The Philadelphia Eagles officially have hit peak Super Bowl hangover. The lack of discipline and attention to detail is evident on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Where last year this team dominated the trenches, both units have looked like a shell of themselves this year. There could be several factors leading to the inefficiency on the offensive line and pass rush but it seems to be a combination of errors.
Carson Wentz may be holding on to the ball too long allowing defenders to collapse the pocket. Playmakers may not be getting separation downfield, which explains why Zach Ertz leads with 58 targets through five games; Nelson Agholor has 43 and then a huge drop off to 17 targets for Alshon Jeffery who has played in two games. That can be attributed to injuries, but lacking multiple weapons has hindered the Eagles offense thus far. Or it simply could be the offensive line not dominating the line of scrimmage like they’re used to.
On the other side of the ball the Eagles run defense remains elite allowing just 66.4 rush yards per game (2nd in NFL). However teams are scheming against that dominant front and have exposed the secondary and linebackers’ ability to cover and tackle.
It all starts with the offensive line
Last season the Eagles let up 13 sacks on Carson Wentz through five weeks. Despite the same pieces through five weeks in 2018, they have allowed 17 sacks. Of those sacks, 12 of them have come in the last three weeks since Carson Wentz’ returned.
While Wentz can avoid plenty of on-coming pass rushers, there was a notable six sack game by the Chiefs in Isaac Seumalo’s final game as a starter last year. Seumalo also gave up six sacks on 175 pass blocking attempts in 2017 (1st on the team). That should have been a sign that maybe the Eagles whiffed on this draft choice. But hey, why not put that guy back at left guard instead of Stefen Wisniewski? Wiz let up just one sack on 397 pass blocks last year in comparison to Seumalo’s numbers.
Very uncharacteristic result from Lane Johnson on this fourth-quarter sack. Still not sure exactly what happened beyond the obvious. #BehindTheOLine pic.twitter.com/ATxBGYxgIo
— Nick Shook (@TheNickShook) October 3, 2018
But it’s not the lack of O-line depth or recent draft picks’ disappointing performances. Staples on that unit like Lane Johnson have looked sloppy and out of technique for a couple weeks now. Their cornerstone, Jason Peters, has been dealing with injuries ever since returning from knee surgery. Leg injuries after sustaining a torn ACL are fairly common and it seems Peters’ play has been affected by this. He missed time with quad strains and doesn’t look as powerful in run blocking or as sturdy in pass pro. Also Peters is tied for 3rd in penalties in the entire NFL including three false starts. The Bodyguard is not entirely back to his Pro-Bowl status at left tackle.
As for his backup, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, I need to go back and really watch exactly how we won the Super Bowl with this guy at left tackle. I’m thinking the legend Brent Celek or LeGarrette Blount‘s pass blocking had something to do with it.
On that note it does not help that our running backs have been getting crushed while attempting to pick up blitzers. While the accountability and self-awareness from leaders on the team regarding their play is refreshing, it ultimately needs to end in results on the field.
Jason Peters says he takes accountability, he has to play better along with the OLine. Sounds like he is making a promise
“I’m gonna get with my guys. We’re going to finish. Every game we’re going to finish. We won’t ever quit. We’re going to keep Carson is clean as we can” pic.twitter.com/HQsNTYAvXC
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) October 8, 2018
Once again our secondary is outmatched
Despite Eli Manning’s face and age, the New York Giants are loaded with weapons. As I’ve repeated ad nauseam, the Eagles main issue on defense is discipline resulting in missed tackles and blown assignments. While they’ve allowed a fair share of deep plays, the defense has allowed far too many yards after the catch. Well, bring on rookie sensation Saquon Barkley who I don’t think has been tackled by an initial defender once this season. Jordan Hicks and the rest of the linebackers are going to have one hell of a task on their hands with the phenom from Penn State.
Last season, Jalen Mills covered Odell Beckham Jr. for most of the Week 3 matchup. And last week we saw Mills getting burnt once again on a stutter and go by Adam Thielen. This week he has to prove once again that he is not a liability to the deep ball as OBJ is one of the best at that move in the game right now.
His counterpart, Sterling Shepard, has matched Odell’s performance and even one-upped him when facing the Birds. In Shepard’s four games against Philly, he’s averaged seven catches for over 95 yards receiving. He’s also scored a touchdown in every single game against the Eagles while racking up two straight 130+ yard-receiving performances. While the Eagles like to sink in a zone as their primary pass coverage, there is no way Jalen Mills keeps up with Odell. And with Ronald Darby’s porous tackling, the yards after catch problem could become a back-breaker once again.
Jim Schwartz has taken the blame for some of Jalen Mills’ shortcomings this season, but as fans we need results. The defensive coordinator still backs Avonte Maddox’s skill-set as the replacement safety now that Corey Graham is hobbled with a hamstring injury. Maddox has the necessary sideline-to-sideline speed and his experience as a cornerback can translate to that position for Jim Schwartz. However, this rookie is going to be tested against the likes of Odell Beckham Jr, Sterling Shepard, and Saquon Barkley.
Most Important Player
While active last week, Corey Clement did not receive a single rep. At first I was confused considering the lack of depth in the backfield and now the revelation of Jay Ajayi’s torn ACL. Clearly, his injury is not fully healed and in return, Wendell Smallwood has broken out. The Giants rank 27th in rushing yards allowed per game giving up over 124 on the ground each week. While it looks like Clement might play on Thursday, it has to be him or Smallwood to step up as the X-Factor in this one. Whoever is in the backfield next to Wentz has to execute in all three phases of his game. Whether it’s running the ball efficiently, pass blocking, or catching the ball out of the backfield, the Eagles backs have to do their jobs in this one.
But it is that last facet that may be the most exploitable on the Giants defense. Alec Ogletree signed with New York over the offseason after a carousel of players occupied the position for years. There is one thing that Ogletree is horrific at as a linebacker, and that is pass coverage. If Ogletree is ever in a one-on-one situation then X marks the spot for Carson Wentz. The play design this week should include motion packages to get Ogletree isolated and exploit him every time.
While the start to the 2018 season has not gone how most Eagles fans expected, there is tons of hope. The Birds have a very good roster and best of all the NFC East is garbage. This will be the Eagles first shot at a divisional opponent and they can make a statement in a primetime football matchup on the road. It may not make waves throughout the NFC but the Birds have to go out and prove they are still the beasts of the East.
As for my bold player prediction of the week: Corey Clement or Wendell Smallwood will lead the team in receptions and receiving yards, including a big-play touchdown.
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