10 observations from Eagles-Cardinals

ap-sam-bradford-eagles-cardinals.jpg

10 observations from Eagles-Cardinals

BOX SCORE

Can't tackle. Can't catch. Can't block. Can't run. Can't throw. Can't do anything.

After two encouraging weeks, the Eagles were back to embarrassing themselves Sunday night. 

They've now allowed 40 or more points in three of their last five games and lost by at least 23 points in those three games.

The Eagles got humiliated Sunday night on national TV, dropping a 40-17 decision to an Arizona Cardinals team that seemed to be just toying with the Eagles much of the game (see Instant Replay).

We've definitely had more than our share of this sort of 10 observations this year, haven't we?

1. Monday, the Eagles can get back to pretending they’re in a playoff race. And I guess technically they are, considering the current state of the NFC East. But nobody should confuse being in a playoff race with being a true playoff team. On Sunday, the Cards demonstrated just how big a gap there is between the Eagles and a true upper-echelon NFC team. They came in and manhandled the Eagles on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and they did it in the Eagles’ own building. Yeah, the Eagles can still back their way into the playoffs with wins over the Redskins and Giants (see Mychal Kendricks' take here), but they have a long way to go to be able to compete on a regular basis with a team like Arizona. The Eagles just looked overmatched Sunday. Missed tackles, blown coverages, fumbles. The kind of stuff that should have been cleaned up in training camp. The Cards have drafted better, signed better free agents and they’re better coached. They’re just on a different level right now, and they made sure everybody knew it.

2. I get giving DeMarco Murray a diminishing workload since he hasn’t been producing. I get playing Ryan Mathews more than Murray. But one thing Murray has done awfully well this year is convert on 3rd-and-short. In fact, going into Sunday’s game, Murray was 12 for 12 this year on 3rd- or-4th-and-1, and Mathews was 2 for 5. So why did Mathews get the ball on 4th-and-1 in the closing minutes of the second quarter? While Murray watched from the sidelines (see story), Mathews was stuffed for no gain. One guy is perfect on short yardage, the other guy is at 40 percent. I get using Murray less, but I don’t get not letting him do the one thing he’s still doing well (see Chip Kelly's take here).

3. We have to address David Johnson’s 47-yard touchdown run. Johnson is a talented kid, tough to tackle. But goodness gracious, that was embarrassing. There were five different times that play should have been over. I don’t care how many backups are on the field, how many guys are missing with injuries. That was a shameful effort. Johnson’s TD was the longest against the Eagles in six years and the longest at the Linc in nine years. That’s not talent. That’s not ability. That’s just want-to. Toughness. Will. When that’s missing, you really have a problem.

4. What a colossal embarrassment Chip Kelly’s three biggest offseason moves have turned out to be. Murray, last year’s NFL rushing leader, rides the bench. Kiko Alonso, traded for LeSean McCoy, can’t tackle anybody and doesn’t even look like he’s trying half the time. Byron Maxwell has had a few decent games this year but certainly has overall been a major disappointment. These are the kind of moves that can set a franchise back years when they fail. And when they all fail this miserably? This is what you get. Owner Jeff Lurie really has to think long and hard about making more changes in the front office this offseason and at least giving Kelly a respected NFL general manager to work with. Not Howie. A new voice, a respected voice, a reliable voice. Gotta do something. Gotta get players.

5. Note to Jordan Matthews: Do not celebrate a touchdown down 20 points in the fourth quarter. I don’t care how long it was, how don’t care how far it was. Hand the ball to the ref and go back to the bench. You are getting embarrassed on national TV in your own stadium. Understand the moment.

6. It’s understandable if you had no idea who No. 31 on the Cards was. He began the season as the Cards’ third-string running back. He only had 35 career carries until the Rams game two weeks ago. He’s started three games in his career. He’s David Johnson, a rookie third-round pick from Northern Iowa, and he pounded the Eagles for 187 yards Sunday. Yeah, he’s a talented kid. But to let him run up and down the field in your own stadium like that? Just embarrassing. Inexcusable. I don’t know what else to say about the Eagles’ run defense. I thought maybe they had turned the corner with a terrific second half against Shady, but this was just pathetic.

