By: Joe Staszak
I’m not sure which is worse, watching the Miami Dolphins “tank for Tua’ or watching the New York Jets try to play football. Both teams are headed for an 0-14-2 season. The difference is the Dolphins are actually trying to lose while the Jets are actually trying to win (the two ties are only because they play each other twice). Sunday pitted a historically bad Jets team versus a Philadelphia Eagles team that is still trying to figure out who they are and where they are. So where are they now after five games? Well, if you are what your record says you are, the Eagles are just an above average to good football team. They sit atop the NFC East at 3-2 tied with the Dallas Cowboys after a 31-6 victory over those hapless Jets.
Former Phillie and hall of fame third baseman Mike Schmidt once said that Philadelphia is the only city, where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day. I think he was onto something because after a convincing 25 point victory on Sunday I would say that I am happy but not thrilled.
Here’s the deal. After a 1-2 start the Birds have now won back to back games and jettisoned themselves to the pinnacle of the division. And that’s fantastic. But if you look a little closer and are honest with yourself, you will see a flawed, aging, undisciplined and fragile team with bi-polar disorder. You never know what this Eagles team is going to look like, not game to game, but drive to drive.
Small picture – the game was never in doubt and turned out to be somewhat of a debacle and any win in the National Football League is a good win. They were supposed to roll a bad team and for the most part they did that.
Big picture – if they play like they did yesterday, in the next three games, all on the road, they’re going to find themselves under .500 and struggling to get back to above average, again. If you think I am being too harsh on the team after a 25 point blow-out victory, then your standards are not that high.
My standard is the Super Bowl. My standard is MVP-like play from the quarterback. My standard is a chaotic defensive line that makes opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable and scared. There is precedent. We know what a Super Bowl team looks like. Does this team look like that 2017 team? Does Carson Wentz look like that MVP-like quarterback of 2017?
Before I answer those questions, let’s talk a little defense first. On Sunday, the Birds defense had a field day with the Jets offensive line racking up ten sacks, tied for the second most in a game by an Eagles team. They also put up 14 of the 31 total points. Nate Gerry scored on a pick-six in the first quarter and Orlando Scandrick strip sacked Jets quarterback Luke Faulk and took one to the house in the fourth quarter. It was the only time in NFL history that a team scored on a pick-six and a fumble recovery while posting ten sacks in a game, excellent numbers for the much maligned gangrenous defense. Football is comprised of three components, offense, defense and special teams. The defense most certainly checked their box on Sunday with a fabulous performance.
The offense on the other hand struggled mightily. They scored 17 points against a team that was giving up 23.3 points per game coming in. Carson Wentz, who was coming off a stellar performance against the Packers, threw for just 189 yards on 19/27 passing, one touchdown and no interceptions. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t that good either. He had a rating of 89.6, his fourth lowest rating in the last five games. His completion percentage was 58.6%. It was the fourth time in five games that Wentz’ completion percentage was under 60%. It was the second game in a row that Wentz did not throw for 190 yards. As Giants’ Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor would say, “Son y’all gotta do better than this.”
Wentz and the offense had opportunities to pad their stats too. In the second quarter, the Birds got the ball at their own 45. But on first down, a Lane Johnson holding penalty nullified an eight yard run by Miles Sanders and moved the ball back to the 37 yard line. They went three and out after that. On their next possession, the Birds had the ball first and ten from their own 42. But on first down the offensive line collapsed, as they did often on Sunday, and Wentz took an eight yard sack. Three plays later they had to punt. On their very next possession, they got the ball at the Jets’ 49 yard line. On second down, Mack Hollins pulled in a grab for an 11 yard gain, but the play was nullified because Darren Sproles got flagged for a chop block. So what was going to be a first and ten at the Jets 38 became a second and 25 from their own 36. Nine penalties cost the Birds 76 yards and a chance to run up the score. Unlike the defense, the Birds O did not check their box on Sunday.
As for the special teams, they were OK until Corey Clement muffed a punt at the Eagles own 18 yard line early in the fourth quarter. The next play the Jets scored their only touchdown of the game. It was only New York’s second offensive touchdown this season. So far through four games the Jets’ defense and special teams have scored more touchdowns than their offense just to give you an idea of how bad New York’s offense is. Sorry, you can’t check the special teams box either.
