Five observations from the Eagles’ 27-20 loss to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. . .
1. Playmakers: There is no column in the standings for moral victories, but this was a commendable effort. In one of the toughest road environments in the NFL, against one of its best defenses, with a toilet-paper-thin secondary, the Eagles came within a couple of mistakes of backing the Chiefs against the ropes. The talent disparity at the skill positions was glaring. In the end, the Chiefs’ playmakers made plays, and the Eagles’ playmakers didn’t. In Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt Kansas City had a trio of players who had game-breaking ability. Carson Wentz said earlier this week that, in the end, the game would come down to players making plays. He was right.
2. Defense: For the second straight week, Jim Schwartz’s defense exceeded expectations. No doubt, there were some breakdowns, most notably on Hunt’s 53-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, when Corey Graham looked like a center fielder who misplayed a fly ball, taking a bad angle on his initial read that he was unable to recover from. The misread turned a big play into a potential gamebreaker that quickly wiped out the Eagles’ first touchdown of the game. Chris Conley beat Jalen Mills way too easily for a 35-yard deep fade that gave the Chiefs a first down at the Eagles 21-yard-line with 4:36 remaining, dramatically hampering their comeback bid.
Yet consider the circumstances. Graham, a late signee this summer, was playing free safety thanks in part to the absence of starting safety Rodney McLeod, who left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury. Back-up safety Jaylen Watkins, had also departed the game with a hamstring injury, while No. 1 cornerback Ronald Darby was inactive due to the dislocated ankle he suffered in the Eagles’ Week 1 win over the Redskins. Along with Graham and veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles’ secondary featured Rasul Douglas, a rookie third-round pick who was inactive in Week 1, veteran journeyman Patrick Robinson, and Mills.
On one of Douglas’ first snaps as an NFL player, he found himself lined up on the outside opposite Tyreek Hill, the speedy Chiefs receiver who went for 133 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots in Week 1. Hill had already toasted Watkins in the first quarter for what would have been a a deep touchdown catch had Alex Smith’s throw not sailed over his outstretched hands in the end zone. Douglas, whose imposing frame could not mask his lack of foot speed during the summer, was forced into action after the hamstring injuries to Watkins McLeod trimmed two bodies from an already thin secondary. In that moment, the Eagles were staring down the barrel of a potential disaster. Instead, they stepped up to keep the Eagles in position to threaten at the end.
Still, the Chiefs did most of their damage on a handful of big plays, including a remarkable 20-yard run-and-jump by Travis Kelce after a shovel pass for a touchdown that gave Kansas City its 20-13 lead with 6:25 remaining in the fourth quarter. That play only happened thanks to an earlier scramble by Alex Smith to avoid heavy third down pressure by Vinny Curry and grind out a first down.
The defensive line never allowed Smith to get into a rhythm the way he did against New England the week before. They sacked hi five times, and pressured him numerous others. On third down on the Chiefs’ second possession, a blitz by Nigel Bradham and pressure from Derrick Barnett off the right edge forced a scrambling throw away by Smith and then a pooch punt that went for a touchback. Brandon Graham brought pressure from the edge and then combined on a sack wtih Tim Jernigan for a loss of six on the first play after the fumble. Graham continues to make plays that don’t show up as much on the stat sheet. Witness the route he took to track down Kareem Hunt from behind on an outside zone to the opposite side of the formation.
The secondary had its moments: Fletcher Cox’s sack of Smith on third down with 1:21 remaining in the first half came after the Chiefs quarterback was unable to find anybody open downfield. In the end, though, the breakdowns were there.
3. The good, the bad, and the rookie: Through three quarters, this was unquestionably one of Wentz’s finest performance — perhaps the finest performance — of his young career. In the pocket, he was poised, strong, confident. Outside of it, he was decisive and in control. His arm strength was on display throughout the game, whether he was lacing a 22-yard throw to Torrey Smith on the Eagles first drive to help set up a Jake Elliott field goal or hitting Darren Sproles in stride designed swing pass for a gain of 16 on the Eagles second possession. He was as accurate as he has been in his 18 starts, and he showed a nice feel for some of his craft’s subtler aspects, including an impressive third-down back-shoulder throw to Smith that allowed the veteran receiver to come down with a first down reception over Philip Gaines and set the Eagles up on the Chiefs’ 45-yard-line early in the second half. One of Wentz’s biggest plays came via his legs, on a 3rd-and-long early in the fourth quarter, when he recognized a running lane to his left and took off for a 13-yard gain that featured him diving across the first down marker near the sidelines to set the Eagles up at the Chiefs 47-yard-line.
Wentz didn’t make many mistakes, but he did make a huge one, making a panicky throw of a screen pass that hit Chiefs defender Justin Houston in the helmet and caromed into the air for an easy interception by Chris Jones, setting the Chiefs up with a first down at the Eagles’ 31-yard-line with about eight minutes left and the game tied at 13-13.
With one notable exception, Wentz didn’t get a ton of help from his receivers. There was a play late in the second quarter where Wentz bought himself some time while rolling out and lofted a pass to Smith, who slipped behind Daniel Sorenson and had an open look at a jump ball but failed to come down with it 30 yards down the field. On the next play, Wentz made a nice throw to Nelson Agholor in tight coverage over the middle, but the receiver did not win the battle for the ball in traffic. On the Eagles’ first drive of the second half, Jeffery couldn’t make a tough catch of a high throw over tight coverage on third down, stalling the Eagles in Chiefs territory.
4. Where’s the run: Just three weeks ago, Doug Pederosn was insisting that LeGarrette Blount would be a big part of the Eagles offense, and that his unimpressive showing in training camp and the preseason was no cause for concern. Against the Chiefs, Blount got zero carries, and Pederson called just 13 running plays for his running backs, with a pass-to-run ratio of more than three-to-one. Darren Sproles handled the majority of the backfield duties, carrying 10 times for 48 yards and catching another two passes for 30 yards. You can certainly make an argument that the running games of the two teams were one of the major differences in the game: Chiefs rookie Kareem Hunt carried 13 times for 82 yards and two touchdowns, and was at his best in the second half, when the stakes were highest. The Eagles, meanwhile, were pretty much one dimensional throughout the final two quarters of action.
5. Offensive line: Wentz was sacked six times and faced plenty of pressure from the interior of his offensive line. The Eagles second drive stalled when Chris Jones brought pressure on the interior and sacked Wentz for a loss of six yards, which was followed by an excellent play by Justin Houston to shed a block by Jason Peters and wrap up Sproles for a loss of three, setting up a 3rd-and-18 from the Chiefs 29-yard-line. Dee Ford destroyed Isaac Seumaulo with a swim move to sack Wentz with just over two minutes remaining in the second quarter to force an Eagles punt. Seumalo allowed two sacks and was flagged for a false start. It has not been a good start to the season for the second-year player, who was handed a starting job early in training camp.