The Eagles' loss on Sunday dropped them to 2-2 and brought up a lot of questions about what is wrong with the team. The defense blew a 14-point lead so naturally, a lot of scrutiny is going to that side of the ball. Before we can really understand this year, it would help to look back to last season.
The Eagles' defense finished fourth in the league in yards and points allowed. This year, the defense is ninth in points allowed and 10th in yards allowed. The scheme is the same. The players are mostly the same. Heck, you can argue there is even better talent. So, what happened?
The offense is different.
Last year, the Eagles ran the third most plays in the league. They led the NFL in time of possession. The Eagles had the best third-down offense for most of the season. Think about what all that means. The Eagles sustained drives and controlled the flow of games. The Eagles' defense faced the sixth-fewest plays in the league. The offense did the defensive players a huge favor by moving the chains and keeping them on the sideline as spectators.
Beyond that, the Eagles were the best red zone offense for most of the season. When those drives got down in scoring position, they turned into touchdowns. That meant the Eagles were playing with the lead most of the time. There was a great synergy between the offense and defense. They fed off each other and helped the Eagles develop into a real juggernaut.
That isn't happening this season. The offense has struggled all year long. Just think about Sunday's game. The Eagles were one-for-four in the red zone. If just one of those failures had turned into a touchdown, the Eagles win that game.
The point of this isn't to figure out who to blame, but to show how important it is for each unit to help the other one out.
The Eagles led 17-3 after scoring midway through the third quarter. After that touchdown, the offense ran 15 plays over the next three drives and only gained 31 yards. One of the drives ended in a fumble that set the Titans up in scoring position. The defense held them to a field goal.
The offense looked great in going down for that third-quarter touchdown. The defense had only given up three points all game. I don't know if the players let up or the Titans just came alive, but neither the offense nor defense played well after that.
The players will be thinking about all the chances they had to put the game away. There was a fumble by Tennessee and the ball was near Brandon Graham, but he couldn't get to it. Nelson Agholor dropped some passes. Corey Graham didn't get wide enough on a fourth down play and let the Titans complete a long pass. Lane Johnson was beaten for a strip-sack.
This wasn't about one player or one side of the ball. Everyone had a hand in that loss.
It really is a shame the Eagles lost that game because it will overshadow some real positives. Alshon Jeffery played in his first game of the year and was simply outstanding. His return gave a tremendous boost to the offense. Jeffery finished with eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown.
Jeffery made all kinds of plays. He caught a pass down the left side for a gain of 31. The Eagles were backed up by the goal line so that play flipped the field. Jeffery wasn't wide open, but Carson Wentz made a terrific throw and Jeffery secured the catch.
He caught a quick screen and turned that into a nice gain. Jeffery hauled in a 16-yard touchdown. He was sort of open on the play, but Wentz gave his star receiver a chance to make a play and that's exactly what Jeffery did.
Wentz looked great at times. Not good, but great. He made some really impressive throws. He put good touch on the ball. He threw some lasers into tight spots. He gunned a pass to Agholor on a third-and-long play. That was an absolute strike and it would have moved the chains, but Agholor couldn't hold onto it.
One problem the offense did have was pass protection. Wentz was sacked four times and hit quite a bit more than that. Doug Pederson explained that the pressure was caused by a variety of factors. The offensive line didn't play well enough. It isn't all on them, but they weren't good enough.
Wentz gets some of the blame. There were some plays where he needed to get the ball out quicker. Pederson and the coaches get some blame. There were some calls that didn't work. The Eagles tried multiple play-action passes that the Titans blew up with edge blitzers.
Pederson made the point that these are fixable mistakes and he's right about that. The Eagles' offensive line has been great in the past. There is no reason they can't get back to that level. The more Wentz plays, the better he will get at avoiding sacks. Pederson and the offensive coaches will adjust gameplans for upcoming games.
Pederson also pointed out that teams will continue to blitz and attack the Eagles with creative pass rush designs until they prove they can handle them. On the defensive side, teams are going to continue to attack the Eagles secondary, especially with deep throws.
Tennessee threw downfield multiple times on Sunday, with varying degrees of success. They had four pass plays of 20 or more yards. The longest went for 51 yards. Those types of chunk plays can be devastating to a defense.
Jalen Mills is catching a lot of heat for the deep balls. Teams are going after him. Mills needs to play better. The rest of the secondary can help, and the defensive line can also help in a big way.
The bottom line is that the Eagles are 2-2 with a couple of tough road losses. That's nothing to be ashamed of. At the same time, you can't afford to blow games like the team did on Sunday. That should have been a win.
In some ways, the first month of the season felt like an extension of the preseason. This team is still trying to find its identity. If the Eagles can play a complete game, this team would look pretty good. That hasn't happened yet, and the results speak for themselves.
The talent is there. The coaching is there. The leadership is there. It feels like it is just a matter of time for the team to get going, but it has to happen soon. We're in October now and headed for the heart of the season. We need to find out what this Eagles team really is.