Eagles

Cowboys 29, Eagles 23 — NFC East hopes on life support after damaging OT loss

Cowboys 29, Eagles 23 — NFC East hopes on life support after damaging OT loss

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ARLINGTON, Texas — They’re just not good enough. No other way to put it. They’re good enough to keep it close, good enough to make it interesting.

They’re just not good enough to beat good teams.  

You can play around with tiebreakers and playoff scenarios all you want (see story). The 2018 Eagles are just not good enough.

Period.

Here are our 10 instant observations from the Eagles’ 29-23 overtime loss Sunday to the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.

1. Same old story. Terrible start. Fight like hell to get back into it. Then come up short at the end. That’s the story of the 2018 Eagles season. Why can’t they play a complete game on both sides of the ball for 60 minutes? There are a thousand reasons. Bad coaching. Poor preparation. Not enough elite players. But the bottom line is you can’t win consistently in the NFL if you can’t come out strong and finish strong. The Eagles are just incapable of playing a complete game against a decent opponent.

2. Carson Wentz’s early struggles are really becoming an epidemic, and it’s clear that neither Wentz nor his coaches have any idea how to get him going early in games. This was one of the biggest games of Wentz’s career, and he once again came out flat. He didn’t see open receivers, he misfired trying to hit open guys, he held onto the ball too long, and his pocket recognition was way off. The same pattern just keeps repeating itself. He was brilliant in the second half. But the Eagles have to figure out why he can’t put together a complete game because you can’t win this way, no matter how talented you are (see story).

3. I also don’t think Wentz got any help from Doug Pederson. Pederson's play-calling again was frustrating. Whether it was not using Josh Adams the rest of the first half after his 24-yard run on the Eagles’ fourth play of the game or that ill-advised 3rd-and-1 Wentz run right at Demarcus Lawrence or not getting Golden Tate involved, Pederson once again was unable to get the offense into any kind of rhythm for most of the game. This team just doesn’t score points the way it should.

4. The defense played bend-but-don’t-break for much of the game and held the Cowboys without a touchdown going into the fourth quarter, but the duct-tape secondary finally caught up to it and it just fell to pieces, giving up 23 points and 271 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime. Not an excuse, but I just don’t know what more it could do without Jordan Hicks, Jalen Mills, Derek Barnett, Tim Jernigan, Avonte Maddox, Ronald Darby and Rodney McLeod. The defense forced three turnovers, recorded three sacks and got decent pressure at times, but ultimately it just doesn't have the manpower to stop an offense with the weapons the Cowboys have — Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper. It's just not good enough with its current personnel (see story).

5. Pederson was back to his old ways ignoring the running game. Adams got three carries on the Eagles’ first four plays and had an eight-yard run, a minus-two and then a 24-yard gain 3:34 into the game. Then he didn’t have another carry until the third quarter and finished with just seven attempts for the game. Overall, the Eagles ran 36 pass plays and 16 running plays. I’m not saying give him 25 carries every week, but one carry in the span of six possessions for a guy who has been one of the league’s better runners the last month makes no sense. You want rhythm on offense? A nice way to get it is to mix in the running game. The Cowboys held onto the ball for 45½ minutes to 22½ minutes for the Eagles. Dallas had 36 rushing attempts!

6. The Eagles are going to have to figure some things out this offseason because the Cowboys aren’t going away. Dak Prescott threw for 455 yards and three TDs, Elliott had 113 rushing yards and 79 receiving and Cooper 217 receiving yards and three TDs (see story). Getting all the injured guys back will help, but the Eagles still have some significant work to do through the draft and free agency to build a defense that can match up with this group.

7. How big has Darren Sproles been these last two weeks? Here’s a guy who barely played any football since the 2016 season, and he had a huge touchdown in the win over the Redskins and that huge 25-yard catch and run on 4th-and-3 on the last play of the third quarter and then the game-tying TD with 1:39 left Sunday. For selfish reasons, I really hope he doesn’t retire. He’s just so much fun to watch.

8. I don’t say this enough, but Fletcher Cox is a flat-out beast. Honestly, he’s one of the Eagles’ best defensive players ever.

9. So impressed with Dallas Goedert. After catching just one pass for nine yards on the Eagles’ first nine drives, he had a huge 26-yard catch and run inside the 10 and then the game-tying touchdown with three minutes left. He finished 4 for 44 with the TD and had a 75-yard TD wiped away because of a ridiculous call. He is so talented.

10a. Nelson Agholor rarely gets the ball anymore, but the dude is just so clutch. He had one catch against the Giants and it was that huge fourth-down conversion. Then after catching just one short pass the whole game, he makes that miracle 49-yarder down the left sideline to set up the Sproles TD. I wish he was more involved, but he’s just such a gamer.

10b. Finally, I never blame the refs for anything. There are always bad calls, and you live with them. But that ruling to open the game, that there was no clear recovery by the Eagles on the Jourdan Lewis fumble, and the ensuing confirmation by the replay officials, was just absurd (see story). And the offensive pass interference on Goedert that wiped out the 75-yard game-tying TD was worse. Just inexcusable stuff.

