It's tough to win in the NFL.
It's tough to win when you lose the turnover battle. It's tough to win when you drop seven passes. It's tough to win when you allow a special teams touchdown. It's tough to win when you have a handful of crucial penalties (including three offensive pass interference calls, a block in the back on the return following a blocked field goal, and a neutral zone infraction on third down on the goal line).
When you have to overcome ALL of that? It's REALLY tough to win, and yet the Eagles nearly did just that on Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Add in that the Eagles were missing DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Tim Jernigan, and others, including a hobbled Dallas Goedert and mid-game departures from Jason Peters, Andre Dillard, Derek Barnett, and Ronald Darby.
These are correctable mistakes that we're talking about in this game. As Doug Pederson said in his Monday press conference, increased focus at the catch point can limit the number of drops. Receivers know that they can't push off at the top of routes. This team rarely gives up big plays on special teams throughout Dave Fipp's career. But these mistakes happened in this game, and each one of them had a hand in the loss. The team has to rebound quickly, turn the page, and get ready for a tough Green Bay team on Thursday night. Let's take a look at the offense's performance against the Lions and some of the highs and lows we saw on that side of the ball.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY
These four plays all involve Mack Hollins, but that is not the intention. The blame for this loss can be easily parsed out over the entire team in all three phases of the game. The biggest takeaway for me with this clip is that these guys have PROVEN they can make plays. Whether it's been in three regular-season games this year, this summer during Training Camp or the preseason, or earlier in their NFL careers, we've seen them do it. There's a reason they made the 53-man roster. Consistency is incredibly important, and making plays when they're there to be made is a hallmark of that. With guys like Jackson and Jeffery out of the lineup, the Eagles' offense needed some of their young weapons to stand up. While they made plays throughout the 60 minutes, they left some critical ones out on the field.
Some of those missed opportunities also happened to come in situations where the offense won. From an X's and O's standpoint, the Eagles found a way to beat Detroit time and time again schematically in this game. Sometimes they converted, and sometimes they didn't, but I loved what they did from a game-plan standpoint to attack Detroit's man coverage scheme.
Mesh plays, crossing routes, rub routes, double moves, and finding one-on-one matchups – these are all great ways to defeat man coverage. I thought the protection was mostly good throughout this game, allowing Carson Wentz to drop back and deliver the football pretty consistently without issue. Football games come down to a handful of plays to determine a win or a loss, and the Eagles just didn't make enough of the big ones to come away with a W, but that takes nothing away from the preparation last week in meeting rooms and on the practice field working through the game plan.
Before working through some of the other positives from the game, let's look at the final two offensive plays for the Eagles. These had negative outcomes, but I want to show you what the players and coaches saw after going through the film, and namely what they saw down on the sideline as the plays developed.
The plays kind of speak for themselves here. These are two outstanding throws from Wentz as he attempted to drive the team down to win the game, and for two separate reasons neither go down as positives. Wentz took what the defense gave him on fourth-and-medium on the completion to Sproles, humming a ball from the opposite hash over 20 yards away downfield on a rope in a small window to Darren Sproles for what should have been a first down. I know that's technically a push off from the veteran running back, but that's still a pretty gutsy call from the referee at that point in the game!
On the very next play, Wentz went for gold, trying to hit a deep post to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in one-on-one coverage. Wentz removed the safety from the middle of the field with a pump fake, and laid the ball out for his big-bodied target to go make a play. Unfortunately, it falls incomplete, and the Eagles walk away 1-2 instead of 2-1.
Before wrapping up, I want to look at the Eagles' backfield. The run game hasn't always been perfect through these two games, obviously playing from behind chips into that a bit, but we've seen a pretty decent sample size from Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, and Darren Sproles so far, with each of them having a bit of a niche. There's obviously some overlap in how they're used – there needs to be so that you're not completely predictable as players rotate in – but they each have their strengths and weaknesses.
Sanders has some juice to be able to bust long runs, and they're not going to be 60-yard-long touchdowns, but turning 3-yard runs into 8-yarders and 8-yard gains into 15-yard ones can be a big difference in the outcome of a game. I thought Sanders showed increased willingness to run between the tackles in this game and showed off his patience as well. Doug Pederson has talked before on Eagles Game Plan about one big coaching point for their running backs, and that's to be fast "through the hole," not "to the hole." What that means is that he wants them to be a bit more deliberate approaching the line of scrimmage, don't just fly downhill and run into the backs of blockers or miss a crease because you were too antsy to wait things out. That being said, when the crease does open, you need to have that burst to get through it. Miles has that.
Where Sanders really made his presence known however was in the passing game against Detroit. We've seen him do the work as a blocker, and that's very impressive, but we haven't witnessed the full scope of his potential on third down until this week. Not only can the rookie be effective on screens or in the flat or even on wheel routes out near the sticks, but he can be used vertically as well, either down the seam or on corner routes in the intermediate area. That's a layer to this offense that hasn't been peeled back since Doug Pederson has been here, and Sanders gives them that kind of juice from the backfield.
I know the fumbles are frustrating, and it's something that Miles knows he has to work through, but there's a reason why the Eagles took this kid in the second round. He's got a load of ability, and with his workmanlike attitude to get through the playbook and know his assignments from an X's and O's standpoint just in the summer after missing most of the spring with an injury, I think that speaks a lot to his work ethic and football character. You have to let the kid develop on the field, and I expect he will continue to do just that.
None of this takes anything away from Sproles or Howard or Corey Clement, by the way. Howard has run the ball very hard – I loved that first run above where he just lowered his shoulder and ran through the safety at the second level. He's a big, strong, competitive runner who can come downhill and be a bit of a hammer. He's going to have a role on this team and be a factor for them. That will not change.
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.