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December 06, 2020

Final observations: Packers 30, Eagles 16

The Eagles lost 30-16 to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, but the big story following the game is the brewing controversy in Philadelphia. Jalen Hurts supplanted Carson Wentz in the lineup for most of the second half, and all eyes will be on Doug Pederson until he names a starter for next week's game.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• Welcome to the NFL, Jalen Hurts. As it turns out, you give this kid a chance to play more than a snap at a time and you might actually be onto something. 

With many expecting the customary one-and-done play for Hurts midway through the third quarter, eyebrows and ears perked up when he stayed in for another play, and then another play, and got to finish the whole damn drive himself. On the third play of the game for Hurts, he uncorked this dime down the field for Jalen Reagor, who suddenly looked like an NFL deep threat with a guy willing to look his way downfield.

Save for the game-winner Wentz threw against the Giants, that's probably the best throw a QB has made for this team all season. One way around poor offensive line play is to make quick, decisive reads, but that only matters if you execute on the throw too.

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Unfortunately, Pederson saw that throw and immediately decided he didn't need to see any more from Hurts as a passer on that series, with the Eagles even pulling out a coward's draw on third-and-19 after a shaky penalty on Jason Kelce set them back. But hey, it's the change many people have been waiting for.

• Hurts' second drive of the game proved to be a lot more successful for Philadelphia. Moving the ball down the field, the offense did not look that much different than a functional possession under Wentz. Receivers didn't get open much downfield, line play was mediocre, and Hurts was forced to pick up chunks of yards with his legs, something he's more qualified to do than Wentz at this stage of the game.

The final play, though, was a thing of beauty. After a fourth-down conversion to Alshon Jeffery was wiped out by offensive pass interference, Hurts shrugged off the setback and uncorked another beauty over the top, this time finding Greg Ward for an improbable touchdown on fourth-and-19.

Was he facing some soft coverage with Green Bay nursing a comfortable lead in the second half? Absolutely. And there were miscues and missed throws from Hurts in limited action, things that we will scrutinize further if he gets more burn. But Hurts showed what he needed to and put points on the board, and the conversation about who owns the Eagles' starting job will be louder than ever this week.

• Special teams have been a sore spot for the Eagles all season. Jalen Reagor has struggled to get going as a wide receiver this year. Solution? Put him back on punts and let the rookie get to work in the open field.

Channeling his inner DeSean Jackson, Reagor briefly muffed a fourth-quarter punt before taking it to the house for six points, a return that featured subtle but critical manipulation of the punter to finish off the play.

Between this and his nice catch down the sideline late in the third quarter, perhaps we need to give Reagor some time with a non-Wentz QB before writing him off.

The Bad

• Howie Roseman absolutely deserves blame for the poor roster the Eagles put on the field week-after-week, from his awful drafting to what seems to be a franchise-crippling deal for QB Carson Wentz. But Roseman is not the guy on the sidelines coaching this team, putting guys on the field, and making every decision during a game the way Doug Pederson is. And Pederson has not offered a single credible explanation for most of what we've seen so far.

Alshon Jeffery playing over Travis Fulgham? Ridiculous on its face (though Fulgham hasn't exactly draped himself in glory when he has had his chances lately). Miles Sanders starting strong and then not getting touches/carries? Hard to believe as you watch it play out in real-time. But we see these things happen every week, no matter how stupid it is and no matter how little they gain from the decisions. 

There are constant allusions to "things we don't see" as outsiders from the coaching staff, and yes, I'm not there for every snap of practice or in the film room with these guys every week. But you don't have to sleep on the couch of an NFL coach's office agonizing over mistakes to see who is making positive contributions and who isn't. Hell, it takes very little to understand young guys should be playing over old guys in a season that is spinning around the drain as the franchise likely has to commit to at least a mini-rebuild, if not a full restructure. A grasp of basic logic would be a good start, to say nothing of executing high-level football.

It's an uninspiring group that Pederson and his staff have gone out of their way to undermine. The second-half turnarounds we have seen in years past do not appear to be coming. Moving to Hurts was a long time coming

• If you think that lets Roseman off the hook, however, you're kidding yourselves. One play illustrates a key difference between the Eagles and Packers — Green Bay was backed up against their own goal line early in the third quarter, and instead of playing scared, the Packers dialed up a playaction deep throw to Davante Adams, which took the Packers from safety territory to around midfield.

