Ravens 27, Eagles 26: Roob's 10 observations

Ravens 27, Eagles 26: Roob's 10 observations

BALTIMORE – The Eagles’ four-game losing streak is over!

(It’s now a five-game losing streak.)

Another day, another loss for the reeling Eagles, who have now lost five straight and nine of their last 11 games after a 3-0 start.

They made it close. They made it competitive. They gave John Harbaugh’s Ravens a battle before a potential game-winning two-point conversion with 0:04 on the clock failed and gave the Ravens a 27-26 win (see Instant Replay)

But ultimately, it was just another loss for us to chat about in today's 10 Instant Observations.

1. We’ll start with Carson Wentz. Here’s what I like best about the rookie QB. No matter what’s come before, no matter how ugly his stats are, no matter how bad he’s been, something clicks when he’s got the football in his hands in the fourth quarter of a close game. He just gets that look in his eye. His performance in the fourth quarter Sunday in what seemed to be a lost cause was monumental. He’s got no wide receivers. He’s got an offensive line patched together. But he put the Eagles in a position to win a game they really had no business being in. Joe Flacco’s interception helped. But really, something happens with Wentz when the game is in the balance. He's shown this before. The Eagles have to get him some help, for crying out loud. But he’s definitely a gamer (see breakdown of Wentz's day).

2. It’s really, really hard to win football games unless you make big plays on offense and prevent big plays on defense. And the Eagles are among the worst in the league at both of those. And we saw it again Sunday. The Ravens had four plays over 30 yards — a 39-yard run by Michael Campanaro that set up a first-quarter field goal, a 34-yard TD pass from Flacco to Steve Smith Sr. as the first half ended, a 44-yard run by Terrance West on the first play of the second half and Flacco’s 54-yard pass to Mike Wallace in the fourth quarter. So far this year, the Eagles have just 11 offensive plays of 30 yards and they’ve allowed 30. Think about those numbers for a moment and how out of whack they are. The Eagles are among the worst in the NFL in both producing big plays and preventing them. Is it the players? Is it the scheme? Is it the play-calling? The answer is yes. All of the above. Against the Ravens, they almost overcame the absence of big plays on offense and the inability to stop big plays. But in the long run, nobody ever does. 

3. The Eagles really have to figure out what’s happening with Wentz in the first quarter. His one interception Sunday was another difficult-to-understand pass directly to the opposing defender on the Eagles’ first offensive drive. Wentz has 13 interceptions this year and six of them are not only in the first quarter but also in the first 10 minutes of the first quarter. He has just one first-quarter TD and that was on the first drive of his career — opening the Browns game. In the second, third and fourth quarters combined, Wentz has 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In the first he has one TD and six INTs. Something is wrong. He’s either too amped up, he’s seeing things that he’s not expecting or he’s just not focused as the game begins. Whatever the issue, the Eagles need to identify it and solve it. Because the Eagles keep digging themselves early holes, and they just don’t have the firepower to dig out of early holes. Imagine if Wentz could start a game the way he finishes? With that great rhythm and confidence, this would be a different team.

4. Was nice to see Doug Pederson stick with the running game for a change. On a windy, rainy day, it made sense to try and establish the run — even against the Ravens’ No. 1-ranked run defense. And even without Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood — who are hurt and were inactive — and with Kenjon Barner leaving the game with a hamstring injury in the second quarter — the Eagles hammered it on the ground. Mathews ran very tough and had a huge day, and with three backs down, undrafted rookie free agent Byron Marshall gave the Eagles a lift in his first NFL game with a couple nice runs. The only way you’re going to go into Baltimore and compete with a team like the Ravens on a day like Sunday is if you are balanced, and it was nice to see Pederson figure that out. Now he has to do it consistently. I understand it’s a passing league. But all you’re doing if you throw all the time is giving the defense a heads up about what’s coming next and putting a young quarterback at risk.

5. Speaking of Mathews, when he’s healthy and gets the a generous number of carries, he’s a beast. We haven’t seen this Ryan Mathews all that much, but his 128 rushing yards Sunday are the most by an Eagle in more than two years — since Shady’s last big game in an Eagles uniform, a 159-yard performance in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day of 2014. Mathews got 20 carries for only the third time as an Eagle, and he’s averaged 104 yards in those three games. He runs violently, doesn’t he? No wonder he gets banged up all the time. If you can stay in the game and be able to use Mathews late, he’s just a tough matchup because he wears you down. His 128 yards Sunday were the most by an opposing back against the Ravens in Baltimore in six years — since Peyton Hillis of the Browns had 144 in 2010. If Mathews could ever stay healthy, he’d be something.

