Just a month ago, it seemed so promising. The Eagles rookie coach and QB zoomed past expectations in a 3-0 start. Maybe, we dreamed, they could be a playoff team, even a division winner. Even if not, we were set for years, with Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz revising the roles of Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb … if not being better.
Now, as the leaves have fallen, so have our hopes.
Crushing losses to the Cowboys and Giants squashed the Eagles postseason chances. More so, they created doubt that the franchise has the foundation it needs to move ahead.
Only a little of this falls on Wentz. He threw foolish interceptions on the first two drives Sunday to put the Eagles down, 14-0. He sailed balls again. But he did recover to pass for 364 yards. He still projects as a future Pro Bowler — although those early hot-take comparisons to Favre and Elway have halted.
The much bigger concern is Pederson. Again Sunday, he made head-scratching play calls and strategic decisions that followed no coherent pattern.
“Big Balls Doug” lost his bravado against Dallas. He had it in spades Sunday, trying twice — and failing — on fourth downs deep in Giants territory. In a 28-23 loss, it’s easy to do the math of passing up two easy field goals.
Personally, I was lukewarm about the first decision — a fourth-and-two from the Giants’ 27, down 14-3 at the start of the 2nd quarter. The second one — fourth-and-one from the Giants’ 6, down 21-10 — was just baffling. A field-goal would have made it a one-possession game.
But even if you support the guts of going for it, you can’t endorse the inane play calling. The first drive ended with Wentz rolling out on a keeper that he’s shown no ability to run. The Giants sniffed it out and tossed Wentz for a 4-yard loss.
The second try failed when Pederson called a sweep to 180-pound Darren Sproles — who is many things, but not a power back. Running behind Isaac Seumalo, who lined up at fullback, Sproles was engulfed by blue jerseys and fell short. Meanwhile, Ryan Mathews sat on the bench.
“There’s a fine line between crazy, borderline crazy and doing the right thing,” the coach said in his postgame interrogation. Fans rightly wondered on which side of the line he fell.
It seems here that Pederson panicked and began chasing points early after falling down 14-0 on those two interceptions. It also appears the Eagles playbook doesn’t have any well-designed plays for those situations.
We give our rookie players a learning curve. Wentz — like Joel Embiid, Ivan Provorov and others — will be allowed mistakes and lauded for early promise. But from rookie coaches, we demand immediate perfection and expect them to improve from that.
Is it fair? Perhaps not. But Doug Pederson has been around the NFL for decades, long enough to have a better grasp on these things. His in-game gaffes are raising real concerns over whether Jeff Lurie hired the right guy.
- It was nice to see Zach Ertz involved for once — with eight catches for 97 yards. But Ertz was never a factor in the red zone, where tight ends typically earn their pay. In 53 NFL games, Ertz has just nine TDs. And, as usual, he typically fell down immediately after making every catch.
- Stupidest move of the game was LB Nigel Bradham’s right cross to Odell Beckham Jr.’s helmet after a third-quarter completion. The resulting “unnecessary roughness” penalty put the ball at the Eagles’ 35. As Bradham’s defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, said, “You do dumbass things, people label you a dumbass.”
- The Eagles entire secondary was dreadful Sunday, including usually reliable safeties Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins. Most alarming was CB Leodis McKelvin, who was beat by Eli Manning on three TD passes. McKelvin looks like a shot player in the way Blaine Bishop once did when he spent a season here as a free agent.
- More on the coach: Wendell Smallwood dashed for 19 yards the first time he touched the ball in the first quarter. Then, he didn’t get another handoff for the next 37 minutes of game time — when he gained six on his only other carry. Why, Doug, why?
- The good news Sunday was the return of the long pass, including four plays of more than 30 yards. Bryce Treggs, finally released from captivity, grabbed a 58 yarder and had 69 yards overall. By the way, Nelson Agholor has never once amassed 69 yards in an NFL game.
- Speaking of receivers, we are seeing why Tennessee let Dorial Green-Beckham go for a backup lineman. The former second-rounder had zero catches on five targets. More troubling: He loafed through pass patterns and showed an aversion to fight for the ball.
- More good news: The Vikings lost their third straight Sunday. Remember, the Eagles own Minnesota’s first-round pick from the Sam Bradford trade.
- The Eagles outgained the Giants 443 to 302 Sunday. Won time of possession, 32:40 to 27:20. Had fewer penalties. Still lost by five. Going 2-for-6 in the red zone will do that.
- Jordan Hicks had a late-game interception on a ball that I can’t imagine any Eagles wide receiver catching. In 16 NFL games, Hicks now has four interceptions, four fumble recoveries, two sacks, eight passes defended and two forced fumbles.
- Terrible noncall late in the game when Carson Wentz got slapped in the helmet and the ref looked away. Broadcaster Troy Aikman said the Eagles didn’t get the call because Wentz is an unproven rookie. I don’t know whether Aikman is correct, but if so, that’s a terrible indictment of the league.
- Wentz’s stats in his final drive in road games, with the Eagles tied or down: 4-for-10 passing for 46 yards and one interception. Four sacks for minus-26 yards. And an 0-4 record.