Grading the Eagles' 32-14 loss to the Bengals:
Simply put, the Eagles were humiliated by the Bengals on Sunday in a performance that was all too reminscent of how the team looked late last season when Chip Kelly was still head coach. That statement by itself doesn't speak too highly of the job Doug Pederson is doing right now.
At least Pederson's offense has an excuse, though. Injuries to key skill players such as Jordan Matthews and Ryan Mathews, as well as two absences along the offensive line, are not making life any easier for Carson Wentz and company on that side of the football.
What's wrong with the Eagles' defense though? This was as uninspired an effort as any the unit went through in three seasons under Kelly, when Bill Davis was the defensive coordinator and had the head coach's uptempo offense was working against him. Jim Schwartz may not have the greatest collection of talent in the world or anything, but this job — against a Cincinnati offense missing two of its biggest weapons no less — is flat out inexcusable.
Excuse. Excuses. Inexcusable. Those seemed to be the words of the day.
Wentz may be a rookie, may have been without two of his biggest weapons and may be behind a patchwork offensive line. None of that excuses many of the decisions he made in Cincinnati on Sunday. The 23-year-old threw three interceptions and easily could've thrown many more while completing only 60.0 percent of his passes. There will be better days ahead for Wentz, but he's not ready or able to put this sorry offense on his shoulders at this stage of his career, and it showed against the Bengals.
Without Mathews, the Eagles were basically down to fifth-round rookie Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles, who is battling a rib injury. Why we don't get more of Kenjon Barner in these situations, I don't know, but it probably didn't matter. Smallwood and Sproles had little room to run and even more limited opportunities, carrying 15 times for 33 yards. Sproles also had six catches for 35 yards, but the six combined targets to Smallwood and Barner resulted in one completion. Not a banner day for the group, although it's easy to understand why.
For once, it's hard to blame the Eagles wideouts for the offensive woes. When undrafted rookie Paul Turner is the team leader with 80 receiving yards in his second NFL game, that tells you all you need to know about the composition of the unit without Matthews. To his credit, Nelson Agholor caught four of five passes that came his way one week after being deactivated, but for only 23 yards, while Dorial Green-Beckham only hauled in four of 10 that came his way for 29.
Nice day for Trey Burton with a career high 56 receiving yards as his role continues to increase in the offense. Up-and-down day for Zach Ertz, who had nine catches for 70 yards and a touchdown, but much of that when the outcome was already all but decided or straight up garbage time. And what is with the false starts? Weird issue to plague a tight end, but somehow it is a problem for Ertz.
The Bengals obviously wanted to key on stopping the run and accomplished the task. Regardless, the Eagles averaged only 2.8 yards per carry against the 27th-ranked rushing defense in the NFL while allowing the quarterback to get hit 10 times, albeit on over 60 dropbacks. Allen Barbre is a fine offensive guard, but as we saw in 2014 and are witnessing again now, he is a bit out of his element at tackle. The entire interior seems to be struggling to some extent as a result of Barbre's move.
The Bengals averaged only 2.4 yards per carry on the ground themselves, a credit to the Eagles D-line. Brandon Graham had two tackles for loss and Bennie Logan came up with a forced fumble on a great hustle play. Once again though, where has the pass rush gone? This vaunted front four didn't sack Andy Dalton once and hit him a grand total of three times. It's no wonder he completed 74.2 percent of his passes for 10.7 yards per attempt. He had all day. The pressure has been almost non-existent for weeks now.
Nigel Bradham made eight tackles, one of which was in the backfield, as well as a tackle for loss. He was also tagged for a ridiculous personal foul penalty that would be difficult for even Bengals fans to agree with, as well as a horsecollar that was impossible to disagree with. At least Bradham was active, which is more than can be said for the rest of the group. Another very quiet game at this level of the defense.
Clueless would be the best way to describe how the Eagles' secondary looks right now. Dalton completed 23 of 31 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns without All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green. Yes, there was next to no pressure on the quarterback, but the fact of the matter is Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll were getting beat on a consistent basis. Safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod weren't much better, and the zone coverage was a total mess. It looked like these guys never played together before in their lives.
