By: Joe Staszak
With so much on the line Sunday night in Dallas, the division, the rivalry, a guarantee and personal pride, the Philadelphia Eagles made a definitive statement about who they are and where they are going. It was embarrassing. It was humiliating. It was lifeless. It was telling. After a 37-10 drubbing at the hands of the Cowboys (and it wasn’t even that close), one that tight end Zach Ertz called one of the most embarrassing performances in his seven year tenure, the Eagles find themselves at 3-4 and a game behind the ‘Boys in the NFC East. But if you watched the game you know that the Eagles are much further behind the Cowboys than that. It’s been quite a turnaround for a team that was projected by some to emerge as the Super Bowl Champions for the second time in the last three years.
Remember when the Birds were the talk of the NFL having bolstered their line-up with an unprecedented array of talent this past off season? Boy those were the days.
Let us reflect. Just about two months ago these were some of the predictions and projections from a few of the highly respected media publications that cover the NFL. Pro Football Focus had these predictions for the 2019 season:
- The Eagles win the NFC East by multiple games.
- Carson Wentz will throw 40 touchdown passes and over 4,000 yards.
- The Eagles will have a top five defense.
- The Eagles will make it back to the Super Bowl.
NFL.com said this: :
- Carson Wentz will lead the NFL in touchdown passes.
- Derek Barnett earns a pro bowl selection.
- The Eagles go undefeated in the NFC East.
- Josh Sweat will record at least six sacks.
- The Eagles will be a top five rushing team.
- The Eagles have the most talented roster in the league.
- The Eagles will beat the Patriots twice this season (including Super Bowl 54).
Bleeding Green Nation chimed in with this:
- The Eagles will have the top offense in the NFL.
- The Eagles will finish the season 13-3.
- The Eagles will win the Super Bowl.
I’m not sure what is funnier, these predictions or the Birds effort on Sunday night. Except it wasn’t funny. It was disturbing and mind-boggling.
The reality is this:
- The season is almost half over and Wentz has 13 touchdown passes and 1,649 yards passing.
- The Eagles can not go undefeated in the NFC East as they are now 1-1.
- Derek Barnett has just three sacks this year and will be lucky if he is allowed to watch the Pro Bowl this year.
- Josh Sweat has one sack after seven games.
- The Eagles are 14th in the league in rushing at 111.7 yards per game.
- The Birds projected top offense in the league is now 23rd in total offense and 14th in points per game at 24.4
- The Birds cannot mathematically go 13-3 as they have already lost four games.
- The Eagles roster was overrated and the third oldest in the league heading into this season.
- The Eagles will not beat the Patriots once, and seeing that they won’t make it to the Super Bowl, by definition can not beat them twice.
How are those predictions looking right about now? They were as off the mark as a Caron Wentz shot down field.
But here’s the real deal. Talent is beyond one’s control. Effort is not. At the end of the day your work ethic is the only thing you can control. So to come out uninspired, listless, lifeless, disinterested and apathetic about their jobs on Sunday night can only be characterized as a deep seeded, team-wide character flaw- a.k.a. an absolute disgrace.
The offensive line was caught standing around before plays were over, guys were over-pursuing opposing runners and then giving up on the play (see Orlando Scandrick on Tavon Austin in the first quarter and Brandon Graham on Zeke Elliott in the third quarter). We also saw receivers giving up on deep balls (see Nelson Agholor in the fourth quarter). Now as much as players need to be accountable for their own efforts, these problems stem from coaching or lack thereof. The lack of effort that we saw Sunday night in Dallas is either being coached or is being allowed in practice. Either answer is disconcerting.
Hold on it gets worse. After the game right tackle Lane Johnson said that everybody (his teammates) needs to be more accountable. He went on to imply that some of his teammates are showing up late for meetings and conducting themselves in other unprofessional ways. It’s really not hard to connect the dots as the Eagles’ play on the field reflects their lack of accountability in their preparation.
The Birds are careening out of control. They are still living off of their Super Bowl season. Or at least trying to. The truth is the Birds are just 13-12 (including playoffs) since the Super Bowl and Carson Wentz is just 8-10 since returning from his knee injury the following year.
