1. Carson Wentz isn’t invincible. No one is. But there were times this season when Wentz seemed almost superhuman, as if nothing could keep him down.
The Eagles have suffered as many significant injuries as most teams, but their quarterback remained unscathed. Wentz was touched by angels. But his aggressiveness, fearlessness or what else you want to call it finally caught up to him.
I wrote more about the inevitability of Wentz getting hurt during one of his scrambles for my newspaper column. I won’t rehash most of what wrote, but questioning his methods after an injury isn’t Monday morning quarterbacking.
I’ve written extensively about Wentz’s freewheeling ways since his first NFL preseason game. I’ve asked Eagles coaches about it numerous times, including last week after the Seattle game.
It’s difficult to criticize Wentz, because there is a fine line between making a stupendous play and needlessly putting yourself in harm’s way. But Wentz didn’t need to go barreling into the end zone on first down at the 2-yard line. And as if to prove a point, the football gods nullified his touchdown with a holding penalty.
Do the Eagles win if Wentz doesn’t tough it out for the next four plays and throw a fourth down touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery? Maybe. Maybe not. But one win isn’t worth losing Wentz for the rest of the season and that is now a very real possibility.
2. The Eagles can win without Wentz. Can they win Super Bowl without him? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. They won on Sunday and that was enough to clinch the NFC East crown and to propel the 11-2 Eagles back into the driver’s season for the conference No. 1 seed in the playoffs. It was a hell of a victory over another good squad.
The Eagles were hardly perfect. The defense was a sieve, special teams gave up a touchdown, and the offense — despite scoring 37 points — made its share of mistakes. But Doug Pederson’s Eagles have bounced back time and again, so why start folding now?
“This team’s been resilient all season long,” Pederson said.
Ronald Darby, Caleb Sturgis, Darren Sproles, Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, Zach Ertz — the Eagles have lost one key piece after the other and they keep finding ways to compensate for the losses.
Losing Wentz was the biggest blow, and Nick Foles jumped in and captained that ship home. Can he carry it through next week and possibly beyond? That is up for debate. But the regular season schedule from here on out isn’t daunting.
The Giants just fired their coach and are a sinking vessel. The Raiders are regressing. And the final game against the Cowboys might not mean anything if the Eagles win the previous two. The playoffs will be a different story. But we’re not quite there yet, and the Eagles are still holding out hope that Wentz’s injury is nothing more than a serious strain.
3. Nick Foles can still make key throws. I’m not going to sit here and say Foles strapped the Eagles to his shoulders and willed them to victory. He did what he had to do under difficult circumstances. But Foles has been down this road before, having led the Eagles and Chiefs to victories when called upon mid-game. We all know what he did in 2013 after Michael Vick went down.
Of course, we also know what happened in 2014 with the Eagles and in 2015 with the Rams. But Foles is a capable backup.
“I’m absolutely ready, I mean that’s why I’m here,” Foles said.
He completed 6 of 10 passes for 42 yards in relief of Wentz. Some of the throws were leaky and the desperation toss to Halapoulivaati Vaitai was ill-advised. But Foles had a nice hookup with Trey Burton for 16 yards. And his third down conversion to Nelson Agholor was a big-time toss.
“He’s played a lot of football games in this league, he’s started in this league,” Pederson said. “Guys have confidence in him, I have confidence in him.”
Will that be enough?
4. Doug Pederson hasn’t lost his gumption. Let’s get one thing straight: Pederson wasn’t responsible for Wentz’s injury. He called a pass play on first down from the 2-yard line that had his quarterback in the shotgun. Big deal. He called 45 passes to 19 runs with Wentz under center. Big deal.
The Eagles offense also marched up and down the field on the Rams and posted 31 points in less than three quarters of play.
Pederson was calling plays to win. He can’t be thinking about his quarterback’s health every time he picks a play. But after some questionable decision making in last week’s loss to the Seahawks, it was nice to see Pederson revert to form.
He gambled on two fourth downs and was successful on each. The first came early in the second quarter when the Eagles faced a fourth and 1 on the Rams 31. Pederson not only went for it, but he had Wentz drop. The Rams were fooled and Wentz hit a wide-open Agholor for 18 yards. The Eagles would score a touchdown three plays later.
Pederson’s biggest roll of the dice came after Wentz’s injury. Maybe it was foolish to put his quarterback in that situation. Wentz clearly couldn’t run or plant his foot. But the fourth down try from the two worked when Jeffery amazingly plucked the football inches from the ground with his fingertips.
“It’s really an ideal situation,” Pederson said. “Even if you don’t get it, they’re backed up on about the 2-yard-line.”
Pederson also won a first half challenge on a third down spot that forced the Rams to punt.
5. The Eagles’ defense will need to play better. The Rams have a very good offense. They were tied with the Eagles for the NFL lead in points scored. So it’s not like the Eagles defense surrendered 28 points to some patsy. But the yards and points came too easily.
