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November 22, 2020

Final observations: Browns 22, Eagles 17

Eagles NFL
Wentz-sacked_112220_usat Scott Galvin/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is sacked by Cleveland Browns defensive end Olivier Vernon.

The 2020 Eagles did exactly what everyone should have expected on Sunday, losing 22-17 to a better football team thanks to bad quarterback play, bad coaching, and an eventual collapse of the defense after holding the line for most of the game. They are what they are: a team with serious short-term issues and potential long-term problems that they have refused to try to solve.

Here's what I saw on Sunday afternoon.

The Good

• The concern going into Sunday's game was that Cleveland would be able to neutralize (or at least slow down) Philadelphia's most productive defensive unit — the defensive line. As it turns out, everyone forgot to tell the big boys up front they were in a fair fight. The defensive line continued a strong season by bullying the Browns in the trenches for most of the game.

Stopping the run is not always enough to control the game in the modern NFL, but it is against a team like the Cleveland Browns, with Baker Mayfield needing a lot to go right around him to get the job done. Slowing down Nick Chubb made it tough for Cleveland to get things going through the air, and though Philadelphia's secondary still ended up biting on a few playaction fakes, the boys up front basically kept the Eagles in the game by themselves (with an additional shoutout going to Alex Singleton, who has emerged as a decent story for Philly's defense).

No play was more important than the strip-sack from Fletcher Cox early in the third quarter, with the offense useless as ever and the Eagles looking like they were on their way to being shut out. With one well-timed swipe at the football, Cox ripped the ball out of Baker Mayfield's hands and put the Eagles in possession deep in Cleveland territory.

A short field turned out to be all Philadelphia needed on offense, and they didn't take long to capitalize on the turnover. Carson Wentz scanned the field and eventually landed on Richard Rodgers in the back of the endzone on the first play of the drive, tying up a game that had been atrocity on offense up to that point.

This team is not going to win any blowouts this season, so opportunistic football will have to do. Good job on both sides here.

• Just want to give Alex Singleton his own little blurb for the performance he had on Sunday because good lord do we need something positive to talk about with the Eagles. If it was just the linemen doing their job with poor play behind them, there's no way the Eagles would have kept Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt under wraps for most of the game. Singleton was excellent in pursuit of runners, shedding blockers and shooting gaps to stifle the Browns in the run game.

• Congratulations to breakout offensive star...Richard Rodgers? 

The Bad

• There have been a lot of issues this season, from quarterback play to coaching incompetence and a whole lot more, but Philadelphia's personnel evaluation is almost certainly the biggest problem with the 2020 Eagles. They refuse to let go of the past, and it is kneecapping them on both sides of the ball, limiting their ability to improve and evaluate the team in the meantime.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on offense, where Jordan Mailata and Travis Fulgham each stepped into roles and thrived with their veteran counterparts out injured. Maybe that overstates what Mailata showed specifically, but at the very least he showed promise and production, and he has long-term potential for this team that Jason Peters certainly can't offer.

So what has Philadelphia done since? Turn it right back over to the old guard. The play would have been wiped out by a holding call anyway, but Alshon Jeffery's big opportunity of the day led to a dropped pass on third down, and Peters was an absolute statue at left tackle, getting beat on the edge with ease despite the absence of Myles Garrett. The Eagles are getting nothing from these guys, and they're also learning nothing about how good or how bad the younger options are. Fulgham has been their best skill-position guy this season, and he didn't even get a target until the third quarter.

Doug Pederson's justification of these decisions has arguably been worse than the decisions themselves. Telling people that Mailata might benefit more from watching Peters get absolutely fried at left tackle than he would from playing left tackle is pissing on the fans and telling them it's raining. 

There is maybe a single person in the organization who is as good as he is now as he was in 2017, and that's Brandon Graham. This team has operated as if everyone is as good now as they are three years ago, including people they brought in who weren't with the organization at that time.

• Why are the Eagles waiting until the fourth quarter of the game to run designed rollouts for Carson Wentz? Is it really that hard to see what his strengths and weaknesses are for the guys who work with him every day? I don't get it.

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• Doug Pederson and Wentz are having a season-long competition to see who can make the more bewildering, incoherent decisions on offense. For Pederson, it's the fourth-down aggression that has no real rhyme or reason. For Wentz, it's holding the ball through sacks, fumbles, and open windows to throw into, only to throw the ball into quadruple coverage in a huge spot during the fourth quarter, nearly ruining a potential scoring drive with a Hail Mary type attempt.

