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October 07, 2018

Final observations: Vikings 23, Eagles 21

Philadelphia did their best to come up with a rally in the second half Sunday evening, but the Eagles' effort was too little, too late to overcome the Vikings. Minnesota finally got their revenge for last season's butt-whooping, putting the Eagles away 23-21.

Here's what I saw in the disappointing loss on Sunday. 

The Good

• With the offensive line struggling to find their form, the Eagles made a very simple adjustment coming out of halftime: they committed to running the football, and they let their big boys go out and punish people instead of forcing them to sit in pass protection.

The change worked, at least until Jay Ajayi coughed up the ball deep in Vikings territory. The two-man combination of Ajayi and Wendell Smallwood gashed the Vikings, and the opening drive of the second half should have ended in a touchdown with the way they were moving the ball. Who knows if offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland gave a big rah-rah speech at halftime, but they came out looking much different.

Maybe that's just the difference you see when you have a real balance between running and passing the football. If teams know Carson Wentz is dropping back to throw every down, it's not all that hard to defend. Once play-action fakes and misdirection carries actual meaning, the offense opens up.

• There's plenty of blame to go around for the way the Eagles have looked on offense this season, but the quarterback play has not been a problem since Carson Wentz has returned. With time to throw he has looked excellent moving the ball down the field and across the middle, and we even saw him show off more escapability on Sunday than he had in previous starts.

It really appears as though all Wentz needs to get in a serious groove is better balancing on offense. Once the Eagles ran a nice mix of pass and run plays in the second half, the edge rushers for the Vikings were forced to account for potential runs, and no longer had the chance to pin their ears back and just hunt Wentz.

We saw throws of all sorts from Wentz against the Vikings: lasers to the sideline, touch throws over the top, and a perfectly placed pass to Wendell Smallwood down the sideline to give the Eagles their first touchdown of the day:

(Shout out to the new catch rule for making people reconsider all sorts of plays that happened in previous years all over again.)

If the guys around him can tighten things up, Wentz certainly has shown enough to give you confidence in a second-half surge.

• I don't know that I agree with the decision to go for two points after the Smallwood touchdown because of the downside, but the return of Big Balls Doug was nice to see, and he was rewarded for his courage with a successful conversion.

• Good on Nigel Bradham attacking the football after Kirk Cousins threw a backwards pass early in the fourth quarter. It looked close enough to neutral that you would have forgiven the Eagles for thinking the play was dead, but they made sure to finish out the play until the whistle.

The resulting turnover gave the Eagles the chance to continue their positive momentum on offense, and unfortunately, they did nothing but squander it.

• Zach Ertz made a tremendous catch on Philadelphia's final touchdown of the day. It was unfortunate it did nothing to impact the result.

The Bad

• I'm tired of the excuses from this coaching staff, the reassurances that we're not seeing what all of us see on TV week in and week out. Jalen Mills is not good enough to be guaranteed the starting job at outside corner, and his hammerlock on the position should be questioned each and every week.

Whenever he's talked about with this coaching staff, they like to point to his track record as part of a successful team, particularly as a starter on a Super Bowl winner. This conveniently glosses over the fact that the defense got absolutely torn apart by Tom Brady in the Super Bowl last season, and the only reason it didn't end up mattering is that Nick Foles played one of the greatest games at the position in league history.

Mills does nothing to take the target off his back with his play or his actions. On Minnesota's first drive of the second half, he got fried down the sidelines for a 68-yard gain that put Minnesota in scoring range. But of course, when he broke up a pass to force the Vikings to kick a field goal, Mills thought it was a smart idea to get into a back and forth with Adam Thielen.

The only positive of the sequence, frankly, was Fletcher Cox stepping up and leading by example:

Losing by multiple touchdowns and talking trash is ridiculous, and doing so in Mills' position is even more absurd. You want to talk trash, it's your choice, but you better learn the time and place to do so, and it's pretty clear Mills would be better served to focus on actually making plays.

(Unfortunately, the best shot at a short and long-term replacement may be dealing with a serious injury. Sidney Jones walked off under his own power late in the game Sunday, but he looked to be in serious pain on the Linc turf. Stay tuned.)

• There is an argument to be made Philadelphia has come into every single game this season looking unprepared or at least underprepared. Even the games they won against the Colts and Falcons were not pretty.

It's not as if this team lacks talent, so eventually, we have to turn our sights on the coaching staff, regardless of what was achieved last season. It's not acceptable for a team to come in and take 30 minutes of football to feel like they're actually in the game, and that has frequently been the case for this group.

The play-calling hasn't been good enough. The personnel selection has been questionable or downright off. It's on the coaching staff to make sure this team starts executing the little details just as much as it is on the players. Enough is enough.

• Treating a third-and-one deep in Vikings territory as four-down territory is perfectly fine, as the Eagles did early in the fourth quarter. Treating that third down play as basically a total throwaway is not, nor is it acceptable to burn a timeout because you couldn't get lined up for the subsequent fourth down play.

Some of these execution problems are inexplicably bad.

• When you get the ball at your opponent's 30-yard line to start the drive, you have to come away with points. The Eagles moved backward after Bradham came up with a potential game-changing turnover, and ended up punting after starting in field goal range. Inexcusable.

• Jordan Matthews running out of bounds instead of picking up extra yards at the two-minute warning was not the biggest flash of football IQ I've ever seen.

The Ugly

• The challenge from Doug Pederson early in the fourth quarter was perhaps the worst challenge of Pederson's tenure, and certainly the worst one of the season. Stefon Diggs got what may have been three steps in bounds following his catch, and I have no idea what the designated replay guy saw in the booth.

Never forget that Pederson is an Andy Reid disciple.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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