PLAYING LIKE A ROOKIE
When the Eagles traded Sam Bradford to the Vikings eight days before the start of the season and made rookie Carson Wentz their starting quarterback, they basically acknowledged that this season was going to be a rebuilding year.
By turning over the controls of the offense to a rookie who had missed all but one preseason game with a rib injury, they knew they probably were going to lose some games they might’ve won if they had hung on to Bradford. And they were OK with that.
Sunday was one of those games. Wentz went out and threw two interceptions before the national anthem was over.
Two of his first three passes sailed on him and were picked off by the Giants deep in Eagles territory and cashed in for touchdowns that put them in an early 14-0 hole.
His accuracy and decision-making were on the fritz much of the game against Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. He completed just four of 11 third-down passes, and only one of those four completions resulted in a first down.
With the game still within reach, the Eagles started their last three offensive drives at their own 40, the Giants 47 and the Giants 34. Wentz was 3-for-11 on those final three drives.
He had Jordan Matthews open on that final fourth-and-10 throw in the end zone. It wasn’t an easy throw. But it’s one most NFL quarterbacks, including Bradford, make consistently.
It’s one the Eagles hope Wentz will make consistently in the future. But not Sunday. His pass was too far outside for Matthews to catch.
CASE OF THE AGGRESSIVE PLAYCALLER
Field goals? Field goals? Doug Pederson don’t need no stinkin’ field goals.
In his never-ending quest to win the minds and hearts of his players, Pederson has been aggressive with his fourth-and-short decisions this season.
The Eagles had gone for it on fourth down five times in the first seven games and had converted all five. The only other team in the league that still was batting 1.000 on fourth down going into Sunday was the 6-1 Cowboys.
But in the words of Kenny Rogers, you gotta know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold em. Pederson pushed his fourth-down luck twice in the second quarter against the Giants, going for it on fourth-and-2 at the New York 23, and again three possessions later on a fourth-and-1 at the NY 6. They trailed by 11 both times. Both times, they failed to convert and ended up with no points.
On the first one, Pederson tried to get Wentz to the left perimeter. The play never had a chance and the rookie quarterback was nailed for a four-yard loss by a cast of thousands.
On the second one, the Eagles went with a power set that included two tight ends and offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo as a fullback lead for Darren Sproles.
But right guard Brandon Brooks failed to get push on Giants defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and the play fell apart. Sproles was stopped for no gain.
So, the Eagles ended up with no points out of those possessions instead of the six they could have had if Pederson had sent in his red-hot kicker Caleb Sturgis for 41- and 24-yard field goal attempts.
To borrow Andy Reid’s famous line about two David Akers field goal misses in a five-point playoff loss to the Packers, do the math. Two Sturgis field goals could’ve turned a five-point loss into a one-point victory.
Even if he missed one of them, the Eagles still could’ve won it at the end on a Sturgis field goal after Jordan Hicks’ interception and Wentz’s 17-yard completion to Nelson Agholor gave the Eagles the ball at the Giants 17.
THIRD-DOWN BLUES, AGAIN
Same song, different verse. Third down has been a thorn in the side of the Eagles’ offense all season long. It’s their biggest problem.
They converted a measly three of 15 third-down attempts Sunday against the Giants, dropping them another slot closer to the bottom of the league in third-down efficiency. They’re now 30th, ahead of only Baltimore and Jacksonville.
It probably should be noted that both the Ravens and Jaguars have fired their offensive coordinators. But Frank Reich can rest easy since his boss, Doug Pederson, is the team’s offensive playcaller.
Anyway, nine of those 15 third-down situations against the Giants were eight yards or more. They were 0-for-9 on them. For the season, 55 of the Eagles’ 104 third-down situations, or more than half, have been eight yards or more.
The Eagles’ three successful third-down conversions Sunday came on a third-and-3 and two third-and-ones. Trouble is, they’ve had a league-low 15 third downs of three yards or less all season.
Wentz completed just four of 11 third-down attempts Sunday. One of his two interceptions came on third down. Just one of his four third-down completions resulted in a first down. That makes 23 for the entire season. Just two teams – San Francisco (16) and Jacksonville (21) – have thrown for fewer first downs on third down.
After giving up a franchise-record 36 touchdown passes last season, the Eagles were the last team in the league to give one up this year.
That and $50 or your first-born will get you a mocha latte at Starbucks. And given that they gave up four touchdown passes to Eli Manning and the Giants Sunday, and gave up a total of 12 in their last five games, it’s not the least bit significant now.
The disconcerting thing about the TD passes they gave up Sunday was that three of them were big plays – a 26-yarder to Odell Beckham Jr. on a slant that included a missed tackle by safety Rodney McLeod, a 30-yard post to a wide-open Roger Lewis Jr. in which cornerback Leodis McKelvin and safety Jaylen Watkins collided, and a 32-yarder to equally wide-open rookie Sterling Shepard.
The positive news is the defense regrouped and held Manning to seven completions in 14 attempts in the second half, and unlike the Dallas game a week earlier, made some plays at the end – interceptions by Nolan Carroll and Jordan Hicks - that actually gave the Eagles a chance to win the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS BREAKDOWN
Dave Fipp’s special teams have had a terrific year. But they committed a costly blunder late in the second quarter Sunday.
After an Eagles drive stalled at the Giants 22, Doug Pederson managed to curb his fourth-down appetite and sent in his reliable kicker, Caleb Sturgis to boot a 40-yard field goal that would make it an eight-point game going into the half.
Sturgis had made 18 field goal attempts in a row since a 46-yard Week 1 miss. The Eagles hadn’t had a field goal attempt blocked since 2010.
But both of those streaks ended when Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul busted through the right side of the Eagles’ protection, where Stefen Wisniewski, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Beau Allen were stationed, and blocked the kick.
Even with Pederson’s decision to pass twice on field goal attempts on fourth down, if the Eagles had kept Pierre-Paul out and Sturgis had made that kick, they would have been within a field goal of winning the game at the end and wouldn’t have had to go for it on fourth-and-10.