The Eagles started out so promising, beating up on Cleveland and Chicago before crushing the Pittsburgh Steelers to start the season, and the Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson era, 3-0. But after the bye week, the Eagles lost a close one late to Detroit after giving up a huge first-half lead. Then they lost a close one late to Washington after giving up a huge first-half lead.
After beating up on the then-undefeated Vikings, the Eagles lost again, this time at Dallas, after having a 10-point lead in the second half. Still, with another chance to secure a close one late, the Birds faltered. This weekend, in yet another close one with the Giants, the Eagles found themselves down two scores in the first quarter, and scrapped back into the game, again, to no avail.
The Eagles are 4-0 in games decided by more than seven points and 0-4 in games decided by seven or less.
Their average margin of victory in the four wins is 19 points. Their combined margin of defeat in the four losses is 19 points.
“Well, right now the feeling is very disappointed,” Pederson said after the loss to New York. “We feel like we’ve had an opportunity in a couple of these ballgames to pull them out. It’s still a lot of season left, obviously. If feel like we’re learning, we’re working through some things.
“It could be…I could sit up here and say hey it’s great to be 6-2 or 5-3, but we’re not. We’re 4-4. A lot of football left and this is a good football team and I believe in these guys and we’ll come to work for anther game next week.”
It’s easy to look back at the first half of the season and think the Eagles, not Dallas, should be 7-1 and in first place in the NFC East. But three of the four losses that could have been wins were rife with mistakes early and missed opportunities late. What could have been, simply, wasn’t.
Now the Eagles are on the outside of the playoff picture, looking in. And so, as Pederson leads his team into the second half of his first season, here are seven things that try to explain why this team is 4-4.
Offense and Defense rankings
The Eagles offense ranks as one of the worst in football, which is a concern considering Pederson is an offensive coach and calls his own plays. While the Eagles are 10th in the league in points with an average of 25.2 per game, they are 26th of 32 teams in yards (333.4 per game), that includes 28th in passing yards (225.6 per game) and 17th in rushing yards (107.8 per game).
On defense, the Eagles rank 6th in points allowed per game (18.1), seventh in yards (325.5 per game), sixth in passing yards (218.4 per game) and a comparatively pedestrian 18th in rushing yards (107.1 per game).
The Eagles have 20 touchdowns this season, but just 17 offensive scores. While the Birds are one of only three teams in the NFL with two special teams touchdowns, and one of only four teams with at least one score on both defense and special teams, the offense ranks in a tie for 21st with just nine passing touchdowns.
Rookie quarterback or not, that number is not very good through eight games.
The Wobbles of the Wentz Wagon
Through eight games it’s pretty clear that the Carson Wentz era is way more fun than the Sam Bradford era or the Mark Sanchez era or the Nick Foles era or, long-term we hope, the Michael Vick era. It’s unclear, however, if it’s any better.
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Those numbers are pretty good for a rookie. His completion percentage just below 65 percent is solid, if buoyed by the dink-and-dunk offense that preceded the Giants loss. His interceptions have skyrocketed after the first few games without a turnover, and he’s still holding the ball too long or, as he did for absolutely no reason at one point against New York, refusing to throw the ball away when nothing was there.
In the four wins, Wentz is 82-for-130 (63.1 percent) for 907 yards, six TDs and two INTs.
In the four losses, he is 95-for-145 (65.5 percent) for 983 yards, three TDs and three INTs. He’s also been sacked 13 times in the losses to just four times in the wins.
‘Wentz just isn’t clutch yet’
On Sunday, Wentz told reporters, “all four of these losses we’ve had a chance to win and that’s something — in most of them, we’ve hurt ourselves. Today was the two interceptions early.
“All these other games we just kind of keep kicking ourselves in the tail early on,” he added. “We know we’re a good football team and we’re going to bounce back.”
The kid is learning on the job, so this should be taken with a grain of rookie salt, but his completion percentage in the fourth quarter is 57.1, compared to 62.5 in the first half and 76.7 in the third quarter this year.
