Sunday’s torture in Cincinnati started early, as Carson Wentz’s first pass was rejected at the line of scrimmage and his second bounced off a defender’s hands.
It continued as the Bengals scored on their first drive. And then again. And again, through their first six possessions, gaining a 29-0 lead in the third quarter.
It continued into garbage time, as Wentz was left to attempt 60 passes and take almost as many hits. The rookie, so assured in September, was skittish and inaccurate. Clearly he has regressed – in part because of his inept supporting cast; in part, I believe, because this much losing is a shock to his system.
In the end, the 32-14 blowout signaled the death of the season. The bigger question, however, is whether it marks more.
We’ve seen the Eagles lose in horrendous fashion. Last year’s Thanksgiving calamity at Detroit sealed Chip Kelly’s fate. Andy Reid ended his tenure in 2012 dropping a 42-7 laugher to the Giants.
Those debacles, however, marked the ends of eras. This disaster comes 12 games into the Doug Pederson’s tenure. And so it raises the frightening question of whether this head coach has the stuff and the smarts for the job. Have the Eagles bought a lemon?
Let me preface with this: I’d be stunned if Jeff Lurie ditches Pederson after one season. It’s not his style. Further, the owner – more so than resurrected GM Howie Roseman – hand-picked Pederson in an attempt to regain control of his franchise that he had ceded to Kelly. He’ll be in no rush to admit failure.
But that won’t stop anyone from assessing where the Eagles are. Regardless of whether their 3-0 start was an illusion, the scary aspect is that they have backslid nearly every week, at nearly every position.
The defensive has just six sacks in the last six games. The quarterback has lost his footwork. The secondary still can’t follow the arc of a pass. And shouldn’t someone among the receivers – Agholor or Green-Beckham or anybody – show a semblance of growth over the season?
Truth is, Doug Pederson’s team plays undisciplined football. The offensive line leads the NFL in illegal motion penalties. The defensive line is good for a few roughing penalties a week.
And now, things look worse. I cannot watch on TV and fairly tell you that players have quit on their coach. I can avow, however, that I saw Zach Ertz shy away from a block on Sunday. I saw Vinny Curry barely jog while pursuing a running play. I saw a listless secondary displaying no interest in separating Cincy’s receivers from the football.
Add in some carping. Fletcher Cox’s “do the math” answer to a question over the lack of sacks seemed a direct shot at DC Jim Schwartz’s distaste of blitzing. That followed Curry saying, “I only do what I’m coached to.”
Until last week, the Eagles were striving for the postseason. After the death in Cincinnati, the stakes may be higher. And uglier.
- On WIP Monday morning, Pederson denied being too nice a guy to his players, telling Angelo Cataldi, “What people see on game day is different than what we see during the week.” Perhaps that’s true, but if no player loses his job over that hideous performance (I’m looking at you, Leodis McKelvin), how can the coach be taken seriously as a disciplinarian?
- Yes, Wentz looked terrible on Sunday. He threw three interceptions, and it could have been six if the Bengals secondary was more sure-handed. His footwork was flawed, his judgment poor. But on my list of concerns, Wentz doesn’t crack the top 10. The sin here is forcing a rookie to throw 60 passes behind a makeshift line and against a defense that was poised to tee off. Regardless of game score, Pederson should not have exposed his QB that much.
- Interesting that Pederson, who has always deferred when winning the coin toss, chose to take the ball first. He explained Monday that he wanted his offense on the field first because the Bengals looked so lethargic in warmups and because he foresaw bad weather rolling in. Maybe so, but I can’t help but wonder whether the coach was more reacting to a rash of (wrong-headed) critics over the past week after he kicked to Green Bay.
- It was nice to see rookie WR Paul Turner debut with six catches and 80 yards. The kid worked hard all year and deserved his shot. On the flipside, consider what that says about the rest of the receiving corps when a practice squad kid can step in and be the team’s best.
- For the life of me, I can’t understand Schwartz’s aversion to blitzing. If the issue is that he’s afraid of putting his cornerbacks on an island, I’d counter by saying they can’t cover anyone as it is now. Getting some pressure should at least force the opposition QB to try to make a hot read and quickly dispose of the ball. It sure couldn’t make things worse than they are now.
- Allow me to praise tackle Jason Peters. Not for his game, per se, but for starting a scrum after Wentz was hit late and dirty. On a day when few Eagles showed any degree of competitiveness, at least Peters had some fight in him.