Birdfeed: Vol. 16.5; Ball Dropped… Literally

The Eagles clawed their way back to a 4th quarter lead in Detroit before imploding. Ryan Matthews’ fumble wasn’t their only misstep. (Photo By Leon Halip/Getty Images)

I tried. I really did. I warned every Eagle fan I spoke to last week about how sneaky important this game would be to the Eagles’ playoff hopes. I tried to warn them that being favored on the road was a problem. My six year old son walked around the house Sunday shocked the Eagles lost. He doesn’t understand what it means to be a Philly fan just yet. Soon he’ll learn that disappointment is as much a part of the equation as breathing. But whatever. The Eagles tossed away a game they should have won and now face an uphill climb the rest of the season.

There are plenty of things that went wrong for the Eagles Sunday, but let’s start with the most obvious; stupid mistakes. Fletcher Cox’s facemask on 3rd and 9 late in the 2nd quarter cost the Eagles at least four points. Instead of a Connor Barwin sack and the Lions attempting a 43 yard field goal, Detroit was given new life with a 1st and goal from the 9 yard line. They would score a touchdown two plays later. I generally give players a pass on facemask penalties. They’re grabbing at things they can’t really see. When they feel something, they grab it. Even if they let go right away it still gets called. The only way to avoid grabbing a facemask is telling players not to grab stuff unless they see it, which would not be ideal. This call, however, was not that kind of facemask. Cox latched onto Matthew Stafford’s face mask and held on long enough to tear the helmet from his head. It was a careless penalty that proved to be one of many mistakes that cost the Eagles the game.

On the Eagles possession following the Cox penalty, Carson Wentz drove the offense to the Detroit 27; 1st and ten with just over a minute to go. Despite a sloppy start, the Eagles could trim the Detroit lead to a touchdown heading into the half. Here’s how things went from there:

Holding Penalty; 1st and 20 from the 37
Sack; 2nd and 26 from the 43
Pass for no gain; 3rd and 26 from the 43
Offensive Pass Interference; 3rd and 36 from the Philly 47

Luckily, the Eagles salvaged a 50 yard field goal to cut the deficit to 11, but penalties scuttled a great opportunity to grab momentum and come out of the half with the potential to tie the game. Penalties proved to be an issue all game as Philadelphia finished with a laughable 14 infractions for 111 yards. (This was the Eagles 2nd game in a row with triple digit penalty yards [99 vs. Pittsburgh], so this could be a problem moving forward.)

Finally, the Ryan Matthews fumble. Much has been made about him carrying the ball in the wrong arm, so I won’t belabor that point any further. That’s a grade school mistake made by a professional, simple as that. What bothered me most was the play call. It’s 3rd and 2. Why toss the football six yards behind the line of scrimmage? That was vintage Reid play-calling there and it hurt my soul. Just run the football up the gut or better yet, send one of your hulking tight ends out on a short curl. Anything but a toss.

The toss wasn’t the only questionable coaching decision Sunday afternoon for the Eagles. I had plenty of gripes. For example, why is Stephen Tulloch on the field? If it’s not 3rd and 2 or less, Tulloch should be holding his helmet on his hip standing next to Jim Schwartz. Both Tulloch and Mychal Kendricks were getting destroyed by Detroit’s passing game. The fact that neither could make a tackle didn’t help matters.

While we’re here, what happened to Mychal Kendricks? Two years ago I deemed him untradeable for any deal involving Marcus Mariota. Now I cringe when he’s on the field. My cousin believes injuries robbed Kendricks of his speed and quickness, which is what made him so enticing as a young talent. My Dad believes Kendricks’ rash of injuries make it impossible for him to play with reckless abandon, hence the frequent missed tackles. Sadly, I believe both to be true.

It was no coincidence the defense performed significantly better in the 2nd half with Jordan Hicks and Nigel – “oops there’s a loaded weapon in my carry-on” – Bradham on the field. Detroit ran 22 plays in the 2nd half for 47 yards, only two 1st downs, fumbled once, and scored 3 measly, yet crucial points.

While the defense struggled at times, the Eagle offense did well to remain in the game. They did so by protecting the football. Well, until their final two drives. We already discussed the fumble but let’s talk about the interception. First of all, anyone watching the game knew Carson Wentz wasn’t at his best. He had at least one dropped interception. He continually sailed balls across the middle. I’m not sure taking a shot deep into double coverage with the game on the line was the best option there. Just kidding. It was downright stupid. Here’s why:

The Eagles had 88 seconds and one timeout. There was no need to go for it all on 1st down. Furthermore, the Eagles had scored on four of their last six possessions. I fully expected the offense to get into field goal range. Throwing deep didn’t make sense there. Defenses ALWAYS go into prevent mode when protecting a lead, so the eagles weren’t going to get behind the defense even if they had 2007 Randy Moss. Nelson Agholor is no Randy Moss. He’s Nelson Agholor. Outside of Josh Huff, Agholor is the last person I’d throw a deep ball to with the game hanging in the balance. His hands are questionable and I don’t trust him to make sure the pass isn’t picked off. In this particular situation, there was nothing he could do as the throw was so atrocious Nelson would have had to reach his arm 3 yards behind his neck to even reach the football. The throw is on Wentz but the playcall is on Dougie. Both stunk.

Finally, where were Brent Celek, Trey Burton, Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner? Smallwood and Barner combined for 121 yards and 2 TD on just 25 carries in their last outing. In Detroit neither received a touch, and each were only on the field for one snap. HUH?!?! Ryan Matthews was only averaging 3.8 yards per rush, so it’s not like he was dicing up the defense.

As for the lack of tight ends, I don’t get that either. The Eagles wide receivers stink. Jordan Matthews is a nice player, probably a #2 on most NFL teams. Philadelphia’s tight ends should be Wentz’s bread-and-butter. Eagle tight ends finished Sunday’s outing with 4 catches for 42 yards and only 5 targets. Brent Celek wasn’t targeted at all and could barely get on the field. When Josh Huff and Agholor combine for 10 targets and your more talented, more reliable and more dangerous tight ends combine for half of that, well, you have a problem.

I know I’m a negative Nancy. The Eagles are 3-1 and have already outperformed expectations. On the other hand, if you think the team that played Sunday is a shoe-in for victory against any one of their remaining opponents then you’re fooling yourself. The Eagles aren’t anywhere good enough to take a half off and expect to win. They can’t gift opponents 100 yards in penalties. They can’t turn the ball over twice in the 4th quarter. Last week I called the Lions game a “haunting” game. It will indeed come back to haunt the Eagles in December.

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