By Ryan Waterman
Of the seven defending Super Bowl champions to begin their next season with a 2-3 record, a single team, the 1996 Dallas Cowboys, have made the postseason. Mathematically, the odds are astronomically against the Philadelphia Eagles following a devastating 23-21 loss in a rematch of the NFC Championship with the Minnesota Vikings.
I don't even know where to possibly begin with this game. To best sum it up, the only thing that comes to mind is that the Eagles crumbled. The box score may not show it, the final score won't show it, but I'll be damned if anyone's going to suggest otherwise. No specific area of their performance stood out as worse than the others, it was simple an all-around atrocity of a performance by a team that should be embarrassed by their current level of production.
So, one week after initially asking the question, we find ourselves asking it once again...what is wrong with the Philadelphia Eagles?
Well, let's begin right at the top. The first one under the microscope is none other than the Master Magician, Howie Roseman. Much of the credit for last season's championship has been awarded to Howie, and rightfully so. However, the offseason that followed was a little more than questionable. Yes, while it may be true that you can't retain every free agent, there's at least one that Howie let walk, which has proven to be costly in many a situations this season. That name has to be LeGarrette Blount. Blount tips the scale at 247 lbs, and uses every bit of that frame when running, plowing through defenders with ease. The Eagles current crop of RBs consist of four that surpass the 200 lb threshold, although not one surpasses 225 lbs. The lack of Blount's power-running style has been a key in the Eagles slow-start this season, as they've struggled to get a run game going on third-and-short situations, as well as in the red-zone.
One can also argue that the lack of a replacement for Mychal Kendricks have proven costly at times, which sure enough, also falls on Roseman to a degree. Back in April's draft, the Eagles held the 32nd overall pick. When their pick came up, two names sat up there that were of interest, and those were Darius Leonard and Harold Landry. Instead of opting to fill what would become a major need, the Eagles opt to trade out and acquire additional picks, the first of which ended up being Dallas Goedert. This is not meant to be a dig against Dallas in any way, it's just meant to be the Eagles need at linebacker under a microscope. I believe Goedert has a successful career when the Eagles finally opt to fully involve him in the offense, I simply question whether that was the smart pick when Zach Ertz is already firmly entrenched as the starting tight end for at least a few more years. It certainly comes off as a head-scratcher, especially after seeing how both Landry and Leonard played in their respective games against the Eagles.
Next under the microscope is the head honcho, the grand poobah, Douglas Pederson, himself. Much of the Eagles fan base has a number of bones to pick with Pederson, beginning with his play-calling. Last season, Pederson was known to possess a large set of cajones, which seems to have disappeared this season. His risk-taking is gone, his creative play-calling has gone by the wayside, and he just seems to be going through the motions. His questionable time-management has also become a point of contention, as it's becoming eerily reminiscent of his predecessor and mentor Andy Reid, now coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. Tonight's game put that on full display, as the Eagles managed to bring the game within two points, with about 70 seconds remaining -- but not a single timeout. After blowing a timeout with nearly 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Pederson lost his second on a questionable challenge at the midway point of the quarter. Finally, their final timeout was burned with 2:51 left on the clock. With his lack of clock management, Pederson placed both his offense and defense under immense pressure at different points in this game. Until Doug Pederson can get out of Doug Pederson's way, this team will struggle to find success.
Let's take a look at each side of the ball, now, beginning with the elephant in the room -- the defense. The funny thing about this defense, is that this has been a very similar unit to the 2017 unit that won the Super Bowl. They've always been a "bend, but don't break" unit. Tackling has always been an issue for them. Penalties have always plagued them. What's different this time, is that the offense hasn't been able to bail them out, and mask the flaws. When this team was the top-scoring offense in all of football last season, we could gun-it-out with the best of them. If the defense showed up, fantastic. In the event that they didn't, the offense put up enough points that it really didn't matter. Jim Schwartz has always been an average coordinator, who's flaws were masked by a well-oiled offensive machine. What we're seeing this year is a defensive unit that's been put under a microscope, as a result of an offense's ineptitude to stop stumbling over their own two feet. If there was one complaint that I truly had outside of the blinds finally being pulled open on Jim Schwartz, is the lack of progression seen in our young corners. Their coverage abilities haven't really progressed. The defensive backs don't play the ball, they play to not get beat.
Speaking of the offense, boy, is there a lot to talk about. Aside from Doug Pederson, let's touch on the fact that our two biggest offensive weapons in Frank Reich and John DeFilippo. The offense is simply less explosive without those two in Pederson's ear, and it's not even up for a debate. The unpredictability is gone, the excitement is gone, it's practically a late-Eagles era Andy Reid offense. Focusing on the actual players now, the biggest issue is unquestionably the offensive line. 12 sacks in three games since the return of Carson Wentz. Your franchise QB has thrown the ball 129 times in three games, and has been sacked 12 times. That type of garbage just can't happen from what is considered to be one of the best offensive lines in football. It's downright pathetic. The offensive line issue runs deeper, as it's compounded the aforementioned run game issues. In five games this season, the Eagles have failed to surpass 75 yards from a single rusher. No team is going to succeed without at least some form of a rushing attack. For as many issues as the receiving corps has, they've managed to at least produce. Some costly drops have come an inopportune times, but the receivers have seen improvements as a result of Alshon Jeffery and Carson Wentz's returns.
Finally, let's talk about the chance aspects of the game. Last season, everything was coming up golden for the Eagles. They were lights out on third-downs, outstanding in the red-zone, and were winning the turnover battles. It was almost the perfect storm. This season, it's been the opposite. They're horrendous on third-downs, their red-zone production has seen drastic regression, and the turnovers are few-and-far between. Seemingly, the biggest takeaway as to what the Eagles biggest downfall has been this season is their execution. Mental mistakes, and sloppiness have been the motto for the Eagles to this point.
In closing, the Eagles currently sit at 2-3 on the still young season. There are definite concerns over the state of this football teams, and those concerns are completely justified, especially after the past two weeks. While it's true that there's still a lot of football to play, this team has some serious soul-searching to do in short order. They take the field on Thursday night in what is now considered to be a "do-or-die" prime-time showdown with the division rival New York Giants. Some believe the season is still salvageable. A divisional win may make that an easier vision to see. However, an 0-1 start within the division all but assures that the Eagles will be golfing in January.
It's now time to see what this team is truly made of.