Turnovers, Ineptitude Doom Eagles

Turnovers, Ineptitude Doom Eagles

Where to begin? Do we start with Michael Vick's four interceptions, or do we point the finger at Jason Avant for his lack of ball security? Should we blame Vick, Andy Reid, or the time keeper for leaving three points on the field at the end of the first half? Were Jarrad Page and his comedy of missed tackles the most crippling defensive breakdowns, or should we jump all over Juqua Parker for committing a neutral zone infraction that kept the Bills' offense on the field -- a fitting way for the game to come to a close.

If you are like me and still searching for answers, Sunday's 31-24 loss in Buffalo did not provide any relief. It was just more of the same, this Eagles team contradicting itself over the course of 60 minutes, at times showing flashes of the Dream, but all too often reminding us why their record has now dropped to 1-4.

Vick threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns, and added 90 yards on the ground to top Randall Cunningham as the NFL's all-time leader in quarterback rushing yards. As usual, he made several stellar plays, and he helped give this team life after they had fallen behind by as many as 21 points in the third quarter.

His four interceptions were backbreakers though. You could give the quarterback a break on one or two, but he held the ball entirely too long and was hit as he was throwing the ball on one, and another he dumped right to LB Nick Barnett, who returned it 31 yards for a score.

However, the final pick wasn't Vick's fault at all. Jason Avant had a career day, hauling in nine passes for 139 yards, but he had two killer mistakes. First, he fumbled as the Eagles were finally showing signs of attempting a comeback, that error resulting in three points for the Bills. Then, as the offense was driving toward a potential tie, Vick's pass was in Avant's hands, but the wide receiver had it ripped out, bounce off his foot, and again into Barnett's waiting hands.

Does this club come up small in big situations, or what?

It was a similar story on defense, who were not wholly awful as you would expect. The Bills only scored 24 points on offense -- three on the short field after Avant's fumble -- and while RB Fred Jackson had a huge day with close to 200 total yards from scrimmage, the Buffalo passing game was held in check. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick had 197 yards passing, and was intercepted by Jamar Chaney.

But as we have sadly become programmed to expect, they missed far too many opportunities to erase a big play or stop a drive in its tracks. Page whiffed on one tackle after another, and while he certainly was not alone, his inability to get ball carriers to the ground was the most noticeable. He was eventually benched for Kurt Coleman, who was previously benched himself over spotty tackling.

Page failed to contain the edge on Jackson' five-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter, the running back dancing untouched into the end zone. In all, the red zone woes continued, as the Eagles have now allowed their opponent to come away with at least three points in 51 consecutive trips inside the 20 yard line.

And then of course there was Parker's offsides on 4th and 1 with less than two minutes in the fourth quarter. There is a good chance the Bills never intended to snap the ball, would have taken a timeout, and punted it away. Even if they would have run the play, to gift wrap a first down that effectively ended the game, well, that's about as perfect a picture as you could get of this team through five weeks.

Does this club come up small in big situations, or what?

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova (8-0) at La Salle (4-2) 
7 p.m. at The Palestra

Villanova, now the top-ranked team in the country, travels to the Palestra on Tuesday night for another Big 5 game, this one against La Salle (the home team), which has won three straight games.

Let's get you ready for the matchup:

Last time out
La Salle beat Bucknell, 83-73, on Saturday.

Villanova won, 88-47, over Saint Joseph’s.

Scouting report
Villanova, which is undefeated, has become the No. 1 team in the country after beating St. Joe’s handily on Saturday. Josh Hart, who had a triple-double in the game, has been a major reason for the Wildcats' success so far this season. The senior is averaging 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. 

La Salle has won three games in a row after losing at the buzzer to Texas Southern on its homecoming game. Against Bucknell, Jordan Price had 20 points, while B.J. Johnson had 22. Johnson, a transfer from Syracuse, leads the team in scoring with 18.7 points per game.

What it means
Villanova is the best in the country right now, and it moved up to No. 1 after Kentucky lost to UCLA. Another win will give the Wildcats good momentum heading into their Saturday matchup with No. 23 Notre Dame. A victory would also extend Villanova's all-time record Big 5 winning streak to 16 games.

La Salle head coach John Gianinni could potentially be on the hot seat if the Explorers suffer another poor season. A win against the defending national champions would alleviate any chatter about his status.

Series history
This is the first and only time the Big 5 rivals will meet this season. Jay Wright is 13-2 all-time against the Explorers, and his group blew them out last season, 76-47.

What’s next?
La Salle will head to Miami for the Hoophall Miami Invitational to take on Georgetown this Saturday at the American Airlines Arena.

Villanova travels to Newark, New Jersey, to meet No. 23 Notre Dame at the Prudential Center.

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

In his first month in the NFL, Carson Wentz's trophy case was filling up quickly. 

He won two NFL Rookie of the Week awards to go along with being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 3 and the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September. 

It's hard to believe all of that happened this year. 

Since September, the Eagles have gone 2-7 and Wentz has looked like a rookie. Sure, the Eagles have some major deficiencies on offense that haven't made his life any easier, but it's no longer possible to simply overlook the regression of the No. 2 overall pick. 

Could this tough stretch negatively affect Wentz long term?  

"I don't think it's going to affect Carson going forward," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. "I just don't think it's going to affect him at all, because he's really a pro's pro and he's learning how to handle adversity for the first time, probably, in his career. It's something that we get to the OTAs and we get a full offseason in and we just continue to work on it."

It's fair to say the 2016 season was probably never really about this year and making the playoffs. It's clear the more important thing is to develop Wentz into the franchise quarterback they drafted him to be. But the one thing the team probably didn't want to see was regression. It seems like that's what has happened. 

In the first four games of the season, Wentz had a passer rating over 100 three times and hasn't done it since then. Take a look at the difference in the first quarter of his season compared to the next two. 

First four games: Completion percentage of 67 percent, 7 touchdowns, 1 interception, passer rating of 103.5. 

Next eight: Completion percentage of 61 percent, 5 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, passer rating of 70.1. 

The Eagles will enter their final quarter of the season when they host Washington on Sunday. The best way to avoid any long-term issues stemming from a tough rookie season is to end on a stronger note. 

"Well, you avoid it by trying to win a football game, and you try to win as many as you can now with these last four that we've got," Pederson said. "If you're looking towards next season, you always want to go out with a bang and try to win as many as you can down the stretch."

Way back in training camp, the plan was for 2016 to be a redshirt year for Wentz. He was supposed to sit behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, but Bradford was traded and the Eagles elected to start their prized quarterback from the onset. 

Wentz went from a redshirt season to being on pace to throw 603 passes, which would shatter the Eagles' record for a single season. 

"These are some of the decisions that I made back when the trade was made that if there was going to be some growing pains, these were going to be some of the pains we were going to have to go through," Pederson said. "And just him understanding and him learning and us growing together as an offense, he and I growing as coach and quarterback together, it's all part of the process."

Wentz and Pederson seemingly had a disagreement after Sunday's game, when Pederson attributed Wentz's struggles to mechanical problems, while Wentz denied that was the case. Pederson held firm to his belief that those mechanical issues can be corrected and it's probable Wentz spoke out of frustration on Sunday night. 

If Wentz is frustrated, it would be understandable. It hasn't been an easy couple of months. 

"I see him handling it well," Pederson said. "These are discussions that we will have, myself, [Eagles offensive coordinator] Frank [Reich], Carson [Wentz], as we talk to him, because we've played obviously at this level, and my experience, even in this city playing and knowing what that's all about, we can really help him. It’s our job to help him and make sure that he stays on track and stays focused and he doesn't get derailed by anything that's coming from the outside."