NFL starting jobs usually are won in training camp and the preseason. But Isaac Seumalo was named the Eagles’ season-opening starting left guard in July, before the first drop of summer sweat was spilled at the NovaCare Complex.
Given the fact that the Eagles had two veteran guards on their roster – Stefen Wisniewski and Chance Warmack – with a combined 131 NFL starts, it was curious that the Eagles were willing to just hand the job to Seumalo, a second-year player who showed some promise in four rookie starts at three different positions, but not enough to be handed a season-opening starting job on a silver platter.
Allen Barbre, another veteran who had been the team’s starting left guard the previous two seasons, was traded right before the start of training camp, making it pretty clear that the decision to promote Seumalo was fueled by executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman, and not head coach Doug Pederson or offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
Seumalo may end up being a pretty good player down the road. But the decision to not make him earn the starting job in July was just plain dumb.
And it backfired badly on the Eagles when the kid struggled in Week 1 against the Redskins and gave up four sacks in last week’s 27-20 loss to the Chiefs.
With an important need-to-win division game against the Giants coming up on Sunday, the Eagles made the right move in benching Seumalo this week. But the damage that the demotion almost certainly has caused to his psyche easily could’ve been avoided.
“I just don’t understand why they didn’t challenge him in the preseason,’’ said Brian Baldinger, an NFL offensive lineman for 11 years and now an analyst for NFL Network. “They just gave him the job. It made no sense.’’
Baldinger said the Eagles had no recourse but to sit Seumalo down.
“He’s been awful,’’ he said. “They need to fix that position now because he was a liability. The Chiefs lined [edge-rusher] Dee Ford up on him Sunday. They knew he was a weak link. When you give up four sacks in one game, I don’t even know how you’re allowed to finish the game.’’
Baldinger said the Giants almost certainly would have tried to exploit Seumalo Sunday if he had started. He suspects they would have put their best pass-rusher, defensive end Olivier Vernon, over the kid, and let him go to town in obvious passing situations.
“They put Olivier inside sometimes,’’ Baldinger said. “And if Isaac’s in there, I don’t know why they wouldn’t. He’d eat him alive. He’s the most skilled pass-rusher in the league right now. He’d kill him. Because the kid has no confidence.’’
The Eagles are trying to contend now, while also attempting to build a future Super Bowl contender with as large a window of opportunity as possible. That’s a difficult juggling act.
The front office views Seumalo as the eventual replacement at center for Jason Kelce, possibly as soon as next season. The thinking was that making 16 starts at left guard this season would give him invaluable game experience before sliding over to his right.
But when you’ve made the investment they’ve made in quarterback Carson Wentz, you damn well better make sure he’s ready before you put him out there.
“It doesn’t do your quarterback any good if he’s going to get skittish because he’s getting hit every play or has to run for his life,’’ Baldinger said.
“Look, Seumalo has a chance to be a good player. But he’s so raw. He’s not good at anything right now. He’s not good at any phase of the game.
“They were trying to grow him into a spot by putting him in between two veterans [Kelce and left tackle Jason Peters]. But it wasn’t working.
“Right now at least, both Warmack and Wisniewski are better players. They’ve got more experience. They both played well in the preseason. I just don’t understand why they didn’t just create competition and give the job to the best guy.’’
One thing needs to be mentioned here. Seumalo wasn’t the only Eagles offensive lineman who didn’t play well in the first two games. Right tackle Lane Johnson hasn’t been the dominant force he’s been in the past. Peters, who looks like he weighs at least 350 pounds, doesn’t have the agility he once had, which isn’t surprising given that he’s 35.
Kelce is good in space and getting to the second level and sifting through traffic inside. But he’s undersized and always is going to struggle with big-bodied defensive tackles. He was in position to help Seumalo on one of the sacks of Wentz Sunday, but couldn’t get it done.
FIXING THE SCREEN
Once upon a time, back when Brian Westbrook roamed the Linc, the Eagles had the best screen game in the NFL.
