Eagles-Giants, Day After: Failing To Finish

The Eagles failed to win the game with a late offensive drive — again.

Jordan Matthews. (USA Today Sports)

Jordan Matthews. (USA Today Sports)

With the game on the line and a little more than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, Carson Wentz lofted the ball to Jordan Matthews in the end zone on fourth down. Matthews was running a fade route from the slot, a concept that has worked for the Eagles over and over again this season. It provided Wentz with his first NFL touchdown pass in Philadelphia’s opening drive against Cleveland, and it produced a 33-yard gain for the Eagles earlier in the game against the Giants.

But this time, the rookie quarterback placed the ball a little too far to the outside, and it barely touched Matthews’ middle three fingers before falling to the ground. For the fourth time this season, the Eagles had a chance late in the fourth quarter to win or tie the game with an offensive touchdown drive. And for the fourth time, Philadelphia failed to do so.

“We just didn’t finish, plain and simple,” Wentz said after the Eagles’ 28-23 loss. “It was tough. Just throughout the whole game, we struggled finishing in the red zone, and that’s something we’ve got to go back and we’ve got to be sharp on our details. I know that’s one thing we’ve all got to emphasize, but we’ve got to find a way to finish in the red zone.”

The Eagles didn’t have a problem moving the ball, as they accumulated 443 total yards on six yards per play. After Wentz’s early interceptions, he completed 27 of his 44 passes for 364 yards. Still, they scored only 23 points because they convered six trips to the red zone into just 14 points.

While Doug Pederson made some questionable decisions on fourth down that cost the Eagles points, third downs were also a significant problem. The Eagles were 3-of-15 on third downs as they needed more than seven yards on average for a first down, and perhaps no failed conversion was more costly than the final one. On third-and-10 from the Giants’ 17-yard-line with 1:32 left in the game, Wentz threw an incomplete screen pass to Darren Sproles, who appeared poised for a big gain if the two could’ve connected.

“It was going to be big,” Pederson said. “Great job by them tipping the ball. It was an opportunity. In blitz situations, screen passes are pretty good. We had one dialed up and we just failed to execute.”

While the Eagles have failed to finish, they have still outscored opponents in the fourth quarter across eight games this season. The only quarter they haven’t outscored opponents in is the first quarter, which has put them in an early hole in each of their four losses.

The Eagles are paying much attention to improving their late-game execution, but their first-quarter execution has cost them more points than anything else.

“The biggest thing you learn is that same sense of urgency that you have to have at the end of the game, you got to come out with that. We got to come out with that same drive, that same attention to detail and that ‘Got to have it’ mentality,” Matthews said. “A lot of times that comes when we’re down or late in games, but then at the same time, it’s too late. We don’t need to keep putting ourselves in that position.”

Zach Ertz. (USA Today Sports)

Zach Ertz. (USA Today Sports)

GLIMMERS OF HOPE

In a difficult loss that dropped the Eagles to 4-4, including 0-3 in NFC East games, the Birds did find two targets for Carson Wentz who added dynamics the rookie quarterback hasn’t previously had this season. One is Zach Ertz, who recorded season-highs in both yards (97) and catches (eight) and led both teams in receiving.

After Doug Pederson said last week the Eagles needed to get the tight end more involved and Ertz noted the ball wasn’t coming his way much, the 25-year-old finally produced in a big way.

“Carson and I took a step forward between the two of us, which is good to see,” Ertz said. “We’ve just been in constant communication the past couple of weeks. Both of us know the talent that the other has. We’ve worked on it on the fly. Obviously, we didn’t get a lot of training camp reps together and then I was hurt for two weeks. The easiest way to communicate is through game reps. The more game reps that we get together, the better we’re going to be between the two of us.”

The Eagles are hoping the tight end’s production jumps in the second half of this season, as it did last year. Ertz, who signed a five-year contract extension in the offseason worth a reported $42.5 million, set a team record for catches over a three-game span by hauling in 30 passes in the last three games of 2015.

He also racked up 450 yards over the final four games, joining Jimmy Graham as the only NFL tight ends with at least 450 yards over a four-game span since 2013. However, this season, he has just 23 catches for 247 yards and zero touchdowns through eight games. Ertz attributed his improved chemistry with Wentz to game experience.

“It’s huge. The only way you’re really going to get better in this league is through experience in games,” Ertz said. “It’s one thing to talk about it during the week of practice; it’s another to see the same thing [in games]. Quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends, the biggest thing is they have to be on the same page.”

The other pass-catcher to help out Wentz was Bryce Treggs, the rookie undrafted free agent who was active for the first time this season. He caught two passes for 69 yards, including one 58-yard bomb that gave the Eagles a field-stretcher they haven’t otherwise had.

Treggs’ 58-yard catch is the longest in franchise history by an Eagle in his first career game, and his 69 receiving yards also tops Nelson Agholor’s career-high of 64 yards in a single game.

“He played well,” Wentz said. “It’s good to get a guy like that out there — a speedster like that — and get him a big play early in the game. … It can change the dynamic a little bit of the offense, so it was good to get him out there today.

“Anytime you’ve got a speedster like that, it can change what a defense has to prepare for and so it will be interesting to see how we use him going forward.”

