Despite suffering his first NFL loss, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz played well in Detroit this past Sunday. He played even better if you take away the passes intended for Nelson Agholor.
Wentz completed two of seven attempts targeted for Agholor against the Lions for 27 yards with an interception. When throwing the ball to literally anybody else, the rookie signal-caller was 23 of 26 for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
That's a fairly large discrepancy.
By no means is one afternoon's work a comprehensive sample size, although it's not as if Agholor has an exhaustive body of work to fall back on either. Last season was a disappointment for the 20th-overall draft pick, and so far Year 2 hasn't gone significantly better. He has 13 receptions for 147 yards and one touchdown through four games.
And while there is still time for Agholor to turn things around, excuses are beginning to wear thin. The simple fact of the matter is he didn't get open on Sunday. There's no other way to say it.
Let's go back to the first quarter. It's 2nd-and-5 from the Eagles' 40-yard line, and on this roll-out pass, Agholor is trying to push the secondary 20 almost yards deep before working back to the sideline. He's matched up against cornerback Nevin Lawson, an undersized (5-9, 192), second-year starter — a match-up the Eagles probably liked heading in.
The wideout puts his "move" on Lawson after the ball is snapped, but when we catch up with the play almost 10 yards later, there is absolutely no separation from the defender. That does not bode well for what's going to happen at the top of the route.
Agholor's break didn't fool the coverage at all. There are multiple theories here as to why. Good coverage, for starters — a fourth-round pick in 2014, Lawson is right in the receiver's pocket, so give credit. Agholor also rounds the route off, making it a lot easier for the corner to jump into the passing lane.
Good coverage, sloppy route — whatever the case may be, Agholor isn't open. Maybe not the greatest decision by Wentz, with Jordan Matthews seemingly open underneath, but he showed confidence that an outside receiver would defeat man coverage.
Confidence that obviously was misplaced, as we'll learn again a little later.
Even when Agholor was open, he provided Wentz little margin for error. That was the case on his biggest catch of the afternoon, an 18-yard leaping grab on this crossing pattern on 2nd-and-4 from the Eagles' 31 in the second half.
Once again, Lawson is right in Agholor's back pocket. That being said, you can see the receiver is venturing into an area of the field that's about to be vacated by coverage. This should be a completion, albeit it might be contested.
Here's another look. Agholor clearly has a step on Lawson. In the NFL, this is considered open.
But when happens when the pass isn't perfect?
Wentz may not have led his receiver enough toward the sideline here. Instead, the throw pushes the route vertical, which allows the defender to get back into play. Fortunately, this is one of the few times Agholor has a size advantage, and he's able to make a difficult catch.
No, the throw is not perfect. The design of the route is also simplistic, so it's not as if there was much Agholor could do to create additional separation — yet he still does not present the quarterback a very big target to hit.
Wentz couldn't throw Agholor open against the Lions, and it's not as if he didn't try. On 1st-and-10 from the Detroit 16, the Eagles will look to get Agholor his second score of the season.
Notice how the route is defended. The cornerback is face-guarding the receiver, taking away any pass to the inside shoulder. Since we already know Agholor isn't going to out-run the coverage, and he might now out-leap it either, there is only one way to become a presentable option for the quarterback here. He has to make toward the pylon.
Wentz throws the ball to the outside shoulder, but let's talk about Agholor's body position here. He has trouble locating the ball in the air and spins the wrong way. Not only does it cost him positioning with the defender, but that slight misstep ultimately makes the pass uncatchable.
Agholor is, by definition, open. Yet he misplayed the ball in the air, and it's going to fall just out of reach. It winds up being a big play too, as the Eagles have to settle for a field goal after on the drive.
Which takes us to Wentz's interception to finish out the game. On this particular play, Agholor is covered by Darius Slay, an underrated coverman who is among the least targeted defensive backs in the NFL. Slay just forced the Ryan Mathews fumble on the Eagles' previous possession to force the comeback bid.
Slay jams Agholor at the line, so by the time the receiver breaks free, the corner is still right there with him. He never leaves his side either. This might be a situation where you can loft it up to Dorial Green-Beckham, who has a chance at winning a jump ball, but at no point will Agholor ever be "open" here.
There is some talk that Wentz had another option on the play. A shorter or intermediate route may have offered more chance for success, but nobody else is really open either. You can question the wisdom of going after Slay, but the safety is out of position, making this one-on-one coverage.
The receiver has to win from time to time in these situations.
Except the receiver in question in this case is Agholor, who once again has trouble locating the football, doesn't use his body to shield the defender and never got any separation from Slay in the first place.
“I had a hard time locating it, but I needed to get myself in position to come down with it,” Agholor said postgame.
Did Wentz make the best decision here? Since the pass resulted in an interception, it's kind of hard to say yes. Then again, the bigger problem here seems to be the quarterback doesn't have a secondary receiver he can rely on to make these types of plays.
Credit Slay, who commands the respect of offenses around the league. As of now, the same can't be said for Agholor, who has trouble beating his man even when it's a relative unknown like Lawson. That's not to say Agholor can't contribute, but for a first-round pick, the Eagles had to be hoping for a greater impact.