7. Just to put all this in context: From 1977 through 2014, a span of 36 years, one opposing running back ran for 185 yards or more in Philly — Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith in 1993. Then Doug Martin ran for 235 in Week 11 and Johnson ran for 187 Sunday. That means more backs have rushed for 185 or more yards in Philly in the Eagles’ last three home games than in the previous 36 years. Now that is bad run defense (see story).

8. I should probably say something about Sam Bradford. He did throw for 361 yards and he did make some big throws along the way. But he also threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and he only put 17 points on the scoreboard. I still don’t see the future when I watch him play football. Will the Eagles have a better option? I’m not sure. But I’m not straying from my belief that until they draft a young stud QB and grow with him, they’re not going to be an elite team.

9. One more note on the defense. The Cards racked up 493 yards Sunday. This is the second time this year they’ve given up 490 or more and the sixth time in three years under Bill Davis. The Eagles gave up 490 or more yards once under Jim Johnson. In fact, they’ve allowed at least 490 yards as much in the last three years as in the previous 40 years. The Eagles have now allowed at least 400 yards in five straight games, which ties the fifth-longest streak in NFL history.

10. As bad as the defense has been, the offense hasn’t been a whole lot better. The Eagles have now gone six straight games without scoring more than two offensive touchdowns. Now, two of those games were with Mark Sanchez and one was split between Bradford and Sanchez. Still. The second Dallas game is the only game since Week 6 in which the Eagles have scored more than two TDs on offense. And the last time they scored more than three was the Saints. And get this: The last Eagles wide receiver other than Matthews with 80 receiving yards in a game? Jeremy Maclin. That just about says it all.

Eagles-Bengals 5 things: Season isn't over yet

Eagles-Bengals 5 things: Season isn't over yet

Eagles (5-6) at Bengals (3-7-1)
1 p.m. on FOX

Eagles +1.5

The Eagles' backs may be against the wall, but the season isn't over yet. Five games still remain, beginning with a trip to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals on Sunday.

With a 5-6 record, the Eagles would need some help to reach the playoffs. Of course, it's a moot point if they don't help themselves and end their current two-game skid. Who knows, a win over a 3-7-1 Bengals squad could be the beginning of an improbable run.

1. Unwelcome in the jungle
If the Eagles do manage to defeat the Bengals on Sunday, they would be making history. While it's not exactly a huge sample size, the franchise has never won in Cincinnati, posting a 3-0-1 record in four tries.

They've come close on multiple occasions. In 1994, the Bengals tied the Eagles with three seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, recovered a muffed kickoff, then kicked another field goal to win 33-30 in regulation. And in 2008, the clubs finished in a 13-13 tie when the Eagles committed four turnovers to Cincinnati's one.

Granted, winning at Paul Brown Stadium isn't a problem that's inherent to the Eagles. Since 2013, the Bengals are 21-6-1 at home, and that's even going 2-2-1 this year. "The Jungle" is an underrated difficult place to play — although whether the crowd will be behind a losing team this week remains to be seen.

2. The road to victory
Once again, Eagles coach Doug Pederson faced questions about balance after the offense's run-pass ratio was seriously out of whack in the loss to the Packers on Monday. This week, it would behoove Pederson to listen to critics of his play-calling, because pounding the rock will likely be the blueprint to victory.

That's because Cincinnati's run defense is among the worst in the NFL. The unit ranks 28th in terms of ground yards per game, surrendering 180 or more three times this season while allowing an average of 4.4 per carry.

Furthermore, the Bengals are much stronger defending the ball when it's in the air. They're not dominant or anything, coming into the game ranked 13th against the pass, but it's obvious where the real weakness is.

Given that top receiver Jordan Matthews is battling an ankle injury and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has struggled to put the entire offense on his shoulders, it's clear what the Eagles should do. Lean heavily on Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood, and play the ball-control and field-position angles if they must.

3. Eyes on Eifert
The good news for the Eagles is they are catching the Bengals without All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green and versatile running back Giovani Bernard — injured players who previously accounted for 60 percent of the team's offense. The bad news is Cincinnati recently got one of their weapons back.

