Maybe it was all an illusion, no more real than one of those elaborate card tricks Jon Dorenbos pulled off in front of Simon Cowell and the other judges on “America’s Got Talent. Time will tell, of course, because it always does.
By Thanksgiving, if not sooner, we’ll know if the real Eagles are the team that accentuated a 3-0 start with a lopsided win over the Pittsburgh Steelers or if they are the team that has lost two in a row, including a 27-20 setback to the Washington Redskins on Sunday that was not as close as the score indicated.
All we can tell you for sure right now is that the Eagles have some issues, the least of which is that they are only a half-game away from last place in the NFC East. Some of them they could see coming. Lose a right tackle as good as Lane Johnson and you can expect some problems protecting the quarterback. Start a rookie at cornerback and you should expect the opposing quarterback to attack him.
The Eagles’ issues against Washington, however, went well beyond the obvious. They entered the game with the league’s No. 2 rushing defense and any conversation about defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s squad always starts with the guys up front. The Redskins gashed that group for 230 yards and controlled the football for more than 34 minutes.
Washington finished with a season-high 493 yards and, for the first time this season, the Eagles failed to register a sack. They were also penalized 13 times for 114 yards, bringing the total number of penalties in the last two weeks to 27.
Bad officiating had nothing to do with this defeat. Bad tackling, poor blocking and a lack of discipline did.
“You can look at every area today of our defense and I don’t know if there is any area you’d feel really good about,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “The 1/8run gaps3/8 were really leaky, the tackling wasn’t that great, coverage wasn’t that great, pass rush, everything. We have a lot to get done. The penalties and the self-inflicted things. … I know we don’t necessarily see ourselves as an undisciplined team, but the numbers will tell you that we’re an undisciplined team that beats ourselves.”
More frightening than the way the Eagles played against Washington is the schedule ahead. Sam Bradford and the unbeaten Minnesota Vikings come to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday and if Carson Wentz thought the Redskins had an intimidating pass rush, wait until he gets a load of the 21st Century Purple People Eaters.
After the Vikings it’s back on the road for divisional games against Dallas and the New York Giants before out-of-division games against Atlanta, Seattle, and Green Bay, a trio of teams that entered play Sunday with a combined 13-3 record. Continue to play the way they did Sunday and that 3-0 September will be a distant memory by Thanksgiving.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson insists that the sky is not falling and that confidence remains high in his team’s locker room. He also slipped in some Andyisms along the way.
“It is my job to make sure these guys are ready to go mentally, physically, the whole thing,” Pederson said. “We have to learn from this. I think a little has to do with, number one, there’s more film out there for teams to take a look at you.
“This goes back to I have to make sure we’re not doing too much offensively. I have to get with 1/8offensive coordinator3/8 Frank Reich and make sure we keep things nice and simple. Basic offense and defense … just let our guys play fast. That starts with me.”
The Eagles definitely did not do too much offensively Sunday and it was clear from the start that they were going to have trouble doing much of anything. They were held to a season-low 239 yards and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz was sacked five times, including on the Eagles’ final two offensive plays when the team was trying to drive for a game-tying touchdown.
For the second straight week, the Eagles found themselves facing a 14-0 deficit in the first half as Washington exploited matchups against Eagles rookies on each side of the ball.
Big V – rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai – was a big void in his first NFL start in place of the suspended Johnson.
Veteran outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan schooled Vaitai in the first half, twice getting to Wentz for sacks that destroyed Eagles drives. Under pressure, Wentz struggled badly for the first time all season, completing just 3 of 8 passes for 28 yards in the opening half and 11 of 22 for 179 yards for the game.
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins attacked rookie cornerback Jalen Mills, who was starting in place of Leodis McKelvin (hamstring injury). Mills covered DeSean Jackson for most of the first quarter and the former Eagles star receiver caught three passes for 51 yards.
Mills, however, was only part of the problem defensively.
The most shocking thing about the first half was that the Eagles actually rallied from a 14-0 deficit to tie the game. Wendell Smallwood got them on the board with an 86-yard kickoff return for a score and Jenkins returned an interception 64 yards for a touchdown on Washington’s next possession.
“Other than that, I didn’t play very well,” Jenkins said. “There are a lot of things I could take back.”
He wasn’t alone and now we have to wonder if the Eagles’ fast start was all a grand illusion that is about to disappear beneath an avalanche of losses.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Bob Brookover is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.