But the only question we should be asking is this: Is this fixable? Head Coach Doug Pederson thinks so. At his day after press conference he cited a 10 game winning streak the Chiefs put together after starting the season 1-5 when he was the offensive coordinator there. The Colts did the same thing last year (where have you gone Frank Reich?). The truth is that there is precedent. There have been other teams that have pulled themselves together after an abysmal start. We don’t have to go back further than last year when the Eagles were left for dead at 6-7 with three games left. Nick Foles then saved the day and the franchise once again, but unfortunately he isn’t coming through that tunnel any time soon.
The Birds have lost their last two games by a total of 45 points, turned the ball over seven times and were embarrassed twice in eight days. I know there are nine games left but I’ve seen enough. The team is old, frail, and lacks heart, not a winning formula for success in the NFL.
I forgot to mention the quarterback. How careless of me. Yes, the quarterback and savior, Carson Wentz. Wentz is having an ok year statistically, although his numbers are well below his numbers of 2017. Three times this year he has thrown for under 200 yards and four times this year his completion percentage was under 60%. He’s on pace for about a 28 touchdown year. To put that in perspective, in 2017, in 13 games, Wentz threw 33 touchdown passes.
Individual statistics are nice but the only stat that really matters is wins and losses. In that 13 game stretch that I just mentioned, Wentz went 11-2. As I mentioned earlier, he’s just 8-10 since. Some would say that among the problems with this team right now, Wentz is not high on the list. Well, I beg to differ. He is the franchise quarterback. He is supposed to be the savior. But in the last two years he hasn’t saved anything.
A great quarterback is supposed to be a great eraser. He’s supposed to cover for the transgressions of his teammates. He elevates his play under duress. He digs his team out of holes and avoids them at all costs. He brings his team back in the fourth quarter and overtime to win games. Wentz has done very little of that this year. He hasn’t been that bad mind you, but he’s got to be better than that. He’s just not making enough big plays right now. He looks lost. He looks like a baseball player that takes the plate without any approach. He looks like he’s guessing. He looks like Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins in a major slump. And please don’t throw out the “DeSean Jackson is injured” excuse. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been missing his top receiver, Davante Adams for the last three weeks. In that time Green Bay has gone 3-0, including a 42-24 win over the Raiders this past Sunday, a game that saw Rodgers hang a perfect quarterback rating (158.3) on Oakland, with five touchdowns and no interceptions. His team is humming along right now at 6-1 rebounding nicely from that loss to the Eagles back on September 26.
There have been games that Wentz has played subpar football this year, but Sunday night’s debacle in Big D was perhaps, the worst of his career. Wentz was just 16/26 for 191 yards, one touchdown and, wait for it, three turnovers (two fumbles, one interception). Dallas turned two of
them into touchdowns. All told Wentz and his offense have put up a whopping 30 points in the last two games, well below their season average.
Combine Wentz’ ordinary play with a couple of very sloppy, heartless efforts the last two weeks by his teammates, and you have a football team in a state of disarray. Oh, did I mention they lack energy and juice too?
I also believe that where there’s smoke there’s fire and the anonymous rumblings coming out of the Eagles locker room the last two seasons, criticizing Wentz, is indicative of who this team really is. They are broken without a blueprint for reparation. They are fractured and not all are buying in. And now it appears that they’re starting to point fingers. They are a below average football team in a downward spiral. Many of their leaders from 2017 are gone, either out of football or with other teams and their real savior bolted for Jacksonville last year leaving behind a legacy that is almost unattainable for the next guy.
So who are the Eagles right now? They’re a former Super Bowl champion team that is under talented, overrated and heartless. My high school hockey coach, Bob Anderson, was a great motivator and one of the wisest men I’ve ever known. He left a motivational note in my locker the night before the playoffs began my senior year. It read, “Hard work will become talent if talent doesn’t work hard.” (Translation: you pretty much suck but if you work really really hard, you won’t suck as much). That same adage holds true at the NFL level. The Birds are bereft of talent but if they left it all on the field each week they’d give themselves a better chance to hang with the more talented teams, Unfortunately their effort the last two games pretty much matches their talent level and that’s a pretty bad combination for a projected Super Bowl contender (I still laugh every time I mention Super Bowl in the same sentence as the Eagles. I crack myself up).
So here we are. Nine games left in a weak division with really only one other challenger, the Cowboys. But do we care about a division title? Is that the bar around here these days? If it is that’s sad. For “the new norm” around here was supposed to mean title contention every year. Unfortunately, that “new norm” appears to be a cautionary tale at this point.