One of the truest things said in the postgame visitors locker room Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium came from Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.
“You can’t win on third and long in this league,” Ertz said.
In Week 1, the Eagles kind of did that, converting eight of 14 third downs overall, five of nine from 7 or more yards. In Week 2, they again came out well overall, converting eight of 15 third downs, including five of the 12 times they were in third and 7-plus. But three of those long conversions came late in the game when the Chiefs were backing off, protecting a 14-point lead.
So through two games, that’s 21 times in third and 7-plus, 10 conversions. Probably not a sustainable rate. And just too much time spent “behind the chains,” as Doug Pederson likes to say.
“The obvious answer is just be more productive on first and second down. Avoid penalties, avoid negative plays,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Tuesday. Reich noted that on Monday night, the Lions somehow smashed the Giants despite an inordinate amount of third-and-longs — there are going to be times when it develops that way — but overall, “we’ve got to find a way to stay out of third and long.”
Eagles fans are raising their hands en masse right now, in Mr. Reich’s imaginary classroom. Let’s just choose one at random: Yes, you in front, wearing the Kelly green Wilbert Montgomery jersey? Ah. Your answer is “run the ball.” Well, Mr. Reich and principal Pederson have both spoken on that subject over the last few days. The upshot is, they agree that would be a lovely thing to do, here and there, but that isn’t what really excites them.
“I think it was just the way the game played out. … We schemed some things up in the pass game and hit a few things early on a few chunk plays that we felt good about,” Reich said.
He said the final figure of 56 called passes and 13 called runs was skewed by the way the Eagles had to go completely to the pass after falling behind by 14 in the final quarter.
“As a play caller, you’re calling what you think is going to get the team down the field,” he said.
“I think every play caller, every offensive coaching staff goes in and says, ‘We have to be patient with the running game,’ ” Reich said. “It’s like a boxing match. You get hit a few times, you get in the middle of a fight, and you’re trying to win the fight, and … you’re dialing up what you think is the knockout blow or … the play that you think will give you the best chance for success.
“ And yeah, is there a balance of, you want to keep calling runs even when they don’t always work? Yes. But that has an asterisk next to it. The overriding factor as the play caller is you’re doing what you think is best for the team to win the game.”
Basically, we seem to be in familiar territory, listening to the same reasoning we once heard from Pederson’s mentor, Andy Reid. Reid’s Chiefs are 2-0, and excluding that 53-yard Kareem Hunt touchdown gallop through a hole in Jim Schwartz’s defense that Schwartz declined to explain Tuesday, Kansas City ran 18 times for 59 yards.
If we ignore the running question and stick with Reich’s larger point about penalties and negative plays causing third and longs, that brings us to the offensive line and Isaac Seumalo, who took a false-start penalty and seemed to have a hand in allowing four of the sacks. Reich indicated that replacing the second-year left guard with a more experienced player isn’t on the horizon, yet.
“When you see an individual get beat once or twice in a game, you don’t like it, but it happens to literally everybody who suits up and goes out there and plays. Now, if that happens over five, six, seven games, then it becomes a problem and you evaluate it,” Reich said. “When it happens in one game, you say ‘OK. We take note of it. But we have a lot of confidence, we’ve been working hard, we believe in our guys.’ Whether it’s Isaac or whether it’s another guy, it happens in this league. We fight to get better. And then you evaluate over the long haul. “
Reich resisted pointing to Seumalo as the main blocking problem.
“We talk about pass protection as an offensive unit. It involves all of us — the quarterback, [interior] offensive line, tight end and tackles,” he said. “So when you go in a game and you have six sacks, internally, we’re not looking to point the finger, we’re looking at … ‘Did we help ’em enough? Did we put ’em in the right protection scheme?’ … So, although that gets evaluated on an individual basis, in the position rooms, I can tell you, usually when you have six sacks, it’s not one guy.”
Seumalo, a third-round pick in 2016, the first player the Eagles drafted after Wentz, was declared the starting left guard going into training camp. The Eagles traded veteran Allen Barbre to Denver as camp opened.
“Isaac had showed a lot of progress in a lot of ways. Isaac is a versatile, smart player who we’re very high on. He had earned the right to kind of get put in that position, and we’re just proceeding with that,” Reich said when asked why Seumalo didn’t have to compete for the job.
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