I guarantee I’m going to get hammered by Eagles’ fans for this piece. But, again, if you’re honest with yourself aren’t the above truths reasons to be concerned? If you’re OK winning the division or perhaps capturing a wild-card berth then this is the team for you. But if you hold yourself and this team to a higher standard then this team has to play a whole lot better the rest of the way.
I said on the air Saturday night that we will know a lot more about this team and where they are after this game. I also said that I needed to see a complete demolition of the Jets, offense, defense and special teams, if I am to view this team as a legitimate contender. I wanted to see an offense that looked like the offense of 2017. That offense obliterated teams leaving nothing to chance. That was my bar. Well, now that the game is over here’s what I know:
1) The Eagles defense needed a decimated, porous offensive line to get pressure on Jets quarterback Luke Faulk (the Birds entered the game last in the league in sacks with three).
2) The secondary looked sharp against a walk-on college quarterback who was on the Jets’ practice squad three weeks ago.
3) The defense was dominant against a team that was last in the league in several offensive categories coming in.
4) The offense scored just 17 points against a team that was giving up 23.3 points per game and seven of them were points off of turnovers.
5) The offense scored just ten points in the last 53 minutes of the game.
6) The offense went 2 for 10 on third down conversions after their first drive.
7) The offense doesn’t look a thing like it did in 2017.
This was supposed to be a Super Bowl-worthy team and right now they will be lucky to win the division if they play like they did on Sunday. Maybe they were looking ahead. Maybe they were looking behind, two things championship teams don’t do. In 2017, the Eagles not only beat bad teams, they beat bad teams badly. Check it out:
Beat Cardinals 34-7
Beat 49ers 33-10
Beat Broncos 51-23
Beat Cowboys 37-9
Beat Bears 31-3
The average margin of victory was 27 points in that stretch two years ago. If the standard this year is Super Bowl or bust then the Eagles should have crushed the Jets yesterday from an offensive standpoint. They should have made more of a statement. Am I being too hard on an offense that has been hampered a bit by injuries? I don’t think so. Remember, in 2017 the Eagles lost their hall of fame left tackle Jason Peters, their borderline hall of fame, all-purpose and lethal running back Darren Sproles and their MVP candidate quarterback Carson Wentz for the year and they still managed to win the Super Bowl.
Remember this team is built around its offense. It is supposed to be explosive and remorseless. It’s not. It just doesn’t look like the offense of 2017. It looks a lot more like last year’s offense. Don’t believe me? Don’t want to admit it? Take a look at some of the point differentials over the last three years including the Super Bowl year of 2017:
2019: +5 after five games
2018: +6 vs. teams with 5 wins or less
2017: +27 vs the aforementioned patsies
I’m not trying to down play a nice win by the Birds on Sunday. There are no easy wins in the National Football League (OK except for Sunday). It’s not easy to win games in the National Football League, let alone by 25 points. So as far as that goes it was a good win. But what do your eyes tell you? Mine tell me that this offense hasn’t put together a full four quarters of good football yet this year, and if it doesn’t start clicking soon the Birds are going to get a real good look at the playoff picture from the outside with the rest of the common folk teams.
Why am I so concerned about the Birds’ offense? Because if their current play is a predictor of what their future play will look like I’d say that they’re going to have some problems just getting to the playoffs, let alone winning the Super Bowl.
The Eagles are now entering the toughest part of their schedule and the next six games will define their season. They aren’t playing the Jets again until 2023 but they are squaring off against some of the elite defenses in the league. Here’s a look at their next six games and where their opponents rank defensively right now:
Opponent | Defensive Rank
The Eagles have played five games so far posting a 3-2 record. At this point the rust should be gone. But rust makes dust and as the dust clears we can now get a clearer picture of what this team is at this point in the season. In my opinion they’re a first place team in a pretty weak division with Super Bowl aspirations and hype that probably exceeds their ability. Until I see a more consistent, more explosive and more disciplined team my expectations will continue to be as low as the bar that others have set for them. A bar that serves the glass half-fullers a steady belt of optimism and the glass half-empties a healthy dose of reality.