Here is the reality of the situation because ultimately this comes down to two parts.
Sunday was a really bad game for the Eagles against a really, really good football team in the New Orleans Saints. When you go on the road, you can’t make the kind of mistakes the team made on both sides of the ball and hope to come away with a W against a good team. The Eagles didn’t play well in any phase. Details were missed across the board, little things that helped turn positive plays into negative ones. This has been an issue throughout the season. If it’s not a missed block, it’s a costly turnover. If it’s not that, it’s a penalty, or a missed tackle, or a blown assignment, or a pivotal drop. The list goes on. These mistakes, which no one player has been immune from this year, have mounted and that’s why the team now finds itself at 4-6.
Now to the second part of the team's current situation. There’s still a lot of football left to be played and it's the most important part of the schedule. The Eagles have this three-game stretch against their division opponents that will make or break the season. It’s that simple. The Eagles can’t go 1-2 over the next three and expect to make the postseason. They can’t worry about the three games as a whole, however, because they first have to worry about the New York Giants, who are in the midst of their first winning streak in two full calendar years.
They’re playing better offensively right now than they have at any point this decade. Eli Manning is efficient, Saquon Barkley has officially figured it out as a between-the-tackles runner -- which is a scary proposition for defenses across the NFL, and they’re starting to put points up on the board. This will be a big test for the Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Before we get to this week’s game, let’s take one last look back at what plagued this team against New Orleans. It came down to little things early on in the game. Doug Pederson said on Monday that he felt the team left too many plays on the field offensively, and he’s right. There were plays to be had in the passing game that, for one reason or another, just did not hit. We don’t need to beat a dead horse here, but here are three examples.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY
The first play is Carson Wentz’s first interception, which happened on the first play of the third possession. The Eagles actually got a first down on a penalty to start the drive but it doesn't count as an official play. The Eagles looked to take a shot downfield with a formation and personnel grouping, and route concept that’s prevalent throughout the league. New Orleans' coverage was vulnerable to that play call. The Saints were in single-high coverage. The Eagles run a Post Cross combination attacking that single-high safety. There should have been room for a big play. The Post Cross forces the safety to choose whether to stay back and defend the potential big play over his head or step up to protect the crossing route in front of him.
If he steps up, someone has to take his place and that player was star cornerback Marshon Lattimore. The 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year passed the crossing route from Alshon Jeffery off to the safety because the other routes didn't threaten him. He sprinted to the middle of the field, where he tracked this long throw from Wentz for a leaping interception. It was a beautiful play by Lattimore on a play where Wentz took a chance to try and put up a big play and get some points early in the game.
Later, the Eagles got the ball past midfield in a 10-point game late in the second quarter. It’s third-and-3 in what was probably four-down territory. Pederson made an aggressive call with another downfield shot play. If you throw an incompletion, you’re going to go for it on fourth down anyway. So, why not take a chance? The call is a three-vertical concept with two deep routes outside the numbers and tight end Zach Ertz working one-on-one against a defender in the middle of the field in wide open space. Ertz is going to break open against man coverage between the hashes for what would likely have been a 20-yard gain. But the ball never came his way. Why? Sheldon Rankins, one of the best players on that Saints defense, gets home for a sack.
Lined up against Stefen Wisniewski, Rankins stabs the center with both hands, and Wisniewski immediately turns to his right. Did Rankins force him to do it with that punch? Did Wiz believe that a stunt was coming from the other defensive tackle and was he trying to put himself in position to block for that? I’m not sure. But he opens up hips to the sideline and Rankins darts into the backfield for a sack. Isaac Seumalo, at left guard, had his eyes on a looping defender at the second level, so he was not in position to help the center, leaving Rankins unimpeded on his way to the quarterback. The Eagles take a sack and are forced to punt.
The Eagles did go for it on fourth down on their opening drive of the second half and a chance for a big play slipped through their grasp, literally. It’s a 3x1 set with a bunch formation to the left. This will be a version of a three-level stretch play on that side of the field with routes hitting the deep, short, and intermediate areas of the secondary. Golden Tate would break wide open in that intermediate area. That’s certainly where Wentz wants to go with the football. But the quarterback doesn’t get the snap cleanly, as he juggles the ball. By the time he corrals it, he knows the timing is off with the three-level stretch and immediately goes to his backside safety route with Ertz. An errant throw forces a turnover on downs.
Those were just three examples in what was really just a tough game for the Eagles' offense across the board. The one bright spot may have been undrafted rookie Josh Adams, who reached the end zone for the first time in his NFL career against the Saints.
This was a Split Zone run by the Eagles, and the three interior linemen did a fantastic job on this play with Seumalo, Wisniewski, and Brandon Brooks all going belly-to-belly with New Orleans defenders to help create room for Adams to work. The rookie runner is absolutely at his best downhill with a head of steam (as most backs typically are, but especially ones built like him), and he makes a cut and races for pay dirt. Adams has seen a definite uptick in his usage over the last few weeks, and it’s not just because of his size and physicality as a runner. He continues to do the little things as well both on special teams and in pass protection. I threw in a couple of examples of him as a blocker for good measure to give you a look at why he continues to earn more playing time.
There honestly isn’t a ton to break down on the defensive side of the ball. The unit was extremely shorthanded in the secondary against one of the best passing attacks in football. Drew Brees got the ball out as quickly as possible and was barely touched all afternoon. The Eagles played a lot of press man coverage across the board in the secondary, hoping to disrupt the timing of routes and allow that front four to get home. The Eagles also did a good amount of straight double-teaming on Michael Thomas and, at times, Alvin Kamara. That meant that players like Tre’Quan Smith, Taysom Hill, Dan Arnold, and Keith Kirkwood were left one-on-one, and they made the Eagles pay. That’s the threat of playing that much man coverage.
The defensive players who stood out most to me in this game in a positive light were Malcolm Jenkins and Fletcher Cox. However, giving up 48 points is not ideal, and it’s something that they’ll need to learn from as they hope to get some reinforcements back in the lineup for Sunday’s game against the Giants.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show 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 the Journey 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.