Wake-Up Call: Eagles ‘Still Figuring Out’ Winning Formula
After a quick 3-0 start featuring a dominant defense, the Eagles have fallen off in their four games since.
Through seven contests, the 4-3 Birds have yet to win a game in which the defense has given up more than 14 points. The offense has averaged just 16 points per game since the bye week, and Doug Pederson notes the team is still determining what their winning formula is.
“I think there’s some of that. I think we’re still figuring out,” Pederson said. “(Dorial Green-Beckham) is getting a little more work, obviously. We’re trying to figure him out. We kind of know what he can do, and his strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, our tight ends, I think we understand what they are and who they are and the magnitude that they can help us. The run game is probably an area that we can continue to improve. I know we can get even better there. Full confidence in our offensive line there.
“And Carson [Wentz] gets better every week. The more we’re around him and know what he likes and we understand what he can do, then we can tailor a game plan. So it’s a little bit of we’re still trying to figure that out, but at the same time, I think we have a good feel for who we are and what we’re trying to get done in these games.”
Although Wentz hasn’t improved statistically in the games after the bye compared to the first three weeks of the season, Pederson notes Wentz is protecting the ball better. He also thinks his rookie quarterback has a better understanding of how to spread the ball around and how to best use the personnel that surrounds him. Wentz’s understanding of the system improves by week as well, Pederson adds, and the communications between everyone on the offense is getting better.
While the offense has been sputtering as of late, the Eagles have only lost their three games by an average of five points.
“I feel like it’s really, really close,” Pederson said. “You put the tape on again this morning and you watch it, and obviously you’re sitting there watching in your office and you’re calm and you’re going at it and you’re just going, ‘Man, we’re so close. We’re so close.’ The guys — I can’t say enough about how well they’re working and preparing in practice and putting themselves in these positions. But we do have to finish better, obviously. It’s not a lack of effort, at all. I think you would agree that the effort is there. It’s just now we have to continue to fine tune and detail our work because little things get magnified in games like we played last night.”
One of the offense’s biggest problems is its lack of explosiveness. As CSN’s Reuben Frank noted, there have been 206 offensive plays in the NFL of 30 yards or more since Week 4, but the Birds are responsible for just one of them. According to Pederson, the Eagles can win games without generating many big plays.
“Yeah, we went 9-0 in Kansas City and didn’t do it. I’ve seen it done. You can do that,” Pederson said. “It’s just we have to figure out and find ways to get the ball, obviously, down the field. You have to trust protection, you have to trust reads and progressions and you’ve got to trust the guys to get down the field. So, there’s a lot involved in that kind of stuff. We just have to evaluate it. But, yeah, I think you can definitely win.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
“We have to come together, we have to be closer, and we have to move forward.” The Eagles will have to move on from Sunday’s 29-23 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
“We just have to bite our lip sometimes and suck it up and get to work.” Doug Pederson is disappointed with Nelson Agholor‘s postgame comments.
“It’s just disheartening but, at the same time, I think there’s going to be some great lessons learned.” Pederson explained his questionable play calling during Sunday night’s loss.
Although the end result was bad, Darren Sproles, Brandon Graham, and Caleb Sturgis were impressive during the game.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Could Darren Sproles be the new lead running back? Matt Mullin of PhillyVoice thinks it’s too early to say that.
To dub Sproles the new lead back after just one game would be a rush to judgment, but when asked about that being the case going forward, Pederson didn’t quite rule out the idea entirely.
“I can’t say that 100 percent,” Pederson said. “It’s something we’ll evaluate in these next couple of days and make that determination. But until then, it’s still Ryan Mathews and then Darren in those situations, and we have to Wendell [Smallwood] and Kenjon [Barner] going too.”
At this point in his career, Sproles can never be a traditional “feature back” — actually, he likely never would have been able to do that for an extended period of time given his size. And that’s actually been one of the things that’s made him so durable and able to play at a consistently high level as he moves into his mid-30s. Most running backs are watching the game from their couch at that age.
Zach Ertz believes the reason for his bad start to 2016 is the lack of targets he’s getting, pens Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com.
Ertz had just one catch in the Washington and Minnesota games and was just 4-for-19 Sunday night in the overtime loss in Dallas.
In Ertz’s defense, he’s just not being targeted nearly as much as in the past.
In 2014 and 2015, Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford targeted Ertz an average of 6.5 times per game. This year, that number is down to 4.0 per game.
And when Ertz does catch the ball, he’s either not in open space or he’s been unable to break loose of a tackler.
Ertz doesn’t have a catch longer than 22 yards this year after piling up 19 receptions of 23 yards or more in his first three NFL seasons.
We’ll have more from Sunday’s game.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.