It’s really hard for an NFL team to go 12 straight games without a 40-yard catch by a wide receiver, but when you have the receivers the Eagles had last year it’s not too surprising.
The Eagles were among the NFL’s worst big-play teams a year ago. They recorded their fewest 40-yard pass plays in two decades and they didn’t have a touchdown longer than 32 yards the last 15 games of the season.
In fact, their wide receivers didn’t have a TD longer than 20 yards after the opener.
Once DeSean Jackson’s season ended essentially after one game, there was zero firepower in the offense, and the fact that the Eagles were able to make the playoffs and finish with the No. 12 offense in the league is a testament to what Carson Wentz was able to do with a cobbled-together offense of practice squad receivers.
But it’s a tough way to win. Really, it’s almost an impossible way to win.
“I would love to see us have some more explosive plays,” Wentz said Thursday. “We had a lot of long drives last year, and obviously hopefully getting DeSean Jakcson back and some of these younger guys can help lend itself to some more explosive plays. Maybe we don’t always have to put together 15-play drives, but if that’s what we’ve got to do, that’s what we’ve got to do. But I’d love to see more explosive plays.”
✔ The Eagles only had six pass plays of 40 yards all year, and only three teams — the Falcons (5), Colts (3) and Bears (2) — had fewer.
✔ Of those six plays, two were DeSean Jackson touchdowns vs. Washington on opening day, two were by running back Miles Sanders, then one each from Nelson Agholor Week 2 against the Falcons and Deontay Burnett in the second Giants game, just a few days after he signed with the Eagles.
✔ So over the last 14 games of the season, the Eagles only had three pass plays of 40 yards or more, and none of them went for touchdowns.
How bad is all this?
The six pass plays of 40 yards or more were the Eagles’ fewest in a season since 1999, when they had just four – two by Doug Pederson, two by Koy Detmer.
From 2000 through 2009, with Donovan McNabb at the helm, the Eagles led the NFL with 120 pass plays of 40 or more yards - 12 per year.
During Chip Kelly’s three years, the Eagles led the NFL with 45 pass plays of at least 40 yards - 15 per year.
When Wentz’s 2017 season ended after 13 games, he had the 6th-most 40-yard plays in the NFL.
But if there’s nobody to catch it, it doesn’t matter how nice a deep ball he throws.
The Eagles actually had 24 touchdown drives of at least eight plays last year, 2nd-most in the league (the Ravens had 27). So they were able to sustain drives, thanks mainly to their 45 percent 3rd-down efficiency - 4th-best in the league.
But they need big plays and everybody knows it. If you can’t stretch the field, you make it a lot easier for defenses to shut you down.
Which brings us to Jalen Reagor, John Hightower, and Quez Watkins, the Eagles’ three speedy rookie draft picks.
The Eagles aren’t scheduled to start actual practice until mid-August, but Wentz has finally gotten onto the field throwing with the rookie and so far he likes what he sees.
“They’re all fast,” he said. “They can all roll, so I’m excited about that. We’ve barely been on the grass together. It’s just been really two days now and we’re not practicing or any of those things, but I’m really excited (for) once we get the pads on and we’re full-speed out there, but all three of them can roll. They’re quick, they’re fast, natural ball catchers. I’m excited for all those guys because they all have a great chance to help this team right away this year, even in Week 1. Not to put too much pressure on those guys, but I’m excited to see how they develop here these next couple weeks.”
Whatever the Eagles get out of Reagor, the 1st-round pick, and the two late-round picks, it has to be an improvement over last year.
A big one.
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