6. Important to mention the Eagles’ special teams and just how remarkable they are. Not just in this game, but all year. And really ever since Dave Fipp got here with Chip Kelly in 2013. The Eagles don't have a great offense or defense, but special teams is as good as anybody's. The cover teams really helped the Eagles control field position throughout the afternoon, giving the Ravens long fields that they really couldn’t do a whole lot with. Factor in Caleb Sturgis making four more field goals in a row, new long snapper Rick Lovato handling his duties capably, Donnie Jones doing his thing, Chris Maragos making about a thousand tackles on punt and kickoff coverage, and Dave Fipp and Co. once again put on a special teams show that not only kept the Eagles in the game, but had to impress another elite special teams coach, the head coach on the other sideline.

7. I understand what Doug Pederson was trying to do on that crucial fourth down, with the jet sweep to Nelson Agholor (see big plays and hot takes). Try to get the kid’s confidence up with a big conversion. Let him make a play. But Agholor stepped out of bounds as Eric Weddle was bearing down on him. He basically tackled himself. You’ve been running the ball with authority all day and it’s 4th-and-2. That’s not the time, it’s not the place, it’s not the play, it’s not the guy.

8. Last week, the Redskins hammered the ball between the tackles all week, then scored the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter on something completely different – a pitch to Chris Thompson. It went for 25 yards and a TD. Fast forward to Sunday. The Ravens ran the ball up the middle all day and then … early in the fourth quarter, they ran an almost identical play, a pitch to the left to Kenneth Dixon. The Eagles said the Thompson TD surprised them, and it sure looked like they were surprised when the Ravens ran the same play in a similar situation in the fourth quarter because Dixon had an easy path to the end zone for what turned out to be the game-winning TD. Rodney McLeod in particular looked lost on the play. You know that old saying, “Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice shame on you?” Yep. That.

9. I love Pederson’s decision to go for two. That’s your best chance to win the football game, right there. I didn’t like the play call. I’d like to see a run over the top — the Ravens hadn’t stopped the Eagles on the ground all day — or Wentz rolling out with a run-pass option.

10A. Let’s chat about wide receivers. This is what the Eagles got from theirs Sunday: Jordan Matthews (6-for-27), Dorial Green-Beckham (1-for-11), Agholor (1-for-9), Bryce Treggs (no catches), Paul Turner (inactive). That’s 47 yards for all the Eagles’ receivers. I don’t even know what to say anymore. Turner has 80 yards against the Bengals and is the only Eagle with an offensive play of 30 or more yards in the last five weeks and he’s inactive. I hate to beat a dead horse, but this group is awful.

10B. Just want to add one thing about Caleb Sturgis, who was on the brink of release early last year after a disastrous Eagles debut, has become one of the steadiest kickers in Eagles history. Sturgis was 4-for-4 Sunday in bad conditions, and although only one of the kicks was longer than 34 yards — a 45-yarder in the first quarter — he was out there dealing with a new long snapper and some pretty lousy rainy, windy conditions. Sturgis is now 32 for 37 this year, good for 87 percent. Two more field goals gives him the most in Eagles history. It’s a sad statement on the Eagles’ offense in the red zone that he’s attempted so many. But at least the Eagles have found themselves a kicker.

Eagles-Cowboys predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Cowboys predictions by our (cough) experts

The Birds are back.

And fresh off the bye week, they hop right into a doozy Sunday night against the divisional rival Cowboys at AT&T Stadium (8:30 p.m./NBC).

Will the Eagles (8-1) push their win streak to eight games? Or will the Cowboys (5-4) answer the bell at home and keep things interesting in the NFC East?

Here are our expert predictions for the Week 11 matchup:

Reuben Frank (9-0)
Eagles 38, Cowboys 11. Usually, I work my way up to the actual prediction and try to build up a tremendous level of anticipation with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about matchups, trends, analytics and whatnot before getting around to the pick. 

But not this week. I’m not messing around here. The Eagles are going to crush this team. 

Here’s a stat I love: Since 2000, the Cowboys have lost 21 games by at least 22 points. Ten of them — almost half — have been against the Eagles. And five of their seven home losses since 2000 by 22 or more points have been at the hands of the Eagles. Don’t believe me?

