Eagles' offense 'just OK,' does most of damage on broken plays

Eagles' offense 'just OK,' does most of damage on broken plays

The new and improved Eagles' offense didn't earn many style points in its regular-season debut Sunday. Actually, Carson Wentz and company didn't rack up many points at all.

Don't let the 30-17 final score fool you. The Eagles' offense crossed the goal line only twice during the team's win over Washington on Sunday (see breakdown). Caleb Sturgis kicked three field goals and Fletcher Cox returned a fumble for a touchdown.

So more than half of the Eagles' scoring was via defense and special teams. In a sense, that's great. Those units are important, too.

From the standpoint that the Eagles invested a lot of draft picks and money in the quarterback position and offense as a whole over the past two offseasons, this was not the desired result.

"We made some plays. A lot of them were broken plays," head coach Doug Pederson said after the game of the Eagles' offense. "Just OK."

There were encouraging signs, specifically in the passing game. Wentz completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns, including a 58-yard pass to Nelson Agholor — one of those broken plays Pederson mentioned.

Washington's defense also registered two sacks and nine hits on the quarterback, as Wentz was frequently under pressure or held on to the football too long. There was no ground attack to speak of, either, with Eagles running backs averaging 2.6 yards per carry.

The Eagles totaled 356 yards on offense, but too often, drives stalled or ended in a turnover.

"We have to look at the field and make the corrections," Pederson said. "It wasn't perfect. Too many breakdowns in some crucial situations, some drive killers, whether it be a penalty or a sack. Those are things we have to take a look at, but all in all, we had some opportunities.

"There were some opportunities down the field, which is exciting, and those are things moving forward that we'll try address and we'll try to fix."

Wentz certainly tried to get his new toys involved, targeting Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith a combined 10 times, many of those deep shots. Each time, the pass was underthrown, or overthrown, more often than not turning the wide receiver into the defender.

Jeffery finished with three receptions for 38 yards with a two-point conversion in his Eagles debut. Smith had one catch for 30 yards. They were fourth and fifth on the team, respectively, in both targets and production.

"It was part of the way [Washington] played it," Wentz said. "Their defense took some things away on the outside at times.

"It was just all part of the way the offense worked today. At the same time, I'm not worried about it. Alshon and Torrey will get theirs."

There was some reason for optimism here, too. Those plays were there to be made if Wentz throws the ball a little bit farther or a little bit shorter, or if Jeffery comes up with the highlight-reel grab he tends to make look easy.

Even the mere threat of going over the top — an ability the Eagles' offense sorely lacked the last couple of seasons — can dictate the way an opponent defends.

"Coming into each game, you want to be able to do that," Pederson said. "You don't want the defense to play eight and nine in the box all the time.

"We're going to continue to look at that and find ways to get the ball down the field. We just missed on a couple today that could've been big hitters for us."

While it wasn't a big day in the box score for Jeffery or Smith, defenses still have to respect their ability, Wentz says.

"It opens things up," Wentz said. "We missed the first play of the game to Torrey. I overthrew him on another one. Nonetheless, teams see that and it will open some things up underneath."

Wentz pointed to the performance of tight end Zach Ertz — who finished with a team-high eight receptions for 93 yards Sunday — as an example of Jeffery's and Smith's presence.

"Just having those elements will continue to open things up for [running back Darren Sproles], for Ertz, for Nelson in the slot and some different things. It's a big part of our game."

The missed opportunities down the field, though, were only one aspect of the Eagles' struggles. The offensive line and running game looked out of sync in preseason action as well, and Wentz's issues with accuracy and holding on to the ball too long go back to his rookie year.

One reasonable explanation for everything is the starters played little during the preseason, and the Eagles need time to build a chemistry. Left tackle Jason Peters also exited the game with a groin injury.

Then again, maybe there's no need to make excuses at all. After all, the Eagles did win.

"We made enough plays to win," Wentz said. "Are there things that we left on the field? Totally. We made some mistakes — the turnovers, some different things here and there.

"We have to get those fixed, but we made enough plays to win, so we're going to enjoy that."

