Right now, the Eagles are a good football team. There’s your big takeaway. Metaphorically, at least.
It’s easy to dwell on the negative after a loss like the one they suffered to the Chiefs on Sunday afternoon. Like, for instance, the actual takeaways. Carson Wentz was asked twice what happened on the turnover that tilted the game for good, and both times his tone told you more than his words. He made the kind of mistake that a human being will often make when confronted with a situation he has never before experienced. In this case, it was a screen pass that was dead on arrival, his intended receiver lost in a moving pile of bodies, the pass rush bearing down. He made a panicky throw and did not execute it particularly well, and from there transpired the outcome the Eagles could least afford. The ball bounced off a red helmet, into the arms of a red jersey, and, just like that, the probabilities turned.
“I was more or less just trying to throw it away,” Wentz said.
But a mistake doesn’t become a problem until it happens again, and Wentz’s tone suggested it won’t. Once you take that into consideration, there isn’t much about the Eagles’ performance that suggests they don’t currently reside at the extreme positive end of the spectrum of where they possibly could be heading into Week 3.
No, they can’t run the ball. We already knew that, though. They’re perilously thin in the secondary. But, again, how is that new? If anything, the first couple of weeks have sown some doubt about whether we accurately estimated the potential impact of their two biggest Achilles’ heels. The secondary, in particular, has been a revelation. Maybe not of its own accord … turns out, it’s a lot easier to cover receivers downfield when the quarterback is forced to give up on them before they’re ready. Through two games, the Eagles’ front four has been as advertised, especially the two guys in the middle. Tim Jernigan looks to be playing even better than the Eagles’ most optimistic hopes. Fletcher Cox is Fletcher Cox. For the majority of this game, four of the Eagles’ five defensive backs in their nickel scheme were guys making a combined $3.5 million this season. One was a rookie playing in his first game: On one of his first snaps, Rasul Douglas lined up opposite Tyreek Hill, the speedy Chiefs receiver who went for 133 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots in Week 1. Hill had already toasted Watkins in the first quarter for what would have been a deep touchdown catch had Alex Smith’s throw not sailed over his outstretched hands in the end zone. Douglas, whose imposing frame could not mask his lack of foot speed during the summer, was forced into action after the hamstring injuries to Watkins and McLeod trimmed two bodies from an already thin secondary. In that moment, the Eagles were staring down the barrel of a potential disaster.
“Your eyes,” Douglas said. “You’ve got to be good with your eyes, because at any moment he can just take the top off.”
These eyes say Douglas was as good as he needed to be. There’s no guarantee that will continue to be the case, of course. The Eagles’ pass rush started strong last year. This year, though, their performances have come against two of the better offensive lines in the National Football League. On Sunday, they sacked Alex Smith four times and pressured him numerous others. Jim Schwartz’s blitz and coverage schemes left the veteran game manager visibly confused on several occasions. Maybe that won’t always be the case. Things change fast in the National Football League. They say a coach doesn’t even know his team until October. The Eagles started 3-0 last year. They blew out a Steelers team that ended its season in the AFC Championship Game. It was early last season, and it is early now.
Still, the Eagles looked like a better team in this loss to the Chiefs than they did in last year’s wins over the Browns and the Bears.
Make no mistake, they were outmanned. They lost to a better team. The Chiefs had three legitimate playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, and the Eagles didn’t have one. Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith are upgrades over the guys they replaced, but they don’t possess the elite game-breaking ability of Hill, or Travis Kelce, or even Kareem Hunt. In the end, the Chiefs’ playmakers made the kind of plays their athleticism says they are going to make at least once or twice if given enough snaps.
“The guys made plays when they had their opportunities,” tight end Zach Ertz said.
There were moments throughout Sunday’s game when their counterparts had the opportunity to match them: Torrey Smith missed two of them, one that would have gone for about 30 yards in the first half. another that would have gone for a touchdown, both of them back shoulder fades, balls on which Wentz gave his receiver a chance. Neither was an easy play, but you can say the same about the 15-yard run-and-hurdle that Kelce made for a touchdown that gave the Chiefs a 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter. Both of Hunt’s touchdowns were impressive displays of speed and strength.
“That’s a good team,” Wentz said. “They were a playoff team last year, they just went on the road and beat New England last week, so that’s a good football team . . . I thought we competed. At the end of the day, they made more plays than us, but we fought all the way to the end, so there’s a lot of good things that I think we did. Again, we just came up short, and we’re going to get some of those things fixed.”
The next referendum comes next week against the Giants. There will be others: the Seahawks, the Broncos, the Raiders, two against the Cowboys. By the end of the season, perhaps they’ll have proved they do not belong with those teams. Against the Chiefs, however, they acquitted themselves as well as anybody could have realistically hoped.
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