Domowitch: Poor depth at wideout tied Eagles' hands

WHATEVER Doug Pederson's plan was going to be for Nelson Agholor Monday night, the wide receiver was prepared to deal with it.

If the struggling wide receiver was told to take the night off and watch the game in street clothes, he was OK with that.

If he was told to suit up but ended up spending the entire game on the bench, he was OK with that, too.

"He's put me in a situation where I have to react," Agholor said late last week. "My plan is to react in the right way."

In the end, Pederson decided to deactivate the 2015 first-round pick and go with four wide receivers - Jordan Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham, Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner, who was signed off the practice squad last week.

Given how poorly Agholor has been playing this season - he has only 27 catches, is averaging 9.8 yards per catch, had three drops in the previous four games and cost the Eagles a touchdown last week when he lined up improperly - it didn't seem a like a very big deal.

But when Matthews injured his right ankle late in the second quarter, Pederson's decision to sit Agholor suddenly left the Eagles with only three wideouts.

Keep in mind, this is a team that had used three-wide-receiver sets on 65.3 percent of the Eagles' offensive plays in the first 10 games. With Matthews, their leading receiver, out, that left two rookies - Treggs and Turner - and a raw second-year guy - Green-Beckham - who might as well be a rookie.

Even before Matthews got hurt, Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich decided they would use a lot of two- and three-tight-end sets against the Packers.

Their first play of the game was a 9-yard pass from Carson Wentz to tight end Trey Burton with "13" personnel: one running back, three tight ends and one wide receiver. Their only touchdown of the game, a 1-yard run by Wentz on what started out as a pass play, also came out of a three-tight-end formation.

The Eagles ended up using two- and three-tight-end sets on nearly half of their offensive plays in the first half of a game they would lose, 27-13.

The Packers came into the game with one of the worst pass defenses in the league. They were 31st in opponent passer rating (105.5), 32nd in yards allowed per attempt (8.6) and tied for 27th in touchdown passes given up (22).

In their previous four games, they had a 127.3 opponent passer rating and a 9.6 yards allowed per attempt average and had given up 12 touchdown passes.

Wentz completed 24 of 36 passes for 254 yards, but failed to throw a touchdown pass for the third time in the last four games and had a costly third-quarter interception that killed a promising drive.

Wentz had tight end Zach Ertz open in the middle of the field, but his throw sailed on him, and went right into the hands of safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

Without Matthews for much of the final 33 minutes of the game, the Eagles really never could get their passing game in gear. It didn't help that the Eagles' defense couldn't find a way to get Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense off the field.

Rodgers completed 30 of 39 passes for 313 yards. The Packers converted 10 of 14 third-down opportunities, including six of seven in the first half, and controlled the ball for nearly 35 1/2 minutes.

"It's frustrating when you feel you always have to play with a sense of urgency because you feel like you have to score every time you have the ball," Ertz said.

"The Packers have a great offense. We knew that going in. We knew we were going to have to score some points. But we didn't score enough. We just couldn't find a rhythm. That was the bottom line."

Ertz, who had been targeted 30 times in the previous four games and had 24 catches, had only three catches for 36 yards against the Packers.

"We seemed to be facing third-and-a-thousand out there at times," Ertz said. "Anytime you're in third-and-10-plus, the playbook is extremely limited. You're going to be in chip protection with a tight end in the back(field) a lot of the time.

"We just didn't execute. I thought we did pretty well in the run game. But when you fall behind by 10 points, it's pretty tough to keep running it. You have to open the game up a little bit."

Wentz went to Green-Beckham several times early on. He caught four passes for 53 yards on the Eagles' first possession - an impressive 11-play, 81-yard touchdown drive that ended with Wentz diving into the end zone for his first NFL rushing touchdown. But the 6-5 wideout would catch only two more passes the rest of the game.

It clearly was frustrating for the Eagles' offense to spend so much time on the sideline Monday night while Rodgers and the Packers controlled the football against the defense.

"We didn't have a lot of opportunities," Green-Beckham said. "But that's no excuse. We have to figure out a way to win. We have to execute better than we did tonight. Play better as a team."

It's unclear what Pederson's plan is for Agholor going forward. Given Monday's loss, which pretty much makes the playoffs a pipe dream, there really is no point in keeping him on the bench or in street clothes. In all likelihood, he'll be back on the field next week when the 5-6 Eagles travel to Cincinnati to play the 3-7-1 Bengals.

"It's something he's going to need to play through," Mike Quick, the Eagles' longtime radio analyst and a five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver said last week. "He just needs to be able to play through it to where he's catching the ball and has his confidence back."

Said Ertz: "It's out of my control, obviously. I think Nelson is going to take it as a learning experience. I think that's the only way you can look at it if you're Nelson. I'm looking forward to seeing how he reacts this week in practice and I expect him to rebound in a positive way."

"We could've used him," Green-Beckham said. "We don't have too many receivers. And then we lost Jordan. We have to be critical on ourselves and just eliminate mistakes and know every position."


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@Pdomo Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog

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