His yards-per-attempt in first halves of games this year is 6.5, which is not great, but that number drops to 5.6 in the fourth quarter. Of his nine touchdowns, six have come in the third quarter, but none have come in the fourth quarter despite more pass attempts (63) in the fourth than the third (60).
Part of that is circumstance of the game and field position, yes, but the Eagles have had chances in every single one of their losses in the fourth quarter to take the lead or tie and have failed. In the wins, the fourth quarters have been ostensibly garbage time.
It’s worth remembering his receivers have been bad, dropping easy passes all season. It’s also important to point out that of his five interceptions, four have come in the first quarter of games, to just one touchdown. In the middle of games, Wents is an All-Pro — 66.9 completion percentage and eight TDs to zero INTs in the second and third quarters — it’s the start and end that gets him.
Doug Pederson: Third Down vs. Fourth Down
Until the Giants loss, Pederson was a perfect 5-for-5 on calling fourth down plays this season. Now he’s 6-for-9, which is still good, but missing on two of those three fourth downs may have cost the Eagles the game on Sunday.
Still, the larger issue is third down, not fourth. The Eagles are 34-for-104 on third down this season, ranking 30th in the NFL.
‘Second Half Defense’
The bright spot of the Eagles’ first half has been the defense, and while they have admittedly given up too many first-quarter points, the unit has turned up the pressure as the game rolls along.
The Eagles are surrendering just 6.5 points per game after halftime this season, including the 19-point outburst by Dallas in the second half and overtime last week. Of the 325.5 yards per game the team is giving up through eight games, just 144.4 are coming after the break.
‘The receivers are trash’
Josh Huff was cut. People want Nelson Agholor, pictured above, to follow him out the door. And Dorial Green-Beckham, the big (literally) trade piece at receiver before the season, seems like he has little interest in being on the football field.
If it looks like DGB is about to fall down on that play, it’s because he almost did, after a brief collision with the defensive back who, by the looks of it, kept his balance and wasn’t easily shoved three yards off the route and nearly to the ground.
Jordan Matthews has had some drops, but he’s also caught 42 balls for 507 yards and three scores. The next best receiver is Agholor, who has 25 catches on 43 targets, eclipsing his rookie season of 23 catches on 44 targets after just eight games.
Still, he’s dropping balls, fumbling balls he does catch, stepping out of bounds while a play is ongoing and more often than not seems otherwise disinterested in helping Wentz or the offense succeed.
Yes, he’s a rookie quarterback, but his pass-catchers haven’t done him any favors. Even Darren Sproles has dropped more than his fair share of passes. But the bigger issue is the primary pass catchers. After Matthews, Agholor, Green-Beckham, and tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek have a combined two touchdowns this season. In eight games.
‘Can the Eagles still make the playoffs?’
After starting 3-0, the Birds are in the thick of it now. Dallas is 7-1 and the Giants are 5-3. Washington is 4-3-1, which puts the Eagles in last place in the NFC East.
In the NFC North, Minnesota is 5-3, while Detroit is 5-4, having played nine games without a bye yet. Green Bay, like Philly, is a disappointing 4-4.
The South has Atlanta — Philly’s opponent next week — at 6-3 and New Orleans now 4-4 after two-straight wins. Tampa is 3-5 and Carolina is showing life after a horrid 1-5 start, now at 3-5.
The West might be over already if Seattle wins on Monday night, as the Seahawks are 4-2-1 and Arizona is 3-4-1. Los Angeles is 3-5 and the 49ers are a terrible 1-7.
So what does that mean for the Eagles?
It means they have to win more games. Assuming the division leaders continue to lead those divisions in the second half (a big if, perhaps, in the North), Philly trails New York, Washington, and Detroit for the two Wild Card slots, tied with New Orleans and Green Bay, who the Eagles host in three weeks. And Arizona and Carolina went to the NFC title game last year, so counting either of them out is foolish.
Barring anything drastically changing in Pederson’s first year, this looks like another season without making the playoffs. Through half a season, this looks like an 8-8 team, with an 11-5 defense and a 5-11 offense.