Time Ran Out: Defensive Meltdown Ends Birds’ Season
The spark kept hope alive for a few weeks, conjuring images of past December rallies by the backup quarterback.
And there have been plenty of those in recent franchise history, spanning multiple head coaches: from Detmer to Feeley, to Garcia to Foles, to most recently Jalen Hurts.
But the flame Doug Pederson was looking for doused out Sunday, washed away by a decimated secondary that the Dallas Cowboys chewed up, an offensive line that again leaked in critical moments, and by a Hurts-led offense that saw its early momentum sputter
The Eagles couldn’t overcome both their injuries – and the bitter reality that they weren’t a very good team, losing 37-17 to the Cowboys to officially be eliminated from postseason contention.
Even with a win against Washington in the season finale, the best the Eagles can finish in 2021 is 5-10-1. Washington (6-9) will try to fend off the Cowboys and Giants to win the division. With either four or five wins, the Eagles will finish with their fewest victories in a season since going 5-11 in 1999, Andy Reid’s first season.
Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie expected much more than this, so expect some changes this offseason.
On with the observations
1. It’s really hard to judge Jalen Hurts’ performance, especially when the defense allowed so many embarrassingly big plays. The loss isn’t on him, but he was nothing more than OK. Again, he wasn’t put in a great position. One area where he’s shown that he needs to improve is third down. The Eagles haven’t been a good third-down offense in Hurts’ three starts, but he’s managed to compensate by coming up with some fourth-down magic and big-play ability. The Cowboys came after Hurts on third down and hit him a few times, sacking him three times. The game turned in the second quarter when Hurts missed Jalen Reagor on a right-side post in the end zone on third down after Reagor had beat the coverage by a step. The Eagles settled for a field goal, and Dallas marched downfield and went ahead on Michael Gallup’s touchdown. Hurts has missed an open Reagor at least once in each of his three starts.
2. Hurts will have to work on ball security in the offseason. Carson Wentz had the same issues as a rookie. He was lucky that both of his fumbles weren’t lost. After three fumbles against the Cardinals, Hurts fumbled twice against the Cowboys, losing one, although the second fumble seemed questionable from replay. Some of his fumbles earlier in the year were snap-related and also fell on Jason Kelce’s shoulders, but in general, if Hurts is going to use his legs to move the chains, he has to tighten his grip on the ball.
3. I feel like a broken record here, but you can’t understate how undisciplined the Eagles have been over the second half of the season. Some false starts put the offense in bad positions and set up unmanageable third downs for Hurts. Twelve penalties for 115 yards is inconceivable. Three friggin’ penalties alone on the possession after the Darius Slay interception was basically their season in a nutshell. There’s no excuse for this many penalties..
4. What else could you have expected from the secondary? The Cowboys have legit weapons everywhere. We noted on the Inside The Birds podcast and pregame show that while Arizona has the best overall weapon in Deandre Hopkins, the Cowboys featured a more well-rounded set of weapons with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Ceedee Lamb, a good tight end in Dalton Schultz and a good pair of running backs. Dallas had totaled 71 points in its last two games, so the Cowboys were clearly finding their rhythm, and they did what you’d expect against an Eagles defense missing several corners, a starting linebacker and three defensive linemen after Fletcher Cox left with a neck injury.
5. Could Jim Schwartz have moved Jalen Mills back to corner a little earlier than the fourth quarter? Sure, but let’s not forget that Mills has been on the wrong end of plenty of those same shot plays in the past two years as an outside corner. Moving him over would have taken the victimized Michael Jacquet off the field but would’ve left the safety spot entirely in the hands of Marcus Epps and K’von Wallace, which also isn’t an ideal matchup.
6. So, DeSean Jackson came, saw, caught an 81-yard touchdown and … checked out? Jason Kelce could be seen yelling, “Welcome back!” to Jackson, but the veteran deep threat wasn’t back for long. There was no word on why Jackson wasn’t back on the field much – if any – after his touchdown. Nice of the Eagles to let him stay healthy so he can catch more bombs for a different team next year.
7. Jordan Mailata needs an offseason to work in his pass pro technique. He clearly has ability and is starting to understand how to use his size and strength to impose his will in run blocking, but he appeared to struggle at times against Randy Gregory, who’s a good pass rusher when he’s on the field. Mailata allowed a sack against the Cardinals, too, despite a good effort in the run game. He’ll probably enter training camp as the No. 1 option at left tackle. Andre Dillard will have to prove he’s better, but Dillard is more of a natural pass protector.
8. Pederson opted to keep his offense on the field for fourth down at the Dallas 33 early in the fourth, with the Eagles trailing by 13. He could’ve also opted for a 51-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 10 or to punt and pin Dallas inside the 20. I’m guessing the analytics told him to go for it, although 4th and 15 is an almost impossible make. Perhaps Pederson was thinking about the 4th-and-22 touchdown that Hurts threw to Greg Ward against the Packers. I don’t know. But it sure seemed like going for it there was the least ideal option of all three.
9. Some have wondered if the season would have ended differently if Doug Pederson had made the move to Hurts earlier. Well, Hurts has generally played well – especially for a rookie quarterback – but the Eagles are 1-2 in his starts because their issues ran deeper than the quarterback. Wentz was a big part of the problem, but the offensive line and secondary were problematic throughout the season. You’d need Aaron Rodgers-level of quarterback play to overcome all of these deficiencies. I’m sure Lurie is taking that into account.
10. The Eagles didn’t score 30 points in any of their games this season. Not even by accident. Hard to have imagined that going into the season. The Jets were the only other NFL team to fail reaching 30 points. It’s never good to be tied with the Jets
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.