SOCIAL SKILLS

NOTABLE QUOTES

Carson Wentz on his two interceptions:

“I’ll have to go back and watch the tape, but I thought the reads were fine, the decisions were fine — I just airmailed them. The ball sailed on me on both of them. … I probably would make the same decisions, make the same throws, I’d just make better ones.”

Bryce Treggs on his 58-yard catch:

“We knew their safeties played kind of low when there was a one-receiver set, so [Eagles receivers coach] Greg [Lewis] sent me out there, told me to run fast and that’s what I did.”

Doug Pederson on why he was so aggressive on fourth down:

“My belief and my feeling, again, is going back to the way our offense was actually operating at the time. In the first five plays of the game, we’re down 14-0 and have two turnovers. But, I still have confidence in this group. I think, if we do a little better to start the game, we’re not in this situation at the end of the game, personally. I’m going to continue to stay aggressive that way, trust in the guys and let our guys play.”

—Pederson on if he’ll continue to have that type of mindset:

“I’ll stay aggressive. I think I have to. Again, there are opportunities there to be had and there are plays to be made. This is part of our growth process on offense. Rookie quarterback, young receivers, and we’ve got a veteran offensive line. So at the same time we’re trying to build this thing and we’re trying to do it right. By putting them in these situations, they’re going to be better for this. They’re going to be better down the stretch. Somewhere it’s going to pay off for all of us. So I’m going to continue to be as aggressive as I can and try to send a message to our football team.”

Malcolm Jenkins on the three first-half passing touchdowns the Eagles’ defense allowed:

“The first touchdown, Odell Beckham just made a good catch, broke a tackle and ran for a touchdown. The second one, we had two defenders run into each other and gave up one. The third one, they had a really good play call for what (coverage) we happened to be in. … I was kind of supposed to be on the inside and once I felt him whip back out I grabbed him but at that point we were in that coverage. We were thinking somebody would be in his face and they just had the perfect route for what we were in at that time and he was wide open.”

—Pederson on why he called so many zone-reads for Wentz:

“There were a lot of opportunities. The way their ends bend and come off the edge. There were some chances there for some design runs with the quarterback. I think some of them were good choices, others were probably not so good. It’s something we’ll have to look at now once we evaluate the tape.”

SNAPS

Offense

Player# of snaps% of snaps
Brandon Brooks75100%
Jason Kelce75100%
Halapoulivaati Vaitai75100%
Carson Wentz75100%
Stefen Wisniewski75100%
Jason Peters7397%
Nelson Agholor6992%
Jordan Matthews6587%
Zach Ertz6283%
Darren Sproles6080%
Dorial Green-Beckham4965%
Brent Celek2128%
Trey Burton1723%
Bryce Treggs1520%
Ryan Mathews811%
Wendell Smallwood45%
Kenjon Barner34%
Matt Tobin34%
Isaac Seumalo11%

*Jason Peters missed two snaps with a thumb injury, so Matt Tobin got a couple of plays at left tackle. Isaac Seumalo played for the first time in his NFL career as a fullback on the Eagles’ second fourth-down attempt. He did a nice job as a lead blocker, so we could see Seumalo in that role in the future, too.

*For the second consecutive week, Nelson Agholor (92 percent) played the most snaps among the receivers, again edging out Jordan Matthews (87 percent) by just a few plays. It appears Agholor, Matthews and Dorial Green-Beckham all got a few extra snaps with Josh Huff gone, but Bryce Treggs (20 percent) got the bulk of them. Matthews caught six passes for 88 yards, Treggs recorded two receptions for 69 yards and Agholor hauled in four balls for 41 yards, while Green-Beckham didn’t catch a pass.

*Also for the second consecutive week: Darren Sproles (80 percent) received the vast majority of snaps at running back. He appears to be the Eagles’ new lead back, with Ryan Mathews (11 percent) playing just eight snaps, Wendell Smallwood (5 percent) playing four snaps and Kenjon Barner (4 percent) playing three snaps. Sproles averaged 4.4 yards per carry on 13 carries, while Smallwood picked up 25 yards on two carries. Mathews added 15 yards and a touchdown on five rushes and Barner gained three yards on one carry.

Defense

Player# of snaps% of snaps
Nigel Bradham64100%
Jordan Hicks64100%
Malcolm Jenkins64100%
Rodney McLeod64100%
Jaylen Watkins6195%
Nolan Carroll5484%
Brandon Graham5281%
Fletcher Cox5078%
Beau Allen4977%
Connor Barwin4469%
Leodis McKelvin3859%
Jalen Mills3656%
Vinny Curry3047%
Destiny Vaeao2133%
Marcus Smith1016%
Mychal Kendricks35%

*Jaylen Watkins (95 percent) played a season-high 61 snaps because the Eagles were almost exclusively in nickel against the Giants and Malcolm Jenkins (100 percent) slid down to play slot corner in those situations.

*Stephen Tulloch didn’t play a single snap for the first time this season and Mychal Kendricks (5 percent) recorded a season-low three snaps, also because the Birds were in nickel so much.

*Leodis McKelvin (59 percent) started the game at corner, but Jalen Mills (56 percent) got a ton of snaps at outside corner because McKelvin played so poorly in the first half.