Tyler Eifert has been back in action for five games now, and the fourth-year tight end has picked right up where he left off following a Pro Bowl campaign in 2015. In the Bengals' last four contests, Eifert has 20 receptions for 303 yards and two touchdowns, which would project to 80, 1,212 and eight over a full season.

The Eagles have a few things going for them. They haven't been getting killed by the tight end position this season, and the Bengals currently don't have anybody else the defense really needs to focus in on. That being said, this offense is centered around Eifert right now, who's been targeted 34 times in the last four games. He's an impact player.

4. Better clean up their act
It's no secret that penalties have been a huge problem for the Eagles all season. Officials are flagging the team 8.2 times per game, which is the third-highest rate in the NFL this season. Needless to say, those calls have hurt, costing them an average of 64.3 yards.

That's not going to fly against the Bengals, who believe it or not are one of the cleanest teams in the league, at least as far as the refs are concerned. At only 5.7 penalties per game, Cincinnati boasts the third-lowest rate, while their average of 44.9 yards lost is the best out of all 32 teams.

The Eagles have already proven they have trouble overcoming the officials. Going on the road and facing a team that's the total inverse could be a huge problem. They're not going to get many freebies, nor can they afford to give them away.

This team has no margin for error to begin with. In what is anticipated to be a very tight game, the Eagles better not let flags or lack there of against their opponent influence the outcome.

5. It's not over yet
At this point, the Eagles have minimal roads to the playoffs, but a victory Sunday would at least serve to get them back in the conversation. A division championship is officially off the table. A wild-card berth, on the other hand, is still a possibility.

Washington currently owns the sixth and final spot in the tournament at 6-4-1, although the Eagles would have a chance to make up some ground with their meeting next week. The Buccaneers are 6-5, and the Vikings are 6-6, followed by the Packers and Saints sharing the Eagles' 5-6 record. It's not like anybody is running away with this.

So while postseason play might seem like a long shot, it's not exactly outlandish, either. With a win over the Bengals on Sunday, the Eagles could very well be hosting Washington next week in a battle for their playoff lives. That means it's not quite time to give up just yet.

Eagles-Bengals predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Bengals predictions by our (cough) experts

With their playoff hopes waning, the Eagles (5-6) travel to Cincinnati for a matchup against the struggling Bengals (3-7-1).

The Birds have lost six of their last 8, including two straight. Cincinnati hasn't fared much better, going winless in its last four.

It's time for our (cough) expert predictions for the Week 13 matchup.

Reuben Frank (5-5)
Now that the Eagles' playoff hopes have dwindled down to about a 1-in-12 shot, we'll find out if Doug Pederson can keep this team motivated and sharp for the remaining third of the season. That's a lot of football left to go, and for a team that's lost six of its last eight and five straight on the road, it's not going to be easy. But I do believe the Eagles won't stop playing hard. The effort has been there all along. The Green Bay game got away from them at the end, but for the most part, the losses have been competitive, and the team hasn't shown any signs of quitting. 

Now when you look at the schedule, it's filled with winning teams, division leaders, Hall of Fame quarterbacks and teams coming off byes. Of their last nine opponents, only the Packers currently have a losing record at 5-6. But they have Aaron Rodgers. Which brings us to the Bengals. They're 3-7-1, they're missing their Pro Bowl wide receiver and their starting running back and they've won just two of their last 10 games -- one of them against the Browns. 

Final conclusion: This is a team the Eagles can beat. I see a big game for Wendell Smallwood against the NFL's fifth-worst rush defense and also a big performance from Kenjon Barner with his one weekly carry. The Eagles are 0-3-1 all-time in Cincinnati. But Bobby Hoying beat the Bengals in 1997, and if Bobby Hoying can beat 'em Carson Wentz can. I'm going Eagles 17, Bengals 16 and back to .500 with four games to go.

Eagles 17, Bengals 16

Dave Zangaro (3-8)
The Eagles managed to put up just 13 points against the Packers' swiss cheese defense, so it's hard to imagine they'll suddenly catch fire against a better defense on the road.  

The best chance the Eagles have on offense, is to run the ball early and often, but they're without their top running back Ryan Mathews. That means rookie Wendell Smallwood will become the lead back. 