Not so much right now. Most of the five screens the Eagles ran Sunday against the Chiefs looked like something out of one of those old Keystone Cops comedies.
Carson Wentz completed just two of his five screen attempts, and one of them, to Wendell Smallwood, lost 3 yards. He also threw an interception when he tried to throw the ball away after Darren Sproles tripped over center Jason Kelce’s leg, but his pass ricocheted off the helmet of a Chiefs defender and into the hands of defensive end Chris Jones.
“Timing and execution are everything when it comes to the screen game,’’ head coach Doug Pederson said. “We’ve just got to continue to work it. We’ve got to get better at it. It’s a big part of our game.’’
On the first screen the Eagles ran Sunday, Seumalo missed a block on Chiefs linebacker Ramik Wilson, who tackled Smallwood behind the line of scrimmage.
On the second, an incompletion to Smallwood, the line screwed up its blocking assignments and two Chiefs were in Wentz’s face before he had an opportunity to get the ball to Smallwood.
The third one, on a first-and-10 midway through the third quarter, was the only one that worked. Right tackle Lane Johnson and right guard Brandon Brooks made nice blocks that allowed Sproles to get outside and gain 14 yards.
The fourth was the interception. On the fifth, Seumalo failed to hold up defensive end Allen Bailey before releasing, and Bailey stormed in and forced a poor throw by Wentz.
“Screen’s are really hard to practice,’’ Baldinger said. “So much of it is timing. They always release too soon now. You have to hold these guys up for a second. You can’t just give free runners to Carson.
“People say it’s all on Carson. But if he’s seeing a guy coming right at him, he doesn’t have time to set it up. He has to start bailing just to buy time.’’
You can rest assured that the Eagles are spending a considerable amount of time this week trying to fix the screen game.
“The screen game’s been really vital to us the last few seasons,’’ Johnson said. “We’ve been really good at it. So it’s something we need to improve on and work on. I know it didn’t look like it on Sunday, but we’re not far off. It’s really about the timing.
Brooks said there were a couple of other problems Sunday, including, “certain things going on in the middle of the screen, us not getting to the landmarks we need to get to, us not seeing whether the defense is in man or zone, or [figuring out] the guy we’re supposed to be going to [block], where he’s coming from. Things like that.’’
Much like Johnson, though, Brooks feels fairly confident the Eagles will iron out the wrinkles.
“We’re not really stressed about it,’’ he said. “It’s early in the season. We have confidence in ourselves up front. We’ll get it right.’’
FIGURING THE EAGLES
–Tight end Zach Ertz has been targeted 18 times in the first two games and has a team-high 13 receptions. Eleven of those catches have resulted in first downs. He’s tied for the league lead with the Steelers’ Antonio Brown in first-down catches. Last year, Ertz had 42 first downs on 78 catches.
–Thirteen of Carson Wentz’s 18 passes to Ertz have been throws of 0 to 10 yards. A breakdown by distance of Wentz’s pass attempts in the first two games and who he’s thrown them to (targets-receptions-yards):
–The Eagles have averaged a troubling 9.70 yards to go on second down in their first two games. That’s the second highest figure in the league. Only Buffalo is averaging more (9.82). Twenty-four of the Eagles’ 40 second-down situations have been 10 yards or more. Another six have been 7-9 yards. Carson Wentz is 31st in passing on second down. He’s completed just 12 of 26 passes for 141 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
–Six of the Eagles’ eight sacks have come with a four-man rush. The other two have come on blitzes, one with a five-man rush, the other with six rushers. After blitzing on 13 of 44 pass plays (29.5%) against the Redskins in Week 1, the Eagles blitzed on just five of 32 pass plays (15.6%) against the Chiefs.
–Wentz, who attempted six passes of 20 or more yards in Week 1 (one completion), attempted nine Sunday against the Chiefs. He completed only two, but two others were drops by Torrey Smith. Wentz is on pace for 128 attempts of 20 or more yards. Last year, he had 67.