Once Pederson gets a hold of the film, something tells me the Eagles won't be enjoying this one for too long.

Doug Pederson needs to give his new QB some help

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Doug Pederson needs to give his new QB some help

I know you're feeling conflicted right now. The Eagles are 11-2, tied for the best record in the NFL. They've already clinched the NFC East. Home-field advantage and a playoff bye are a very real possibility. But the Carson Wentz injury is an equalizer and then some.

On the bright side, the Flyers steadied their sinking ship in Western Canada by winning three straight. But the Sixers have dropped four in a row. Maybe the Phils will land Jake Arrieta or Manny Machado? Dare to dream. You're up, you're down. Welcome to Philadelphia sports. So what better time to provide some nice, healthy Rob's Rants? Letting things out can be therapeutic and after the Wentz news, I need to vent a little.    

It's hard to find fault with Doug Pederson this season. He's done an excellent job game planning and having his team prepared week in and week out, and his most impressive work has been his ability to overcome injuries. The Eagles have lost Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, Darren Sproles, Chris Maragos, just to name a few. All of the above represent major core pieces and Pederson's team is 11-2. Losing Wentz trumps them all and presents the head coach's biggest challenge. So look at this not so much as a rant but a plea to Doug P. moving forward.     

Nick Foles entered the Rams game late in the third quarter with the Eagles trailing 35-31. Certainly a difficult spot for any backup. He hadn't taken a meaningful snap all season. Logic would dictate emphasizing the run to let him get his feet wet. This was not the late fourth quarter, no timeouts, need to move down the field quickly type of circumstances. Further, the Eagles have three very capable running backs.

Pederson elected to throw the ball five straight times and called pass plays on eight of nine in the possession. The Birds did wind up getting a field goal on the drive and Foles completed three passes, but you wonder if it's the wisest move to drop Foles back that much, that quickly. I know Doug has been aggressive all season and that in part has helped the Eagles get where they are, and I'm also well aware of the heat he took by many (including me) for being too passive in the Seattle loss. But with Foles' lack of mobility in the pocket and the left side of the Eagles' offensive line struggling mightily against the pass rush, a bigger dose of the run could have made his transition back to starter a little smoother. But beyond the Rams game, balance and a commitment to the run will be Foles' best friend, along with a strong defense.    

Sixers struggles
It's one thing to lose in Cleveland and New Orleans, especially without Joel Embiid for both games and Robert Covington vs. the Pelicans. It's another to drop home games to the likes of the Suns and the Lakers prior to those defeats. For that, there is no excuse. The Sixers have lost four in a row and stand at 13-13. They continue to turn the ball over at an alarming rate and of late have not come to play to start games, particularly at home. Some of this can be chalked up to youth. Some not so much.

They are losing far too many 50-50 balls. Too many offensive rebounds and second chances allowed. That's just hustle and want. They also need veterans like Jerryd Bayless to be better, especially in the absence of T.J. McConnell. I've pointed this out before in this space but the Sixers are beyond losing to the NBA's dregs. It would also be nice to get the No. 1 overall pick from this past draft on the floor at some point.    

Let's close out this Rob's Rants on two positives. First, the 118th edition of Army-Navy football was played Saturday right here in Philadelphia. It is everything that is right about sports and our country. The men doing battle on that field at the Linc put sports into the context it deserves. Battle hard on the field, win or lose, respect to your opponent, represent our service men and women and country. Then it's on to further protecting and serving. They are truly unique individuals. And to have it played in the snow in such a cool setting was awesome.

DJ and the Kernal
Lastly, Dick Jerardi and Mike Kern both recently announced their retirements from the Philadelphia Daily News. They were as good of writers as this city has ever seen. They were even better people. I grew up reading them and had the opportunity as an adult to work with them professionally as a producer, then as a host and the pleasure was all mine. They knew of what they wrote, you learned something every time you read them, and they provided a sense of humor while doing it. Nothing beat our yearly Daily News Live Christmas Eve shows with Hall of Famer John Chaney. Their bylines will be missed.

