Who’s to blame for Eagles’ collapse, poor season so far? Start with the coaches
PHILADELPHIA – The Super Bowl hangovers aren't exclusive to just the players.
So everything Eagles coach Doug Pederson said the team was focusing on this season, such as staying hungry, understanding that opponents are gearing up to knock off the defending champions, not getting complacent, and so forth, applies to the coaching staff, too.
Sure, the Eagles fell apart in the fourth quarter, coughing up a 17-point lead in their 21-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
But it would be too easy to blame it solely on the offense, or the defense, or in this case, both.
You might as well add the coaching staff, too. Start with Pederson, then go to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. And heck, throw in offensive coordinator Mike Groh because so far, he hasn't proven as adept as his predecessor, Frank Reich.
Yes, the players messed up. But so did the coaches. In the fourth quarter, the Eagles called 13 passes and one run on offense. They allowed the Panthers to convert on a 4th-and-10 on defense to keep alive their game-winning drive.
"Flat out, this is a players' game," Pederson said after the game. "Players have to make plays. We try to, as coaches, we put them in position to be successful, so we've got to evaluate that and just coach better and play better."
Remember, it was Pederson who called the plays on those abysmal fourth-quarter drives that went absolutely nowhere. None of those plays were runs – until the final minute when Wendell Smallwood ran the ball eight yards to the Panthers' 14.
That was nine straight pass plays called on two possessions after the Panthers cut the Eagles' lead from 17-6 to 17-14, then went ahead 21-17.
Sure, Wentz completed 7 of 8 (he was sacked once), which kept the clock moving, but only one of the pass plays went for more than 10 yards.
Pederson said many of those were run-pass options, which means that the play could have been a run based on how Wentz read the defense. But if Pederson really wants the Eagles to run the ball, then don't give Wentz the option and call a running play.
"When we are up 17 points in the fourth quarter, we have to win the game," tight end Zach Ertz said. "That is the bottom line and there is no other way to put it. There is no feel-good that we were up 17 points. It's really irrelevant when you find a way to lose like that.”
For example, when the Panthers cut the Eagles' lead to 17-14 with 4:08 left in the fourth quarter, these were the Eagles' plays from their 25-yard line: a two-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery, a pass to Smallwood that lost two yards, and an incompletion to Jeffery.
That's three passes, a punt, and just 1 minute, 51 seconds off the clock. So the Panthers got the ball back at their 31 with 2:17 left, plenty of time to move into position for at least a game-tying field goal.
The Panthers, of course, got a touchdown.
This is where the defense did its part to blow the game. Through three quarters, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had 68 yards passing. In the fourth, he threw for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
That included converting a 4th-and-10 with a 35-yard pass to Torrey Smith down to the Eagles' 34 yard line on the game-winning drive. Jalen Mills had coverage on Smith. But he slipped as Newton extended the play by fending off Michael Bennett's hit.
"Cam extended the play just a little bit for Torrey waiting to get open and it’s tough to cover an NFL receiver for that long," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "You know it was just a good play made by them.”
When it happens once, like it did against Tennessee on Sept. 30, when the Titans converted a 4th-and-15 on their game-winning drive in overtime, you can call it a fluke.
When it happens twice, that's poor coaching. And since Schwartz runs the defense, that's on him. Schwartz doesn't talk to the media after games, so his explanation will have to wait until Tuesday.
Schwartz can also explain why cornerback Dexter McDougle, signed off the street last Tuesday, started at nickel corner and played 48 snaps while Rasul Douglas played zero.
And still, despite all of this, it's not too late for the Eagles.
They'll face a team equally as disappointing in the Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday in London. These two teams were in the NFL's version of the Final Four last season, with the Jaguars losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
Yet Jacksonville is also reeling at 3-4. The Jaguars have been outscored 60-14 in the last two games and they benched quarterback Blake Bortles.
When the schedule was announced last spring, it seemed like an enticing matchup for the British fans. It still is, but more for the fact that both teams need a win to stay in contention for the playoffs.
Perhaps this upcoming game will determine whether the Eagles make a trade by the Oct. 30 deadline.
But that's not a cure-all, either. Whomever the Eagles trade for – and really, take your pick for players at positions of need like running back, defensive back, defensive tackle – will need time to adjust to their new team.
In other words, the Eagles need both the coaching and the playing to improve.
“We’re going to find out what we’re made of now going forward," Wentz said. "I feel like we said that two weeks ago, saying it again. We’re at make-or-break time, almost.
"Again, we know what we can do, we do it here and there some weeks, but we just have to put it all together.”
Contact Martin Frank at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
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