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November 17, 2019

Final observations: Patriots 17, Eagles 10

We could try to dress up the Eagles' 17-10 loss to the New England Patriots as a hard-fought battle that bodes well for the future. Or, we could point out once again that the offensive is a steaming pile of horse manure that kills everything it touches, which looms large no matter what happens from here on out.

So here's what I saw in Sunday's loss.

The Good

• They would eventually crumble under the weight of propping up the team, but no one on the defense should hang their head in shame. Okay, maybe Nate Gerry should, but he's probably the only guy.

Everything people have been asking for from the defense was on display on Sunday. They got to Brady in the pocket, they (mostly) neutered New England's rushing attack, their corners broke up plays over the top, and they never let the Patriots get rolling, even when the time of possession battle started swinging wildly in their opponent's favor. It was the best performance of the season for the cornerbacks, who can feel good about their days even if nobody else does. Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills showed up a ton, and it was in a good way.

The defensive line wasn't too shabby either, and that's where I think you felt the power of the bye week. This is a group that actually made the time off count, coming back looking sharper and faster even as their snap count kept climbing.

The offensive and defensive units have been lumped into the same pile of trash this season, and though that has been fair at times, the defense deserves some love after that game. Didn't do a whole lot of good in the end, but at least they showed.

The Bad

• Watching Nate Gerry try to tackle people in the open field is absolutely painful. He had Rex Burkhead dead to rights on a screen pass early in the second half, and Burkhead ran through him like he was a clump of paper mache wearing a No. 47 jersey.

That was not an inconsequential play, either. What looked to be a stop for a loss turned into a big pickup for New England, and as they started to string some plays together, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady leaned heavily on tempo, which was the key to their offensive attack way back when they lost to the Eagles in the Super Bowl. Philadelphia once again struggled to slow the Patriots down, and they certainly didn't have the offense of that year to keep up.

• The Eagles probably felt fortunate to go into halftime leading over the Patriots, given how sloppy Carson Wentz was in the pocket. That should have been all the motivation they needed to come out of the halftime tunnel with their foot on the gas, knowing the bounceback from Tom Brady was coming.

Instead, they came out with all the strength of a wet piece of toilet paper, disintegrating in the hands of a much better Patriots team. When they needed to respond to the Patriots' opening scoring drive with a counterpunch of their own, the offense came up with the same pathetic looking three-and-out they've shown in most big situations all season. Dallas Goedert had a first down in his hands on a great throw from Carson Wentz, and the drop was the end of the threat.

(Actually, that's a charitable explanation of the end of that drive. What happened next was a four-yard slant pass to Jordan Matthews on third-and-10. Really. That's a thing that happened.)

You learn a lot about a team when you see them dealing with adversity. It was a strength of the team the last two seasons, which made it easy to assume it would continue this year because of all the familiar faces on and off of the field. But this time doesn't seem to have that same ability to dig deep when it counts, for whatever reason.

• Here's what I will say on the topic of Carson Wentz. He is exceptionally talented, he can be capable of hitting extraordinary highs, and still be a central figure in this team's season-long struggle. He was straight up not good against New England

When the Eagles had opportunities to get rolling in the first half, it was Wentz who couldn't find his footing. He was too slow with his reads and too inaccurate when big plays were on the table, and it allowed the Patriots to hang around in spite of one of Tom Brady's worst first halves ever. That he rallied from that half to make some great throws in the second half is awesome. But the Eagles require more from that position because of how limited they are elsewhere, healthy or not.

The reason you elect to pay someone like a "franchise quarterback" is that you believe them to be capable of remarkable consistency, even as the pieces of a football team falter and crumble around them. When players like Mack Hollins don't deliver, you are bothered but ultimately accepting of it. Why expect more from someone who has proven incapable of offering it? Wentz is supposed to be the guy who allows you to survive in spite of the Hollins' of the world, the quarterback who keeps the team humming, redraws plays at the line of scrimmage, and ultimately puts points on the board.

Philadelphia is shorthanded, certainly, and Wentz has proven in the past that he can be at the helm of an offensive juggernaut. But nobody has more ownership of the offense than he does, and the offense is straight-up bad. The defense fought valiantly to give his unit some chances, and they didn't take them. As a matter of fact, they barely even tried to.

• Perhaps that is burying the lede here, so let's be a little clearer about this. If Mike Groh is back running the offense next season, I'm not convinced any additions or changes elsewhere will matter. The only thing that stands out as a good thing about that unit, which has been true since before he took over as offensive coordinator, is their willingness to go for it on fourth down. I should not have to remind you that is a Doug Pederson staple that likely has nothing to do with Groh, and they weren't even in position to try to go for it most of the time because of the Eagles' poor execution and creativity on early downs.

Pederson is not blameless here, certainly, because he has allowed the Eagles to become this shapeless, boring lump of an offense with Groh. However, we at least have evidence that Pederson can work with better offensive minds (e.g. Frank Reich) and build a cohesive offense. Groh's claim to fame is getting fired by his own dad from an offensive coordinator job at a mediocre college program.

There's no flow, no feel, it's a nuclear waste dump of an offense. New England's defense has been great this season, but they have looked terrible against much worse opponents. You can run a better offense by just using, I don't know, basic logic skills. The Eagles had an empty backfield on a third and two play in the second half, and I don't think it's splitting the atom to say you should try almost literally anything else.

• Let's add onto this offensive criticism and talk about the skill position guys, we're an inclusive bunch around here. I can't remember the last time the Eagles made the sort of contested catch we say players up and down the NFL make on a weekly basis. You would think it's illegal for the Eagles to make a play for their quarterback on a less than perfect throw.

I cannot possibly imagine someone coming up as small as Nelson Agholor has come up in big spots. Carson Wentz threw up a goddamn prayer on the final offensive play of the game when New England sent the house, and by the grace of God, Agholor had a chance to catch a monster touchdown. But his inability to track the ball — which is just inexplicable for a guy who is expected to catch things for a living — ended with the most predictable possible outcome, a drop. What really added insult to injury was Agholor briefly pretending like he was hurt because his hands don't work.

Did anyone actually believe Agholor was hauling that prayer in though? I was honestly just laughing as I saw him trying to bring it in with the lights shining down. And he wasn't alone on the island of ineptitude, with several contributions from Dallas Goedert providing him some company. 

It doesn't bring anyone (or at least me) any joy to keep dumping on a cast of terrible receivers, just as it apparently doesn't bring Howie Roseman any joy to draft players with any speed. So it goes.

By the way, I have seen enough Boston Scott plays to last me a lifetime. No mas.

The Ugly

• I honestly don't (read: can't) watch enough football to compare it to the entire league, but it feels like the Eagles constantly have borderline fumble rulings go against them because plays are blown dead. The Patriots punted on the drive where this happened, but still.

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