The Eagles dropped to 2-3 after a 23-21 loss to the Vikings on Sunday.
My top five reasons for the defeat:
The Eagles were shut out in the first quarter Sunday for the fourth time in five games. Last season, their 106 first-quarter points were the second most in the league, and they led the league in first-quarter point differential (plus-58).
So far this year, they've been outscored by 23-7 in the first quarter, including 3-0 Sunday.
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Clearly, scripting the first 15 plays hasn't been nearly as successful this year as last year. The Eagles are averaging just 3.3 yards per play on their first two possessions. Their opponents are averaging 6.3.
Against the Vikings, they went three-and-out on both of their first two possessions, and the defense allowed Minnesota to drive down the field and get within field-goal range twice (Dan Bailey missed a 28-yarder, then made a 37-yarder).
Jim Schwartz's defense is most effective when it's playing from ahead, which was the case much of last season. Teams had to play catch-up, which meant becoming more one-dimensional, which meant Schwartz's defense could pretty much ignore the run and focus on teeing off on the quarterback.
Not so much this year. The Vikings entered Sunday's game averaging a league-low 18.2 rushing attempts per game. Even without their top running back, Dalvin Cook, they ran the ball 23 times. Latavius Murray had significant, back-to-back runs of 11 and 5 yards early in the Vikings' final game-clinching scoring drive.
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The Eagles switched left guards, benching Stefen Wisniewski and replacing him with Isaac Seumalo. But the protection problems persisted Sunday because, well, Wisniewski wasn't really the problem.
Carson Wentz was sacked only three times, but spent a good portion of the day under duress. His two All-Pro tackles – Lane Johnson and Jason Peters – aren't playing like All-Pros right now.
Johnson, who gave up a momentum-shifting strip-sack to Tennessee rookie Harold Landry a week earlier in a 26-23 overtime loss, gave up another one Sunday when Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly, a 2016 seventh-round pick with one career sack, beat him to the inside and forced a second-quarter Wentz fumble that defensive tackle Linval Joseph plucked out of the air and returned 64 yards for a touchdown.
That play resulted in a likely 10-point turnaround since the Eagles had a first down at the Minnesota 31-yard line and probably – probably — would have walked away from that possession with at least a Jake Elliott field goal and a 6-3 lead.
The 36-year-old Peters is starting to act his age. He not only isn't playing at his usual elite level but also keeps getting hurt. He left the game temporarily in the third quarter right after a 31-yard completion from Wentz to Shelton Gibson gave the Eagles a first down at the Minnesota 35.
Two plays later, his replacement, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, gave up an 8-yard sack to Danielle Hunter that stalled the drive and forced the Eagles to settle for a field goal.
Peters eventually returned to the game. But early in the fourth quarter, after the Eagles drove to the Minnesota 30, he and Johnson were overpowered by Hunter and Weatherly, who squeezed Wentz and forced an intentional-grounding penalty that knocked the Eagles out of field-goal range.
For a while Sunday, I thought I had gotten trapped in a time warp and I was back covering Andy Reid's Eagles again.
As you might recall, Reid often became so enamored with the passing game that he occasionally forgot that football teams could also run the ball.
Last year, Doug Pederson's Eagles were the epitome of run-pass balance. Their 44.1 percent run rate was the ninth highest in the league. But through five games this season, it's 36.0.
On Sunday, they ran the ball just six times in the first half – including a run-out-the-clock carry by Jay Ajayi right before intermission — and 17 times overall. The week before against Tennessee, they ran the ball on just 22 of 76 plays.
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Pederson said the Eagles' slow starts have been a big reason they're not running more. He also said they were playing catch-up most of the game on Sunday.
Even without Darren Sproles and Corey Clement, even with a banged-up Ajayi, they're 11th in the league in rush average (4.4 yards per carry). That's just 0.1 yard less than last year.
Wendell Smallwood is averaging 6.9 yards per carry in the last three games. He had just three carries Sunday, including a 13-yard run on the play after his 23-yard catch-and-run on the Eagles' first possession of the third quarter.
The benefit of a balanced offense is that it keeps the defense guessing. The Vikings didn't have to do much guessing Sunday. Thanks to the Eagles' one-dimensional play-calling, they were able to focus on Carson Wentz.
For the second straight week, the Eagles managed to convert just one of four red-zone trips into a touchdown.
They squandered a chance for seven points early in the second quarter when a wide-open Smallwood dropped a third-and-3 pass from Wentz that would have given the Eagles a first down inside the 5-yard line. That forced them to settle for a field goal.
On their first possession of the second half, they drove from their own 27 to the Minnesota 6, only to see Ajayi fumble the ball away at the 5 without even getting hit.
A little later in the third quarter, they had a first down at the Minnesota 15-yard line. But Vaitai, who replaced Peters two plays earlier, gave up the sack to Hunter that led to a field goal.
Ajayi's red-zone turnover was one of two lost fumbles by the Eagles on Sunday, the other being Wentz's. If you're counting, that's seven lost fumbles in five games (a team-high three by Wentz), which is the most in the NFL.
The Eagles are tied for 28th in turnover differential (minus-4). Last year, they had a plus-11 TO differential.
Sunday's two fumbles were game-changers. Wentz's second-quarter fumble didn't just put the kibosh to a potential Eagles touchdown drive (they had a first down at the Minnesota 31) but also handed the Vikings a 10-3 lead.
Ajayi's fumble at the beginning of the second half killed a chance for the Eagles to stop the bleeding and capture momentum.
If Ajayi hadn't put the ball on the carpet and the Eagles scored on that possession, it would have cut the Vikings' lead to 17-10. Instead, after the Vikings recovered Ajayi's fumble, they promptly drove 91 yards on six plays, kicked a field goal, and took a 20-3 lead.
The pass defense didn't cover itself with glory on that drive. The Eagles gave up a 68-yard Kirk Cousins completion to Adam Thielen against a zero blitz, then let Stefon Diggs get open in the middle for a 25-yard completion.