing to panic over, but a part of his evolution all the same.
• You can sell me on going for it on fourth down in Seahawks territory, down 17-3. You can even get me on your side for calling a screen play, and the Eagles caught the Seahawks totally off guard with the play call on fourth and three. But even if you're confident in Kenjon Barner as part of your RB rotation, why would you have your fourth-string RB in on a critical play, particularly when he's the focal point of said play?
At the very least, go to Corey Clement there, who has shown an affinity for hauling in catches so far this season. In fact, Pederson turned to Clement on a later fourth-down swing pass, which he took for a pretty sizable gain. I just don't understand the logic behind turning to Barner, who is a useful contributor but not my idea of someone you turn to when you need a clutch play.
But Pederson's big mistake of the night was not throwing a challenge flag on Russell Wilson's lateral/forward pass midway through the fourth quarter. If the challenge he made on Torrey Smith's catch was an example of how not to handle your replay reviews, this was the exact opposite. It was a high leverage play that had the potential to put the ball back in Philadelphia's hands with the chance to tie the game, and he didn't even give it a chance to happen.
That was a forward pass, but hat tip to Russell Wilson. pic.twitter.com/P7k95hhgND— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) December 4, 2017
Reviewing game-changing plays is the reason you have the challenge flag in the first place. You act conservatively with it when there's not much to gain from the replay review. That was not the case here, and I would say this is probably the worst moment of Pederson's generally excellent season.
• The youthful mistakes of Wentz and Pederson underlined something important for this Eagles team to keep in mind: they might be a little bit more dependent on home-field advantage in the playoffs than their NFC competitors. They are still green in the gills compared to some of their peers, who are led by quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and so on) who are much more accustomed to the pressure cooker of the NFL playoffs.
That's not an indictment of Wentz or the team, just an acknowledgment of how tough it is for young players to succeed in a playoff atmosphere on the road in any sport. This makes next week's game against the Los Angeles Rams even more important because the Eagles need to make sure they don't stumble and drop the baton with the regular season finish line in sight.
• Standing ovation for the officials of this game, who everyone obviously tuned in to see. It was not enough to have a marquee matchup between two of the best teams in the NFC, we had to be treated to a flag-filled extravaganza.
What was so frustrating about the officiating is that even when the calls went Philadelphia's way, they tended to be egregiously wrong. Ronald Darby appeared to cleanly break up a play down the sideline in real time, but on the replay, he very obviously pulled on a receiver's facemask and prevented him from hauling in a reception. Somehow, despite a ton of soft holding calls and phantom penalties, that sort of thing went unnoticed.
Any semblance of consistency would be helpful. It sucks to watch for fans, and it sucks even more for the players who have to figure out why a soft grab six yards from the line of scrimmage is a penalty, when diving at a player's knees on a fair catch is not.