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November 20, 2018

Al Morganti: Welcome to the new NFL, where the Eagles don't appear to belong

Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and we will spare you the usual list of yearly turkeys or what we have to be thankful for as sports fans in Philadelphia. After all, what’s the point when this is a week during which the Philadelphia Eagles would win both awards?

Instead, let’s take the time to hope that what took place on a football field in Los Angeles on Monday night is the future of not just the NFL, but of all sports.

Going into the holiday season, let’s hope the gift of offense is spread out around the world of sports. Let this be the final days of the adage that “offense wins games, but defense wins championships.”

Make that “timely defense” wins championships.

Just think back to the good old days of the last Super Bowl — you know, when the Eagles ruled the world. It was an offensive showdown with the New England Patriots, and the Eagles defense was being shredded by quarterback Tom Brady. But Brandon Graham made one big play, caused a HUGE turnover, and there was a parade to end all parades down Broad Street.

You can have a great defensive team in any sport, but you have to pile up points, find the end zone, score goals or drive in runs to really turn on an American sports fan. You can get charged up for a huge defensive stand, but it’s the home-run hitters, goal scorers and great quarterbacks who give the biggest jolts of electricity to a stadium or arena.

Monday night’s football game was impossible to turn off. Perhaps you started the night watching the Sixers before turning your eyes to a football game with over 1,000 yards of total offense and 14 touchdowns. The clock was ticking toward midnight, but it was must-watch TV.

There were also huge turnovers and more proof of Aaron Donald’s worth. This is going to be the new defense in the National Football League — a team might give up chunks of yards, but at key times there will be a turnover that can change a game, or at least keep up a team in shootout.

Year after year, the New England Patriots have featured a less-than-premier defense, but at key moments they always seem to force a turnover. Look no further than the Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks and the interception that won them the title.

The NFL is a league that gives every break to the offense, which is why defensive backs have to play with their hands tied. Any sort of physical play, and out comes a yellow flag.

Therefore, getting pressure on a quarterback becomes even more crucial, and that is why the Eagles need more from their weapons such as Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. If you are going to get to Drew Brees, Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, or even Dak Prescott, you will need to make them get happy feet.

Better yet, you have to separate them from the ball, and we have seen that happen throughout the NFL this season – just not from the Philadelphia Eagles. Although it remains true that an offensive line is still critical to a team’s success, it is obvious that offensive linemen coming out of college aren’t taught to block in any sort of NFL system, and the game-changers are coming from the defensive fronts at critical points.

The Eagles are a strange mix of weapons, and the addition of Golden Tate should have helped pile up yards. Then again, in a league tilted toward offense, the team could still use a receiver to stretch the field and open things up for quarterback Carson Wentz.

Wentz had a horrible game on Sunday, the worst of his career, but for the better part of this season he has been good enough to pace the offense, especially considering he has been the victim of some dubious play calling and lacks a running game that can open up an offense.

There is also the part of the equation that has been somewhat lost, and that is the fact that Wentz is coming off a major injury. The good news is that Wentz has looked fine, but the better news is that Wentz suffered an injury that usually takes a year of recovery time, so he should only get better.

Somehow, what many thought would be an Eagles offense that could hang with the likes of the Saints, Rams and Chiefs has turned into an offense that relies on catches by Zach Ertz – and that’s about it.

The game on Monday night was a pretty good indicator of how far the Super Bowl champions are from the best teams in the league. The track meet between the Rams and Chiefs would have left the Eagles in the dust – and the Eagles still have a date looming with Goff later this season.

The so-called “new normal” that coach Doug Pederson suggested after the Eagles won the championship is not working in the new NFL. Wentz is still capable of ranking near the top of the class for quarterbacks, the job now is to forget about the Super Bowl victory, and get an updated blueprint.

Time is getting short to turn it around for this season, and it will be tough enough to get past the New York Giants on Sunday. There's not a lot of runway left for a takeoff this season. But more importantly, they need to address their shortcomings to prepare for long-term success.