KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Two games in, it would be foolhardy to make definitive statements about the Eagles. But their defense has looked good, especially the pass rush, and their offense has not, particularly on the ground, and that could be a season-long narrative for a team still finding its way.
As well as the Eagles played for almost three and half quarters against the Chiefs, they couldn’t sustain some of their shortcomings against a team that is believed to be in the NFL’s top tier.
A young quarterback, who has been asked to shoulder the load on offense partly because of a stagnant running game, threw a fourth-quarter interception. And a defense that had allowed just 13 points until that point cracked against a Chiefs offense that had posted 42 points on the defending Super Bowl champions 10 days earlier.
“The takeaway is you are right there,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said after the Eagles lost, 27-20, at Arrowhead Stadium. “The team that lit the scoreboard up in Week 1 up in New England — to come back and keep them tied and keep them held down for three quarters.
“The takeaway is offensively we have to address our own needs and the way we are playing. That starts with me as a play caller.”
Pederson, of course, must wear some of the defeat. The run-pass play disparity — 13 called rushes to 56 drops — was egregious. But how much of his reluctance to hand the ball off had to do with personnel? The running game deficiencies are as much a front office issue as they are coaching.
Does the normally reliable Darren Sproles fumble a punt if he isn’t being asked to carry the ball more than usual? And does Carson Wentz, who otherwise had another solid outing, toss a deflected interception if he isn’t being asked to throw 56 times a game?
Jim Schwartz’s defense wasn’t perfect. Vinny Curry’s missed sack of Alex Smith was specifically costly. But how many times can the unit be asked to hold after the Eagles special teams or offense turns the ball over in their own territory? According to Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, as many times as it takes.
“I think we need to step up to the challenge even with those turnovers,” Jenkins said. “If we don’t give up that big run for a touchdown and we hold them to field goals, we give ourselves an opportunity to keep competing. And it becomes a more manageable game.”
Kareem Hunt’s 53-yard burst through the middle of the defense in the third quarter was a deflating blow. The Eagles had just taken their only lead after Alshon Jeffery’s 16-yard touchdown catch.
But the defense, which had allowed just 10 points to the Redskins last week, and scored seven of its own, had been mostly stout until Wentz’s turnover. It forced a field goal after Sproles’ fumble on the Eagles 24, thanks in part to Brandon Graham and Tim Jernigan’s combo sack on first down.
And they thwarted Andy Reid’s game plan and flummoxed quarterback Alex Smith for long stretches. Schwartz blitzed early to moderate success and then leaned on his line in the first half. The Eagles had three sacks at the break.
The defense also survived two more losses in the secondary. Already down starting cornerback Ronald Darby, the Eagles lost replacement Jaylen Watkins and safety Rodney McLeod to hamstring strains. Rookie Rasul Douglas stepped in without missing a beat and Corey Graham held his own until the Hunt bolt.
The Eagles held the Chiefs rookie tailback to just 8 yards on seven carries until he found a crease in the second unit defensive line and shook Graham at the second level.
“It was a quick hitter and they kind of got us on our heels,” Jenkins said, “and we didn’t fit the run right and it split the defense.”
But the defense forced a three-and-out on the Chiefs’ next possession. And with the score knotted, 13-13, with nine minutes and 23 seconds left in the game, Wentz’s attempt to throw an ill-fated screen pass at Sproles’ feet hit linebacker Justin Houston in the helmet and ricocheted to defensive end Chris Jones at the Eagles 31.
The Chiefs faced third and 4. A stop would have netted a long field goal, at the most. Curry beat left tackle Eric Fisher with an inside move and had Smith dead to rights. But he couldn’t bring him down and the elusive quarterback scrambled 5 yards for a first down.
“I had him. He just broke loose,” Curry said. “If we play again, he won’t break loose.”
Two plays later, Smith flipped a shovel pass to Travis Kelce and the tight end rambled and powered into the end zone with a leap.
“They got jet sweep this way, and they come back with a run this way, then run the shovel pass,” Jenkins said of the Chiefs’ misdirection. “That’s tough. They get your eyes all over the place.”
Schwartz can scheme as well as most defensive coordinators. And he has horses, especially up front. But his unit is not quite there in terms of winning games on its own. He’ll likely point out the lack of forced turnovers. The Chiefs countered the one-gap rush after the break with quick screens and misdirection.
And Schwartz’s group failed to deliver in big spots down the stretch, even if it was asked one too many times to answer for the mistakes of the other units. But no one seems to be pointing any fingers.
“Everybody kind of contributed one or two plays here and there that collectively against a good team on the road, we just couldn’t come back from,” Jenkins said. “We get one of those plays and the game is obviously a lot closer.”
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