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December 15, 2019

Final observations: Eagles 37, Redskins 27

Eagles NFL
Greg-Ward-TD_121519_usat Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Greg Ward catches the game-winning touchdown over Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman.

Carson Wentz delivered another late-game touchdown drive to power the Eagles to a huge win in Washington, 37-27. Philadelphia remains in control of their own destiny, and the showdown with Dallas looms next week.

Here's what I saw on Sunday.

The Good

• I don't say this lightly, but this is quite possibly the best throw of Carson Wentz's career, and definitely one of the best throws of this NFL season:

Wentz is just a completely different guy when you get him on the move and refrain from making him a pure pocket passer. He is at his best when he's improvising and directing traffic and just playing off instinct instead of having to overthink, and that throw is as good as it gets. Trying to get a pass through that window is borderline impossible, and Wentz did it with style.

And yet, that means even this moment was bittersweet. The Eagles' offensive gameplan constantly puts Wentz in this box that he's not thriving in, instead of trying to lean into the things he is good at. There should be a lot more designed rollouts than we're seeing, especially because his legs have been in much better shape this year than they were last season, one year after his major knee injury.

• Miles Sanders deserves to go home with his head held high. He looks better and better the deeper they get into the season, and the Eagles needed his best game as a pro in order to overcome issues with the rest of the offense.

(A quick shout out to Boston Scott as well, who was more than serviceable in the No. 2 role. It didn't end up mattering because the initial fumble and play was overturned, but he came up with a terrific heads up play to strip Washington and get Philly the ball back.)

This play was not far from being stopped in the backfield, and calling a draw on third-and-long would have gone over poorly in normal circumstances. But Sanders got the ball in his hands and just exploded.

Big plays have been missing from Philadelphia's offense this year, in part because DeSean Jackson has spent most of it on the shelf, and Sanders has been one of the few guys capable of changing that. It is not lost on this writer that Sanders has been one of their best receiving options as well, and it felt fitting that he was the guy who was delivered Wentz's bullet throw seen above.

Jordan Howard's absence has taken a 1-2 punch away that was really working well, but it has allowed Sanders to play more of a featured role and he has thrived. The vision, the agility, the speed, and the diversity to his game that people saw in college has been on display, and if this maddening group somehow makes the playoffs, Sanders will be a big reason why.

• Rodney McLeod is one of the few guys I thought stood out in a positive way for the defense. He made some big tackles in the open field and was probably the only guy who didn't end up completely embarrassing himself in the secondary at some point. Good job by him.

• The Eagles as a whole have been horrific when they are asked to haul in tough catches, but this was a highlight-reel play from Dallas Goedert when the Eagles needed it most.

They aren't in a position to win without that play, and he also set a great natural pick to free up Greg Ward later in the drive. Big-time contributions from Goedert down the stretch.

• I had written some variation of "Greg Ward has really shown me something" prior to him hauling in the game-winning touchdown, but man, Greg Ward has really shown me something the past few weeks. He is not a No. 1 guy you're going to build the offense around, but he is a bonafide contributor, and what a story it is to see him go from a practice squad player to a crunch-time hero.

Ward was the money man for Philly on the game's most pivotal drive, with Wentz finding him over and over again as they marched down the field. It seems mystifying now that he wasn't on the active roster until recently, and that touchdown was quite the capper.

• I didn't think Carson Wentz was especially good on Sunday, even though he had a few highlight plays on the day. But just as he did against the Giants, Wentz rallied the troops and marched right down the field with the game on the line, delivering a fourth-quarter comeback for the second-straight week. Set aside everything else, and you see a young quarterback learning how to win when the stakes are highest.

It is pressure football from here on out, and it will be a good learning experience for Wentz if nothing else.

• Nigel Bradham, strictly speaking, did not need to run the game-ending fumble in for a touchdown, but I appreciate a man who believes in style points.

The Bad

• When I've felt it is appropriate, I have laid the blame at Wentz's feet this season for failing to prop up the cast of characters around him (and we'll get to him in a moment). The more plays you see wide receivers make around the league, even ones who aren't good and are part of bad offenses, the more it becomes clear just how dire the situation has been around Wentz.

Take the first half for example. Steven Sims Jr. had just 18 catches and zero touchdowns coming into the game, and he is firmly in the "not good" category — he had a couple of terrible drops in the second half for Washington. Yet he still proved capable of tiptoeing in the back of the end zone to come up with six points for Dwayne Haskins. If Eagles players aren't wide open and hit with a perfect throw, they have no chance to bring passes in.

That has to be absolutely exhausting as a quarterback. The motivation to throw 50-50 balls plummets and that means a lot of the throws being made are going to be predictable with where they go and when. In a league where teams throw more than ever, Ward was the only wide receiver with a catch on Sunday.  JJ Arcega-Whiteside even actively torpedoed some of their good plays, which is a truly impressive feat. No wonder this guy was buried on the bench for the likes of Mack Hollins.

• All of that being said, yes, Wentz was absolutely at fault along with those guys. There were some horrific misses on throws they needed him to make, and they came all over the field on all sorts of throws. He missed Ward on out routes, he missed Zach Ertz on crossing patterns, he went too high, he went too low, he simply wasn't very good after a good start to the game for the offense.

How many times this season have you heard an announcer say something like, "Carson Wentz just missed that throw" on a play that could have gone for a touchdown? Does it make people feel better that they're not awful misses, leading you to believe they can be corrected? There are too many misfires, period, and it doesn't matter if they're by six inches or six yards. Add on the issues with ball security and there are a lot of things he needs to clean up to live up to the huge contract he signed.

And yet, they put up 31 points with a terrible cast of receivers, so Wentz clearly did a lot of things right. If the defense had been even average against a terrible Washington team, this is a comfortable victory.

• You would have thought the Eagles had never defended an option play before if Sunday was your first time watching the team. Haskins is one of the slower guys you're ever going to see run an option play at the NFL level, but he torched them more than once, cooking Brandon Graham with a pitch fake in the first half and going untouched for a key third-down conversion in the second half.

There aren't any excuses for how pathetic of a performance that was from the defense. At least the offense can point to the receiver situation for some of their struggles. The defense is much closer to full strength and got absolutely worked by the worst offense in the NFL. If it wasn't for the offense controlling the ball and the clock for long stretches of time, it's reasonable to believe Washington would have put up even more points.

The offense was ugly at times but it ultimately got the job done, putting up points and milking the clock. It was a dream scenario for the defense — they got to rest their legs plenty and gear up for an offense that stinks. They got plowed through anyway.

The Ugly

• Big special teams plays are rarer around the NFL these days, but when is the last time you can remember thinking, "Boy, the Eagles really crushed on special teams today"? Jake Elliott has been excellent yet again this season, but they have been almost completely anonymous as a unit this year.


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