September 15, 2020
The Eagles didn't get off to the start many had hoped (or expected) when they squandered a 17-0 lead to Washington on their way to a 27-17 loss and an 0-1 record to kick off their 2020 season.
And, being that this is Philadelphia, the panic over the Eagles sloppy start is starting in a very real way. Of course, the loss to Washington was just one game, and there's plenty of time for the injury-ravaged Birds to turn things around. The question now is can they?
The answer to that question likely depends on who you ask. Sure, they'll get some of their injured players, like Miles Sanders and Lane Johnson back before long. But others, like Brandon Brooks aren't coming back. And there are still 15 more games to play, meaning the injuries are just getting started — typically teams don't get healthier as the season progresses.
The problem for the Eagles, however, is that not all of their issues from Week 1 will be solved with Johnson returning to his spot on the offensive line, or Sanders lining up behind Carson Wentz. And, unfortunately for Philly, they'll have to fix things quickly, especially along the offensive line, as they have a date with Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams this Sunday.
After opening as a 2.5-point favorite in that one, the Birds are already down to a 1.5-point underdog at all three Pennsylvania sportsbooks at TheLines.com. And there's a good chance that line slides further to the 1-0 Rams' favor as the week progresses.
After a preseason filled with hype and generally optimistic reports on the Eagles, things turned dark quickly, and this edition of What They're Saying is no exception. Let's take a look...
Remember when the Eagles won the Super Bowl? Of course you do, because if you're reading this you were alive when it happened (unless there are some super advanced two year olds out there). What you might not remember is the feeling you had in the weeks and months — and maybe even years — that followed. The feeling that the Birds were the NFL's next great dynasty, and the win in 2018 was going to be the first of many to come once Carson Wentz got healthy.
Well, in the two-plus seasons since the Eagles hoisted their first Lombardi trophy, things have gone sideways and the Birds seem to be taking another step back each year.
And after that awful Week 1 loss to Washington, it appears the slide has continued. Here's former Deadspin staffer (and Philly guy) Dan McQuade writing for the newly-launched Defector, where he posits that the Eagles are "just another team." And, honestly, it's pretty hard to argue...
The Eagles, since their Super Bowl, have been decent. They went 9-7 each season, and have made the playoffs both times. But it has been a wreck getting there. The living rooms and dens of Philadelphia houses have had a lot of pacing in them the last 24 months. And while the playoff runs have been nice—certainly, I’d take them over, say, the 6-9-1 and 3-13 campaigns of 1997 and 1998—the reality is beginning to set in for me and a lot of other Eagles fans: This Super Bowl was a one-off. This isn’t going to be a dynasty.
Reality—these last two seasons, plus one game in 2020—has shown that the Eagles are just another team. They’ve been wracked with injuries the last few years. Carson Wentz is making rookie mistakes in his fifth season. One of the Super Bowl heroes, Alshon Jeffery, is more recently known as a man who allegedly leaked complaints about Wentz. DeSean Jackson came back, is always hurt, and also posted some absurdly antisemitic content online. Zach Ertz just got into a fight with the GM. Second-year running back Miles Sanders missed the 2020 opener. There are also other receivers and running backs on the team, I think.
The Eagles are just another team. I will be watching them until I die. But I will die disappointed. I mean, unless Jalen Hurts is a superstar. I’ve been wrong about this kind of thing before. [defector.com]
Over at The Ringer, Danny Heifetz took a look at some reactions to Sunday's games in an attempt to separate the real ones from typical NFL overreactions.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, he thinks the panic setting in among the Philly faithful is legit...
It’s Panic Time in Philadelphia
Washington 27, Eagles 17
The worst part is that this loss made sense as it unfolded. Philadelphia’s offensive line was already banged up after losing left tackle Andre Dillard and All-Pro right guard Brandon Brooks for the season earlier this year. Then All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson was announced as inactive for this game with a lower body injury. Philadelphia’s depleted offensive line was manhandled by Washington’s extremely talented defensive front, which has five first-round picks, including Chase Young, and Carson Wentz got sacked a disgusting eight times for a combined loss of 62 yards. Young repeatedly took 38-year-old left tackle Jason Peters out to pasture on some real Circle of Life ish. But even when Wentz had protection, he did not play well. He ended the day with an ESPN Total QBR of 14.2 (out of 100). To put that in perspective, the worst full-season QBR rating on record is Jimmy Clausen’s 13.8 mark for the Panthers in 2010. Washington turned Carson Wentz into Jimmy Clausen.
Wentz is not that bad—nobody except Jimmy Clausen is—but the Eagles might not be much better than they looked on Sunday. Their offensive line is already in shambles, their starting running back, Miles Sanders, missed this game with a hamstring injury, and they have the fragile receiver duo of Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson. Philadelphia is so injury-riddled that Wentz, who has not finished a season healthy since 2016, is one of the team’s more durable players. Even if Wentz stays under center, it is unclear how the team can protect him enough to run a serious offense. Perhaps this is merely the karmic shift from all the Philadelphia sports fans who prayed for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to stay healthy for a 76ers playoff run, and now the Eagles are paying the price.
Verdict: Real [theringer.com]
[Editor's note: Ben Simmons missed the entire playoffs, which only lasted four games for the Sixers as they were swept out by the Celtics. So I believe Philly fans have already received that karmic retribution.]
While the Eagles may not have lived up to their hype in Week 1, all hope is not lost. As Brandon Gowton from Bleeding Green Nation pointed out, after the Giants' loss to the Steelers on Monday night, Washington officially became the only NFC East team to win their opener. And, of course, it came at the expense of the Birds.