Oh yeah, did we mention that the Eagles' best receiver, Jordan Matthews, is dealing with an ankle injury that kept him out of practice most of the week? Even if Matthews plays, he might be severely hampered by the ankle. 

No, the Bengals don't pack the same punch as the Packers, but they'll be at home and Andy Dalton is at least a decent quarterback, Jeremy Hill runs hard and Tyler Eifert is a very good tight end. 

The Eagles catch a break with A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard out, but I don't think that's going to be enough. 

Bengals 17, Eagles 15  

Derrick Gunn (4-7)
After their latest two game losing streak where do the Eagles go from here? In their last two outings the Birds have given up 26.5 point per game while scoring just 14 points per game. The offense has lacked big play capability, and the defense hasn't stopped opponents from making key plays (Green Bay was 10 of 14 on 3rd down). Now they take to the road to face a Cincinnati team that is worse off than they are. The Bengals were projected to be serious playoff contenders but have been pretenders with a 3-7-1 record.

To add insult to injury, the Bengals are playing without 40 percent of their offensive production. Their top wideout, A.J. Green, is out with a hamstring injury and RB Giovani Bernard, who's lost for the year with an ACL tear. The Bengals can't score but their defense has been improving over the last three games giving up an average of 18.6 points.

Jordan Matthews' ankle injury could handcuff the Birds' passing attack. Hopefully the defense can get to Dalton who's been sacked 32 times. I can't believe I'm saying this but just call it a hunch: I don't like the Birds in this situation. 

Bengals 16, Eagles 13

Ray Didinger (5-6)
The Cincinnati Bengals have won one game since Sept. 29 and it was against the Cleveland Browns which almost doesn't count. They are currently on an 0-3-1 slide and will miss the playoffs for the first time in six years. Their best receiver, A.J. Green, is hurt and running back Giovani Bernard is lost for the season. Quarterback Andy Dalton fumbled four times in last week's loss to Baltimore. In short, these are not fun times in Cincinnati.

That would seem to bode well for the Eagles but there is that pesky matter of playing on the road (where they have lost five in a row) and the fact they are coming off their worst performance of the season, Monday's home loss to the Packers. The Eagles have scored just 28 points in their last two games while the Bengals have scored 26 so don't look for a lot of offense on Sunday. This could come down to the kickers and if so Caleb Sturgis is a lot better than Mike Nugent who has missed four of his last eight extra-point attempts.
 
Eagles 19, Bengals 13

Andrew Kulp (6-5)
Records aside, these are similar teams right now. The offenses lack weapons, the defenses are OK but flawed and the only way either team can win is ugly.

And ugly this game will likely be. The game comes down to kicks, a battle Caleb Sturgis can win against a struggling Mike Nugent. Bonus prediction: Eagles fans get plenty of chores and projects done around the house during this snoozer.

Eagles 13, Bengals 9

Corey Seidman (5-6)
The over/under is just 42 and I'm not expecting a whole lot of points. 

The Eagles are reeling, the Bengals are reeling, but when it comes down to it the Eagles enter this game healthier and should be able to keep Cincy's offense in check. 

Eifert is the Bengals' most dangerous weapon at the moment and the Eagles have been pretty good defending the seam with Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham and the safeties.

Eagles 20, Bengals 16

Andy Schwartz (5-6)
Just when I thought I had this team figured out, just when I’d evened my record at .500, the Eagles laid an egg.

They did so against a Packers team that had lost four straight. I should have seen it coming. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t going to let the Packers lose five in a row. The Eagles’ defense, despite having played well at home, was at his mercy. 

Now the Birds face another reeling team. Cincy hasn’t won in more than a month. The Bengals have lost three straight after tying the Redskins. 

But the Bengals don’t have Aaron Rodgers. They don’t have A.J. Green or Giovani Bernard either. And they’re not the Packers. They’re the Bengals.

After last week, it’s easy to pick the Eagles to lose. After last week, you wonder if the Eagles will win again this season. 

But the Eagles haven’t lost three straight all year. The pass rush wakes up, the special teams makes a big play, and that helps the offense score three touchdowns.

Eagles 24, Bengals 18