2000 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 41, Cowboys 14
2001 at the Vet — Eagles 40, Cowboys 18
2001 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 36, Cowboys 3
2002 at the Vet — Eagles 44, Cowboys 13
2002 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 27, Cowboys 3
2003 at the Linc — Eagles 36, Cowboys 10
2004 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 49, Cowboys 21
2008 at the Linc — Eagles 44, Cowboys 6
2011 at the Linc — Eagles 34, Cowboys 7
2014 at AT&T Stadium — Eagles 33, Cowboys 10

Big Red used to crush the Cowboys, didn't he? Even soon-to-be-Florida head coach Chip Kelly had himself a rout of the Cowboys — it got the Eagles to 9-3 on Thanksgiving Day in 2014. 

So here’s the funny thing: I picked 38-11 and then decided to change my prediction to the averages of those 10 routs and it turned out to be … 38-11. That's fate. Eagles will return to Philly Monday morning 9-1 with an eight-game winning streak and a virtual lock on the NFC East. This one's going to be fun!

Eagles 38, Cowboys 11

Dave Zangaro (7-2)
No Sean Lee. No Ezekiel Elliott. And a banged-up Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith (at best). 

Even if all of them were completely healthy, I'd probably lean toward picking the Eagles. Without them? No-brainer. 

Now, maybe the Eagles come out of the bye week a little rusty. It could happen after a long layoff, especially after a flight to North Texas for the game. But the Eagles have proven time and time again that their focus just isn't an issue. There's no reason to expect that to be a problem Sunday night. 

And the Birds are getting healthy. Ronald Darby is back. As well as the Eagles' other corners fared while he was gone, there's a reason he's a starter. And they get back Zach Ertz, who just happens to be one of their most important offensive weapons. 

Games against division rivals are not normally easy, so maybe the Eagles don't blow them out. But I think this is a win. 

Eagles 27, Cowboys 20 

Derrick Gunn (8-1)
Now that their bye week is over, the Eagles are focused on wrapping up the NFC East. Dallas is licking its wounds after getting manhandled down in Atlanta. Elliott is serving his suspension. Lee is out with a hamstring injury, and the Pro Bowler Smith is ailing with a groin injury. 

It all sounds too easy for the Birds, but with Prescott on the other side, they’re not about to overlook this one. And they still remember what happened in Dallas last season.

Without Elliott and Smith, trying to establish a ground game against the Eagles’ top-ranked run defense will be near impossible. 

Dallas is 0-2 in games Lee hasn't played in this season. 

Carson Wentz will spread the wealth through the air, and now that Jay Ajayi has had extended time to get familiar with the offense, the Birds' running attack should be even more diversified. 

If the Eagles' defense can make the Cowboys' offense one-dimensional, it's game over.

Eagles 27, Cowboys 17

Ray Didinger (8-1)
The Otho Davis Scholarship Fund dinner was held this week, honoring the late Eagles trainer and awarding scholarships to students pursuing careers in sports medicine. The room was full of former Eagles players and Philadelphia fans and, of course, there was a lot of conversation about Sunday's big game against Dallas.

The confidence level was high. I heard a dozen variations on "This will be a blowout." The thinking goes something like this: No Elliott, no chance for the Cowboys. Their pitiful performance in last week's loss to Atlanta was all the evidence the Eagles fans needed. And, yes, if that same Cowboys team shows up Sunday night, the Eagles will be in fine shape.

But my guess is the Cowboys will play much better this week at home. I'm still not sure it will be enough because right now the Eagles are playing better than any team in the NFL. I'll take the Eagles, which will virtually wrap up the division title, but I don't think it will be as easy as some folks think.

Eagles 28, Cowboys 20

Andrew Kulp (8-1)
With all their injuries and suspensions, the Cowboys really don't look so hot. 

Arguably their three best players — Smith, Elliott and Lee — are all out. They won't be able to run the ball, they'll struggle to protect Prescott, and the defense will struggle to slow down Wentz and the Eagles' offense.

All the stuff about this being a division rival on the road or the possibility of the Eagles coming off their bye week flat are going to fade pretty quickly with one simple reality. The Cowboys are an inferior opponent right now. Maybe not 49ers bad, or even Broncos bad, but at this point, they could struggle to finish .500.

