This is more about what the Eagles can do in a very short period of time to fix an offense that was broken for another Sunday in a 17-9 loss to Seattle than it is talking about five giveaways, a passing game that hardly threatened, and a quarterback who faces the first introspective moment of his young NFL career. We all know what happened against the Seahawks at Lincoln Financial Field. On a day when the defense did its darndest to win a game, the offense turned the ball over five times, sorely missing injured starters Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor at wide receiver, Jordan Howard at running back, and Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks (who left Sunday’s game after two series with an illness).
The offense hit a low point against a Seattle defense that is only OK and that was missing star end Jadeveon Clowney, who was inactive due to injury. The line didn’t give quarterback Carson Wentz much of a chance, and Wentz played a harried, sloppy (four giveaways on two interceptions and two fumbles) game, throwing to receivers who didn’t scare Seattle from challenging in man-to-man coverage at the line of scrimmage. The longest completion of the game was 10 yards from Wentz to tight end Zach Ertz (another 15 yards was tacked on after a Seattle penalty) before a last-minute throw to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside picked up 30 yards. You’ve heard this story before: The Eagles aren’t stretching the field in the passing game and they can’t sustain enough long, grind-it-out drives to put substantial points on the scoreboard.
“This is an offensive issue,” head coach Doug Pederson said, “so it starts with me. I’ve got to look at it. I’ve got to make my own assessment of my performance and then we’ll coach the players this week and we’ll get better.”
Let’s, then, look to the near future: What can the offense do to turn it around? Particularly, No. 11. He’s never been in this situation before. Oh, he had some struggles in his rookie season, but those were chalked up to inexperience and the transition to a team still learning Doug Pederson’s offensive system and building for a Super Bowl run. The 2017 campaign was magical for Wentz with his 33 touchdown passes and complete command of the scheme. The Eagles' offense dominated defenses that season with a complete array of weapons and derring-do that added to a superior level of confidence.
Last season, Wentz had his ups and downs (that 48-7 loss in New Orleans, when Wentz had three interceptions, was a particular low). Wentz was coming off his knee injury and the timing wasn’t quite there. Even with that Wentz threw 21 touchdown passes and seven interceptions before a back injury ended his season.
Wentz is 5-6 this season. He hasn’t had a lot of help, no doubt. The injuries are a real factor, and they cannot be ignored. The Eagles played the second half with Matt Pryor at right guard and Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle (who replaced Andre Dillard, who was benched) and while both Pryor and Vaitai are professionals and not to be shown a lack of respect, they are not in the class of Johnson and Brooks. Without the top three receivers (I’m including DeSean Jackson because the impact his absence has had on this season has been enormous), Wentz is throwing into tighter windows. Minus Howard in the backfield, the Eagles are without their best power running back. And while Miles Sanders is going to be a standout in this league, he’s still a rookie right now.
That combination of right tackle and running back played into a critical faux pas by the offense in the third quarter when Sunday’s game was still winnable. On a third-and-3 play from the Seattle 38-yard line, Wentz sprinted right and tried to hand off to Sanders for a run back to the left side of the offensive formation, hoping to take advantage of some over-pursuit by Seattle’s defense. Instead, linebacker Shaquem Griffin pushed Vaitai into the exchange between Wentz and Sanders and blew up the play and forced a fumble that Seattle recovered.
Seattle didn’t score on the takeaway, but the Eagles lost a rare and valuable chance to score with the ball on the Seahawks' side of the 50-yard line. Anyway, on to what’s next …
The overarching importance for the remainder of this season is getting Wentz on track. He’s not playing good football right now – Wentz is rushing his footwork in the pocket, he’s holding on to the ball too long at times, his accuracy isn’t where it needs to be, and he is spotty with his ball security in the pocket.
“We ask a lot of our quarterback and a lot of Carson, and the one thing you can’t do in that position is just put pressure on yourself to perform,” Pederson said. “You’ve just got to let things unfold and sometimes you can do that. I think sometimes you feel like the offense is struggling, you feel like you have to make a play and you’ve just got to (let) the game unfold, let the offense unfold, just let everybody work for you and you don’t feel like you’ve got to make every play.”
This isn’t about “committing to the running game,” which is a cop-out complaint for those who aren’t watching this offense. It’s not about “time of possession” or any other archaic measurement of an offense’s success. It’s really not even about playcalling, because Pederson is clearly limited with what he can dial up given the depth of talent he has on the sidelines.
What can the Eagles do to get Wentz back in his groove? That’s the overriding question. Maybe it’s just a matter of getting players back on the field and healthy – heck, that’s clearly the case with a defense that played lights out for a fourth straight game, limiting Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson to 200 passing yards and taking the football away twice, sacking Wilson six times, and really only giving up two big plays, a flea-flicker touchdown pass from Wilson to Malik Turner and a 58-yard touchdown run by Rashaad Penny – but when are the Eagles going to be healthy? Jackson is done for the regular season. Maybe Jeffery and Agholor return for Miami. Certainly, Johnson and Brooks have a chance to play against the Dolphins and perhaps the Eagles can establish the line of scrimmage in that game and give Wentz a fighting chance.
No. 11 could use a boost, no doubt about it. He’s pressing. He’s frustrated, as he said after the game. The Eagles are 5-6 and the season is slipping away, even though the team remains one game out of first place in the NFC East. The Eagles need to win all five of their games and still may need some help to unseat the Cowboys in the division.
“I have to be better. I have to lead this team better. I have to protect the football better. We can’t put it on the ground the way we did,” Wentz said. “It starts with me. It starts with me and I’m frustrated. I know everybody is frustrated with this loss offensively. Like I said, turning the ball over. It starts with me. I have to be better and we will be.”
Most important of all is Wentz and how he finishes the season. The Eagles don’t have any threats in their offense and haven’t had much in the passing game for most of the season. Can they find a spark in the last five games to salvage the season?
“I have a lot of confidence, a lot of confidence in myself to fix things I can correct. Each guy is going to do his part and get it fixed,” Wentz said. “We’re going to turn the page real quick. We’re going to learn from this, turn the page. We have six days to go out and practice, work our tails off and go get a ‘W’ on the road.”