Tie, Eagles Tie: More Wentz Struggles, Injuries Keep Birds Winless
Awful. Hideous. Horrendous. Disgraceful.
Pick any adjective to describe the ugliest sight you’ve ever seen. It’ll fit to paint the picture of Sunday’s 23-23 tie between the Eagles and Bengals at the Linc, a showdown that was more of a loss for the Birds and perhaps a moral win for Cincinnati.
The Eagles somehow managed to overcome yet another afternoon rife with turnovers, sloppy quarterback play and more injuries to be positioned to win in overtime on the leg of Jake Elliott, who lined up for the 56-yard field goal attempt with under 20 seconds to play.
Elliott had already nailed all of his three prior attempts, including a 42-yarder in the second quarter that had plenty of distance. But his game-winning kick never had the chance because left guard Matt Pryor moved before the snap, a false start pushing the Eagles into a 64-yard attempt, which Doug Pederson considered out of Elliott’s range.
In 2017, Elliott’s 61-yard field goal against the Giants – also in Week 3, also at home – at the buzzer was a springboard to the team’s Super Bowl run.
This time, the usually aggressive Pederson opted to punt, and with 13 seconds to play, the Bengals decided to settle for the tie and ran out the clock – a fittingly stale and dormant end to a game that lacked pizzazz.
Amazingly, the Eagles and Bengals played to a tie for the second time in their last four matchups going back to 2008. Even more amazing, the Eagles haven’t beaten the Bengals since 2000. The Eagles haven’t tied any other NFL team since 1997.
Let’s get with the observations:
1. It’s only Week 3, and the Eagles have been counted out before under Doug Pederson, but this tie might actually be worse than last year’s loss to the Dolphins and more threatening than their 41-point loss to the Saints in 2018 that dropped them to 4-6. This could considered be worse because the previously winless Bengals, like the Washington Football team in the opener, were considered lightweights on the Eagles’ schedule, which only gets tougher, starting with next Sunday night’s showdown against the 49ers. The defending NFC champs have survived major injuries and back-to-back trips to the East Coast to be 2-1. After the 49ers, the Eagles have games against AFC North powers Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
Is 0-5-1 really in their future? They aren’t likely to be favorites in any of the next three games. They were certainly favored to beat the Bengals, who like the Eagles’ first two opponents capitalized on Carson Wentz’s inaccuracy and inability to stop turning the ball overall.
2. I’ll keep repeating this: the Eagles can win some games even if Wentz has spells of inaccuracy or continues to have trouble seeing the whole field. But they can’t win if he continues to turn the ball over like this. Wentz added two more interceptions to his total – the second one really was just a terrible throw to Zach Ertz’s inside shoulder when the ball needed to be outside. The first came when his pass was batted at scrimmage and fell into the hands of linebacker Logan Wilson. Wentz had his third straight two-interception game, and now has seven of the team’s eight overall turnovers. But the real back-breaker was Wentz missing a wide-open Miles Sanders down the left sideline after Sanders put a sweet double-move on a rookie linebacker while lined up from the outside, an easy touchdown if Wentz makes a halfway decent throw. Losing DeSean Jackson and Dallas Goedert didn’t help, but Wentz didn’t exactly come out of the gates on fire. He did a nice job in the fourth leading a game-tying touchdown drive, and seemed to make smarter decisions as the game progressed and went into overtime, but the coaching staff absolutely needs to figure out a different plan of attack until Wentz gets right and Wentz must stop throwing picks if the Eagles have any chance of turning their season around.
3. Speaking of turnovers, the Eagles’ defense continues to be unable to create any. Even in a game in which they sacked Joe Burrow eight times — two apiece by Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett — they didn’t still come up with an interception or fumble recovery. That’s zero turnovers produced in three games for the Birds’ defense (special teams is responsible for the team’s one takeaway) and just four in the past seven games, going back to last year. Did Jim Schwartz dial up more pressure than usual? Yeah, he was more creative. And you can credit Burrow for protecting the ball while he took some massive hits, but perhaps the lack of blue-chip talent at linebacker and safety is finally catching up to the Eagles when it comes to bringing playmakers into the defense.
