Eagles

As Alshon Jeffery sits, Eagles grow desperate for wide receiver help

As Alshon Jeffery sits, Eagles grow desperate for wide receiver help

You can tell how concerned they are about wide receiver not by what they’re saying but what they’re doing.

Re-signing Markus Wheaton, who they released two days earlier. Adding three receivers — including former Ohio State star Braxton Miller — to the practice squad. Reportedly working out former Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman on Monday and scheduling a workout Tuesday with former Browns first-round pick Corey Coleman, who reportedly wound up signing with the Patriots before the Eagles could look at him.

If you’re an unemployed receiver, call the Eagles. They’re interested.

While Doug Pederson may say the Eagles are happy with their current group of wide receivers, it’s clear from their actions that they recognize they need help.

Which is understandable.

Alshon Jeffery remains out indefinitely. Mack Hollins is on injured reserve. Shelton Gibson looked promising in the preseason but got only four snaps on offense last Thursday night in the opener as he dealt with a huge special teams workload (22 of 27 snaps).

Mike Wallace wound up without a catch in his first game as an Eagle, although a couple better thrown Nick Foles deep balls might have changed that (see story). DeAndre Carter played 53 snaps against the Falcons and caught one ball for 10 yards.

Nelson Agholor is really the only receiver the Eagles can count on right now, and even he managed only 33 yards on eight catches because Foles kept throwing him the ball with like nine defenders surrounding him.

It’s a little tough to gauge the current state of the Eagles’ wide receiver corps because Foles was so off-kilter Thursday night. Guys weren’t catching passes but they really weren’t getting a chance to.

And here’s a weird thing: As locked in as he was during the postseason, Foles has not completed a pass to a wide receiver of 20 yards or more in his last five regular-season appearances.

That’s 134 consecutive pass attempts — in the regular season — without a 20-yarder to a wideout.

That’s almost impossible.

He had eight of ‘em in the playoffs (one every 9.5 attempts), but that just adds to the mystery of Nick Foles. What seemed so effortless in the biggest games of his life seems so difficult now.

But it’s not all Foles. The Eagles’ issues with the passing game are a reflection of both the quarterback play and the wide receivers.

Eagles wideouts combined for just 43 receiving yards Thursday night, the fewest yards they’ve gotten from their wide receivers in a season opener since 1966, when Ben Hawkins (2 for 28) was the only wideout to catch a pass from Norm Snead in a 16-13 loss to the Cards at Busch Stadium.

There’s certainly reason to be concerned about Jeffery. He told Jen Vrentas of Sports Illustrated after the game Thursday night: “Some days I feel great, and some days ... a shoulder injury is pretty tough,” adding that he’s still a few weeks away from getting back on the field.

Without Jeffery, Hollins and Torrey Smith, the Eagles are missing three of their four wideouts from last year who caught more than five passes.

Agholor can’t do it all himself. Somebody else has to make plays.

Which is why the Eagles are looking at so many receivers right now.

Here’s the challenge: It’s really difficult to just bring in a receiver who’s on the street and ask him to learn the playbook, get familiar with the quarterbacks, get into football shape and acclimate himself to the coaching staff and go out and make plays after being out of work.

That’s why there’s OTAs and training camp. It’s not going to be easy for the Eagles to find someone who can help before Jeffery does get back.

It would be nice if someone like Jeremy Maclin or Jordan Matthews, who have both played with Foles, could magically turn the clock back a few years, but Maclin is 30 now, has been banged up, and hasn’t had an elite season since 2015. Matthews still isn’t healthy after getting hurt in training camp with the Patriots.

The Eagles need help and they understand that.

Ideally, that help would come from within. With Foles calming down and firing the ball the way we saw in the postseason. With Gibson getting an opportunity to make plays, Wallace developing some chemistry with his new quarterback and Agholor getting a chance down the field.

The bad news is the Eagles desperately need improved wide receiver play. The good news is they know it.

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Eagles Week 10 report card: Not everybody failed against Dallas

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USA Today

Eagles Week 10 report card: Not everybody failed against Dallas

You might be thinking all F’s for the Eagles after a 27-20 loss to a bad Cowboys squad on Sunday night – but then you would need to hold the opinion this team was better than that.

The Eagles were a “C” team going in, and played like it from top to bottom.

Quarterback

Carson Wentz: 32/44, 360 YDS, 2 TD, 1 INT

The Eagles scored all of three points in the first half while Wentz completed 10 of 17 of passes for 104 yards with the interception. He was great over the final 30 minutes, but it was too little, too late.

Grade: C

Running backs

Josh Adams: 7 ATT, 47 YDS

Adams showed some burst on a 29-yard gain, although his agility turning the corner on the next play, a five-yard carry, was even more impressive at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds. Corey Clement, on the other hand, just can’t get going, netting eight yards on six touches with a drop.

Grade: C

Wide receivers & tight ends

Zach Ertz: 14 REC, 145 YDS, 2 TD

Once again, Ertz padded the stats with four receptions for 45 yards in garbage time, but it was a big night regardless, with two pivotal touchdowns. Nelson Agholor set up one Ertz score with a 51-yard bomb, and Jordan Matthews added 40 yards on three catches, all first downs. It was Alshon Jeffery and Golden Tate who disappointed – Jeffery couldn’t come up with the tough grabs the offense sorely needed, while Tate finished with two catches for 19 yards in his Eagles debut.

