KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Eagles hung with the Chiefs for 3 1/2 quarters and threw Kansas City a late scare but ultimately succumbed, 27-20, on Sunday. Here’s what we learned:
1. The Eagles are about where we expected after two games. Knotted at 13 almost midway through the fourth quarter and with the ball, the Eagles had to be feeling optimistic about escaping the always difficult-to-travel-to Arrowhead Stadium with a victory. They had matched a talented Chiefs squad in all three phases and just needed to finish to open the season 2-0. But the Eagles aren’t there just quite yet. They’re still going to have growing pains. And this one will hurt because a play here, a play there, and the outcome might have been different. But Carson Wentz threw a costly interception in his own end, Vinny Curry couldn’t bring down Alex Smith, and Andy Reid fooled his former team with a red-zone shovel pass that Travis Kelce used to display his impressive athleticism. The Eagles mounted a late charge and were a last-second desperation heave from tying the game, but Kansas City outpaced them down the stretch when the differences in talent were magnified. I don’t know if there are moral victories in the NFL, when each win is so precious, but the Eagles shouldn’t leave here ashamed. They were sharper than they were in the win over the Redskins in the opener, and they went blow-for-blow on the road with a team that had laid a pretty good whooping on the defending Super Bowl-champion Patriots just 10 days earlier. Next week’s home opener against the New York Giants will probably be a better gauge of where the Eagles are headed, but I saw progress Sunday.
2. The run-offense ineptitude is pandemic. I wrote this in my column for Monday’s newspaper, but if Wentz isn’t asked to throw 56 times, does he toss that interception? And if Darren Sproles isn’t asked to take on a larger role on offense, does he fumble during his punt return? And if the Eagles don’t have those two mistakes, does the defense surrender 10 points off turnovers? Yeah, they’re hypotheticals, but I think the questions are valid. Right now, the stagnant running game — the ineffectiveness of the running backs, the inconsistent blocking of the offensive line and Doug Pederson’s unwillingness to stay on the ground — is one of the biggest issues facing the Eagles. LeGarrette Blount wasn’t good in the opener, but was he so ineffective that he didn’t earn at least a carry against the Chiefs? The salary-cap investment in the 30-year-old wasn’t deep, but was one game all Pederson needed to see to drop him to third in the number of snaps played (6 of 72) among RBs, behind Sproles (50) and Wendell Smallwood (14)? Sproles is probably the Eagles’ best runner (10 carries for 48 yards), pass catcher (two catches for 30 yards) and blocker among the running backs, but is he built to play 70 percent of the snaps over the long haul? I don’t think so. And Smallwood, for whatever reason, has done squat (seven carries for 8 yards). Does rookie Corey Clement (one snap, no touches) need to get more action? Does the play distribution need to be more evenly spread? And does any of that matter if Pederson isn’t willing to feed his running backs?
3. Doug Pederson is a work in progress. There wasn’t any point in the game when I felt that Pederson egregiously refused to run the ball, but the pass-run disparity was eye-opening when the final numbers were tallied. He had Wentz drop to throw 56 times (46 passes, six sacks, four scrambles) vs. 13 called runs. The offense was successful with his play-calling for most of the game. The Eagles didn’t have a three-and-out until midway through the fourth quarter after the Chiefs went ahead, 20-13. But did neglecting the run until that point result in the late-game meltdown as I referenced above? It’s not as if Sproles was running in sand. He averaged 5.3 yards a carry (7 rushes for 37 yards) in the first half. Pederson took his medicine after the game. He said there needed to be more balance. A stout run game can be a quarterback’s best friend, and Wentz is still developing. He took at least 10 hits. But how much of Pederson’s reluctance to stay on the ground stemmed from his distrust of the running-back hand he has been dealt? He had, overall, a better game than he did against Washington. He matched Reid with his scripted first drive. He correctly challenged what eventually was ruled a 16-yard TD catch by Alshon Jeffery. But there has been a lack of rhythm on offense, in part because of the run inefficiency, but also because the screen game has been negligent. Can Pederson adapt?
4. Carson Wentz is a work in progress. The second-year quarterback continued to show improvement over his rookie season. He made countless accurate throws down the field, made something out of nothing when he scrambled — for a team-high 55 yards — and avoided errors until the fateful interception. Did he get lucky on the overthrown deep pass to Zach Ertz that deflected off Chiefs cornerback Terrance Mitchell and to his tight end for 53 yards? Sure. But what if Torrey Smith had caught the two passes that hit his hands, including one in the end zone? What if guard Isaac Seumalo had not resembled a turnstile? What if Pederson had kept Kansas City’s defense a little more honest with balanced play-calling? Wentz can be expected to do only so much 18 games into his career. Does that mean he shouldn’t shoulder blame for the turnover? No. But he can’t yet be expected to carry the Eagles offense on his own. Wentz will have his setbacks in Year 2. He needs to get rid of the ball more quickly. He needs to do a better job of recognizing blitzes. He needs to get better with his short touch passes. But he’s on schedule in his development.