As usual, little to find fault with here. Caleb Sturgis did bang a 51-yard field goal off the upright for a failed attempt, but few kickers are automatic from that range, especially in Cincinnati. Otherwise, your standard Eagles special teams. Two of three Donnie Jones punts were pinned inside the opponents' 20-yard line, Kenjon Barner's 61-yard kick return set up a touchdown and the Bengals had nothing to speak of from their own return team.
Built-in excuses aside, Pederson's play-calling continues to leave a lot to be desired. The Bengals came into the game with the 27th-ranked run defense in the NFL. Now to be fair, the Eagles are without Mathews, and Sproles is hurting and Cincinnati really keyed on stopping the run. But has this coach ever heard of three yards and a cloud of dust before? Because that's all his offense was equipped to be on Sunday. Of course, Schwartz's defense is a total mess, so maybe it doesn't matter. Twenty-nine unanswered points is all anybody really needs to say.
CINCINNATI — OK, this was a disaster, and I’m just going to get right to it because this stuff has to be said.
That’s a now 4-7-1 team that just embarrassed the Eagles.
The Eagles are now 5-7, they’ve lost six straight road games, they’ve gone 11 straight games without scoring more than two touchdowns, they haven’t had a sack in two weeks or an interception in three weeks. After a 3-0 start, they’ve lost seven of nine.
And they are getting worse.
Here we go with today’s 10 Instant Observations.
1. Here’s the one thing that’s most alarming about this football team right now: everybody is regressing. I can’t think of anybody on the roster who has continued to improve over the course of the season, and that is a direct reflection on Doug Pederson and his coaching staff. Now, you can make a case that Zach Ertz has become a bigger part of the offense or maybe that Halapoulivaati Vaitai was getting better before he got hurt. Maybe Paul Turner. He looked great Sunday. But honestly, there are 53 guys on the roster and just about all of them have either stalled out or regressed. It starts with Carson Wentz, who is now missing guys he never would have missed the first few weeks. The defensive line, supposedly a strength of the team, has gone backwards in a big way. The running backs … receivers … secondary … Who on this team has gotten better? When virtually an entire football team continues to get worse and worse, that’s a really, really discouraging sign. It means the coach and his staff are simply no longer getting through. And that’s exactly what it looked like Sunday.
2. This offense is such a mess I don’t even know where to begin. They tried to run the ball early but had no success against the fifth-worst rush defense in the NFL. Then they tried to throw every snap and Wentz kept missing the few guys who got open. They didn’t hit a play longer than 15 yards until they were down 26-0. The lack of firepower is astounding. They just have zero explosiveness on offense, zero big-play potential. They have four plays all year of 40 yards or more and two have come courtesy of undrafted rookie wide receivers on their first career reception. This offense has just gotten gradually worse and worse and worse to the point where it just can’t function right now in a contested game. They scored a couple late TDs, but who cares. The game was over by then. Overall, Pederson’s game-planning, play-calling and personnel moves just aren’t giving the offense a chance to get into a rhythm to be competitive. They have two first-quarter TDs since the opener against the Browns, and they haven’t scored two first-half TDs in a game since that opener vs. Cleveland. That’s 11 straight games without a productive first half. They haven’t scored more than two TDs in a game since Week 3 against Pittsburgh. Terrible.
3. I don’t think anybody expected the offense to set the world on fire this year, but how did this defense get so bad? The Bengals came into this game ranked 27th in the NFL at 19 points per game, and they had that at halftime. They scored on their first six possessions — three TDs, three field goals. And that was a week after the Packers had scored on five of their six possessions in which they were trying to score. This defense might be more of a wreck than the offense because they have guys who, in theory, are supposed to be solid players. Supposedly an elite defensive line. Athletic linebackers. Solid secondary. And they just can’t stop anybody right now. Awful effort, awful performance. Where are the guys who are supposed to be the stars? Malcolm Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Jordan Hicks? Right now, this defense is just ineffective and overmatched.