Grade: C+

Offensive line

Surprisingly not the problem, considering Halapoulivaati Vaitai started in place of an injured Lane Johnson at right tackle. Some of Wentz’s struggles could be traced to pressure, yet the quarterback was only hit six times on 47 dropbacks. Then again, the lack of consistent running lanes is an issue, and the penetration on a 4th-and-1 carry resulting in a turnover on downs was pitiful.

Grade: C

Defensive line

Michael Bennett: 2 TKL, 2.0 SK

So disruptive at the start. Fletcher Cox was in the backfield every snap. Bennett and Brandon Graham combined for 3.5 sacks and seven quarterback hits. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s first five carries went for 14 yards. Unfortunately, the unit tired as the night went on, the quarterback got a little more comfortable and Elliott took over.

Grade: C

Linebackers

Nigel Bradham: 10 TKL

Bradham and Jordan Hicks combined for 17 tackles, and somehow zero noteworthy plays – unless you count the times Elliott was in the second level unattended. Kamu Grugier-Hill dropping a sure pick-six was kind of big, too.

Grade: C-

Defensive backs

Granted, the secondary was without four of five starters after Ronald Darby went down, but 26 completions, a 72.2 completion percentage and 270 yards passing were all season highs for Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Rasul Douglas especially left Eagles fans longing for Jalen Mills, with too many negative plays to list – though his matador impression on 3rd-and-15 stands out.

Grade: C-

Special teams

Cameron Johnston: 2 PUNTS, 44.0 AVG, 2 IN20

The Eagles had six cracks at returns in this game – four from Clement, two from Tate – with no remarkable plays to show. As average as it gets.

Grade: C+

Coaching

Eagles’ record: 4-5

Not one of Doug Pederson’s or Jim Schwartz’s best performances. However, at some point you look at personnel. It’s not like this was a horrendously called game from start to finish. Players aren’t making plays, from Wentz on down to the many injury replacements on the field.

Grade: C

Doug Pederson to blame for Eagles' biggest issue this season

Doug Pederson to blame for Eagles' biggest issue this season

The pattern keeps repeating itself, and the Eagles can’t do anything to stop it.
 
They look sluggish early, commit a turnover or two, fall behind, fight like crazy to get back into it, then fall short.
 
The Eagles are the worst first-quarter team in the NFL.
 
They’ve scored an NFL-low 21 first-quarter points, and they’ve been blanked in the first quarter in seven of their nine games.
 
They’ve scored one touchdown in the first quarter of their five home games.
 
Sunday, in a game against their fiercest rival on national TV in their home stadium, the defending Super Bowl champs opened the game with a three-and-out, a turnover and a punt.
 
They watched as the Cowboys built a 13-3 lead and even though they tied the game twice, the Eagles never recovered from their latest sluggish start.
 
“It’s something we talk about each week, trying to start fast,” Doug Pederson said. “Obviously, it's not getting done.” 
 
How bad is it?
 
• The Eagles were third-best last year in both the first quarter (7.4 ppg) and first half (14.0 ppg). Those numbers have dropped to 2.3 ppg in the first quarter and 8.9 in the first half.
 
• In the last 25 years, the Eagles have scored fewer first-quarter points through nine games only twice — in 1998 (20) and 2012 (14). Their head coach was fired after both seasons.
 
• The Eagles are averaging just 3.4 yards per rushing attempt in the first quarter, ahead of only the Colts and Titans. That figure goes up to 4.2 the rest of the game. 
 
• They have just 31 1Q first downs. Only the Giants (29) and Cards (25) have fewer.
 
There are two clear problems here: Play-calling and execution. 
 
Pederson scripts the first 15 plays, and that’s exactly when the offense has been at its worst.
 
And Carson Wentz has just been unable to start fast. Of 29 quarterbacks who’ve thrown at least 40 first-quarter passes, his 81.4 passer rating is sixth-worst.
 
Let’s look at Wentz by quarter:
 
1Q: 64 percent, 41 yards per game, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 81.4 rating

2Q: 69 percent, 81 yards per game, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 115.8 rating

3Q: 77 perecnt, 64 yards per game, 5 TDs, 1 INT, 122.0 rating

4Q: 74 percent, 49 yards per game, 4 TDs, 0 INT, 109.8 rating
 
Overall, Wentz’s numbers are incredible. But he’s part of the reason the Eagles have gotten into big early holes.
 
“I personally do not feel different (early in games),” he said Sunday night. “Some people say that you want to settle in, but I don’t feel that way. I don’t want to talk about last year, but it is something we did really well last year. It’s really hard to put your finger on why it is the way it is this year. A lot of it is just a little execution things that are a great deal. We have to get back and look and see what teams are doing to us early in the game, why are we having these slow starts, and really need to look hard in the mirror because I think tonight, that is what cost us.”
 
The Eagles have run 21 first-quarter drives this year with these results:
 
12 punts
4 turnovers
3 touchdowns
2 missed field goals
0 field goals
 
“We have too many weapons not to score touchdowns in the first quarter,” Zach Ertz said. “We just have to start fast. It’s not like we’re going into games and being surprised by what the defense is doing. They’re doing what they do. They’re not really doing anything out of the ordinary when we play teams. 
 
“Going into the game we’re very confident with what we have called. In the second half, typically we get rolling. We just have to find solutions because we have a really big game this week. There’s no other way to put it.”
 
Clearly, Pederson and Wentz miss Frank Reich and John DeFillippo.
 
By falling behind early every week, the Eagles continue giving their opponents confidence and life and momentum.
 
The slow starts are one of the biggest reasons the Eagles find themselves in the mess they're in today.

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