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September 13, 2020

Eagles look way different — but also the same — in ugly Week 1 loss to Washington

Eagles NFL

Depending on what portions of the Eagles dreadful loss in Washington Sunday you witnessed, you may have thought you were watching a repeat of something that happened in 2019.

Or perhaps you were filled with hope, joy and optimism (if you turned the game off when they were leading 17-0).

While there was some good to be found, which we will start with, in the loss in Week 1, there were far too many reminders of the frustrating play that drove fans out of their minds in 2019 — not to mention Doug Pederson's first opening day loss as Eagles head coach.

With such a limited offseason, it would be hard to expect the Eagles to be much different than they were this time last year, even with an addition of speed and youth thanks to the NFL Draft in April.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Here are three observations in each category we took with us from an ugly three hours in Landover, Md.

New for 2020

Deep ball

The early going was fun to watch and added new wrinkles to the Eagles pretty dry and boring offense from a year ago. Having speed can do that.

Jalen Reagor had a 55-yard catch to set up a score and the speed of the rookie, plus a (mostly?) healthy DeSean Jackson and John Hightower made the Washington defense worry about the downfield threat. Wentz did, among a bevy of other mistakes made, overthrow his speedsters several times, including a key third and three, trailing by a score with four minutes to play. A drop by Zach Ertz on fourth down (drops... that's nothing new), led to a turnover on downs.

That threat allowed the middle to open up for tight ends Ertz and Dallas Goedert, who combined for 11 catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

Secondary success

Darius Slay didn't play the perfect game, but he sure was a solid match for Terry McLaurin. Last year. McLaurin gave the Eagles secondary fits. In Week 1 this year, the Washington aerial attack was held to just 159 total yards.

The safeties were solid and Avonte Maddox should have had an interception as the defensive backfield did the best it could — only faltering after turnovers gave Washington short field after short field to make things a lot harder in second half than they were in the first.

With the Eagles trailing late, the secondary was really not tested as the Football Team did most of its damage possessing the ball and making short-ish gains in the second half to take advantage of Wentz' big mistakes (yeah, we'll get to those).

Running nowhere

The Eagles were without Miles Sanders, and were far from fielding their first-string offensive line, so the drop-off in the running game was kind of predictable.

Still, Boston Scott, Corey Clement and Jason Huntley combined for just 57 yards on the ground on 17 carries (3.2 YPC). With the run game not effective enough to keep Washington honest, the focus was on rushing the passer and giving Wentz issues (which we will get into in just a second).

If Sanders can return and the offensive line can get its act together, the Eagles are likely to improve their ground game and more closely resemble the unit's 121 yards per game from 2019.

Reverting to old habits

Wentz turnovers

Last year, Carson Wentz threw seven interceptions in 16 games. He threw two against Washington and both can be blamed just as much on the Eagles quarterback as they can on the intended targets (two rookie receivers) for not fighting back to the ball well enough.

For whatever reason, Wentz seemed to be forcing the ball more after helping Philadelphia stockpile a three-possession lead. Throwing the ball into coverage twice, the Washington defense twice jumped the throw and snagged the ball from the Birds. Both times, Football Team had a short field and was able to punch it into the end zone. A potential third INT was called back thanks to an offsides call.

Wentz committed yet another turnover in desperation time in the fourth, fumbling the ball with his back against the end zone. Last year, Wentz had 16 fumbles and now has 49 total in his career after two today (the first was recovered by the Eagles).

Wentz started by leading the Eagles to 17 straight points and 210 yards gained in four possessions. In their next eight, they gained 26, turned it over three times and allowed 17 unanswered points. The turnovers, whether they come as fumbles or picks, could derail the Birds' entire season.

Wentz holding the ball too long

This was a problem last year, as Wentz often times has a chance to avoid a sack and throw it away (like Tom Brady has done for decades), but instead, the QB puts faith in his occasional ability to shed would-be tacklers to try and extend his time in the pocket.

This was particularly frustrating, when Wentz was brought down for the fifth time (of eight total) with the Eagles deep in Washington territory in the third quarter. A bad sack on third down pushed them back just out of range for Jake Elliott, who came up short on a long field goal try. Had Wentz slung it out of bounds, it would have been three points.

All of the blame for the sack issues does not fall on Wentz. With the offensive line clearly inexperienced and working through injuries to Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks and Andre Dillard has not made things any easier behind center. Last season, Wentz was sacked 37 times. If this continues in 2020, Philly will far exceed that. Sunday's eight set a career-high for Wentz.

Injuries, ugh

The Eagles were already missing their top running back (Sanders), their top two offensive lineman (Johnson and Brooks) and two of their top defensive linemen (Derek Barnett and Javon Hargraves) heading into the game. Well, add Brandon Graham, Jack Driscoll, Scott (who returned) and Vinny Curry to the list.

By the fourth quarter, the line up was being filled with recently-signed free agents (T.Y. McGill) and offensive line with an Australian Rugby player who has never appeared in the NFL before this season (Jordan Mailata). 

The bad luck the Eagles have had with injuries over the past few seasons is absolutely flabbergasting. Did the relatively last minute subtractions of Johnson and Sanders throw the Eagles for a loop this weekend? Here's hoping both return next Sunday.

Follow Evan on Twitter:@evan_macy

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