The Points After: Ramifications Coming If Wentz Isn't Fixed
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
It would be fairly easy to conclude after Sunday's tie against the Bengals that the Eagles have officially sunk to rock bottom. No cure presented itself for Carson Wentz’s sudden allergy to making smart decisions and making accurate passes, even against the NFL’s lousiest defense. Playmakers continued to exit, including tight end Dallas Goedert. The defense played better but failed to produce a turnover for the third time in three games. For the most part, receivers struggled to get open. Eleven penalties killed the little momentum the Eagles had, and allowing a 42-yard play on 3rd-and-15 was another embarrassing moment for Jim Schwartz’s defense.
“We’re not a very good football team,” Doug Pederson said Monday. “We’re shooting ourselves in the foot. We’re just not executing.” If it seems like there’s nowhere to go but up, remember that’s merely a platitude. If you’re optimistic about a turnaround reminiscent of last December, you’re conveniently ignoring, or just forgetting, one very important fact. The Eagles came off their Miami loss last season heading into a stretch in which they’d play three games against some of the NFL’s worst teams – the Giants twice and Washington. Doug Pederson has no such luxury this time. October begins with Sunday night’s game against the defending NFC champion 49ers (2-1), followed by the currently unbeaten Steelers in Pittsburgh before coming home to play last year’s best regular-season team, the Ravens, who’ll be no worse than 2-1 after tonight game against Kansas City. This is a brutal stretch of schedule that was supposed to be made easier by having games against Washington, the Rams and Bengals – three teams that missed the postseason last year – in the first three weeks. Tension will be high this week at the NovaCare Complex as coaches can see the writing on the wall if this three-game winless streak devolves into 0-5-1 or even 1-4-1. While fans are calling for the heads of Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson, it’s unlikely that Jeffrey Lurie will fire a head coach two months into the season. Lurie didn’t let Chip Kelly have an entire third season in 2015 but even Kelly made it to Week 15 before getting the boot. The domino likeliest to fall first would be Press Taylor, the quarterbacks coach and first-year passing game coordinator. The latter is just a fancy title. This is Pederson’s offense and he’s the play caller, although it’s fair to question the disappearance of RPOs that were once so impactful during the 2017 Super Bowl run and if Taylor’s pass game ideas don’t include them. More importantly, Taylor’s other job makes him most responsible for having the quarterback prepared on a day-to-day basis. That Wentz looks like a scattershot signal caller has to fall on Taylor’s shoulders, especially since Wentz’s mechanics, accuracy and inability to see the field have regressed since the start of 2019. Not to mention that Taylor and Wentz are known to have a close working relationship – maybe too close for a healthy player-coach relationship. By now, it must be asked if Taylor’s critiques are being received by Wentz, or if Taylor’s critiques are honest enough for Wentz to even feel like he’s actually being coached. If the mood in Monday’s tape review session wasn’t tense for Wentz, that’s an issue. The same can be said of Pederson, who somewhat challenged Wentz in the media early last week but then backpedaled a few days later, chastising a reporter for daring to suggest that some passes in the NFL are routine. Pederson’s “there’s no layups in the NFL” bark-back was classic deflection, moving the goal posts away from the real issue that Wentz was, indeed, missing throws that good quarterbacks routinely make. But Lurie isn’t going to drop the hammer on Pederson before the ides of November. The longtime owner prides himself on making calculated, deliberate decisions devoid of knee-jerk reaction – emotional intelligence, you might call it. Luris is unlikely to can the same head coach who delivered the franchise its first and only Super Bowl while the Eagles are still mathematically in the playoff race. Canning assistants, however, is a different story. The Eagles change those even when they win, firing a coordinator and two position coaches last year despite a third straight trip to the postseason and second NFC East title in three years. Lurie will have no issues cutting off any of Pederson’s top lieutenants, and Taylor would be the first logical lamb to be sacrificed if Wentz doesn’t snap out of his funk over the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, Pederson will reach deep into his bag of tricks to compensate for an offense that won’t have Goedert for the short term and first-round pick Jalen Reagor for several more weeks. He’s already talking about up-tempo offense and other “simple” concepts that take the thinking out of the position. Funny, Wentz’s savant-like approach to the position and ability to outthink defenses was once considered an innate quality that set him apart from other quarterbacks. Now, the coaches want him to think less and engineer a scaled-down offense. Times are changing. If the Eagles don’t fix Wentz soon, coaches will also be changing, too.
On Sunday, I wrote that Cre’von LeBlanc appeared to have dethroned the slot god, Nickell Robey-Coleman, based on playing time against the Bengals. On Monday, the snap sheet showed that LeBlanc had out-snapped Robey-Coleman, 59-26. Likewise, linebacker T.J. Edwards out-snapped Duke Riley, 51-7, despite Riley seeing much more playing time in Weeks 1 and 2. But it’s my understanding that these changes aren’t related to performance. The Eagles have separate nickel packages based on matchups. The Eagles expected more 12 personnel and run reliance from the Bengals and wanted to present a bigger personnel package. Edwards is the team’s best run-defense linebacker and Le’Blanc is a bigger corner than the 5-foot-8 Robey-Coleman.
It wouldn't surprise me if third-round pick Davion Taylor gets onto the field soon – not because he’s ready, but because of the optics of a third-round pick unable to get onto the field. – Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the Inside the Birds podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com. Listen to the latest "Inside The Birds" podcast with Adam Caplan and Geoff Mosher here: