EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — More blown opportunities, another awful start, more terrible secondary play, another road loss, another NFC East loss … stop us if you've heard this one before.
A lot of the same issues we saw in Detroit, in Washington and in Dallas we saw again. This team has a lot of work to do.
Here are tonight's 10 Observations from yet another bad loss for the Eagles.
1. It came down to one play, 4th-and-10 with the game on the line, and for a moment, thanks to Jordan Hicks’ interception inside the 40 with 1:48 left and the Ealges down five, it looked like the Eagles would rally back from 14 points down and finally win an NFC East game and finally win a road game. But Carson Wentz and Jordan Matthews just missed connecting on what would likely have been a game-winning 17-yard touchdown. Matthews got seperation from Giants cornerback Trevin Wade and for a split second it looked like the Eagles were going to pull this one out. But Wentz and Matthews just missed connecting. Wentz threw what looked like a perfect ball to Matthews flashing across the right side of the end zone, but Matthews got a little tangled up, didn’t track the ball great, probably turned the wrong way, and the ball bounced off his fingers to the MetLife Stadium turf, and just like that the Eagles were 4-4, 0-3 in the division, 1-4 on the road with a four-game road losing streak and 1-4 in their last five games. Matthews is a very good player. He had six catches for 88 yards Sunday, and he’ll be right around 1,000 yards for the season. But that’s a play he needs to make to be a great player. He talks a lot about what he needs to do to become elite. He needs to catch that pass and deliver the Eagles a win.
2. Different city, same issue. A team that simply isn’t ready to play football when the game begins. They were down 14-0 in the first quarter in Detroit, they were down 14-0 early in the second quarter in Washington, and they were down 14-0 again in the first quarter Sunday at the Meadowlands. This is happening too often to be a fluke or coincidence or just the way the ball bounces. The Eagles have been outscored, 42-19, in the first quarter this year and since Week 2, they’ve allowed seven first-quarter TDs and scored none. That’s a football team just not mentally ready. And they always seem to wake up at some point in the second quarter and make things close, but you just can’t dig yourself a 14-point hole week after week and expect to win football games. Doug Pederson needs to figure out exactly why this keeps happening and find a way to get his team to come out from the start with the same energy and level of execution they have later in games.
3. Carson Wentz continues to struggle early in games and then heat up. He has five interceptions this year and four of them – including two Sunday – have come in the first quarter. Maybe he comes out early just trying too hard, trying to be too aggressive, trying to make plays that aren’t there instead of letting the game come to him. But there’s no question that Wentz does have a real flair for shaking off negative plays early in games and not letting them bother him later in games. He gets better and he gets stronger and his confidence doesn’t seem affected at all by early turnovers. After getting picked off on two of his first four passes against the Giants, he finished 27 for 47 for 364. Now, the next step for the rookie QB — and for this entire team — is to start games off making plays instead of waiting until they’re losing to get going (see Wentz evaluation).
4. Secondary. Yikes. What a mess. Eli Manning did have the late interception, but he threw four touchdowns against the Eagles for a record fourth time in his career, and on all four TDs, there wasn’t a defender within five yards. Bad technique, bad communication, bad execution. This was just horrible secondary play against a quarterback who had thrown just eight touchdowns all year and only four in his previous four games. Leodis McKelvin looked lost out there. But, hand-in-hand with the awful coverage was another day with minimal pass pressure from the supposedly elite defensive line. The Eagles have just three sacks in their last three road games and not coincidentally opposing quarterbacks have eight TDs in those games and have been picked off just twice. It wasn’t all the defense’s fault. The offense gave the Giants short fields twice early, thanks to Wentz’s interceptions. But overall another dismal day for the defense, and don’t look now but Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers are up next.
5. Watching Bryce Treggs I couldn’t help wonder, “What took so long!” Week after week, the Eagles kept the speedy Treggs on the bench and week after week the offense had zero firepower. Finally, following Josh Huff’s arrest and release, Treggs got his chance, and it didn’t take long for him to make an impact, reeling in a 58-yard bomb from Wentz in the second quarter – the Eagles’ longest pass play of the year and the longest in franchise history by a player in his first NFL game. And you could see as the game went on, the way the Giants were forced to cover Treggs was opening some things up underneath for Wentz. Why did it take half a season for Treggs to get on the field? It makes no sense.
6. Pederson got off to such a good start as a head coach and play caller, but he’s really in a rut right now. The Dallas game was not a good one for Pederson, and Sunday at the Meadowlands wasn’t much better. The one play that really left everybody in MetLife Stadium baffled was the 4th-and-2 on the first play of the second quarter when he called for a Wentz keeper, and the Giants had no trouble sniffing it out and throwing him for a four-yard loss. Wentz is athletic, but that’s not his game. That play just made no sense. Then he tried it again on 3rd-and-4 with 9½ minutes left. What? I appreciate Pederson being aggressive, but I thought both 4th-down calls in the first half should have been field goal attempts. It wasn’t the time or place to go for it, and they found themselves chasing the rest of the game by the six points they gave up. I also didn’t like him not going back to Wendell Smallwood after he gained 19 yards on an early carry. He didn’t see the ball again until 9½ minutes left in the game (when he gained six).
7. Was encouraging to see Wentz get back to throwing to his tight ends. Zach Ertz had 8 for 97 and Trey Burton was 3 for 55, so that’s 152 yards for the tight ends, who have been a non-factor lately. Seems we asked Wentz, Pederson and Frank Reich why the tight ends haven’t been a factor all year, and they’ve never really had an answer. Whatever changed, this has to be the rule, not the exception. Ertz didn’t suddenly lose his ability overnight. He’s a solid guy. And they got back to using Burton on shorter passes, which are his strength.
8. Don’t get me wrong, I think Darren Sproles is an incredibly talented guy, and I often wonder where the Eagles' offense would be without him. I just still don’t think he should be this team’s featured running back. When a guy is on a pitch count like Sproles – Pederson has said 12 to 15 carries is his upper limit – what happens when you want to hammer the defense at the end of a game with the ground attack? You either have to use a back who hasn’t really played much or you have to risk overusing Sproles. Or you have to go with a Kenjon Barner or Smallwood, who rarely get touches. It’s pretty clear Ryan Mathews isn’t the guy anymore. He followed his four-carry game in Dallas with just five carries against the Giants. So it looks like it will be Sproles and running back by committee from here on out. If you have Westbrook, Duce and Buck, that works. With this group, I don’t think it does.
9. Anybody seen Vinny Curry lately? Curry got a huge deal and the increased playing time he coveted, but he’s really had virtually no impact this year. He had a sack against the Lions, but that’s his only big play this year and honestly I don’t remember a whole lot of hurries or anything. Curry has 11 tackles all year and no other big plays. This is a guy who had 9½ sacks a couple years ago. The Eagles need a lot more from Curry.
10. Big test now for Pederson. His team was 3-0 and now it’s 4-4. The Eagles have won one game since Sept. 25, lost four straight on the road, they have yet to win an NFC East game, and the schedule doesn’t get a whole lot easier. The Cowboys keep winning, and the division title seems to be getting more and more unrealistic. And opening up 0-3 in the division and 2-4 in the conference isn’t a very good way to win any tiebreakers when it’s wild card time. The luster is definitely off the season. That 3-0 start seems so long ago. Going to be quite a challenge for Pederson to keep this thing on the tracks.
One encouraging thing that came out of Sunday was the return of the big play on offense. The Eagles, who had just five pass plays of 30 or more yards all year — just one in the last four games — hit on five Sunday to four different receivers. It didn’t add up to a win, but it’s something the Eagles had to do and have to continue to do if they’re going to salvage anything.