This One Hurts: Relief Effort Not Enough For Eagles
Doug Pederson had seen enough.
Looking for a spark as his team trudged into halftime with just three points, the Eagles’ head coach benched quarterback Carson Wentz on his team’s first possession of the third quarter and handed the ball to rookie Jalen Hurts.
The lift came in the form of Hurts throwing a 32-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-16 to Greg Ward, which was followed by a punt return touchdown from Jalen Reagor just 82 second later, as the Eagles cut their deficit to one possession, but Packers running back Aaron Jones ripped off a 77-yard touchdown run late in the fourth to seal the 30-16 win for Green Bay at Lambeau FIeld.
Despite the boost from the their first- and second-round picks, the Eagles (3-8-1) dropped their fourth straight heading into a matchup Sunday against the NFC-leading New Orleans Saints. a week that will certainly be filled with outside voices calling for Pederson to start Hurts against the Saints.
The Packers (9-3) have won four of their last five and look every ready to contend for the NFC title.
Let’s go with the observations:
1. It had to be pleasing to see Hurts throw his first NFL touchdown. In general, he commanded the offense well for his prolonged action and made a nice throw to Ward on the run for the 32-yard touchdown. His athleticism came in handy, as Hurts ran five more times for 29 yards yards. He thew a pick but was hit on the throw. Still, the right thing to do is go back to Carson Wentz on Sunday against the Saints. The whole point of the benching should have been to let Wentz take a step back, collect his thoughts, observe from the sideline and see if that doesn’t relax him. This is how Andy Reid handled the Donovan McNabb benching in 2008, when he went to Kevin Kolb after halftime. McNabb came back four days later, on Thanksgiving night, and tossed three TDs in a route of the Cardinals at the Linc. I don’t expect Wentz to magically be cured by Sunday, but Pederson has to see how Wentz responds.
2. Good to see Reagor score his second touchdown, helping the Eagles creep back into the game, and also catch a nice 34-yard pass from Hurts down the left sideline, showing separation and making a nice catch on a well-thrown lead pass. He also picked up 11 on an end around early in the game. Reagor clearly has the explosion the Eagles saw on tape when they scouted him and then drafted him 21st overall. But we’re still not seeing Reagor at his top play speed. They need to get him the ball earlier and more often to get him warmed up and in the flow of the game.
3. Did anyone notice anything different about the offense when Wentz was in the game? Me neither. When it’s clear the Eagles can’t protect for him for more than five seconds, it’s surprising that Doug Pederson and his staff didn’t build an entire offense around short, quick, timed passes – a true West Coast style. There were some shallow crosses, but not enough slants, quick hitters and more short stuff as Wentz kept getting hit and hit more. The Packers, meanwhile, killed the Eagles all game with short, timed routes that set up longer ones.
4. Protection was just abysmal. Wentz took four sacks in the first half alone, and while at least one was on him, there were also just bad breakdowns, up the middle and the right side, that led to Wentz getting trampled, which of course has led to Wentz not trusting his eyes or even dropping his eyes a the first sign of pressure. Hurts was also forced into scramble mode and was sacked three times, bringing the team total to seven. Jason Peters, of course, had to leave the game, which again begs the question of why he’s even on the team.
5. Someone needs to explain the wide receiver rotation. I’ve already question and second-guessed Alshon Jeffery’s presence in the offense; he’s contributing next to nothing. Well, there was the offensive pass interference, so there’s that. He had one target, zero receptions and was a non-factor yet again. There were several third down situations in which Reagor or Travis Fulgham weren’t on the field. This was my fear when Jeffery returned from his injury, and it appears my fears have been confirmed.
6. I wish Pederson could have challenged the third-down play on the opening drive when Wentz tried to hit Boston Scott on a wheel on the right side. Scott had a step on linebacker Christian Kirksey, who appeared to make contact with Scott as the running back tried to haul in the pass, which eventually was an incompletion. It was early and the Eagles were driving; thought it would’ve been reversed under the old rule from last year that allowed challenges on pass interference.
7. On that aforementioned play, Wentz didn’t throw to Fulgham, who appeared to open on a shallow crosser from right to left. This is a classic case of Wentz not seeing the field clearly. Protection was decent there, although Wentz was eventually flushed to his right, but against that zone coverage, Wentz had to know Fulgham would be open in that and look there. On the next possession, Wentz took a third-down sack when he held onto the ball way too long. The first two drives were emblematic of the 2020 Eagles season in a nutshell.
8. Jim Schwartz played a ton of man coverage again, it appeared, even as Aaron Rodgers was carving up the Eagles with slants, crossers and an offense that spread the ball around. The 99-yard drive in the third quarter that ended with Davante Adams overpowering Darius Slay on a 9-yard touchdown catch was just too easy. Rodgers had his way on nearly every throw, including a 42-yarder to Adams, who made a terrific catch between Slay and Maddox. You can’t give up a 77-yard touchdown run after the offense and special teams put two touchdowns on the board in less than two minutes. The defense didn’t lose this game, but given a chance to keep the Eagles in the game, the defense blew it.
9. Aaron Rodgers is making a strong case for MVP. This wasn’t even his best game and he still completed 74 percent of his passes and registered a passer rating of 128.9. Davante Adams’ 121 receiving yards was more damaging than the 170-plus that D.K. Metcalf put up because he killed the Eagles on all types out routes and scored two touchdowns. But, the referees should’ve called for an offensive facemask on his second touchdown. It was clear and obvious, even for a foul that’s rarely called.
10. Schwartz better hope Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox can make it back for Sunday’s game against the Saints, especially if Drew Brees comes back, but even if he doesn’t. The combo of Nickell Robey-Coleman and undrafted rookie Michael Jacquet as the starting outside corners is a scary thought against the Saints, who’ve won nine straight games.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.