Still, the division doesn't look that great. Brandon pointed out the numerous weaknesses of the other three teams in the division, but since this is a What They're Saying about the Eagles, we'll stick to his assessment of the home team, which pretty much erased any good vibes you might have been feeling after reading about Washington, Dallas and New York...
The Eagles’ Week 1 loss wasn’t concerning to the extent where there’s no hope things will ever improve. It’s early and we’ve seen Doug Pederson teams climb out of holes before.
But how much better can things really get? Are they really going from blowing a 17-point lead against Washington to being a strong title contender in the NFC? Especially as injuries and off-field issues amount?
On the one hand, it’s nice to see the division isn’t looking loaded. The Eagles can manage to stay alive even if they have some struggles.
On the other hand, it would be frustrating to see the Eagles only manage to make the playoffs in weak fashion before quickly getting eliminated. What if they’re stuck being a 9-7 team for third year in a row? Would such a finish inspire meaningful change in the offseason? [bleedinggreennation.com]
At this point, you're well aware of the Eagles offensive line issues and how big of a role that could play in their Week 2 meeting with the Rams. Aaron Donald lining up against Nate Herbig? Woof.
The Eagles can help Carson Wentz, however, by trying to keep Sean McVay's defense guessing. And one way they could do that is by utilizing a player who wasn't even active in their season-opening loss: second-round rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts. At least that's the idea offered up by Martin Frank of the Delaware News Journal...
In no way is this a suggestion that Hurts should play instead of Wentz. Rather, it's a suggestion that the Eagles should bring in Hurts for a package of plays just to keep the Rams pass rushers off balance.
If the Rams pass rushers stay in their lanes and prevent Hurts from escaping the pocket, he can stand in and throw the ball. If they rush him, he can use his speed to escape and gain yards on the ground.
Hurts gained 1,298 yards rushing last season at Oklahoma, in addition to throwing for 3,851 yards.
Hurts could be especially dangerous near the goal line.
As of now, Pederson has said Nate Sudfeld is the backup quarterback. Sudfeld was on the game-day roster against Washington. Hurts was not.
That could have been because the Eagles needed an extra running back and offensive lineman to compensate for Miles Sanders and Lane Johnson not playing.
That could be an issue, too, against the Rams. [delawareonline.com]
Of course, it would also go a long way toward the Eagles justifying the massive draft capital they spent on a quarterback, after they had recently extended Wentz and could've used that 53rd pick on, I don't know, an offensive lineman?
Speaking of Wentz, the Eagles need to do a better job of protecting their franchise quarterback. And, more importantly, he needs to do a better job of protecting himself. Even if the Eagles do utilize Hurts, it would likely only be for a few plays here and there, meaning Wentz would still be the primary target of Aaron Donald and Co.
Wentz took a massive amount of hits in the opener, many when he seemingly had a chance to simply throw the ball away and avoid the contact. Instead, he tried to duck under about a half dozen rushers, most of the time unsuccessfully. Over at ESPN.com, Eagles beat writer Tim McManus took a look at Wentz's inability to avoid getting hit, and how that's similar to a problem Michael Vick had — and struggled to correct — during his successful stint with the Eagles.
Can Wentz avoid some of those same pitfalls that cost Vick several games due to injury? "The success of the Eagles' 2020 season appears glued to that answer," writes McManus.
Like Vick, one of Wentz's greatest attributes can also be a weakness when applied too liberally. Wentz loves the big play. He'll stand in there and give a route time to develop, as he did on the 55-yard heave to rookie Jalen Reagor early in the game, and is exceptional at navigating the initial rush and creating off-schedule plays with his arm and his legs. The flip side is he gets himself -- and the team -- in trouble by not always knowing when to say when.
This offseason was largely about making the offense more explosive and tailoring it to Wentz's big-play preferences, and it was clear the coaching staff and quarterback were hell-bent on starting with a bang. Wentz averaged 12.26 air yards per attempt Sunday, per ESPN Stats & Information research, far and away the league's highest number in Week 1. (Minnesota's Kirk Cousins was next at 10.56.) Nineteen percent of Wentz's throws were downfield 20 yards or more, second only to Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (20.5%).
That was fine early on when the Eagles' patchwork offensive line was holding up and Philly blazed to a 17-0 lead. But the unwavering methodology proved disastrous once Washington turned up the heat, overwhelming an offensive front that was down three starters. [espn.com]
And finally, since we're not total masochists here, a bit of good news.
According to Lane Johnson himself, who was a guest on Derrick Gunn's new podcast, "Gunn On One," the Pro Bowl right tackle will be back against the Rams after offseason surgery to clean out his ankle.
Here's more from the interview, including some background on the injury that sidelined Johnson in Week 1...
DERRICK GUNN: Can we guarantee 100% that Lane Johnson will be out there against the Rams on Sunday?
LANE JOHNSON: I’m going to be out there, DGunn. I’m going to be out there, so, count on it.
DERRICK GUNN: I think a lot of people don’t understand that you played through much of last season with an ankle injury similar to this, didn’t you?
LANE JOHNSON: Yeah, so, I think the last two years has all kinda been leading up to this. It hadn’t really been 100% since I took a hit in Jacksonville [in 2018] and I took a hit last year against the Giants. So, kinda been on one leg for some time. Once I get the strength back, I’m ready to be a different player.
DERRICK GUNN: So why did you take so long to get this corrected then?
LANE JOHNSON: It was something that I was working with. I felt fine going into camp. It was one of those things in the scrimmage where it got nicked up and then had to be cleaned up. A lot of it is scar tissue in there from past injuries. Other guys go through the same process. You have to brave through that, rehab it up, and get your strength back, and once that happens you’ll be ready to go. [h/t BGN for the transcription]
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