Orange Crush! Punchless Birds Deflated By Browns
The standings won’t reflect, but Sunday’s loss by the Eagles in Cleveland – a ? in the pouring rain – FirstEnergy Stadium might just be the nail in the hammer in their season.
Coming out of the bye with two straight losses, including their first loss to the Browns in 26 years, is telling enough about Doug Pederson’s team.
But more indicting is another disgraceful showing by an offense that turned the ball over twice, converted just two third downs and showed almost no sign of improvement after mustering just 17 points last Sunday in a 10-point loss to the Giants.
The Eagles (3-6-1) will still finish Week 11 tied for the most wins in the division but with the fewest losses, thanks to their Week 3 tie against the Bengals, but don’t be fooled by their place atop the NFC East. They’re still very much a team in decline as they enter the most difficult stretch of their season, with a Monday night game against the Seahawks on deck, followed by games against the Packers, Saints and Cardinals.
For much of the game, the Eagles stifled the Browns’ dynamic running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt until Chubb finally got going in the fourth quarter and finished with 114 yards.
The game turned late in the third when the Browns, up 10-7, sacked Carson Wentz in the end zone for a safety. The Browns took a 12-10 lead late in the quarter on a Cody Parkey field goal, but a 54-yard run by Chubb, who stiff-armed defensive Joe Ostman to the ground, set up Hunt’s 5-yard touchdown hurdle over Jalen Mills for a 19-10 lead that the lethargic Eagles couldn’t overcome.
Chubb’s slamming of Ostman to the ground whole breaking into the open field essentially secured the win for the Browns (7-3). Wentz tossed his second interception inside the Cleveland 5-yard line without about 2 minutes to play, ending any comeback bid and enabling the Birds to drop their second straight game for the third time this season.
On with the observations…
1. The Eagles need one of two things to happen, and it needs to happen before Monday night’s game against the Seahawks, which could become a real debacle. They need either a new play caller or ned quarterback. If it were my call, I would first go with a new play caller, to see if any change in calls or designs would lead to an improved Carson Wentz and more functional offense. The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. The Eagles and Doug Pederson have been insanely stubborn this season, making very few adjustments to an offense that ranks among the bottom of the league. Andy Reid, one of the best play callers in the sport’s history, surrendered play calling to Marty Mornhinweg in 2006 and watched as the Eagles rallied with Jeff Garcia to win the NFC East. At this point, I think it’s worth changing play callers – to Rich Scangarello, perhaps? –– just to see if there’s an improvement. Either that, or sit Wentz for a game and see if Jalen Hurts can see a clearer picture and move the chains better.
2. Adam Caplan made a prescient point on “Inside The Birds Pregame Live” when he said league sources who’ve watched Eagles tape have said that Pederson asks his receivers to win against man coverage too much instead of scheming them open with fresh route concepts. The Eagles have basically ran the same passing concepts over the past few years, and they’re not working anymore. After an 0-for-9 effort on third down against the Giants, the Eagles converted just one third down in the first half and finished 2 for 11 for the game. Hard to believe this is where the Eagles flourished last year, finishing with the NFL’s fourth-best third-down offense. The Eagles also scored a touchdown just once in three red zone trips, another area of deficiency this season compared to last season, when they finished third.
3. Why do the quick, crisp passes only go to Greg Ward? The Eagles make it a point to get the ball to Ward on some quick-developing passes but don’t do the same for Travis Fulgham or even Jalen Reagor, who has the most twitch and explosion among the receivers. Ward has the least explosion among the receivers. For the second straight week, getting the ball into the hands of Fulgham and Reagor quickly or in space wasn’t prioritized. Fulgham managed just one catch for the second straight week. Just another reason for a change in play caller or quarterback.
4. So, about Carson Wentz. He continues to not see the field clearly and take some hits because he’s holding onto the ball. Hate to sound nitpicky here, but even on some of his good passes he appears to struggle. Take the touchdown to Richard Rodgers, for example. Wentz did a nice job going through his progressions to come back to Rodgers, but even before he threw thew the ball, Wentz hesitated and almost looked ready to take off before squaring up to throw. Rodgers was open through his entire route stem but Wentz didn’t pull the trigger until Rodgers was alone in the end zone. On his interception, which was returned for a touchdown, Wentz had Jalen Reagor open and didn’t see him and for some reason hesitated and got decked as he tried to float the ball toward Miles Sanders. I don’t know if a differenbt play caller can cure all of Wentz’s ills, but I also have doubts that a different quarterback is going to thrive in this current offense.
5. Please don’t be the person who says, “Doug Pederson got away from the run” every time there’s an incompletion. The Eagles had 20 runs and 9 passes in the first, an overwhelmingly favorable run ratio. At no time did Pederson “get away from the run.” At some point, your offense needs a positive pass or two from the quarterback. Whether or not the inclement weather was responsible for that ratio, only Pederson knows. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski didn’t get away from the run when he called a few play-action passes on the Browns’ opening drive that ended with Kareem Hunt stopped short of the goal line – on a run.
6. Even without a new play caller, Pederson also needs to take ownership of all the penalties and mistakes the Eagles are making, whether it’s coaching his players harder or coaching his coaches harder. Brandon Graham noted last week that the Eagles weren’t exactly a tight operation in practice, which is why the Eagles were heavily penalized against the Giants. Well, Graham was one of four Eagles to commit penalties just in the first half against the Browns, along with Derek Barnett, Avonte Maddox, and Javon Hargrave. The Browns clearly observed the Eagles’ lack of discipline on tape as Baker Mayfield used a hard count to lull the Eagles into multiple offsides penalties. That’s an issue with coaching.
7. Jason Kelce refusing to enter the medical tent was the Eagles’ 2020 season in a nutshell. Just when you thought the Eagles’ offensive line was ready to turn the corner on health by welcoming back Isaac Seumalo, then Jason Peters exits early to be replaced by Jordan Mailata and Kelce walks off in the second quarter with an elbow injury that forces undrafted rookie Luke Juriga at center. Kelce had been the lone starting offensive linemen to avoid missing time this year with an injury. Lane Johnson also departed, paving the way for rookie Jack Driscoll to get back into the game. Seumalo and Matt Pryor were the only starting offensive linemen to get through the game unscathed.
8. The Browns do an excellent job playing “hide the quarterback,” at least for this year as Kevin Stefanski didn’t really have an offseason to groom Baker Mayfield, who threw 21 picks last season. Should the Eagles take this approach with Wentz and the Eagles’ offense? It’s not really in Pederson’s nature to call games that way. The Eagles also aren’t built to run the ball that much. Kelce isn’t a mauling center, Jason Peters can’t stay healthy very long, Matt Pryor and Nate Herbig aren’t people-movers. The Eagles also don’t have another running back in Sanders’ echelon to compose a 1-2 punch. It’s just not going to happen.
9. Avonte Maddox got picked on early, allowing a 43-yard connection from Mayfield to Rashard Higgins off a play action rollout. Maddox was also flagged for pass interference. Teams have picked on him all year. It’s clear he should be a slot corner, not an outside corner. The Eagles really need to upgrade their outside corner depth next year. The next few opponents, starting with Seattle, are more equipped to pick on Maddox even more than Cleveland did.
10. Turnovers are perilous. The Eagles actually scored more offensive touchdowns than the Browns did – 2 to 1 – but Sanders fumbled on the opening drive inside Cleveland’s 5 and Wentz had one of his interceptions returned 50 yards for a touchdown. Giveaways will kill you every time.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.