4. You’ve got your answer on J.J. Arcega-Whiteside’s future with this team. With both Alshon Jeffery and Jalen Reagor out, snaps at the X position were up grabs, but Arcega-Whiteside wasn’t the beneficiary. Sure, he played, but he sure wasn’t in his quarterback’s eye sight. He didn’t even have a target on Wentz’s 44 attempts. Meanwhile, on the Eagles’ two touchdown drives, guys like Deontay Burnett (3-19) and John Hightower (2-19) were out there in critical moments. Greg Ward, normally a slot receiver, lined up at the Z and fought off press coverage to catch a laser from Wentz for a touchdown in the second. NFL analyst Greg Cosell has pointed out on Inside The Birds in the past that the Eagles occasionally move Ward outside in some formations because he’s reliable and tough while not fast and dynamic. When a slot receiver is moving outside and catching touchdowns, it becomes fairly obvious that Arcega-Whiteside has no role in the offense. Now you have to wonder if he’ll be active going forward.
5. One area that Adam Caplan and I have focused on throughout the preseason and early season is cornerback depth, and lack thereof for the Eagles. Pray that Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox stay healthy, we’ve constantly said. Well, both left with injuries, forcing the Eagles into some creative personnel formations. Trevor Williams replaced Maddox and the Bengals immediately targeted him successfully, with Burrow using play-action to find Tee Higgins on a crosser for å go-ahead touchdown in the third. Slay left on the next drive, prompting Crevon LeBlanc’s move to the outside and Robey-Coleman staying in the slot. Thankfully for the Eagles, Slay returned and made some really impressive stops in the fourth and overtime. He might have been the difference between a tie and loss.
6. Three weeks into the season and you’ve already seen some personnel changes. Josh Sweat started at right defensive end ahead of Barnett, who had a full week of practice and was the starter going into training camp until missing almost all of camp and Week 1. Both pass rushers had sacks – Barnett had two – but Sweat has looked fairly good this year and has two sacks in three games. Will be interesting to see if Sweat continues to get the nod over Barnett. In the slot, LeBlanc started ahead of Nickell Robey-Coleman, who was supposed to be one of the team’s most underrated free-agent signings. Robey-Coleman hadn’t played well in the first two games – QBs were 9-for-9 targeting him with a passer rating over 150.0 — and the coaches didn’t hesitate to get “Strap” on the field. Robey-Coleman, however, made an amazing breakup in overtime to keep the Bengals out of Eagles territory. Maybe the Strap promotion was a wake-up call for the veteran.
7. Zach Ertz made some spectacular catches as the forgotten man in the Eagles’ offense, including an over-shoulder catch along the right sideline to get the Eagles into Bengals territory in overtime, a catch that would have drawn more postgame fanfare if the Eagles had actually won. Ertz also had plucked an errant Wentz pass out of thin air with one hand earlier in the game on the drive that ended in Jake Elliott’s 54-yard field goal. For folks who want to run Ertz out of town and move forward with Goedert, take note that Goedert has already dealt with a calf injury last year and broken hand in training camp before this latest ankle injury. Ertz, meanwhile, has caught seven passes for 70 yards and could’ve done more if Wentz had connected better with him. Ertz averaged 10 yards per catch, most among Eagles pass catchers.
8. It probably wasn’t noticeable to the naked eye, especially amid another overall lethargic offense, but Pederson added some of the wrinkles to the offense that we’ve waited to see. There was more motion than usual on running plays and, although it didn’t work because of a blocking breakdown, he tried to spring the wide receiver counter run with Greg Ward on the opening drive of the third quarter, along with a designed run for Jalen Hurts. One question though: with edge protection struggling, couldn’t Pederson have called a few more designed play-action roll-outs to get Wentz outside the pocket?
9. Weekly reminder that the Eagles are getting nothing from this year’s second- and third-round picks. Sure, Jalen Hurts had a decent run but he also fumbled on his next designed run and was fortunate that he didn’t lose possession. Third-round linebacker Davion Taylor once gain wasn’t a presence on defense or special teams. Meanwhile, Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson – a player the Eagles scouted heavily during the pre-draft process – had an interception. He was picked after Hurts, as the first pick in the third round. Akeem Davis-Gaither, chosen with the first pick in the fourth round (meaning after Taylor), had some moments, but at least he’s out there gaining experience. Davis-Gaither was the one toasted by Miles Sanders’ double move, but he responded in overtime, making sure Sanders didn’t get open on the 3rd-and-19 throw.
10. Jason Peters seemed to bounce back from a rough opener last Sunday against the Rams, but he struggled against edge rushers Karl Lawson and Sam Hubbard – good players, but not the kind of pass rushers that usually get the best of Peters. We’ve seen decline from Peters over the years, obviously, but this game really showed you that Peters can sometimes be a liability and doesn’t move as well. Lucky for him, Nick Bosa is out for the season and won’t be lining up against him Sunday night. But with the Wentz already looking scattershot and not trusting some of his receivers, it won’t be helpful if he’s also not trusting his blindside protection.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the Inside the Birds podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.