On the first nine offensive plays of Thursday night's game against the Bills, the Eagles' offense gained a total of five yards.
To say the Eagles' offense stalled early in the team's 20-16 preseason win over the Bills would be a bit of an understatement (see Instant Replay). They needed a spark.
Doug Pederson initially wanted Carson Wentz and the first-team offense to play just one or two series. But after the team's third three-and-out — which included Wentz's taking a big hit — to start the game, he sent Wentz and his unit back into the game.
"You want to get your offense going," Pederson said. "There is a fine line. But there's a lot of pride with those guys and they understood that I wasn't completely happy with the performance early and they wanted another opportunity."
Through three drives, seven of the Eagles' nine plays netted one yard or fewer.
Things just weren't working.
"It can be tough," Wentz said. "The first couple drives it was definitely frustrating, coming out three-and-out every time. I missed a couple throws, couldn't get the running game going. It was frustrating. Again, we'll go back, watch the tape, evaluate and keep building this thing."
When Pederson sent his offense into the game with just under five minutes left in the first quarter, the Eagles began to use a hurry-up offense (see 10 observations). It was a tactic to find some sort of rhythm and the tempo. It did the trick.
First, Wentz hit Alshon Jeffery for nine yards. Then Nelson Agholor for seven. Jeffery for 14. LeGarrette Blount for 17. Then Blount ran for eight. Before no time, the Eagles had traveled down deep into Buffalo territory.
"Going back to last year, Coach Pederson has always had a feel for when's the right time to do that, when you kind of need a spark," Wentz said. "That's what he felt tonight. It was effective."
Eventually, though, Blount caught a short pass and fumbled the ball away. That ended the first-team offense's day. But at least it got some semblance of rhythm before leaving.
Still, it wasn't a strong showing from Wentz and the first unit. Pederson attributed the slow start to the lack of game-planning. He thinks things will be different once they begin preparing specifically for other defenses.
Neither Wentz nor Pederson has concerns.
"I don't," Pederson said. "Because I see it in practice every day. I know what they're capable of doing."
"Was the performance great? By no means," Wentz said. "This is definitely not where we want to be, but I definitely don't have doubts. I know we have the right guys, we have the right scheme, we just have to put it together."
The Eagles were without their normal starting offensive line Thursday, which might have played a role in the ineffectiveness (see Grading the Win). Jason Peters missed the game for personal reasons, which meant Lane Johnson had to switch sides and Matt Tobin came in at right tackle. And last week, the team was without starting right guard Brandon Brooks.
Perhaps that's one of the reasons the run game has struggled so much to start the preseason.
Through two games, Blount has just nine carries for 17 yards. Not a great beginning to his time with the Eagles.
"It's going OK," Blount said. "Obviously, we have a lot to improve on, we have a lot of corrections to make. It's not going as smoothly as any of us want it to go. But it's the preseason, we're still in camp, this is the time to make the corrections and not take it over into the regular season."
Pederson blamed the lack of running attack on the absence of game-planning. Wentz thinks the Eagles will be able to game plan more for the Dolphins next Thursday, even though they will practice with them during the week.
And if they can't get things going, Pederson can always call for the hurry-up offense.
"It's one of those things, you can't do it too much," Wentz said. "Going back to last year, Coach has always had a really good feel for when's the right time to do that. When's the right time to push the tempo, when you need a spark. Tonight we needed a spark."