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Offense Again Doomed By Slow Start, Mistakes

The signs of offensive inefficiency were there throughout four games as the Eagles split the first quarter of the season down the middle. In a 23-21 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the offense combined all of the previous inconsistencies to offer a wall-to-wall poor output in the team’s first defeat at Lincoln Financial Field of the season.

As head coach Doug Pederson has said many times, a message echoed by his players and assistant coaches, it wasn’t just one person making the mistakes on Sunday. The offense, which gained a total of 91 yards in the opening two quarters, after which the Eagles trailed 17-3, deservedly passed the blame around. The instances that stood out were disappointing and ugly as the Eagles scored just one touchdown in four red zone possessions and killed drives with penalties, turnovers, and poor execution.

  • On the team’s first offensive possession, Wentz was sacked by tackle Linval Joseph, who beat new starting left guard Isaac Seumalo straight up and reached Wentz for a 15-yard loss on third-and-7. The Eagles lost field position and Cameron Johnston was forced to punt with the line of scrimmage at the 8-yard line.
  • On the second possession, a third-and-1 pitch to the left side to running back Josh Adams went nowhere, and the Eagles started poorly once again. In two first-quarter possessions, two three-and-out drives, the Eagles failed to gain a first down and had a collective -4 yards of total offense. “It’s a play we saw on film and thought we could get a big play with," said Wentz, who was perfect in 2017 on quarterback sneaks on third- and fourth-and-short plays. "Give them credit for making the play."
  • On a drive in the second quarter, trailing 3-0, the Eagles put something together and reached the Minnesota 12-yard line. A third-down pass to running back Wendell Smallwood, which should have been an easy pitch-and-catch play, instead was an incompletion as Smallwood dropped the throw. “It was right in my hands,” Smallwood said. “I have to make that catch. Lack of focus. That ball got up on me and I have to catch it. No excuses. I just didn’t make the play and I have to make that play.”
  • The Eagles finished the first half trailing 17-3 and with an ugly offensive storyline: 91 total net yards, zero for 4 on third downs, just six rushing attempts for 11 yards, and two sacks against Wentz, including one that forced a fumble caught in the air by Joseph, who ran 64 yards for a touchdown to give Minnesota a 10-3 lead. “We’re not consistent protecting Carson and I’m the first one to tell you it’s on me. All of this is going to make us take a good, long look in the mirror,” right tackle Lane Johnson said. “Self-inflicted wounds and it starts with the offensive line. The offensive line has to play better, me included. I’m the first one. When we do that, we’ll win ballgames.”
  • Trailing by two touchdowns, the Eagles came out running the football in the third quarter as Ajayi carried five times for 20 yards and Smallwood had a 13-yard burst. Suddenly, the Eagles had a first-and-goal situation at the Minnesota 6-yard line. The Lincoln Financial Field crowd was alive. But Ajayi lost the football in a crowd and Minnesota recovered. Threat over. Compounding the loss of a scoring opportunity, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins went up top to wide receiver Adam Thielen, working one-on-one against cornerback Jalen Mills, and the completion gained 68 yards to the Philadelphia 27-yard line, leading to a Vikings field goal. “I can’t put the ball on the ground. I didn’t do my job,” Ajayi said. “You’ve just got to hold on to the ball. I have to look back at the film to see if I got hit. I didn’t feel like I got hit. I know my arms were slick, but there’s no excuse down there, especially by the goal line, smelling the end zone. It’s just very frustrating that I did that.”
  • On the Eagles’ next possession, the Eagles had a first-and-10 at the Minnesota 15-yard line and the protection broke down again. Danielle Hunter gained an advantage on the edge against Halapoulivaati Vaitai and sacked Wentz for a loss of 8 yards and the offense never recovered and instead of a touchdown, the Eagles settled for a second Jake Elliott field goal.
  • The Eagles got back into the game in the early moments of the fourth quarter as they drove 66 yards in 10 plays and scored on a Wentz pass to Smallwood, and then Smallwood dashed to the edge and dived to the pylon for the two-point conversion to close the deficit to 20-14. The defense did its part when linebacker Nigel Bradham pounced on a Vikings fumble when Cousins lateraled to running back Roc Thomas and Thomas couldn’t handle the ball. The Eagles had the football at Minnesota’s 30-yard line, with a chance to take the lead. But … on first down from there the Eagles were penalized for illegal formation and Wentz passed incomplete for wide receiver Alshon Jeffery on first-and-15. On second-and-10 after a Vikings neutral zone infraction, Wentz threw incomplete as he was pressured and was penalized for intentional grounding. On third-and-20 from the Vikings' 40, Wentz passed incomplete for Jeffery – credit safety Harrison Smith for knocking the ball loose – down the field. Threat over.

“That’s a possession that we need to do something with. We need points there,” center Jason Kelce said. “Last year, we turned that opportunity into a touchdown. We need to get back to doing that.”

Minnesota drove its next offensive possession 55 yards in 11 plays and took a nine-point lead on Dan Bailey’s 52-yard field goal. Philadelphia’s seven-play, 75-yard drive that followed ended with a Wentz touchdown pass to tight end Zach Ertz provided a glimmer of hope, but Minnesota recovered the onside kick to end the game.

  • The Eagles' offense was penalized seven times in the game – three false starts, two illegal formations, one intentional grounding, and one delay of game – and four of those six penalties occurred in Minnesota territory.

“We’re just too sloppy and that has to stop,” left tackle Jason Peters said. “We can’t keep doing and expect to win football games.”

If there is any consolation, and this is a reach to suggest it, it’s that the Eagles have a short week to prepare for Thursday night’s game at the New York Giants. The NFL requires teams to have a short memory and for the Eagles, who have lost back-to-back games for the first time since December 11-18, 2016, the need to move on has never been greater.

“We have to straighten it out or we’re not going to win games,” Johnson said. “I have confidence that we will, but it’s got to happen now. We’re digging ourselves a hole that gets deeper and deeper.”

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