Starting 0-2 was not the scenario many people envisioned for this Philadelphia Eagles team as the offseason unfolded, but after two weeks, this is an 0-2 team. The two losses have come in games that were tales of two halves, as both the offense and the defense have taken their turns in coming up short as the team struggles to find its identity.
For this recap, we will start on the defensive side of the ball. The Los Angeles Rams pretty much had their way for a majority of the game, but particularly early on. Did the Rams surprise the Eagles' defense? No. They ran their staple concepts and executed their core plays, with some slight wrinkles thrown in.
As safety Rodney McLeod said after the game, "We understood that they would do a lot of misdirection, jet motions, screens, and we didn't execute to the best of our abilities today." Rodney was right. The Rams' offense is predicated off of the zone run game and boot-action off of it, essentially getting the defense to run laterally one way with the threat of being attacked laterally in the opposite direction as well. They toy with defenders' eyes, play shell games with the football, and create chunk plays when they're operating on full tilt. That happened on Sunday.
As you can see, while those plays are all very different, with screens and end-arounds and the like, it all starts with the same basic action. Quarterback Jared Goff lines up under center and executes a run fake to the outside with receivers releasing up to the second and third level running routes across the field's width to the opposite side. Linebackers, safeties, and corners, who all have run responsibilities, have to diagnose whether it's a run or a pass, get on their horse to get back to their responsibilities in coverage, and by the time they get there, the ball went elsewhere. They didn't have an answer for it.
Credit the Rams who executed their play-action pass game at a high level. Goff was 12-of-15 for 158 yards and two touchdowns off play-action, most of which had him rolling out of the pocket to create easy throws within 10-to-12 yards of the line of scrimmage.
A lot of people will say that you can't have a good play-action pass game without a good run game, but I think this contest was a great example of the exact opposite. You can't have a good run game without a good play-action pass game. Here's what I mean.
The front side of those runs look good, from an Eagles perspective. You have a strong edge set, there's penetration, and the running back is forced to cut. The problem lies on the back side. It was different players every time and it wasn't just these three runs, obviously. With the threat of Goff's ability to keep the ball (or hand it to a receiver going the other way), the front seven was too often landing somewhere between "hesitation" and "overaggressive" far too often in this matchup. This lack of discipline in their gaps led to huge plays for the Rams on the ground. Even the ability to go for 7 or 8 yards on first down allowed them to stay ahead of the sticks. This created easy completion opportunities for Goff and, more importantly, really kept the Eagles' defensive line from being much of a factor.
When offenses are running the football and having success "moving the pocket," your opportunities at clean pass rush attempts are few and far between. You have to keep the offense in obvious passing downs to put yourself in a better position to attack the quarterback against this type of team, and when the Eagles found themselves in those positions, that's when they found success.
We saw the line that we expected when the Eagles could just pin their ears back and go.
When you saw the run-action, boot-action, jet-action, screen-action, and every other "action" that the Rams and Sean McVay threw their way, there was just too much to wade through both mentally and physically. Go back and watch those boot-action throws. The defensive line has to play the run, attack blocks, read that it's pass, and then chase Goff. The ball is already out by that point.
For those saying, "Well, they should just attack the quarterback," that's when those runs in the second shot happen. That's why, as McLeod put it on Sunday night, you have to "live in the moment" as a defense. React to what you see on any given play. If you try to guess or try to make a play outside of your responsibilities, that's when you get into trouble. The Eagles were in trouble for much of the afternoon on Sunday.
Transitioning to the other side of the ball on offense, the Eagles didn't have the best day there, either. That being said, there were some bright spots, which we will hit on here. But first, let's take a look at a pivotal play in the game, a third-quarter interception from quarterback Carson Wentz.
Wentz was trying to be aggressive on a play that asked for him to roll to his right and read a three-man route concept. He said he wanted to try and fit this ball between the two defensive backs in the end zone on this post route by J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Could he have thrown it away? Could he have tucked it and run? Sure. All three receivers to that side were locked up. It's not that he overlooked an easy throw and tossed an interception instead. I'll always take the aggressive nature, but in that situation – with momentum on their side after a long drive to start the half following a defensive three-and-out – this was absolutely the swing point in the game. The Eagles were never able to regain that surge, scoring just three points in the entire second half.
Jalen Reagor had another nice outing. While this didn't include a 55-yard gain like in Week 1, we saw several tough catches and some interesting ways that the Eagles utilized the first-round pick.
My point is this – Reagor isn't just a deep threat. He's not just a screen or gadget weapon. He's a fully functioning member of the offense who can work at all three levels of the field, both outside the numbers and between the hashes. This is a great sign for his development in the offense and his future on this team.
While Reagor has shown the ability to be a full-time player, we got to see the niche role that Jalen Hurts can play as well on Sunday. The backup quarterback played three snaps on offense against the Rams, with reps coming in the backfield, in the slot, and out wide. Let's take a look at two of those plays.
Using a player with Hurts' skill set helped create space for both Dallas Goedert and Miles Sanders on Sunday. Could we continue to see more of that? We'll have to wait and find out.
Lastly, I want to touch on the offensive line. The linemen didn't allow a sack to Aaron Donald and that D-line, but they also got some good push up front in the run game. I didn't think Miles Sanders had his sharpest game, but the offensive line really opened up some good holes for both he and Boston Scott on the ground. Here are a couple of the combo blocks that stood out to me.
Nate Herbig had a nice game in his second outing at right guard, and he worked very well in tandem with Lane Johnson on a number of reps.
In closing, the Eagles have a lot to work out before Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite their 0-2 record, the Bengals will not be an easy opponent. It's a young team with speed, and they will battle. The Eagles have to be ready.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominatedEagles Game Planshow which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts,Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as theJourney to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices, and opponents.