The question hanging over Eagles' locker room after awful loss in Dallas

The question hanging over Eagles' locker room after awful loss in Dallas

ARLINGTON, Tex. — Some guys were angry. Some guys were pissed. More than a few seemed near tears.

When you get blown out twice in eight days, the second time by your biggest rival in a nationally televised battle for first place in the division, the only real way to react is by playing a whole lot better.

But the question hanging over the visiting locker room at AT&T Stadium late Sunday night was whether the Eagles are good enough to do that.

Right now, it sure doesn’t seem that way.

“Ultimately, if the players here can’t do it, that’s how this business works, they’ll find somebody else,” Lane Johnson said. “So that’s always in the back of everybody’s mind. Moving forward it’s a kill or be killed world. Knowing that, we’ve got to move forward.”

The 38-20 loss to the Vikings seemed like a low point.

A week later, the Eagles suffered their worst loss to the Cowboys since a 34-0 embarrassment at the Vet in 1998.

But that was Troy Aikman and one of the NFL’s best teams vs. Bobby Hoying and one of the worst. 

This was different.

This was supposed to be a chance for the Eagles to bounce back from a bad loss in Minneapolis and lay claim to first place in the division.

Instead, they suffered their second-worst loss of the Doug Pederson Era behind only the 48-7 clunker in New Orleans last November.

But that was a Saints team that would go on to win 13 games. This was a Cowboys team that had lost three games in a row, including one to the lowly Jets.

It can’t happen. But it did happen.

“Tonight was embarrassing,” Zach Ertz said. “One of the most embarrassing games I’ve ever been a part of here in Philly. I take a lot of pride in playing for the Eagles, I take a lot of pride playing for this city. We took one on the chin today against a team that we hate. Simple as that. I feel bad for the fans, honestly. It was a pitiful performance. We’re 3-4, not where I thought where we were going to be.”

How bad was it?

• This is only the sixth time since 1977 the Eagles have lost back-to-back games by at least 18 points. 

• This is only the ninth time in franchise history the Eagles have allowed 37 points in back-to-back games — only the third time in the last 30 years.

• Not counting games played with replacement players during the 1987 strike, this was only the fourth time in franchise history the Eagles have allowed 24 first-half points in back-to-back games. It also happened in 1970, 2005 and 2015.

“On prime-time, we went out there and got our asses kicked,” said Dallas Goedert, whose first-quarter fumble led to the Cowboys’ first touchdown. “That’s pretty embarrassing.”

The defense was terrible, but they were put in some terrible positions. Only one of the Cowboys’ TD drives went more than 45 yards.

But they did allow more than 400 yards, and when the Cowboys did get those turnovers, the defense didn’t put up much resistance.

The Cowboys ran for 189 yards against the NFL’s No. 2 run defense — 111 by Ezekiel Elliott — and Amari Cooper jumped off the injury report for 5-for-106 receiving.

“That is not what we do,” Fletcher Cox said. “That’s not our defense, that’s not how we do things around here. We have to fix it. We’re running out of time right now. We have to fix it now with the guys we got. We can’t make any excuses, we have to get our stuff together.”

As bad as the Eagles’ defense was, the offense was worse.

Hapless. Clueless. Hopeless.

The Eagles committed four turnovers, got just four catches for 62 yards from their wide receivers, once again didn’t hit any big plays, couldn’t protect Carson Wentz and generally just looked like it was the first day of OTAs.

“There was no run game, was no pass game, (no) rhythm,” Johnson said. “You saw that. No rhythm. No consistency. When I was watching across the field, Dallas, quick game, quick game, you could just see a rhythm. I feel like that’s something we were missing.”

It’s gotten that bad. 

The Pro Bowl right tackle, who had one of his worst games in years, was admiring the other team’s offense.

“There are really no excuses,” he said. “It’s make or break time. We’ll find out what we’re made of and what this team is made of moving forward here in the next few weeks.” 

It sure won’t be easy.

The Eagles’ next four opponents are a combined 19-6.

“Tough loss last week to the Vikings, tough loss today,” Ertz said. “We’re going to see what the character of this team is these next two weeks. We're going to see what type of team we are, see what type of fight we have in this locker room. I can promise you, I'm going to do everything I have to win these next two games. It kills me. This feeling kills me, honestly.”

Does that feeling kill enough of the guys in the locker room?

Does it really?

Honestly, it was hard to answer that yes Sunday night. We’ll know for sure soon.

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Eagles need to find out exactly what they have in JJ Arcega-Whiteside

Eagles need to find out exactly what they have in JJ Arcega-Whiteside

For most teams, it wouldn’t have been a huge deal. Guy makes a catch. Big whoop.

For this team? It was monumental.

For any wide receiver on the post-DeSean Jackson 2019 Eagles to record a 29-yard reception, that’s a rarity.

For a rookie who we’re all waiting to see something positive from, it was virtually historic.

Rookie second-round pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who had just two catches for 14 yards to show for his first nine NFL games, had a big 29-yarder in the fourth quarter of the Eagles-Patriots game Sunday at the Linc.

To put that into context, it was the fourth-longest reception by an Eagles wide receiver in the post-Jackson Era (since Week 2).

“The game, everything kind of slowed down, definitely, knowing the plays and getting a little more experience here and there,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “But every day you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. I definitely did some good things, but I’m sure there’s some mistakes in there, too.”

Arcega-Whiteside has been one of the biggest mysteries on the team this year.

Why was a rookie who had such a promising preseason unable to get on the field while the rest of the Eagles’ wide receivers sputtered and struggled?

He played 128 snaps against the Falcons and Lions, when Alshon Jeffery was hurt, then got just 43 snaps — with no catches — over the next six weeks.