Could you imagine the Eagles having a QB-WR combo potent enough to call that sort of play while backed up against their own endzone, or an offensive line competent enough to justify your belief you could get the play off? The Eagles are nowhere close to that. They would be lucky to have a guy who could get open beyond 15 yards period, let alone one who could come down with a ball in traffic like Adams, let alone have an elite QB on top of that.

The team has done a terrible job of identifying and bringing in talent, and the coaching staff has retreated into a shell of simplicity and fear as a result. There has been no push to innovate, no attempt to change the dynamic as the foundation of the house comes crumbling down, just the same sad, scared moves made week after week. Mediocrity begets mediocrity, on the field and off of the field.

Jeffery Lurie's "gold standard" comments were mocked relentlessly for a while there, and maybe we should bring that animosity back for the current group. This is an organization in need of a major facelift and a wake-up call, lest they continue stumbling through this miserable period of football for the foreseeable future.

• Sure, they deserve more leeway than the rest of this team, but Philadelphia's defensive line made the Packers offensive line look like they were channeling the 90s Cowboys. Aaron Rodgers is good enough to beat you even in terrible circumstances, one of the all-time greats at improvisational throws and adjusting under duress. But he's even better when he barely has any work to do in the pocket, and can keep his eyes trained downfield on his receiving options, which is what happened throughout most of Sunday's game.

Despite a nice early showing, the defensive front just folded over time. Aaron Jones made a lot of Eagles defenders look silly, bouncing off of initial tackle attempts and turning a few plays that should have been 2-3 yard gains into 6-7 yard gains, plays that allowed Green Bay to play out of favorable positions on later downs.

For the record, I wrote the above paragraph before Aaron Jones scampered for 70+ yards to put the game away in the closing minutes. Needless to say, Philadelphia's front seven had a miserable day at the office. But if you're not an Eagles fan, this is a thing of beauty:

• If you thought Hurts could get through his first extended action without a turnover, and thus put the QB controversy to bed, you haven't paid much attention to this franchise. Under duress in garbage time, Hurts' throw appeared to be altered as he extended, and Philadelphia's last hope to score fell into the arms of the Packers with less than two minutes to go. Fully prepared for a postgame presser and a week filled with, "We'll continue to evaluate the position" comments from Pederson.

The Ugly

• Things were going poorly for Darius Slay early in the game when he appeared to have something close to his full physical abilities. Adams made easy work of Slay on a first-half touchdown, and the Green Bay wideout continued to get the better of him throughout the game.

It became more understandable over time, however, when Slay showed some obvious signs of injury in the third quarter. Limping between plays at one point, Slay eventually reached the point where he could barely move, limping down the tunnel and into the locker room. Having entered the game with a calf issue, it seems likely he simply reaggravated it at some point during the game, though that hasn't been confirmed as of this writing.

Regardless, any injury that knocks Slay out of the mix for Philly would be a big blow to a secondary that can't absorb one. While he hasn't quite lived up to expectations during his first year in Philly, Slay has given them a credible option against opponents' top targets, a No. 1 guy who allows everyone else to focus on matchups befitting their talent. Needless to say, I do not have high hopes for the rest of this group against guys like Adams.

• Regardless of how much blame you think Carson Wentz deserves for this dreadful Eagles season, we have watched a pretty stunning fall from grace over the last few years. Three years ago, he was a likely MVP. Two years ago, he was returning from a catastrophic injury and deserved time to get right. Last year, he dragged a ragtag group of players to a playoff berth nearly by himself. This year, he finds himself mired in a QB controversy despite being completely healthy (at least as far as we know).

And really, is there even a controversy at this point? With the way Hurts played in the second half against Green Bay, Pederson might face a full-scale mutiny from the fanbase if he went back to Wentz next week. It is not out of the question this is the last time we see Wentz this season, and if it is, Wentz's year ends with a whimper — he finished the day 6/15 for 79 yards and with three total points to show for it.

• Jake Elliott and missed extra points, name a more iconic duo.

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