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.