Eagles 38, Cowboys 23

Corey Seidman (6-3)
No Zeke, no Lee, maybe no Smith, banged-up Bryant … the Cowboys are oozing with "nobody believes in us" potential this Sunday night. And just when one team is so undermanned that all hope looks lost (see: Giants-Broncos earlier this season), things turn out in an unexpected way.

Still, I'm not taking the Cowboys in this game. If they had Zeke, I think I would. But Alfred Morris is in that Rob Kelley mold of plodding running back who tends to struggle against the Eagles, and that'll make the Cowboys' offense one-dimensional. With Bryant at less than 100 percent, I just don't see Dallas keeping the pace.

Eagles 34, Cowboys 17

Doug Pederson uses last season's losing streak to motivate Eagles

AP Images

Doug Pederson uses last season's losing streak to motivate Eagles

This time last year? The Eagles actually still had a winning record and were thinking playoffs.
Then disaster.
The Eagles were 5-4 going into Week 10 a year ago and proceeded to lose their next five games, the first three in blowout fashion.
It was the Eagles' longest losing streak since an eight-game streak in 2012, Andy Reid's last year, and third longest since a seven-game streak spanning 1998 and 1999.
More importantly, it was the team's longest losing streak that began with a winning record that late in a season since the notorious 1994 collapse in Rich Kotite's final season — a 7-2 start turned into a 7-9 finish.
A losing streak like that can either destroy a team's character or make it even stronger.
And Doug Pederson knew it could go either way.
"I look back at that, and I just kept reminding the team that you put in the hard work and the preparation, and you believe in each other, you believe in yourself, you trust the process, and that's not cliché," he said Friday.
"You have to trust what I'm talking about, what the coaches are talking about, and just stick together, and there's no pointing fingers. That's what they did. They hung together."
That losing streak began with a home loss to Seattle. Although the final score was 26-15, it was a 26-7 game until a Dorial Green-Beckham touchdown in the final minutes. (Really.)
After that came a 27-13 loss to the Packers at the Linc and then the low point, an embarrassing 32-14 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati, a game the Eagles trailed 29-0 late in the third quarter.
"That was sort of a defining moment at that point," Pederson said. "I guess we were as low as we were going to be as a team and organization coming out of that game. The guys responded well.
"(The) messaging was the same. We practiced the same after that. Lot of pride, too. Lot of pride in the coaches. Lot of pride in the players and this organization. …
"We needed to change it. We needed to fix it. Even though we didn't win a couple games after that, you saw steady improvement (and then) we figured out a way at the end of the season to win those two games and finish on a high note."
The Eagles rebounded to show some fight in close losses to the Redskins and Ravens, then closed out the season with wins over the Giants and the Cowboys. Granted, the Dallas win was over a bunch of scrubs, but after a five-game losing streak, any win was welcome.
Pederson said Friday that pushing through that five-game losing streak and coming out and staying together as a team was instrumental in this team's 8-1 start going into Sunday night in Dallas.
"I think it directly affects the team this season," he said. "Things happen for a reason, and you learn from them, especially in this business. And really, in life in general. Things happen, and you learn from them. You make the necessary corrections and you move on.
"You don't dwell in the past, but you remember, and you reflect from time to time. So I think it's a direct correlation to where the team is today, learning how to finish games and learning how to play together and understanding that they are a good football team."
The Eagles are atop every NFL poll these days. They have the NFL's best record and share the longest winning streak with the Saints, and Pederson said it's not always easy for the players to ignore all the praise being lavished on them.
"Well, it is hard because the team, rightfully so, is being praised in a lot of areas and they're well deserved of the credit and the praise," he said.
"But at the same time, we understand that we can't look past this week. We can't look past this game. It's a division game on the road, national spotlight again. It's two teams that are undefeated in the NFC East. I'd like to say that every game is important, but none more important than the one we're faced with Sunday night."
Sunday night starts a very difficult stretch, with four of the next five games on the road and three of those road games against teams with winning records.
A year ago, the Eagles were 1-7 on the road, finishing with seven straight losses.
This year, they go into AT&T Stadium Sunday 3-1 away from Philly.
"Four out of the next five weeks we're traveling, it's kind of like the start of the season," Pederson said.
"This is sort of a tough stretch, but at the same time, it's one that we welcome. If we want to separate and become a good football team and a consistent winner in this league, these are the stretches that you have to go through and find ways to win games."