Seriously, what happened to these guys? It feels like a Freaky Friday situation compared to what we became used to three years ago. There's no synergy, no consistency, no mental sharpness, just a giant roller coaster of emotions and bad decisions that are occasionally followed up by a flash of talent. That's not good enough.

Again, there are contextual reasons for Wentz's struggles, like those personnel issues we talked about higher up the page. He cannot be expected to answer for the mistakes of his offensive line, which are the product of organizational mistakes and weaknesses that may doom the near future of this team.

But on Wentz's end, we're seeing him misfire and make mistakes even when he has a clean pocket and open receivers to throw to. He was standing clean in the pocket on a throw in the fourth quarter that he threw at least a yard or two behind his target, a throw that probably should have been intercepted by Cleveland. The occasional good throw or good drive doesn't make up for all the screw-ups. 

There is a feeling of danger whenever he has the ball in his hands, and that's exactly where you don't want to be with your quarterback. Wentz started the game strongly and absolutely collapsed on Sunday. This is a Jay Cutler season, only if half the fanbase denied what they had and what they were watching. You don't hitch your wagon to that guy long-term. He's having a miserable season in spite of playing in perhaps the worst division in modern NFL history.

The most immediate fix (and this isn't exactly a radical stance) is to make a change at quarterback and see what it does for the football team. There is absolutely no way it can get worse with Jalen Hurts at quarterback, and if you are so afraid of hurting Wentz's feelings that you can't pull the plug, he's not cut out to be the mega millions QB you paid him to be. What the hell is this?

You're not exactly risking Hurts folding mentally if it goes south with him under center down the stretch. Hurts lost his job in college, and all he did as a response was play his best ever season after transferring to Oklahoma for his senior season. He's a kid who has proven he responds to adversity, and who knows, maybe he sparks this lifeless team and you start to build something down the stretch/going into next season.

The only thing that's clear at this point is that this team needs a major change in some form or fashion. They are out of ideas and out on their feet as it stands. Even if they eventually win this terrible division, they're going to do it in the ugliest and most embarrassing way possible.

• I said all of the nice things about Philadelphia's run defense up top, so it was only a matter of time until Chubb made me eat my words. Credit to him for an absolutely ridiculous display of footwork and patience on his big gain of the day, but it took some ugly missed tackles and Eagles ineptitude to get there. Joe Ostman is going to see Chubb and the vicious stiff-arm he threw at him in his dreams:

Even the positives for Philadelphia don't last an entire game this season. Cursed football team.

• My biggest gripe on defense, and they were far from the main problem in this game, is their season-long trend of completely overreacting to play fakes. They are constantly taken out of good early positions by pretty basic misdirection as if they have never seen pre-snap movement, handoff fakes, or even basic jukes before they take the field each week.

The worst blunder of the game for my money belonged to Josh Sweat, who had Baker Mayfield dead to rights in the backfield and then turned completely around after Mayfield somehow made him believe he no longer had the football in his hands. What should have been a stop for a loss behind the line of scrimmage turned into a positive gain for Cleveland, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Ugly

• I feel like I have said this often throughout the year, but when is the last time you can remember special teams actually adding something to the game/team? They produce almost nothing on returns and often actively harm the team, punt coverage has gotten worse, really the only thing propping them up in recent seasons has been Jake Elliott, and there's not much being "coached" there so much as it is a kicker being good at his job. Even he has been worse this year!

• The forward-progress call from the officials midway through the fourth quarter had major consequences, and it seemed like a horrific decision/excuse for what was a clear fumble by Baker Mayfield. The Browns were able to capitalize on the bit of good fortune, with Kareem Hunt picking up six points and making up for being stopped short early in the game.

• Jason Kelce gutting it out and playing with a brace on his arm says everything you need to know about him as a competitor. The man could not so much as strap his helmet on without assistance from his teammates, and yet he went back out there and battled in the trenches for another 30 minutes of football. Ridiculous stuff.

That being said, I couldn't help but think of the infamous Ricky Watters quote: "For who? For what?" You're leaving Kelce in there and exposing him to potentially suffering a worse injury, not to mention exposing your quarterback to more risk if Kelce can't hold up in the middle of the line. Love seeing a guy tough it out, but always thinking about the potential cost.

• The Eagles are going to need to take a long, hard look at the organization this offseason to figure out how to salvage this thing, because it's not going to be easy. It has to start with ownership — every level of the organization has to eat some blame for the predicament they're in currently. Roseman drafted poorly and handed Wentz the insane contract he's on, Pederson has looked completely lost in the post-Reich years, Schwartz's influence on defense has led to them keeping the wrong people, and the players on the field aren't exactly living up to their end of the bargain.

If Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie doesn't see how dire this situation is, they're in big trouble.

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