5. The defensive front seven is legit. Jim Schwartz’s front brought the heat for almost the entire game. He mixed in some blitzes early — once cashing in when Mychal Kendricks cleaned up for a sack. But the Eagles defensive coordinator mostly relied on his starting front four — Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan and Curry — to get after Smith. There weren’t many times in the first half when Smith had time or a clean pocket after a five- or seven-step drop. The Chiefs went to quick, timing-based passes in the second half to counter the Eagles rush, and it worked to an extent. But defenders still rallied to the ball. Curry is the weak link of the four linemen, but he played well against the run. Of greater issue, at least Sunday, was the deficiencies of the second-unit D-line. Chris Long had a sack, but only after Smith had to pump a few times. Derek Barnett’s day will come, but the rookie is still adjusting to facing starting left tackles. And the interior, with Destiny Vaeao out, was gashed on Kareem Hunt’s 53-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and was on the field when Kelce scored in the fourth. Beau Allen is fine in a reserve role, but the lack of depth at defensive tackle might not have been addressed this off-season.
6. Rasul Douglas isn’t easily intimidated. For a rookie playing in his first NFL game who had to be called upon after starter Jaylen Watkins left with a hamstring injury, Douglas more than acquitted himself. The Eagles rush helped the cornerback, but Smith didn’t have much success with throws outside the numbers. Douglas appeared to alter a pass over the middle that bounced off a receiver’s hands. He kept receivers in front if there was a completion his way. And his four tackles were tied for most on the team. If he’s to start for Watkins moving forward, the tests will get only more difficult. But Douglas answered the call. Jalen Mills also had a strong performance. He helped keep the dangerous Tyreek Hill (four catches for 43 yards) in check, and aside from a late 35-yard Chris Conley catch, never got burned over top. For a group that was labeled a liability entering the season, the cornerbacks have fared well thus far. But will the other shoe ever drop?
7. Isaac Seumalo might need to be benched. I don’t think Pederson will pull the plug on the second-year left guard two games into the season, but he at least must consider it. Seumalo was partly responsible for four of the six sacks Wentz took. He had some strong moments, for instance, once picking up a late-arriving blitz, but he looked mostly lost. His issues don’t appear physical. His technique is inconsistent, and that could be mental more than anything. Seumalo is young. He’s going to have his ups and downs, and the Eagles must be willing to weather the storm for the former third-round draft pick. But for how long? And are either Stefen Wisniewski or Chance Warmack — both free-agents signed this off-season — potential upgrades? The O-line collectively hasn’t been cohesive. I have to watch the coaches film and talk to the players to get a better idea of how each lineman performed, but Seumalo’s blocking was clearly a problem.
8. The receiver group is better but needs to be more consistent. Jeffery delivered the type of performance the Eagles had expected when they inked him to a one-year, $9.5 million contract this past off-season. He caught seven of 13 targets for 92 yards and a touchdown. Was he as imposing as, say, Kelce? No. It would have been nice to see him pull in that Wentz toss over the middle that hit his hands. It would have been a tough grab, but he’ll need to catch a few of those this season to warrant the investment. Smith caught four of eight targets for 66 yards, but he should have pulled in at least one of the two passes that could have been described as drops. Nelson Agholor played 55 snaps, only slightly behind Smith (62) and Jeffery (61), but he didn’t record a catch until very late when Wentz found him in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard score. Mack Hollins made the most of his 17 snaps, catching all three targets for 32 yards. With Marcus Johnson inactive, Hollins might have earned more playing time. The group, as a whole, was productive — more so than any time last year — but bigger plays need to be made.
9. Jake Elliott might not be the answer. It’s difficult to criticize the rookie kicker, who was kicking in difficult Arrowhead and only a week ago was on the Bengals practice squad. Elliott hooked a 30-yard field goal right before halftime and after Reid had called a timeout to ice him. He connected on tries from 34 and 40 yards, made his extra points and had a touchback on four kickoffs. But the miss hurt. Some questioned the Eagles for signing a rookie to replace injured Caleb Sturgis. I’m not sure if there are any veterans on the street who are better. The Eagles just might have to ride Elliott until Sturgis returns.
10. And some leftovers: Ertz finished with five catches for 97 yards and leads the Eagles in receiving (13 catches for 190 yards). … Is it time for Kendricks to play more than just in the Eagles’ base personnel? Schwartz doesn’t have to bench Nigel Bradham in the nickel, but why not rotate the two? Kendricks is a better pass rusher. … Jason Kelce was called for holding, and Seumalo had a false start.