The case for and against Carson Wentz still winning MVP

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The case for and against Carson Wentz still winning MVP

The case for Carson Wentz still winning MVP (Corey Seidman)

Prior to Monday Night Football, Bovada listed Tom Brady as the MVP favorite and Carson Wentz was no longer listed. Had the Patriots blown out the Dolphins as many expected, Brady would have surged into the MVP lead.

But he didn't. The Patriots' offense couldn't get anything going, failing to convert a single third down for the first time since 1991.

And even though Brady will probably play three more games this season than Carson Wentz, I still think Wentz can and will win MVP.

There are a bunch of reasons why.

1. Wentz led his team to an 11-2 record and put it in position to clinch the top seed in the conference, and the Eagles don't even have to be perfect the rest of the way to do it.

2. The key play that could end up enabling the Eagles to get home-field advantage through the playoffs was that gutsy touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery. Which Wentz delivered with a torn ACL. And which set the Eagles' franchise record for TD passes in a season. 

That kind of mystique matters come awards time.

3. Brady was a legitimate contender for the MVP award last season when he played just 12 games because of the four-game suspension. He finished second in MVP voting with 10 votes, behind Matt Ryan's 25.

4. Aside from Wentz and Brady, who are even the top candidates for MVP this season? Russell Wilson? His team isn't even currently in the playoffs. Antonio Brown? A wide receiver has never won MVP, even though Brown is deserving of breaking that trend. If Brown goes off against the Patriots on Sunday, it might make him the frontrunner. 

Standing in his way, however, is the tremendous success of his own teammate, Le'Veon Bell. Bell and Brown each have nine total touchdowns, and Bell has 1,684 yards from scrimmage compared to Brown's 1,518. How would you justify giving it to Brown over his equally deserving teammate?

If one of Brady, Bell or Brown has an enormous game Sunday, they could catapult to the top of the list. But if they have just an average game, Wentz will remain toward the top.

5. Voter fatigue is real with Brady, and this isn't even shaping up to be one of his best seasons. His 105.2 passer rating is just the fifth-highest of his career. His 27-to-6 touchdown to interception ratio is just the fifth-best of his career. His yards per attempt are fourth-best.

• • •

The case against Carson Wentz still winning MVP (Dave Zangaro)

The Eagles haven't had an MVP since the 1960 season, when Norm Van Brocklin took the honor. 

They'll have to wait at least one more season. 

Because when Wentz went down on Sunday night, his MVP chances went with it. 

Sure, the Eagles' quarterback had a really good first 13 games. His team went 11-2. He threw for 3,296 yards, with 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Those are really good numbers. 

But he just didn't play enough. 

The last time an NFL MVP played just 13 or fewer games was 1989, when Joe Montana won his first of two straight. Since then, of the 29 MVPs all 29 have played at least 14 games and 23 of them have played all 16. 

Sure, Brady finished second in MVP voting last season after playing just 12 games. But he didn't win it. And that was after 12 games in which he threw for over 3,500 yards, with 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions. His passer rating in those 12 games was 112.2. Wentz's this season was 101.9. 

What's even more notable was that Brady's 12 games in 2016 came in the last 12 games of the season after missing the first four because of suspension. When voting happened, Brady was still on the forefront of everyone's mind, leading his team into the playoffs. Wentz won't be forgotten, but recency has even more pull than mystique in voting. 

And then there are the candidates this year. Brady is the clear frontrunner. He's having another tremendous season. No, he didn't perform well on Monday night, but do you really expect him to not play well down the stretch? 

And the crazy thing about Brady is he's widely considered the greatest quarterback of all time, but has just two MVP awards. To put that in perspective, Peyton Manning has five, while Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas and Brett Favre each have three. Brady is tied with Steve Young, Kurt Warner, Joe Montana and Aaron Rodgers with two. 

So in some cases, voter fatigue might be a real thing, but in this case, it would make sense to see Brady get another one. 

Really, the way Wentz's worth to the Eagles would easily be proven is if the Eagles completely collapse down the stretch with Nick Foles. But with games against the Giants, Raiders and Cowboys, that seems unlikely. The Eagles win, Wentz loses. 

But there's always next year ... and the year after that.