November 29, 2016
The Philadelphia Eagles fell below .500 for the first time all season thanks to a 27-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday night. And after the game, first-year head coach Doug Pederson casually slid something into one of his press conference answers that, despite the late hour, made several members of the media do a double-take.
"I still believe that we're obviously heading in the right direction as a team," he said, even though his team had just lost the sixth of its last eight games after starting the season 3-0.
You mean the team that has gone two games without a takeaway and just got outclassed by the Packers, who had lost four straight? The team that has gone from first to worst in its own division? The one that mustered just 13 points (and three in the second half) against a defense that was allowing 38.25 points per game over the last month?
You mean that team, Doug? That's the one headed in the right direction?
“Look at the effort," he said when asked to clarify. "I think you might look at wins and losses; I've got to look at the potential of the football team and the guys that we have. Are we there yet? No. Are we heading in the right direction? Yes. Again, it may not show up right now in wins and losses, but I see that potential. I see that there is no quit in this team. Everybody's fighting to the end. That's a sign that things are heading the right direction.”
There is a scenario in which both those things could be true. A young, rebuilding team with a rookie quarterback and first-time coach can certainly lose games while still appearing to be headed in the right direction. But that's not what we've seen the last two weeks.
Or the last two months, for that matter.
"I just think that we've given ourselves opportunities," Pederson said Tuesday when asked to revisit those statements. "If we just make a few more plays, just one or two more plays in some of these ball games, the outcomes are different and we're not talking about this right now. Yes, I'll admit, we're playing with some young guys on offense. These young guys are getting valuable, valuable reps. We had Big V in there for a while. Now [G] Isaac [Seumalo] is in there. Wendell and Carson, the youth at receiver that are getting valuable reps.
"Yes, I agree that it may not show on the scoreboard and it may not show with the wins and losses. I totally get that. We're in this business to win games. That's why we're here.
"But at the same time, I look at the process. I look at the plan. I use those words because those are words that we use around here because there is a plan and there is a process. You build your team through the draft. You pick up a couple good free agents in the offseason. You continue to work. You watch these young kids develop and turn into ball players and you see the potential. That's why, when I say that, that's what I see with these guys.
"I look at how Seattle has built their team. I look how the Raiders have built their team. I look at the plan that's been in place for a lot of teams around the National Football League that are having success now in their third, fourth, seventh years. That's the direction that we're heading in.
"So that's why when I say those comments like that, that's what I see. I see us three, four years down the road. I see us seven, eight years down the road having consistency that way and winning more of these games than not."
That's a very longview approach in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately environment. And in that case, he's right that the team is, overall, headed in the right direction. As they say, it's hard to see the forest through the trees.
Still, you can't help but go back to the way the season started and wonder if they're really on the right track.
Over the weekend, I wrote about how Eagles fan should be more concerned with Wentz's development than with wins and losses. It's very much in line with the way Pederson is apparently viewing the season, but it's hard to say he's "heading in the right direction" when his numbers have fallen off recently. Wentz hasn't played poorly, and I certainly wouldn't see he's regressing, but at this point he's getting experience more than anything else.
Furthermore, Wentz has been limited by a receiving core that is in absolute shambles, an offensive line that has been shuffled more times than one of Jon Dorenbos' decks of cards, and a stable of running backs that seem to be missing a different guy every week.
Oh, and the teams he's faced since the bye week are a combined 56-30-2 (.648) this season. The trio he faced prior? They're 8-26 (.235). That clearly has something to do with it as well.
Not even the world's greatest GPS could point this group in the right direction. For much of Monday night's game, the Eagles were without all three of their starting wideouts from Week 1 – Jordan Matthews was injured in the game, Nelson Agholor got a personal day, and Josh Huff, I imagine, was watching the game from the VIP section at Mons Venus.
Instead, Wentz was throwing to a guy they got for Dennis Kelly, Dorial Green-Beckham, and a pair of undrafted rookies who have spent most of the season on the practice squad in Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner. The latter duo combined for one catch for 11 yards on three targets, while DGB caught just one pass the entire second half – and had an offensive pass interference call that negated a huge pickup by Darren Sproles.
Matthews is expected to be good to go against the Bengals, but no word yet on Agholor's status. He's gone from first-round pick to starting receiver to healthy scratch in a season and a half. That's the exact opposite of "the right direction."
Remember when everyone was worried that Jim Schwartz was going to leave after this season to take a head coaching job somewhere else? That seems like it would be a good problem to have right about now.
Instead, the Eagles defense has continually slid back to mediocrity, and on Monday night was exposed at home for the first time all season. Their strengths suddenly became weaknesses.
Once leading the NFL in takeaways, the Eagles, who had 12 through their first six games has forced just four in their last five (including two in a row without any). They had also been holding opponents to just 9.5 PPG at the Linc, but allowed the Packers, with a patchwork offensive line and no running game to speak of, to put up nearly three times that on Monday. In fact, Aaron Rodgers and Co. put up more points than the Eagles' first three opponents at home – the Browns, Steelers and Vikings – did combined.
Fletcher Cox hasn't made a play in nearly two months, despite the fact that $103 million contract. Worse yet, he's actually costing the Eagles points with dumb penalties in crucial situations. Vinny Curry's huge offseason deal isn't looking like the best idea. And they just failed to record a sack against a Packers offensive line that was missing two interior linemen.
Yes, Aaron Rodgers was getting the ball out quickly, but the Eagles have just six sacks total in the five games since they brought down Sam Bradford six times in one game. They were averaging close to three/game before that.
But sure, they're headed in the right direction.