TAMPA, Fla. – The Eagles shot themselves in the collective foot far too often, allowed a couple of 75-yard touchdowns in the first half, and fell to the surprising Buccaneers, 27-21, on Sunday.
Win, lose or draw, here's what we learned:
1. It's way too early to panic. Doug Pederson and his players had the correct reaction following the game. The loss had more to do with their failings than the Bucs' execution, and while the mistakes were inexcusable, they're correctable. "I'm not going to make a big deal out of something that's not there," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Obviously, for us to win we have to eliminate big plays." There was more to the loss than Tampa's 75-yard touchdowns, of course, but you can't spot any team in the NFL 14 points on two plays and expect to win. Especially on the road. The Bucs had a hot quarterback, some potent offensive weapons and they outplayed their opponent. But the Eagles were still one score from winning, despite their overall sloppy play. If they didn't have a recent record of winning close games, there might be reason to be concerned. But this is a talented, well-coached team, and they simply weren't going to win all 16 games coming off the Super Bowl. The game had some similarities to last year's Week 2 road loss at Kansas City. I felt better about the Eagles after that game than I did following the opening-day win over the Redskins. They hung with a good Chiefs team into the fourth quarter, despite self-inflicted errors, and would go on to win their next nine games. But that was then and this is now, and the circumstances are different. "I can't go back and relive those days because this is a new football team and a new season," Pederson said. "Now, we're going to learn from this, and we're going to get better, and I vowed to the team in there that we will get better." Are there reasons to be worried about the Eagles? Possibly. They've yet to play well, dating back to the preseason. But they're 1-1 and still tied atop the NFC East. The marathon has just started and the Eagles should be getting a boost with the return of their quarterback.
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2. That being said, Carson Wentz isn't going to solve the problems on offense. Wentz will start Sunday against the Colts, Pederson announced Monday. Pederson changing the quarterback is a good way to change the narrative. The Eagles can't expect Wentz to solve all their problems, though. He hasn't played in over nine months. There will likely be rust and he will likely need to tread carefully with the knee. The issues on offense have been multifold. There has been a lack of rhythm because of injuries and a shortage of talent for the same reason. Receiver Alshon Jeffery (shoulder) and running back Darren Sproles (hamstring) were inactive. And then the Eagles lost running back Jay Ajayi (back), receiver Mike Wallace (ankle) and tackle Jason Peters (quad). Ajayi returned, but he was used only sparingly. Nick Foles wasn't sharp, especially early, but the absences didn't aid his cause. And then there were the penalties. An illegal block brought back a 43-yard punt return and three flags on one series had the offense facing a ridiculous third and 41. "We kept going backwards," Pederson said. "The whole first half, we weren't staying ahead of the sticks." Wentz is an obvious upgrade. He can do things that Foles can't. I wrote about it more extensively here. But the offense needs to get healthy and clean up its play if Wentz is to really help.
3. Giving up two 75-yard touchdowns isn't a recipe for winning. The Eagles were chasing from the get-go thanks to a blown coverage on the opening play from scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz called for a corner blitz, Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick read the coverage, Jenkins bit the cheese and DeSean Jackson had himself a 75-yard score. "We weren't trying to hit the home run there," Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. "We were trying to go underneath to Mike Evans. It was a great read by Fitz." Schwartz isn't known for his blitz packages, but he has been sending more extra rushers thus far. The play call wasn't the problem, though. "I vacated the middle of the field," Jenkins said. As poorly as the Eagles played in the first quarter, they knotted the score, 7-7, midway through the second. But they coughed up any momentum on the Bucs' ensuing possession when Fitzpatrick found tight end O.J. Howard with a step on linebacker Jordan Hicks across the middle. The pass should have been for just 15-20 yards, but cornerback Ronald Darby's tackle attempt was inept and Howard took it to the house for 75 yards. The Eagles allowed only two plays of 75 yards or longer last season and both occurred by Week 4.
4. The Eagles didn't do enough at wide receiver this offseason. Jeffery had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in February. Unless something changed in terms of his recovery, the front office likely knew he wouldn't be ready by the start of the season. They were replacing Torrey Smith no matter what and signed Wallace. But could Howie Roseman and company have done more at receiver? They added Markus Wheaton, Kamar Aiken and De'Andre Carter at various points during the offseason, but they haven't been able to get the job done. To the personnel department's defense, they probably didn't anticipate Mack Hollins' suffering a setback following sports hernia surgery. He was placed on injured reserve, and while it would have been a mistake to rely on Hollins to step into Jeffery's shoes, his loss didn't help matters. Wallace didn't have a catch in the opener and he didn't even have an opportunity on Sunday before leaving. "Anytime you're down a couple of bodies, it affects you offensively, and it tweaks your plan a little bit," Pederson said. But the Eagles knew they would be without Jeffery for an extended period and it's now going on Week 3. Aiken, re-signed last week, is a serviceable, proven commodity. He played 62 of 79 snaps and caught five of six targets for 39 yards. But Shelton Gibson (35 snaps) and Carter (19 snaps) caught a combined zero passes and only Gibson (two passes) was targeted. The Bucs were down both their starting cornerbacks (Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes) and the Eagles outside receivers still couldn't get anything going.