4. In particular, let’s focus on a defensive line that calls itself one of the best in the NFL … if not the best. Does anybody remember a play these guys have made? A play? The Eagles had no sacks Sunday for a second straight game. They have one sack in their last three games (for no yards). They have six in the last six games after starting the season out with 20 in the first six games. The main group of defensive linemen — Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry and Connor Barwin — has three sacks in the last six games. That’s a span of 180 pass attempts by opposing quarterbacks. They didn’t get near Andy Dalton Sunday. Andy Dalton, for crying out loud. On a team of disappointments, the defensive line has been the biggest one. By far.
5. I’ve gone pretty easy on Wentz this year, mainly because he just doesn’t have much around him, has gotten very little help from his teammates or from his coaches, for that matter, and has taken a beating much of the year. But he’s got to be accountable after a game like Sunday, when he misses open guys, throws three more interceptions and doesn’t start moving the ball consistently until the Eagles are down four touchdowns. I still believe in Wentz long-term. And he’s obviously throwing wayyyyy too much. His 60 attempts Sunday were the second-most in NFL history by a rookie. There are a lot of qualifications, a lot of excuses available. But the bottom line is he’s got to be better (see Wentz evaluation).
6. And what on earth does Kenjon Barner have to do to get the football? On a day when the Eagles couldn’t run the ball — Wendell Smallwood (8 for 19) and Sproles (6 for 11) combined to average 2.1 yards per carry against the NFL’s fifth-worst rush defense, Barner – who is averaging 5.1 yards per attempt – once again got zero carries. We see Barner’s explosiveness all the time on kick returns. He had another big one Sunday — a 61-yarder to set up the Zach Ertz TD — but he’s got 10 carries in the last 10 games and that’s absurd.
7. Think about this: The Eagles in their last three games have scored 13, 15 and 14 points. It’s the first time since 2005 they’ve scored 15 or fewer points in three straight games. And they’ve now gone nine straight games without scoring three TDs. That even includes return TDs. That’s the franchise’s longest streak without more than two touchdowns in a game since a 12-game streak in 1998.
8. This three-game losing streak has really magnified the deficincies of the Eagles’ secondary. Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Dalton were a combined 72 for 102 — that’s 71 percent — with six touchdowns and no interceptions, and were sacked once for no yards. Just inexcusable. The Bengals — minus an all-pro wide receiver and their best running back — moved the ball at will on Sunday. Dalton finished 23 for 31 for 332 yards with two TDs and a passer rating of 130.0. Aaron Rodgers and Dalton both completed at least 70 percent of their passes for 300 or more yards with two TDs and no interceptions. This is the first time in franchise history opposing QBs have done that in consecutive weeks. That’s just astounding. Nobody in the secondary has made a play since Leodis McKelvin’s interception of Matt Ryan in the second quarter of the Atlanta game. How is that even possible? That was a month ago.
9. Honestly, I don’t think this team is prepared to play football every Sunday. They dig themselves a big hole virtually every week. That’s the coach. I don’t know what Pederson has to do differently, but it’s happening too much to be a coincidence. The Eagles have been outscored, 65-33, in the first quarter. They seem to be down 10-0 or 14-0 right off the bat every week. That’s a team that’s just not mentally or physically ready to go. That must change.
10. Finally this: The first half Sunday was the first time I actually thought to myself, “Wow, this is the kind of performance that gets coaches fired.” Now, I don’t think Pederson is in jeopardy right now, just 12 games into his coaching career, with a rookie quarterback. But I saw a team Sunday that didn’t have a whole lot of interest in playoff football, and if these next four games don’t get any better, if the Eagles play this brand of disinterested football over the next month, if this thing really continues to get away from Pederson, it wouldn’t be impossible. If Jeff Lurie is convinced Pederson isn’t the guy to get the Eagles over the hump, he won’t wait another year. Again, I don’t think that will happen. But this is a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008 and is about to miss going to the playoffs for a third straight year for the first time since 1997 through 1999. And I don’t care about the final score or a couple late scores. The Eagles were never in this game. They didn’t compete. Facing a 3-7-1 team that had scored five touchdowns in the last three games. If this thing continues to spiral? Lurie is nearly a quarter of a century into his ownership of this football team, and I just don’t think at this point he’s going to be super patient. Four games left, and I feel like they're important games for Pederson.