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Andre Dillard will likely start at right tackle if Lane Johnson can't face Seahawks

Andre Dillard will likely start at right tackle if Lane Johnson can't face Seahawks

It sounds like Andre Dillard will start at right tackle against the Seahawks Sunday if Lane Johnson is unable to play, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson indicated Monday.

Johnson suffered a concussion during the second quarter of the Eagles’ loss to the Patriots Sunday at the Linc and is now in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the Eagles’ starting left tackle during the 2017 Super Bowl run, finished the game at right tackle, but Pederson said it will be Dillard and not Big V getting first-team reps this week.

The Eagles scored 10 points and averaged 49 yards of offense on three drives with Johnson on the field. They didn't score a point and averaged 17 yards per drive after Vaitai entered the game.

Dillard, the rookie first-round pick from Washington State, played very well in his first three career starts — against the Cowboys, Bills and Bears — in place of Peters, who was dealing with a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery.

Peters returned Sunday for the Patriots, but when Johnson got hurt, the Eagles turned to Vaitai because Dillard hasn’t gotten any practice time on the right side and Vaitai has run scout team at right tackle. 

But Pederson said that will change the week.

“Going into the game, obviously J.P.’s status during the week, (Dillard) was still working at left tackle,” Pederson said. “But moving forward — again, depending on Lane’s status at the end of the week — the plan would be to work Dillard a little bit at right tackle.”

Asked what “a little bit” means, he said Dillard would get first-team reps. 

The risk is that Peters has been forced by injuries to leave numerous games early. He’s missed significant snaps in eight games over the last two years in addition to the three entire games he missed.  

Peters has played every snap in only 16 of the Eagles' last 38 games dating back to his season-ending knee injury against the Redskins in October of 2017.

If the Eagles start Peters at left tackle and Dillard at right tackle and Peters gets hurt again, now you have to either change two positions — Dillard moving to left tackle and Vaitai back in at right — or play Vaitai at his old left tackle position, which isn’t ideal.

Johnson has missed only two games with injuries in his seven-year career, although he did miss four in 2014 and 10 in 2016 because of positive tests.

He missed a game with a concussion against the Panthers in 2017 and a game the first Cowboys game last year with a knee injury.

Dillard, 24, was the 22nd pick in this year's draft.

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What did Eagles' defense think about that weak offensive showing?

What did Eagles' defense think about that weak offensive showing?

To a man, every Eagles defender who spoke to the media following Sunday’s 17-10 loss to the Patriots agreed it was a total team loss, that the defense didn’t play well enough to win. 

And there’s some truth to that. 

True, the Eagles managed to gain just 255 yards of total offense and failed to get on the scoreboard over the game’s final 42 minutes. Their final 10 possessions ended in either a punt, turnover, downs or with time expiring. Most observers would lay the blame for the loss right there. 

But if members of the defense were at all frustrated by the lack of production on the other side of the ball, it didn’t show in the aftermath. 

“We’ve got these guys’ backs 100 percent, man,” Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “We’re not pointing fingers. That’s not what this locker room is about. We win together, we lose together. Nobody is pointing fingers at anybody.” 

Several players — particularly those in the secondary — took Cox’s sentiment a step further. 

“I thought we played well and definitely battled, but there were some drives that we needed to win the game and we didn’t make the plays,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We had a solid game but just didn’t make enough plays.” 

The Eagles limited the Patriots' offense to 298 yards, forced a trio of field goals — including two on short fields — and eight punts. Tom Brady completed only 55.3 percent of his passes for a paltry 4.6 yards per attempt and failed to throw a touchdown. 

Could anybody reasonably expect the defense to play any better than that against the greatest quarterback and dynasty in NFL history?

There was, of course, the trick play the Patriots used to score their one and only touchdown. Eagles defensive backs also got their hands on a number of Brady passes — five total, two or three of which looked like they could’ve gone for interceptions. 

Even one pick could’ve changed the outcome of the game. 

“The missed opportunities really probably affected the game the most,” said Eagles safety Rodney McLeod. “If we come up with one or two, it’s the difference in the game.” 

Though the Eagles struggled offensively, it was against a Patriots defense that ranks No. 1 in yards, scoring and takeaways. 

The Eagles were also without Jordan Howard and Alshon Jeffery and lost Lane Johnson to an injury early in the game. When the ball wasn’t going to Miles Sanders or Zach Ertz, Carson Wentz was handing off to Boston Scott or targeting Jordan Matthews, who was on the street a week ago. 

Given the circumstances, it’s not totally unreasonable to place a larger burden on the defense. 

“We knew it was going to be a defensive battle coming into it,” Jenkins said. “You can’t get frustrated in those situations. Our defense was playing just as well as theirs. We just have to stay patient and look for plays we can take advantage of.” 

Nobody can say the defense played poorly, but they didn’t take advantage of opportunities, either. That’s what the Eagles needed to knock off the Patriots on Sunday. 

“As a competitor, you always think you could be better,” Cox said. “As a group, as an individual, and as a team. There’s no excuses. We played a really good football team and came up short and now have to move on to next week."

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