Eagles Wake-Up Call: Philadelphia’s Offense Struggles Without Lane Johnson

The Eagles are already feeling the absence of their best offensive lineman.

Photo by: USA Today Sports.

Photo by: USA Today Sports.

There’s plenty of blame to go around when figuring out who’s responsible for the Eagles’ 27-20 loss to the Washington Redskins. Philadelphia’s defense is an easy place to start. After allowing 20 points in their first three games combined, the Birds have allowed 51 points over the past two weeks. The Eagles allowed Kirk Cousins and Washington’s running game to go off for 493 yards of total offense against them.

But for all the Eagles’ defensive struggles, at least Jim Schwartz’s unit scored a touchdown in this game due to a Malcolm Jenkins interception return. Philadelphia’s offense only managed to muster six points off of two field goals.

On paper, there was no great reason for the Eagles to be so inept offensively. Washington’s defense is far from a juggernaut. Heading into this game, Doug Pederson’s offense was averaging 363.8 yards per game. That was good for 11th most in the league. Washington’s defense, meanwhile, was allowing 392, which ranked sixth worst in the NFL. On Sunday, the Eagles finished with 239 total yards on 48 plays. That comes out to a measly five yards per play average.

The loss of starting right tackle Lane Johnson is a big reason why the Eagles’ offense struggled. Johnson had been one of the team’s best players before getting hit with a 10-game suspension. Rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai predictably struggled in his first NFL start. The fifth round pick from the 2016 NFL Draft allowed 2.5 sacks to Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Despite his early struggles, however, Pederson saw some positive signs from Vaitai.

“Started out just trying to get his legs,” Pederson said. “Had a couple missed assignments early and felt like he settled into the game as the game wore on. We used more help on his side as the game wore on as well, really on both edges. He’s a warrior, he’s a battler. He stepped up and did a god job. He’ll learn from it and be ready for next week.”

The problem with Vaitai’s early struggles is that they immediately made life hard on Carson Wentz. The rookie quarterback had his jersey ripped to shreds on the first offensive play of the game. Wentz went on to have one of his worst games of the season. He made a number of inaccurate throws and got caught holding on to the ball too long at times.

It wasn’t all bad for Wentz. The rookie still flashed some impressive ability. But even when he did something good, such as his impressive scramble and throw on 3rd-and-11 to Dorial-Green Beckham for a would-be 38-yard gain, one of his teammates would let him down. That play was wiped out due to a Wendell Smallwood block in the back penalty.

Wentz is still off to a sensational start to the 2016 season. He’s been named NFL Rookie of the Week three times through the first five games. But he needs more help. His receiving options aren’t good enough; he has to deal with multiple drops a game. His offensive line can’t allow him to get sacked five times and hit 11 times. Cousins, by contrast, wasn’t sacked once and only got hit twice. And Washington’s quarterback attempted 12 more passes than Wentz.

After two straight losses, it feels like it was a long time ago when the Eagles were 3-0 and heading into an oddly-timed Week 4 bye. The Eagles’ offense scored 90 points in the first three weeks. In the past two games combined, they’ve only managed to put up 29 against two bad defenses. Pederson offered some thoughts on the team’s regression.

“I think a little has to do with, number one, there’s more film out there for teams to take a look at you,” said the Eagles head coach. “It comes down to our execution. Again, this goes back to I have to make sure we’re not doing too much offensively. I have to get with Frank Reich and make sure we keep things nice and simple. Basic offense and defense on both sides of the ball, just let our guys play fast. That starts with me and we’ll go back and evaluate that.”

The bad news for the Birds’ offense is that their schedule only get more difficult from here. After failing to have success against bottom-ranked defenses, now the Eagles will square off against the only undefeated remaining team in the NFL: the 5-0 Vikings. Minnesota’s defense is allowing the fewest points per game (12.6) in the league. Mike Zimmer’s team will be well-rested coming off the bye.

The Eagles will be without Johnson for nine more games, so they can’t rely on him coming back to help turn things around. Philadelphia will have to figure out a way to fix the offense without him. Pederson and the Eagles needs to come up with a solution quickly or else this two-game losing streak could start to spiral out of control.


Eight things we learned from yesterday’s loss in Washington.

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Check our picks for beating the odds for this week’s games.

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We spoke with Rich Tandler from CSN Mid-Atlantic about what to expect from the Redskins.

“Traditionally we’d like to get him or theoretically we’d like to get him more.” Jim Schwartz wants to get Vinny Curry more snaps on defense.


A big part of the Eagles’ failures the past two weeks has been a large amount of penalties, from Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com.

The Eagles for the first time in franchise history have committed 13 penalties in back-to-back games, and if there’s one common theme to their disappointing losses to Detroit and Washington, it’s penalties.

“We are shooting ourselves in the foot,” Carson Wentz said. “Some of those things are tough to overcome. It’s hard to get in the rhythm and drive (with penalties). It’s a hard game to get in the rhythm the way it was and then we were shooting ourselves in the foot, it’s just tough. Something we’ve got to eliminate.

“Last week we had a lot of penalties, this week we had a number of them as well, so it’s something we need to clean up.”

The numbers are ridiculous:

Steelers 10 for 99

Lions 14 for 111

Redskins 13 for 114

That’s 37 penalties for 324 yards in a three-game span.

The Eagles were slow in trying to help rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai feel comfortable at the right tackle spot, pens the Inquirer’s Jeff McLane.

It remains to be seen if [Doug] Pederson will opt for the latter realignment when the Eagles host the undefeated Vikings next week, although he sort of gave Vaitai the nod. But the decision to start the rookie wasn’t as much the problem as was tossing him out there on an island on the Eagles’ first several possessions.

“Started out just trying to get his legs,” Pederson said of Vaitai. “Had a couple of missed assignments early and felt like he settled into the game as the game wore on. We used more help on his side as the game wore on, as well, really on both edges.”

And the offense was able to sustain a few drives after the half. So why didn’t Pederson scheme Vaitai help right away? The Eagles’ fifth-round draft pick hadn’t put on a game-day uniform, let alone play in an NFL game, until Sunday. He had Ryan Kerrigan‘s tread marks all over his green-and-whites before the coaches realized that maybe it would be wise to also chip-block the outside linebacker.

“The game speed is fast,” Vaitai said. “It’s a lot different than practice.”

Carson Wentz was dropped on the first play from scrimmage – Kerrigan and safety Will Blackmon split that sack – and four plays later when Kerrigan steamrolled Vaitai and gobbled up the quarterback like Lane Johnson does banned supplements.

Three drives later, Kerrigan notched his second solo sack with a similar move that made it obvious Vaitai couldn’t block him one-on-one.

“It was his turn to step up,” Wentz said of Vaitai. “We didn’t change our plan of attack. We didn’t change too many things.”


Doug Pederson will have his day-after press conference at noon.

Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.