–Five of the Eagles’ 12 possessions against the Redskins in Week 1 started at their 40-yard line or better. Against the Chiefs, it was just one of 11. And that came via an onside kick at the end of the game. The Eagles’ average drive start against the Redskins was the 31.7 yard line. Against the Chiefs, it was the 26.1.
–The Eagles have scored on their first possession in both of their first two games. They outscored their first two opponents, 10-3 in the first quarter, but have been outscored in the second quarter, 17-9.
–The Giants have scored just one touchdown in 22 possessions in their first two games. The Eagles have four in 23 possessions.
–The Eagles have used “11’’ personnel (1RB-1TE-3WRs) 63.4 percent of the time in their first two games. Wentz has completed just 53.8 percent of his pass attempts (28-for-52) with “11’’ personnel. His completion percentage last year with “11’’ personnel was 64.1. A look at Wentz’s passing numbers in the first two games by personnel package:
THIS AND THAT
–Don’t look for the Eagles to blitz much Sunday. In their two games against Eli Manning and the Giants last year, Jim Schwartz called just seven blitzes on 100 pass plays. Schwartz said Manning was calling just about everything from the line of scrimmage and using a lot of spread, three-wide-receiver sets. “In order for you to blitz, you’ve got to declare, and he would change the play with 5 seconds left on the play clock,’’ Schwartz said.
–The Eagles’ corners played a lot of off-coverage last week against the Chiefs, focusing on keeping Kansas City’s receivers in front of them and then trying to limit their yards after the catch with sure tackling. On the few occasions they did get up in a receiver’s face, it usually didn’t end well. For example, late in the game when wide receiver Chris Conley blew by Jalen Mills for a 35-yard catch that set up the Chiefs’ final TD. They’ll probably continue with an off-coverage strategy, at least until they get Ronald Darby back from his dislocated ankle. “We can go play a second down-and-3,’’ Schwartz said. “It’s hard when it’s a 40-yard chunk or a 50-yard chunk, and it’s either a touchdown or the ball is in the red zone.’’
FROM THE LIP
– “I think it’s well known … they don’t have a lot of confidence in their quarterback situation. They’re relying on the run game, and they’re relying on possession passing and taking the ball out of his [hands], preventing him from losing the game.’’ – Titans CB Logan Ryan on Jaguars QB Blake Bortles
– “I can understand why [people would think that] when, ironically, we’ve got the Zeke issue at the same time that we’re looking at extending Roger’s contract. I see that. But every day I deal with conflicts of interest and the commissioner deals with them every day. You just have to get used to that. You look at the issue as the issue.’’ – Cowboys owners Jerry Jones on his involvement in negotiating a contract extension with Goodell at the same time his star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, is battling Goodell and the league in court over a six-game domestic-violence suspension
– “I didn’t like the way he quit today. I didn’t like that. He absolutely quit on his team today.’’ – Hall of Fame RB and NFL Network analyst LaDainian Tomlinson on the Cowboys’ Elliott after Sunday’s 42-17 loss to the Broncos in which Elliott rushed for eight yards on nine carries
BY THE NUMBERS
– For the fourth time in the last five years, the Giants have started 0-2. The last time they started 0-3 was 2013, when they lost their first six games and finished 7-9.
– Tom Brady notched his 52nd career game with at least three touchdown passes and no interceptions in last week’s 36-20 win over New Orleans. That pushed him past Peyton Manning for the most three-TD, zero-INT games.
– Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw two TD passes in the Steelers’ 26-9 home win over the Vikings last week. He’s now thrown a TD pass in 45 straight home games. Only Drew Brees (60) and Brady (47) have longer streaks.
– The Ravens have forced five turnovers in back-to-back games for the first time in team history. They are just the third team since 1970 and first since the ’92 Steelers to intercept four or more passes in each of the first two games.