Last Monday the Eagles faced the Packers, who had lost four games in a row. Green Bay came in playing awful defense. You figured the Eagles being at home and going against that defense would win. Instead they lost 27-13. On Sunday the Eagles played the Bengals, who had only won three games all year. The Bengals had one of the worst run defenses in the entire NFL. The Eagles ran for just 53 yards and lost 32-14.
If you look at the stats and trends, the Eagles probably should have won both games. As we all know, games are not played on paper. Neither the Packers nor Bengals played like struggling teams. Aaron Rodgers and Andy Dalton each played their best game of the year. Tough situations brought out the best in them. The Eagles were the team with the better shot at the playoffs, but they didn't play like that.
This Eagles team played beyond itself early in the season. Now this team is playing beneath where it should be. The Eagles are learning a hard lesson about the importance of consistency and focusing on one game at a time. Every NFL game is like a season of its own. What you did last year, last month or last week isn't always relevant. What matters is how you play that day. The players know this intellectually, but getting them to play consistent football is easier said than done.
The best teams live in the moment. They don't get too high or too low. They build on good plays and put bad plays behind them. If you focus too much on plays where things went wrong, doubt creeps into the minds of players. Instead of thinking about making a play they focus on not making a mistake. That leads to all sorts of problems. The Eagles have had a bad habit in recent games of letting things snowball. No team ever plays a perfect game. Good teams move on to the next play and limit the effect of the mistake.
Cincinnati scored on six consecutive possessions on Sunday. Consider that they did that with a backup right tackle and while missing their best runner and receiver. The Eagles defense needed to come up with a stop somewhere in there. Instead they let one bad series become two bad series become six bad series. That's how you lose games. Even worse, the offense couldn't help the defense out. They didn't score a point until the score was 29-0. There are going to be games when the defense struggles. The offense has to step up and help them out. There are going to be games when the offense struggles. The defense has to step up and help them out. Both groups struggled on Sunday and it resulted in an ugly loss.
Losses can teach you lessons. Doug Pederson should get a picture of the scoreboard when it read 29-0 and put it up in the locker room. He should put that beside a picture of the scoreboard from the 34-3 win over the Steelers. The message to the players would be that when you make plays and limit mistakes, this team can beat anyone. When you don't make plays and you do make mistakes, this team can lose to anyone. Really good players and coaches hate losing more than they enjoy winning. Seeing the image of the 29-0 score would really tick them off. No one likes to be reminded of failure, but it can be a powerful motivator.
As frustrating as Sunday was, there were a few bright spots. Rookie Paul Turner finally got some real playing time and he took advantage of it. Turner caught six passes and led the team with 80 yards. One of those catches went for a gain of 41 yards. There wasn't anything fancy on the play, but it was perfectly executed. He caught a short pass, turned upfield and just kept running. It was great to see the hero of the summer play well in a real game. Nelson Agholor caught four passes for 23 yards. Those aren't flashy numbers, but a couple of the catches came on fourth downs and moved the chains. His confidence should be on the rise. It will be interesting to see if he can build on that.
Trey Burton caught five passes for 53 yards. He now has 22 catches on the year and has developed into an interesting player. He's more than just the number three tight end. Burton creates tough matchups for the defense and he and Carson Wentz seem to have good chemistry. I'm not sure exactly what Burton's ceiling is, but he can still get better and is becoming a pretty good player.
Kenjon Barner had a 61-yard kickoff return. He now averages 31.4 yards per return for the season. That figure would lead the league, but he needs a few more returns to qualify for the rankings. Barner has good speed and makes quick decisions. Since Josh Huff's release, Barner has become a key part of the kickoff return team and has done a very good job.
As bad as things were on Sunday, the Eagles did out-gain and outscore the Bengals in the second half. The defense came up with a couple of takeaways, both of which were hustle plays made downfield. That shows you that the team didn't quit and that the players do care. The big problem is that they fell behind 29-0 and you just can't do that. The Eagles have generally kept games close this year. The deficit in Cincinnati was just too big for a comeback.
The Eagles have now lost three in a row and find themselves at 5-7 for the year. They need to win out to have any hope of making the playoffs. For now, just getting a win would be huge.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.