So much for Doug Pederson’s boasts of “the new normal.” You remember, right? After the Eagles broke their 57-year title drought last February, the head coach assured us things had changed forever. Returning to the Super Bowl was now an expectation. The franchise had finally pulled the sword from the stone and planned to wield it for seasons to come.
That fairy tale ended Sunday night in South Philadelphia. The Eagles fell to 4-5, dropping their third straight at home. Nothing nauseates more than losing to the mediocre Cowboys and hearing their ogre of an owner, Jerry Jones, cluck, “This is such a lift, I won’t need any wings on that airplane getting back to Dallas tonight.”
In truth, this team hasn’t been right from the first pre-season game. Week after week, we assured ourselves they’d roust themselves from this so-called “Super Bowl hangover” and shift into gear. Turns out, the new normal looks just like the bad, old normal.
The Birds currently have a 23 percent chance of winning the division, according to the analytics website FiveThirtyEight.com. Their next game is at the New Orleans Saints, who are 8-1 and just whipped Cincinnati by 37 points. You don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to interpret those numbers.
There’s enough blame here to fill a dozen columns, so I’ll focus on a few, starting with Pederson, who guides the offense. Last season, the Eagles averaged 6.4 points every first quarter, among the NFL’s best. This season, they’re averaging 2.3 points in the first quarter – last in the league.
It’s Pederson who scripts the early plays. Last season, much of that responsibility fell to offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who has moved on to become the head coach in Indianapolis. The Colts, by the way, are now averaging the sixth most points in the league.
Pederson has also been hurt by some personnel losses, but fans spent the last week anticipating what Golden Tate would bring to the offense. After all, the franchise traded a third-round pick for the talented receiver. Tate ended up being on the field for just 20 percent of the snaps Sunday and gained 19 measly yards on two catches.
Likewise, the Eagles spent a second-round pick drafting tight end Dallas Goedert and Pederson refuses to incorporate him into the offense.
While the offense can’t start games (five three-and-outs in first possessions this year), the defense can’t sustain them in the second half. For the third time this season, Jim Schwartz’s unit played ineptly in the fourth quarter, pulling any momentum away from Carson Wentz and crew. In simplest terms, they choked.
Schwartz directs a passive unit that favors 10-yard cushions and sometimes seems to expect opponents to fall down without being hit. Blitzing? Forget it. Fundamental tackling? Never heard of it.
I’ll temper some criticism because Schwartz has had to contend with injuries both on the front four and in the secondary. It’s hard to scheme on the fly when no-names like T.Y. McGill and Chandon Sullivan are in your lineup.
Last year’s champions used the “next man up” mantra to overcome an epidemic of injuries. This year’s squad simply can’t. Maybe we should appreciate how extraordinary a feat that was last year.
Regardless, few things are more of a gut punch than folding against the Cowboys. At home. On national TV. In a game where the term “must win: was not an exaggeration.
So now what?
Hey, I hear Jimmy Butler makes his Sixers debut on Wednesday.