Birds Carved Up By Brady, Bucs
Those who predicted a rough night for the Eagles against the defending Super Bowl champs probably didn’t anticipate Nick Sirianni’s team creating a turnover, forcing some punts, defending a fourth-down pass and generally keeping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from striking any big plays from their trio of elite pass catchers.
And yet, those who believed the Eagles didn’t stand much of a chance were still proven to be correct.
The Eagles couldn’t capitalize on the few times that they foiled Tom Brady. They were inept offensively, loose again in run defense and needed some help just to get into Tampa Bay’s red zone. They also missed a field goal. The score didn’t reflect the lopsided nature of the Eagles’ 28-22 loss to the Bucs at the Linc. The Eagles were out-gained by almost 200 yards. They did more wrong than they did right, which is they finished a grueling six-game stretch to open their season with just two wins.
Brady passed for two touchdowns and Leonard Fournette ran for two as the Bucs improved to 5-1 and pushed the Eagles to 2-3. The Eagles made it close in the fourth, coming within six points, but Brady found Antonio Brown for a 21-yard connection on third down to get into the Eagles’ red zone before they eventually knelt out the clock. A ridiculously bad taunting penalty on Genard Avery helped Tampa put the game away.
The Eagles have some extra rest now to prepare for a lighter part of their schedule. They’ll travel to Las Vegas to play the Raiders next Sunday for their first appearance at Allegiant Stadium.
On with the observations…
1. Should we have expected the Eagles to struggle against Tampa Bay’s defense. Sure. But that was one of the most atrocious displays of first-down offense I’ve seen in quite a while. On their six first-half possessions, the Eagles netted just 3 total yards – minus-2, 1, 4, minus-1, incomplete, incomplete. On their four other first-half first downs, they netted 1 yard and Hurts was picked off once and incomplete on another. They weren’t much better in the second half. You need to stay ahead of the sticks for manageable down-and-distance plays against the Bucs defense, which excels in the pass rush and blitzes frequently. Who’s to blame? Everyone. Play calling obviously wasn’t good, but Hurts also opted to keep the ball twice and didn’t get positive yards either time. Maybe he underestimated the speed of Tampa Bay’s front seven on those read options. His first-play pass to Jalen Reagor on the left side before the half appeared to be a good decision, and Reagor nearly caught the ball while sprawled out, but the refs didn’t throw a flag, so that play died like the others.
2. This loss is on the offense. Sorry, but the defense forced a turnover and several punts – nearly two turnovers if Marcus Epps’ pick had held up after replay – which kept Brady and Co. from pulling away, but Hurts and Co. couldn’t capitalize. Hurts overthrew a wide-open Zach Ertz on a 3rd-and-6 corner after the Eagles had forced Tampa Bay’s first punt and then was picked off deep down the left side by Jamel Dean after Tampa’s second punt, two wasted opportunities to move the chains and take time off the clock. While Sirianni’s play calling continued to be mind-boggling you can’t really blame the coach for either of those two bad Hurts passes. Ertz was wide open and Quez Watkins had to play defensive back on the deep throw, but he couldn’t break up the pick.
3. Think of it this way: The first two Eagles touchdowns were enabled by Tampa Bay penalties on deep balls to Reagor. They needed 95 yards of pass interference calls to get into the end zone, which doesn’t happen every week. Sure, Reagor’s speed made that possible, but that’s not a game plan. That’s happenstance.
4. The little things continue to hamper Hurts from taking major steps forward. Ball placement wasn’t great – not just on the pick by Dean and Ertz miss, but also on a third-down pass to DeVonta Smith that should’ve been throw to the outside but was left inside to be broken up. He’s late on his deep throws too much, allowing coverage to catch up. The Bucs were hurting in the secondary, with both starting corners on Injured Reserve and then losing Richard Sherman early with a hamstring injury. I realize play calling and lack of run game are hurting him, but he can’t be absolved for poor throws when not pressured and other bad decisions. However, in all fairness, the two-point conversion throw to Watkins was tremendous.
