It’s not easy to figure out who to blame for the Eagles’ disastrous 2020 season because there’s a lot wrong with the Birds this year.
In any season that goes this wrong, everyone is trying to figure out how the blame should be distributed and it’s really tough to do because so many of these areas overlap.
Is the front office bringing in bad players? Or is the coaching staff failing to develop the players the front office brings in? Or are good players playing poorly? See, it’s not always that simple.
With that said, I took some time and decided to figure out how I’d divvy up blame for the Eagles’ 2020 season.
Here’s what I came up with:
Roster construction: 40%
This team isn’t talented enough and this roster has been mismanaged horribly. I played around with these percentages for a while but the one constant was that roster construction remained at the very top of the list. I give Howie Roseman all the credit in the world for constructing the Super Bowl team, but this 4-10-1 team has his fingerprints all over it.
We need to start with the draft, where Roseman has selected 36 players since being reinstated into power in 2016 and exactly one of them has become a Pro Bowler. That was Carson Wentz in the 2017 season. Roseman has found some pieces to the puzzle. Miles Sanders and Dallas Goedert are the blue-chippers in recent drafts and Isaac Seumalo back in 2016 turned out well eventually. But there have been far too many misses and the lack of young, talented players on this roster is a direct result of poor drafting. There’s just no way around it.
And it has killed the Eagles at certain positions, like receiver and corner, more than others. The Eagles could have had D.K. Metcalf and Justin Jefferson but they ended up with J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Jalen Reagor. It’s too early to say Reagor is a bust — he still has a chance to be a good player — but will he ever be as good as Jefferson is right now? And we know JJAW will never be as good as Metcalf. But even if Pro Bowlers weren’t selected after them, the Eagles haven’t gotten impact players at receiver. And at corner it’s arguably even worse. The Eagles have drafted four corners in the last few years and the best of the bunch has been Jalen Mills. They failed to get starters in 2017 when they took Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas in the second and third rounds and Avonte Maddox has proven to be a depth player that the Eagles force-feed into the starting lineup.
We’ll get to injuries soon, but I want to point something out. If the Eagles had a real CB2, then Maddox would be a fine backup. And when injuries hit, you’d have that fine backup in the lineup instead of a UDFA like Michael Jacquet, who is clearly overmatched as a rookie in the NFL. So it’s not like you can absolve roster management because of injuries. Having better top end players almost automatically gives you better depth.
Aside from the draft, when you look back at the 2017 season, the amazing thing Roseman did that year was bring in free agents. All his cheap one- or two-year deals hit, which was incredible but not really sustainable. In recent seasons, that hit rate has dropped off by an insane amount.
And then there’s the allocation of funds. Roseman’s most obvious blunder in recent seasons was guaranteeing Alshon Jeffery’s 2020 contract but that’s not the only mistake he’s made. Despite calling for a youth movement, Roseman continued to bring back aging vets like DeSean Jackson, Jason Peters, Vinny Curry and more. And now the Eagles are in a somewhat ominous salary cap situation going forward.
This really comes full circle back to drafting. If you struggle to draft, you try to fix rosters with Band-Aids and it’s not sustainable as the Eagles are finding out.
I could have divvied this up further into specific coaches, but I didn’t. Mainly we’re talking about Doug Pederson, Jim Schwartz and Dave Fipp in this category. Those are the coaches who control the three major aspects of the team.
We’ll start with Pederson, who has struggled this season. Even if you think he isn’t the main problem, he hasn’t had a good year. There have been countless decisions that I have questioned this year. Playing for a tie, throwing a fade to Hakeem Butler, going for some particular 4th downs and not others, abandoning the run too early despite Miles Sanders’ being the Eagles most explosive weapon. But aside from all those individual decisions that have added up, Pederson is in charge of an offense that has failed to score 30 points once this season. Jeff Lurie really wants his team to be on the forefront offensively and the Eagles are 25th in the NFL in points scored. They’re stagnant and lack innovation offensively. After the Eagles fired Mike Groh and brought in this collaborative offensive approach, it removed a human shield from Pederson and now that the offense is still bad, he deserves a lot of the blame for it.
Defensively, I think Schwartz has — at least for the most part — done an OK job given the players he has. Let’s face it: The Eagles don’t have a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball. They have Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham as their Pro Bowlers but they lost Malcolm Jenkins and replaced him with Jalen Mills. And then the linebacker position was completely neglected. But Schwartz deserves blame for his stubbornness at times. He likes his guys and plays them to a fault. Remember it took an injury to finally get Nate Gerry out of the lineup and Alex Singleton in there. And there are more examples of that too, of Schwartz not understanding how to best use his players.
And then on special teams, it’s hard to pinpoint if Fipp is really the main culprit. After all, when there are injuries to a team, they all trickle down to special teams. But it’s also clear that the Eagles no longer have one of the best special teams groups in the NFL like they did earlier during his seven-year tenure with the team. They have really fallen off.
Pederson on Monday was quick to point out injuries as a reason for the Eagles’ regression over the last three years. While that seemed somewhat self-serving, it doesn’t mean he’s necessarily wrong.
Now, you can certainly say the front office is responsible for bringing in older players who get hurt more frequently and you can even blame the front office for putting these doctors and trainers in place. But some of this just comes down to bad luck too.
Think about the Eagles’ offensive line this season. The only guy who hasn’t ended up on IR this season is Jason Kelce. They’ve literally suffered injuries at every other position on the line. And then on top of it, they lost games with Miles Sanders, Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz, DeSean Jackson, Jalen Reagor and more on offense. And defensively, they’ve been decimated in the secondary and have also lost some players in the first two levels too.
For whatever reason, the Eagles seem to get injured at a higher rate than other teams. While there are many factors that go into that, it’s impossible to ignore the impact that had on the 2020 season. But it would be a little too much Fool’s Gold to think once this team is healthy it’s a playoff contender again. That’s why injuries are at just 17 percent.
Poor QB play: 15%
I have a feeling this will be the most polarizing topic of this whole thing and it wasn’t easy to figure out where to put the play of Wentz. While he was blamed for a lot this season, it’s unfair to say he was their biggest problem. But it is fair to say that a franchise quarterback should be able to help a team overcome other problem areas. That’s what Wentz was able to do in the last quarter of the 2019 season but failed to do in the first 12 games of 2020.
There are a lot of factors that led to Wentz’s poor play. The OL was decimated by injuries, Pederson didn’t seem to have a great idea of how to call games for him and Roseman didn’t surround him with enough talent. But none of that absolves Wentz from his own poor play. Instead of covering up for other problems, Wentz became a problem of his own.
In 12 games this year, Wentz really was bad. Aside from constant pressure and his targets struggling to help him, the franchise quarterback missed easy throws, had terrible pocket awareness and made egregiously awful decisions. He threw 15 interceptions in 12 games. That just can’t happen.
Poor play: 3%
This last little chunk, I chalk up to life in the NFL. In here, we’re talking about non-quarterback players who are talented, who were put in good positions and failed to make plays. This really hammers home the point that the Eagles simply haven’t had a very talented or healthy roster in 2020.
The most consistent culprit in this category would probably be Zach Ertz this season. He’s a guy with high expectations who hasn’t played well, even aside from his injury.
But there are a few other examples here. Like when Jason Kelce had a rash of bad snaps or Sanders dropped passes or McLeod took a poor angle to a tackle or Darius Slay got bested by some of the NFL’s top wideouts. Those things happen, but they happen to every team in the NFL. There are no perfect players. The bigger issue is that the Eagles don’t seem to have the right players in place.
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