Doug Pederson has a sense of what’s coming when the Seattle Seahawks visit Lincoln Financial Field, at least from a defensive standpoint. The Seahawks saw what New England did on Sunday when the Patriots made some wrinkles after allowing a 95-yard touchdown drive and concentrated their efforts on clamping down on the Eagles’ running game.
It forced the Eagles into a throwing mode offensively. It forced the Eagles to play away from their offensive strength.
And it worked.
It’s the blueprint for defenses out there. Pederson and the Eagles have to figure out a way to defeat that blueprint.
“Why not load the box and put seven guys and put more resources to stopping the run? It’s what the Patriots did,” Pederson said, “and we just missed in the passing game. We had guys there, and we had opportunities. We just didn’t capitalize.
“You don’t change your game plan, but you make subtle adjustments throughout the game and do different things. For us (against New England), we stuck with our game plan. Even at halftime, we said, ‘We can get back to this, this, and this in the run game and then come up with a number of passes we had in the game plan, we had some explosive plays … Dallas (Goedert) had a big drop on a deep cross, Jordan Matthews, even though it was his first game back, had an opportunity on a third down. We had a sack-fumble in there … some of that stuff that haunted us earlier in the season came back and got us in this game.”
The future is what’s next, as is, how are the Eagles going to get the offense straight and beat Seattle? At 5-5, with four losses in the conference, Philadelphia can’t afford another. Besides that, the Eagles are a game behind Dallas in the NFC East and … you know the picture. The Eagles need to find a way to score points. A superstar playmaker isn’t going to fall from the sky here. The Eagles must make it with what they have.
What do they have, then?
1. The offensive line remains a strength, but even that group has a gigantic question mark with dominating right tackle Lane Johnson in concussion protocol. If he doesn’t clear it in time for Seattle, the team turns to Halapoulivaati Vaitai or Andre Dillard, who has taken only game reps at left tackle so far in his rookie season. In other words, the Eagles need Johnson to be at their best up front, especially with a backfield-dominating Seattle defensive front coming to town. When the offensive line is playing well, the Eagles can run the ball on every defense. After the New England loss, center Jason Kelce spent about 30 seconds talking to the media. He was clearly upset. He didn’t want to talk, a sign of his frustration because Kelce is very generous with his media availability.
“I have one thing to say, I don’t want to dive into it anymore,” Kelce said, “I’m going to go watch the tape. Bottom line, I’ve got to be better and that’s all that matters. I’m going to focus on me because I’ve got to be better, ‘cause I wasn’t good enough to win today. That’s about it. I gotta play better.”
2. Fingers crossed that Jordan Howard is healthy enough to go this week. He’s a power running back who the Eagles need on Sunday. But what if he can’t go? The Eagles liked what they saw in the first half with Miles Sanders, a young back who is going to be a standout. He needs some seasoning, as all rookies do. It’s hard to imagine that Jay Ajayi would be ready to play after only one week of practice, but the Eagles may need him on Sunday. In any event, the running game has to be a staple of what the Eagles are doing. Somehow. If that’s possible with seven or eight defensive players in the box.
3. Zach Ertz had a big game on Sunday and Goedert caught a touchdown pass, but there were long stretches when it seemed neither was involved as the offense slogged through the second and third quarters and even into the fourth quarter. How can the Eagles get the tight ends – who were targeted a combined 17 times against New England – even more involved?
4. The wide receivers need to make plays. Matthews should be better in his second game – he had just one reception on six targets – and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had two catches (one was wiped out by penalty), so maybe he’s got a boost of confidence and will be in position to contribute. Nelson Agholor? He caught four passes for 40 yards on nine targets on Sunday. The Eagles need more from him. Mack Hollins hasn’t been a factor in the passing game since September, one of the mysteries of the season.
Pederson and offensive coordinator Mike Groh and the offensive game plan staff have work to do. Seattle has a defense that can “wreck your party,” Pederson said, and the Eagles know that the Seahawks are rested and intent on throttling quarterback Carson Wentz – who does not escape criticism and knows he has to be better than he was on Sunday – and this offense.
Bottom line: The Eagles are running out of time to make corrections. They need a win on Sunday.
“We’re running out of games, obviously,” Pederson said. “Our sense of urgency has got to pick up. We’ve got to be all on-board here. We still have a lot of good opportunities coming down our way with six games to go. Hopefully, things can turn our way and we can be right there at the end.”