With Jeffery sidelined again, Arcega-Whiteside got 19 snaps Sunday, his most since Week 3.

He had a nine-yard catch in the first quarter that was wiped out by a penalty, then early in the fourth quarter made a nice grab for 29 yards on a 1st-and-10 from the Eagles’ 6-yard-line, getting the Eagles out of the soup.

Believe it or not, that was the 4th-longest catch this year against the Patriots, the longest by a rookie.

That was Arcega-Whiteside's only catch in the Eagles' 17-10 loss, but it was definitely an encouraging step.

The Eagles are desperate for anything from their wide receivers. Any positive sign is huge.

Just with that one 29-yard catch, Arcega-Whiteside had more yards than Nelson Agholor in five of Agholor's last seven games and more catches than Mack Hollins has in his last six games.

Small steps.

“There were some times where I got open, there were some times I didn’t get open and I’ve got to look at it and learn from it and see how I can get better,” he said. “No matter how big or small the play is you’ve just got to build off each play and learn from the ones that don’t go your way, because the second you get complacent, bad things happen.”

Arcega-Whiteside’s catch was the longest by an Eagles rookie wide receiver since Hollins had a 64-yarder against the Redskins in 2017.

“Making plays feels good,” he said. “They feel better when you win, but every day just stack it, build off of this and keep it going. Just build off every success, learn from every failure and get better.”

You would think Arcega-Whitside has earned some more playing time. How do you not play this kid?

He’s got the size, he’s got the hands, he's got the ball control, and he’s getting more and more comfortable in the offense.

The Eagles need to find out exactly what they have in Arcega-Whiteside. Because there's a decent chance it's more than we're seeing from anybody else.

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Hey Eagles fans, the sky isn't falling

Hey Eagles fans, the sky isn't falling

The sky isn’t falling. 

I know, I know, that’s exactly what you want to hear less than 48 hours after a frustrating 17-10 loss to the New England Patriots. It’s the truth, though. 

Don’t get me wrong. The Eagles were up 10-0 at home on Sunday and they should have won that game. It was right there for them and they came up short. And because of common opponents between the Eagles and Cowboys, the Patriots game was actually more important than the one upcoming against the Seahawks.  

There were certainly things in that 17-10 loss that were concerning, mostly on the offensive side of the ball. 

But they were things we already knew coming into Sunday; the receivers stink, there are no big plays, injuries hurt. We also learned the Eagles’ defense might be legit. 

So, believe it or not, the Eagles still have a good shot at making it into the playoffs. 

Now, we have to remember that the outlook on the entire season has changed quite a bit. Coming into the year, we were talking about the Eagles’ being one of the top teams in the league. That ship sailed a long time ago. The new bar is just trying to make it into the playoffs and Sunday hurt, but it didn’t really hurt that much. 

According to FiveThirtyEight, after beating the Lions on Sunday, the Cowboys have a 58 percent chance to win the division and the Eagles have a 42 percent chance. 

This coming week, the Eagles are home against the Seahawks (8-2), while the Cowboys have to go on the road to face the Patriots (9-1). 

Using FiveThirtyEight’s playoff predictor, here’s how next Sunday’s outcomes will affect each team’s chances to win the division, which is still their clearest way to a playoff spot: 

Eagles and Cowboys lose
Cowboys: 64 percent 
Eagles: 36 percent

Eagles and Cowboys win 
Cowboys: 66 percent
Eagles: 34 percent

Eagles win, Cowboys lose
Eagles: 58 percent
Cowboys: 42 percent

Eagles lose, Cowboys win
Cowboys: 83 percent
Eagles: 17 percent 

But here’s the part where I remind you that after next weekend, the Eagles’ remaining schedule is easier than the Cowboys’ remaining schedule. From Week 13 on, Eagles’ opponents have a winning percentage of .351, while Cowboys’ opponents have a winning percentage of .460. The Cowboys aren’t playing world-beaters, but I like the Eagles’ chances of beating the Giants, Redskins and Dolphins more than the Cowboys’ chances of beating the Bills, Bears and Rams. 

Even if the Eagles lose to the Seahawks, they’d be 5-6 and still likely just one game behind the Cowboys, assuming they lose on the road to the Patriots and are 6-5. If that happens, the Eagles will have made life tough on themselves, but winning out is clearly a possibility. The big game will still be that Week 16 matchup at the Linc against the Cowboys. That might still decide the NFC East. 

A quick reminder of division tiebreakers if it gets to that point: 

1. Head to head 
2. Division record 
3. Common opponents
4. Conference record 

If the Eagles beat the Cowboys in Week 16, they’d be 1-1 against each other. From there, it seems like both teams could be 5-1 in the division. That means it would come down to common opponents, which is where the Eagles took a hit in Week 11. But they still have the Packers and Jets on the Cowboys, who now have the Lions on the Eagles. 

The Eagles’ offense has to find a way to be better and we know that. But we’re now in Week 12, so it’s unlikely they just flip a switch. They’re not going to be explosive, but if Carson Wentz can be more consistent, if they get a little more production from their weapons and if the Eagles’ defense keeps it up, they should be able to keep themselves in the mix. 

Remember, this isn’t what any of us thought we’d be talking about in Week 12. This is the time of year when many thought we’d be talking about the Eagles’ push to lock up the division and potentially earn a top seed in the NFC. 

On a macro level, this team and the way it was put together is a problem. The Eagles were supposed to build a dynasty and they built a slightly above average team that has to try to claw its way into the playoffs. But on a micro level, the Eagles still have a pretty decent chance to do just that … claw into the playoffs. 

So the ceiling might be low, but the sky isn’t falling. 

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