NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Eagles need to stop defending Nelson Agholor. Stop playing him, too

“Mental errors like that you can’t have. I know better than that and I shouldn’t have done that.”

That was Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor, standing up in the locker room after the loss to Seattle Sunday and explaining what happened when his illegal formation penalty negated a 57-yard touchdown play that would have tied the game at 13.

“I’ve got to get out of my own head.” Rinse. Repeat.

Agholor went from explaining one mental error to explaining another, in the form of this dropped pass on the very next play that would have secured a first down, with the potential for a huge gain. Let’s relive that one together:

Instead of Agholor extending the Eagles’ drive with a very simple, wide open catch, the Eagles punted, putting the defense back on the field after just six snaps (including the penalty), when that unit was already gassed after giving up a touchdown on Seattle’s previous 10-play, 5:53 drive.

The Seahawks’ first play from scrimmage after the punt was a 44-yard pass to Doug Baldwin. Then a 30-yard pass to Tyler Lockett. Somehow the defense was able hold Seattle to a field goal, but the 16-7 lead flipped the entire game around from what it should have been.

That’s on Agholor.

And it’s on Doug Pederson for continuing to put him on the field.

And yet all anyone could say in the post game, in addition to how frustrated they were, was how he works his ass off and they aren’t going to give up on the guy, even if he’s fast becoming a first-round bust. And Agholor said it all too, apologizing to the team and the fans for his play, sweat pouring down his brow as he answered each question, providing great sound bytes for us, but little in the form of actual answers.

This could happen to anyone in that locker room, so no one is suggesting Agholor’s teammates should stand up and rip him when mistakes were made all over the field on Sunday. But his coach needs to stop coddling him in the press. Pederson’s penchant for protecting his guys went too far on Sunday.

“Anytime that a player goes through a little bit of a rough spell, I guess, it can play on the psyche of the player,” Pederson explained. “From my standpoint as a coach, I’ve got to continue to encourage and keep putting him out there and keep trusting him and keep working and keep fighting because he’s a part of our team and we’ve got to keep plugging away. And he’s got to fight through it. He’s got to learn to not listen to the outside world and just focus on the internal and focus on getting better.”

Hold up. Rewind.

“I’ve got to continue to encourage and keep putting him out there and keep trusting him…”

Do you? (Seriously, does he?)

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Given all the issues in Sunday’s 26-15 loss, all the big plays the defense gave up — they let Russell Wilson catch a touchdown pass! — it’s telling that all anyone wanted to talk about Sunday night and now into Monday morning is Agholor and how terrible he is and how the team should bench him or cut him. A lot of that is because of Pederson, and the never-ending string of vitriol on sports talk radio Monday will be directly related to the head coach standing up in the post game presser and telling us he’s going to keep putting Agholor out there.

“I’m going to keep encouraging the kid,” Pederson said after the game. “He works hard every single day now. I’m going to keep talking, I’m going to keep loving on him and encouraging him. By no means am I going to be down on him. This…this loss is on me. I need to make sure I’m doing everything I can to get these guys ready to play.”

“I need to continue to do my part,” he said, “and coach better.”

On that last line, Pederson was telling the truth. He needs to coach better, and understanding situational football will come with time. He is still learning on the job, and it was evident several times on Sunday.

On the illegal formation call, Pederson was seen on the replay yelling for Agholor to move up onto the line of scrimmage and re-set so he wouldn’t get flagged. The sideline official is allowed to tell a receiver if he isn’t on the line, and Agholor is supposed to check with him to make sure he isn’t in violation.

He didn’t. He was.

Pederson could have stopped it by calling a timeout. He said after the game that he didn’t want to blow a timeout in that situation, which is somewhat understandable given they were running a misdirection screen pass that he could not have expected would go for 57 yards and a score. But still, that was third down and 6, making it 3rd and 11 after the flag. Why would you put your quarterback in that situation? And what did saving those two timeouts get him anyway?

The Eagles used their two remaining timeouts on defense, forcing Seattle to punt with 1:45 to play in the second quarter. The subsequent Eagles drive went like this:

  • 1-10-PHI 38 (1:34) (Shotgun) K.Barner left end to PHI 44 for 6 yards.
  • 2-4-PHI 44 (1:10) (No Huddle, Shotgun) C.Wentz pass short right to Z.Ertz to PHI 47 for 3 yards.
  • 3-1-PHI 47 (:45) (Shotgun) C.Wentz pass short middle to Z.Ertz to 50 for 3 yards.
  • 1-1-50 (:24) (No Huddle, Shotgun) C.Wentz pass short middle intended for D.Green-Beckham INTERCEPTED by K.Chancellor at SEA 35.

Forget about the terrible interception for a second and just look at the clock. Pederson’s offense went 12 yards in 1:10, then Carson Wentz threw a pick.

That’s bad football, poor clock management and, going back to the way Pederson handled the questions about Agholor, a stark reminder of what people in Philly heard for more than decade.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Pederson refuses to throw his players under the bus. He learned that from Andy Reid, and while there’s a certain nobility in taking the loss on your own shoulders as a head coach, it rings hollow when fans and media used to hear the same damn story after every single loss.

“I gotta do a better job.”

How many times did we hear that? That quote haunts this city. And yet Pederson is a direct disciple of Reid’s, so he handles these situations exactly the same way.

The worst part? It’s not that I don’t believe Pederson. The concern is that I do. He can’t say he needs to do a better job coaching and in the same breath say he has to keep putting Agholor out on the field. They are not mutually exclusive.

Wentz echoed — almost verbatim — Pederson’s comments after the game. And most of the locker room did as well. “We have not lost confidence in him,” Wentz said of Agholor. “I have not lost confidence in him. We’ve just got to keep encouraging him. He works his tail off. A lot of the things he does, you guys don’t see. After practice, before practice. He wants to be great. He’s working his tail off so we’re going to just keep working with him.”

“Drops happen. Mistakes happen,” Wentz added, “And I just have to keep working with those guys and encouraging them.”

That’s true, and it shows a maturity with Wentz well beyond his rookie status.

It’s also nonsense.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Agholor has 27 catches through 10 games, on just 51 targets. He has a total of eight targets in the last two weeks, catching two passes for seven yards. He has one touchdown catch all season, the only game he has more than 50 yards, and that came in the season opener against Cleveland.

Wentz has lost confidence in him. He’s barely looking his way. Agholor has just 16 targets on third downs this year, including the awful drop on Sunday, catching five balls, four of which went for first downs. And yet he’s still been getting 90 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps the last few weeks.

At least with Agholor’s comments after Seattle’s loss, his tone was different from his rant a few weeks ago where he told reporters he was “tired of hearing about that shit.” He finally seems to understand that while he’s tired of hearing about it, everyone else is more tired of seeing it.

And yet, he can’t do anything about it. He has the yips, and the Eagles can’t just throw him in left field and hope he figures it out. He’s killing drives, not just with drops but with ridiculous mental errors. Let’s not forget this moment against Dallas:

If he was just dropping the ball, that would be one thing. But he’s making mistakes all over the field. Maybe it’s in his head, or maybe he’s just a bad football player.

Either way, he needs to be benched, even if that means more three tight end sets or multiple running back looks (assuming they are all healthy). The team can’t just release him, like most of the city wants, without getting nailed with a pretty large cap hit. Agholor’s dead cap is $6.8 million this year and $4.7 next year, nearly double what his salary will be in 2017, according to spotrac.com.

If they can’t dump him, please, by all means, coach him and love him and encourage him and keep fighting for him.

Just don’t keep putting him back on the field.

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