5. Doug Pederson isn't always going to push the right buttons. The Eagles coach didn't have a bad game. But he didn't call one of his best and there some dubious decisions. Singling out certain plays can be reek of 20-20 hindsight, but there were two calls I questioned immediately. The Eagles faced a third-and-11 on their own 24 with three minutes and 23 seconds before the half. Pederson called a draw to running back Wendell Smallwood and he was stopped after a six-yard gain. "I felt like the defense was going to be soft, Cover 2, five-man box, and a chance to maybe break a run," Pederson said. With Smallwood? I could maybe understand that reasoning a little more with Ajayi or Corey Clement in the backfield. Even so, a draw there gave the impression that Pederson was playing conservative, which isn't typically how he rolls. The Bucs would score a touchdown on their ensuing drive. Pederson did revert to his aggressive nature early in the second half when he went for it on fourth-and-4 on the Bucs 49. "I was going for it anyway, regardless of the percentages," Pederson said. His gambles have paid off far more than they haven't, especially last season, but this year isn't last year, as he noted. He felt the offense needed a spark, but I thought it was too early to take a chance, particularly since he would place the already-suspect defense in a bind should the attempt fail. Tampa would again turnaround and score a touchdown. The injuries forced the Eagles to shuffle their personnel and tight end Joshua Perkins played a surprising 26 snaps. Pederson was questioned about Perkins' playing time vs. rookie tight end Dallas Goedert (17 snaps) and he gave an awkward answer. "It's a complex thing because it starts moving bodies," Pederson said. My guess was that it was easier to move Perkins into a receiver role than Goedert. Still, you must wonder why the Eagles couldn't find a way to get their top draft pick more involved – unless he simply isn't ready?
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6. Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby aren't lockdown corners. There aren't many lockdown corners left in the NFL. With rules increasingly designed to benefit offenses, it's difficult for corners to take away one side of the field, especially against receivers like Jackson (four catches for 129 yards and a touchdown) and Evans (10 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown). But Darby and Jalen Mills are going to give up their fair amount. Aside from the missed tackle – and otherwise how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln? — Darby played fine. Mills struggled throughout. He likes to play off, but Schwartz's scheme seemed to allow for too much cushion. Fitzpatrick was getting the ball out quick and his receivers were taking advantage of the space. Mills should bounce back. Confidence isn't an issue. But I've always wondered if he was better suited to play in the slot. Sidney Jones appeared to have a solid game. His assignment – mostly receiver Adam Humphries – wasn't as challenging. But would Schwartz entertain a switch at some point this season? It would probably take a crisis in Mills' confidence for that to happen.
7. Jason Peters isn't going to be healthy all season. Well, yeah. Peters played just eight snaps on Sunday. He said he strained his quad toward the end of Thursday's practice and tried to give it a go. He was never listed on the injury report. Peters said the injury shouldn't keep him out of next week's game, but the 36-year-old tackle's health will be monitored all season even if he's at full strength. It is why many fretted over Halapoulivaati Vaitai's performance in the preseason. It was likely only a matter of time before he was needed. Vaitai was shaky initially but he did settle down Sunday. The offensive line, overall, gave Foles time and opened some running lanes. "No disrespect to J.P. – he's arguably one of the best left tackles in NFL history, but even with him down, last year they won a Super Bowl," Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. In other words, the o-line wasn't the main problem. But the Eagles are better with Peters than without and they may have sacrifice the short term to get him 100 percent.
8. Corey Clement needs more touches.The second-year running back rushed six times for 30 – including a 15-yard touchdown – and caught five passes for 55 yards. He got more time with Sproles and Ajayi sidelined, but that shouldn't have been the lone reason. He seems to do something positive with each touch. He also had the long punt return negated by a Perkins penalty. More Clement, please.
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9. The Eagles' edge rushers need to apply more pressure. Zero sacks and four quarterback hits isn't going to cut it from the Eagles' four defensive ends. Tampa's line isn't considered anywhere near elite. Michael Bennett (two hits and tackle for loss) was the most active, but he played the least amount of snaps (24). Brandon Graham (39 snaps) and Derek Barnett (35 snaps) were solid against the run, but they weren't forcing Fitzpatrick off his spot enough. Chris Long (25 snaps) was quiet after playing one of his best games for the Eagles. The group, over the long run, should produce. But there are concerns. Is Graham still working himself back into shape after ankle surgery? Can Barnett make the necessary jump in Year 2? Are Long and Bennett – 33 and 32, respectively — showing their age?
>> SEE MORE PHOTOS: Bucs 27, Eagles 21
10. And some leftovers … Jake Elliott's 42-yard miss before the half didn't cost the Eagles the game, but it could have changed their approach during a second-half comeback. The kicker shouldn't be in jeopardy of losing his job, but he needs to be more consistent. … Cameron Johnston has the NFL's second-best gross punting average (53.9) and the fourth-best net (46.6). … Lane Johnson had former Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry on a leash all game. Curry played 50 snaps and had zero defensive plays.