5, Eagles receivers have upside, but their youth and inexperience continue to show. Some of them need scheme too much to help them get open and some just lack veteran poise about them. No wonder Zach Ertz led the team in targets after having the second-most against the Panthers, and no wonder the Eagles continue to force-feed the screens. The lack of a veteran wide receiver has hurt them. Not having Dallas Goedert, too.
6. Maybe it’s a good thing young linebacker Davion Taylor is getting much-needed experience in his second year, but it’s coming at a price tag. The Bucs exploited the 2020 third-round pick’s inexperience, peppering Taylor’s side of the field with a variety of screens, quick seam passes and other routes designed to match experienced receivers against him. They really took aim at Taylor on the late drive in the second quarter, which ended with Fournette following right tackle Tristan Wirf’s block for a 2-yard touchdown. Wirfs had jumped into the second level and drove Taylor back as Fournette easily trucked into the end zone for a 21-7 lead. It’s a painful lesson learned, and the Eagles have to hope these growing pains pay off as the season progresses. Taylor did defend Howard in the fourth on a fourth-down Brady incompletion. I’ll credit the coaches for this: they signed Eric Wilson in free agency because of his experience in the Vikings’ defense but didn’t hesitate to bench him after a few bad games. Sometimes coaches like to stick with “their guys,” but Wilson wasn’t playing well. At least Taylor has some potential upside – maybe.
7. Jonathan Gannon will be killed for his soft coverages, but he did blitz some and played more 5-man defensive lines. His defense even forced punts. This wasn’t nearly as bad as the Dallas and Kansas City games. Still, the Bucs ran the very well, because the Eagles still continue to position their safeties in Abington at times. They did that, of course, to limit big plays and getting beaten over the top, which they did. But again, the opponent opted to stay patient and move the ball on the ground, which shows that they lack the personnel to really stop the run from these 2-deep looks. The question is, again, can the Eagles front office provide Gannon with the right personnel? Howie Roseman has to be convinced to use draft capital – like Day 1 and early Day 2 picks – on linebackers, safeties and corners. Might even need to draft a 320-pound run-stuffer. Those aren’t positions he typically has valued.
8. It’s hard to notice in these losses, but fourth-year corner Avonte Maddox is playing fairly well. He’s back at home in the slot, and the zone defense has actually catered to his strength. He’s a good tackler and has better speed than you think. Remember, he broke up what would’ve been a touchdown against the Panthers. He blew up a screen in the first half that helped force one of Tampa Bay’s punts. It was hard to see Maddox earning an extension after the way he played the past two years, but his play this year shows what happens when someone is put in the best position to succeed.
9. I’ll have to wait to see the tape, but left tackle Andre Dillard seemed to have his hands full with Pro Bowl pass rusher Shaq Barrett. Hurts appeared to see plenty of pressure from Barrett from the left edge, and Bucs nose tackle Vita Vea was also very disruptive up front. Vea had 1.5 sacks and the Bucs generated more than half-dozen pressures. Maybe that’s what happens when there’s no run game for the Bucs to worry about?
10. Now that everyone has (hopefully) come to grips with the reality that the Eagles weren’t an 11-win team or realistic NFC East contender coming into the year, we can move forward and use the next 11 games for what they were supposed to be from the start – an honest evaluation of the potential of this coaching staff, quarterback and young drafted players. Most of the last 11 games will be coin-flip-type games, where you can make a realistic argument for the Eagles to win, starting next Sunday with a road game against the imploding Las Vegas Raiders. The Chargers will be tough, as will Dallas later this year. But the Lions, Saints and Broncos should be games where the Eagles stand a chance. Games against the Giants and Jets will also be very doable. Win five or six of these 11, finish with seven or eight wins, and that would be a sign of improvement.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.