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Birdfeed: Vol. 19.11; Offense? Bad. Defense? Maybe.

It wasn’t the worst loss of what’s been a disappointing 2019 season, but it may have been the most frustrating. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Eagles didn’t necessarily “need” a win over New England, but they were in it and had their chances. Now the Wildcard is mostly a pipe dream and there’s less room for error in the Eagles six remaining games. We can get to schedule breakdowns another time. Let’s focus on why the Eagles offense continues to stumble and why I’m taking a wait and see approach on the defense “finding itself.”

Carson Wentz shouldered a lot of blame for Sunday’s offensive woes. Was it his fault the Eagles lost? No, absolutely not. On the other hand, he could have won them the game and he didn’t. There’s a lot of noise around Wentz week in and week out and most of it is just nonsense. His weapons on the outside are trash (receivers, not tight ends). It’s as simple as that. Jordan Matthews walked off the street and played three times as many snaps as Mack Hollins or 2019 2nd round pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Doug Pederson told us a few weeks ago Arcega-Whiteside could only really play Alshon Jeffrey’s position at this point. Well Jeffrey didn’t dress for the game and Whiteside still only saw the field for 19 snaps. Imagine Stephon Gilmore waking up on Sunday realizing his day will be chasing Jordan Matthews around the field. Did Gilmore even have to stretch?

I know everyone wants to bury the $100 million franchise quarterback, but his GM and coaches are failing him even more than his receivers. There’s no speed on the field. At this point, the Eagles don’t even need someone who can catch the ball. Torrey Smith dropped a bunch of balls in 2017, but defenses still had to respect his speed and his ability to get open deep. I know Howie Roseman brought in Desean Jackson. That was nice, but Jackson getting hurt wasn’t a surprise to anyone. Where was the contingency plan? Is it illegal to have two speedsters on your roster? The 2018 offense struggled mightily without a speed threat once Mike Wallace went down. How did the front office not know this would happen? Look around the NFL and speed receivers you never heard of are making plays. The Eagles only need someone to stretch a defense, we’re not asking for Randy Moss here.

The play-calling and scheme in general isn’t helping either. Wentz isn’t a polished pocket passer right now. He may never be. He’s at his best when on the move and improvising. Watch his 2017 highlights. He was often on the move and throwing downfield. This season they have him in the pocket throwing outs, ins and flats within 12 yards of the line of scrimmage. The Eagles did this to Donovan McNabb, too. Stop fitting Wentz into a system and tailor the system to Wentz. He clearly has issues with hanging in the pocket too long, so give him one or two reads and let him bail. Run around, make something happen or just throw it away and live another down. Here’s a secret… It’s significantly harder to throw the ball away from inside the pocket, especially when your All-Pro right tackle is injured. Remember Steve Young? He never became a guy that stood in the pocket forever. I think he did okay.

Also, watch more than the Eagles game on Sundays and you’ll notice wide receivers all over the league making impressive catches. All-pros, veterans, rookies, scrubs; receivers of all kinds make plays. Not on the Eagles, though. I can’t remember the last time an Eagle receiver made an impressive catch. Quarterbacks need help. Wentz gets no help from his receivers.

With all that said, Wentz needs to be better. He missed way too many throws Sunday, but none were bigger than on 1st and 3rd down on the Eagles final series with a chance to tie. Here’s the errant throw on 1st down. It’s clearly a miss. Sure, there’s a corner lingering underneath but that’s an easy throw for most college quarterbacks. Wentz has to do better.

This 3rd down miss was a killer.

Zach Ertz probably picks up the first down, and worst-case scenario it’s 4th and short instead of 4th and 10. Wentz just McNabb’s it right into the ground three feet in front of Ertz.

For what it’s worth, Wentz always takes responsibility for his poor plays. While that’s a great attribute and a testament to his character, I’d rather he just make the play. Both of these throws are expected completions for any NFL quarterback. Throwing dimes in tight windows like Wentz did Sunday is awesome, but those throws don’t matter if you can’t also make the standard throws. As I mentioned, Wentz is still young, but he’s the franchise QB, and while the heat from critics was excessive Sunday, he did little to avert the flames.

One final note, the defense has looked great since the Dallas drubbing. HOWEVER, before everyone gets too excited, let’s not pretend the Eagles were shutting down top tier offenses. The Bills, Bears and Patriots rank as the NFL’s 19th, 30th and 16th ranked offenses, respectively. The Bills high score against an opponent with a record .500 or above is 14 points. In three games against such opponents they’re averaging 12 points per game. The Bears offense is averaging 14 points since Week 7 and has passed for over 200 yards once in that span. Similar to the Bills, the Patriots are averaging just over 17 points per game against winning teams since their Week 1 blowout over the Steelers.

Yes, it’s undeniable the Eagles defense has improved with the healthy returns of Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills on the outside. It’s also fair to point out their opponents have been less than potent. Seattle will be a real test. Hopefully the improved defense is for real and not the product of neutered offenses. If it’s the latter, expect a lot of Tyler Lockett running unchecked through the secondary a la Stefon Diggs. Oh, the horror. 

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