L.A. ran only 45 plays, but they averaged 6.8 yards per play. All four of their TD-scoring drives came on seven plays or less. Jim Schwartz’s unit allowed five plays of 20 yards or some.
The defense can be excused for the first touchdown after an offensive turnover in Eagles territory. But there were too many missed tackles, missed assignments and missed opportunities. I counted at least eight missed tackles.
For the second week in a row, the defensive backs allowed too many yards after first contact. Rodney McLeod had maybe his worst game of the season. His coverage of Cooper Kupp on two early passes left a lot to be desired. Malcolm Jenkins had a terrible downfield whiff. Darby had poor technique when Kupp turned him around on a 23-yard catch. Jalen Mills was called for pass interference. Nigel Bradham dropped what should have been an interception, and missed a chance at another.
Vinny Curry took a bad angle on a Todd Gurley rush and couldn’t bring down Goff when he had him in his grasp. Fletcher Cox had a strong performance and pressured Goff into several bad throws. And Chris Long made the play of the game when he stripped sacked Goff late.
If the Eagles are to have Foles at quarterback, they’re going to need Schwartz’s defense to step up even more.
6. Jay Ajayi needs to be featured more in the offense. Ajayi played in his fifth Eagles game. He should know enough to be the featured back. He ended with more than double the carries of any Eagles running back, but it took a while to get there.
Ajayi had only four rushes in the first half, but each one picked up 6-plus yards. LeGarrette Blount was held to ten yards on six totes before the break. The inside runs weren’t working, and I’m not sure the reason for running at Aaron Donald.
Ajayi cooled off in the second half, but a few more touches in the first might have got him into more of a rhythm. As far as snaps go, Ajayi was on the field for 43 of 91, Corey Clement 27, Blount 15 and Kenjon Barner 6.
7. Trey Burton will get paid this offseason. The Eagles hardly missed a beat with Ertz out for the second game this season. He was deemed a game time decision, but Pederson said after that his starting tight end had yet to clear the concussion protocol. So it was Burton and Brent Celek (5-yard TD) again.
Both made contributions, but Burton ran more of Ertz’s routes. He made one great catch after another — a 20-yard touchdown grab in between two defenders, an 11-yard touchdown against tight coverage, a late 16-yard snag in traffic.
“Trey hasn’t probably gotten a lot of offensive plays this year, but when he has if you go back to the Denver game he’s made the most of his opportunity,” Pederson said. “He did that tonight.” Burton is slated to become a free agent this offseason. He’s been a valuable third tight end and four-core special teams member, but the Eagles may be priced out of keeping him.
8. Stefen Wisniewski is significantly better than his backups. The Eagles’ season changed, in some way, when Pederson decided to bench Isaac Seumalo. Wisniewksi split snaps with Chance Warmack early on, but it was evident from the get-go who was better. Wiz solidified that spot and had had great chemistry with center Jason Kelce.
Donald was supposed to wreck him, but the Rams defensive tackle was relatively silent in the first quarter or so. But Wisniewski suffered an early ankle injury and was eventually pulled. Warmack got the first crack. It didn’t go so well. Donald was getting through to Wentz. Seumalo started the second half and there was mild improvement, but not enough to keep the Eagles from slow-playing Wisniewski’s return.
9. Torrey Smith has some juice left. The veteran receiver was brought in to stretch defenses, but he hadn’t caught a pass over ten yards for seven games. The catcalls for his demotion and Mack Hollins’ promotion started to reach a fever pitch.
Smith may have silenced his critics for another week on Sunday. He caught six passes for a season-high 100 yards to become the first Eagles wide receiver to go over the century mark this season.
Aside from Smith, the receiving group was up and down against the Rams. Agholor had an early Wentz pass bounce off him and to the Rams for an interception. Hollins dropped a pass near the goal line. Jeffery couldn’t pull in a 50-50 ball that hit him in the numbers.
But their highs were high. Agholor’s third down catch from Foles scored unanimous 10s, even from the Russian judge. And Jeffery’s touchdown reception — a team-high eighth on the season — was impressive.
10. And some leftovers … Clement appeared to be the guilty party when Mike Thomas rushed untouched and blocked Donnie Jones’ punt in the third quarter. Former Eagles safety Blake Countess scooped up the loose ball and run in for the touchdown. …
Jake Elliott was a Donald leverage penalty away from booting another long, potentially game-winning field goal. The Eagles kicker nailed a 54-yard attempt late in the fourth. But the personal foul gave the Eagles a first down at the Rams 21. The Eagles couldn’t convert the second chance into seven points, so Elliott trotted out again and split the uprights from 33 yards out. …
Joe Walker missed his second straight game with a neck injury. Schwartz never used his base personnel, so Walker wasn’t replaced at middle linebacker.
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