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The Loser Papers – 2016 – Edition IV

The editors of TLP would like to thank the Washington Redskins for keeping us so busy. The tally is now up to four weeks in a row, and it’s even more fun when our affiliate newspapers are located in Philadelphia, or either of the Arlington, TX and Meadowlands, NJ metropolitan areas. It’s just a happy coincidence that Edition IV also marks the fourth straight TLP after a meeting with those former media darlings, the Eagles. Since inquiring minds want to know, our first two articles come from the pages of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Wentz plays like a rookie

101616_carson-wentz_1200

 

 

by Bob Ford, INQUIRER COLUMNIST

 

LANDOVER, Md. – There were no asterisks to attach to this loss, none of that rusty-after-bye, play-here-play-there stuff. This was a bad loss, a divisional butt-kicking in which the Eagles were dreadful on defense, disjointed on offense and unable to be lifted up by their star rookie, who threw for his fewest yards this season, lowest completion percentage, lowest quarterback rating and took five sacks while doing so. For the first time, he looked like a rookie.

“It was tough to get in the groove today,” Carson Wentz said.

By the time the game ended, there might have been a groove down the middle of the field carved out by the quarterback’s shoulder pads. He was on the ground a lot. On the stat sheet, aside from the five sacks there were 11 other quarterback hits. That means he was smacked five more times than he hit his own receivers. That’s not a good way to play football.

Not all of it, or even most of it was Wentz’s fault, but he took a pair of coverage sacks on what turned out to be the Eagles’ final drive, turning a second and 6 at the Washington 42 into a fourth and 24 at their own 40.

“I’ve got to get the ball out,” Wentz said. “That’s on me.”

In a way, the perception of how Wentz played in the disappointing 27-20 divisional loss to the Redskins is altered by how well he played in the first four games. Even in the loss at Detroit, Wentz emerged with a rating of 102.8, completed more than 75 percent of his passes, and the worst thing you could say about him was that he threw a ball at the end of the game that might have been ill-considered, but also one that his receiver didn’t compete to catch.

If Wentz hadn’t been so good until Sunday, then this performance would have been shrugged off as a rookie game from a rookie, and what did you expect? But the bar is higher now. He wasn’t very good in this one, although he had a lot of company.

For instance . . .

The defense had an atrocious first half for the second straight week and was pushed around throughout the second half as well against the Redskins. The offensive line was a sieve on the right side because of the absence of Lane Johnson, and that caused coach Doug Pederson to commit extra bodies to plugging that side, stealing from the scheme. The Eagles once again committed penalties that hurt on both sides of the ball, but particularly stymied the offense. They were flagged during three of their four second-half drives and limited to two field goals, despite having first downs on the Washington 20 and the Washington 11 on two of those drives.

So, yeah, it was a team effort, and that’s what it took to lose by a whole seven points to the Redskins, who probably aren’t all that good, either. The two field goals is all the offense provided and the game would have been a rout if not for Wendell Smallwood’s kickoff return for a touchdown and the one egregious error that Kirk Cousins seems to make every game, this one going for a pick six by Malcolm Jenkins.

All that said and noted, Wentz struggled, too. He admitted to misreading some coverages and making some errant protection calls. He sailed a few passes and took too many sacks. There was the occasional oh-my mixed in, including the 54-yard beauty to Jordan Matthews on a third down in the fourth quarter, and several escapes from the crumbling pocket followed by a laser flick to someone open underneath. But those were candles in the darkness on a rookie kind of day, and a day in which the Eagles began their toughest stretch of the season. If this game was tough, just wait.

“Listen, last week, this week, these are going to be great learning lessons for Carson,” Pederson said. “Being able to mature as a quarterback, still taking a lot of reps. He’s still a rookie, but he’s still our guy and I’m so excited to continue to work with him. He’s going to clean it up and be ready to go next week.”

Pederson had better be ready to help him out, and that means not putting him in the way of getting hit 16 times. The coach said he still believes in Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the replacement at right tackle. It’s hard to know if he meant that or said it out of coach-speak habit. Whatever the case, he needs to get Wentz settled again, which will be kind of a chore against the Minnesota Vikings.

“It’s football. No one likes to lose, but we’ve got to learn from it,” Wentz said. “We’re not losing hope. We’re not losing any of the edge we bring on Sundays.”

No, but they are losing football games, and it’s too late to go back to when that wasn’t supposed to matter this season.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/eagles/20161017_Ford__Wentz_plays_like_a_rookie.html

And:

Suddenly, the Eagles are in trouble

Updated:October 16, 2016 — 8:22 PM EDT

101616_wentz-sack_1200

After beating Eagles rookie tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (left) Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan sacks Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.

by Bob Brookover, INQUIRER COLUMNIST
LANDOVER, Md. – 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 [run gaps] 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 [offensive coordinator] 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.

bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/eagles/20161017_Brookover__Eagles__weaknesses_are_exposed_in_loss.html

And from The Philadelphia Daily News:

Five reasons why the Eagles lost to the Redskins

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The Redskins’ Matt Jones picks up a first down as Eagles defenders give chase.

by Paul Domowitch, DAILY NEWS COLUMNIST

WHO’LL STOP THE RUN?

Last week, the Lions gashed the Eagles for 77 first-half rushing yards. Jim Schwartz made a few halftime adjustments and the Lions gained just three more yards on the ground the rest of the game.

On Sunday, Schwartz wasn’t able to fix his unit’s problems against the run. A Redskins offense that had been averaging just 19 carries and 86.4 rushing yards per game, rushed for 230 yards against the Eagles.

The Eagles were repeatedly victimized by their own aggressiveness. They overpursued. They didn’t stay in their gaps. And yes, quite often, they just got their butts kicked by the Redskins’ offensive line.

A second-quarter groin injury to defensive tackle Bennie Logan didn’t help. But the Eagles already were struggling against the run before Logan got hurt.

The Redskins had seven runs of 10 yards or more, including a 45-yarder by Robert Kelley that helped give them an early 14-0 lead, and a 57-yarder through the right side of the Eagles’ defense on third-and-seven with a minute-and-a-half left that killed any chance of an Eagles comeback.

 

3RD AND UNMANAGEABLE

The Eagles are tied for 28th in the league in third-down efficiency. They’ve converted just 33.3 percent of their third-down opportunities. A big reason for that is too many third-and-longs.

A league-low seven of the Eagles’ 63 third-down opportunities have been three yards or less. On Sunday, eight of their 12 third-down situations were nine yards or more. They converted just 4 of 12 third-down chances against the Redskins.

The Eagles averaged just 4.6 yards per play on first down. Gained four or fewer yards on 12 of 21 first-down plays. Second down was even worse. They averaged just 1.5 yards per second-down play. Three of Carson Wentz’s five sacks came on second down. That’s why they were in so many third-and-longs.

 

FLYING FLAGS

A week after their undisciplined 14-penalty, 111-yard performance against the Lions, the Eagles drew 13 more flags for 114 more yards against the Redskins.

Center Jason Kelce was called for holding not once, but twice, giving him a league-high four already. One was on a second-and-four, the other on first down.

Fletcher Cox picked up a roughing-the-passer penalty on a third-and-four incompletion in the second quarter that would’ve forced the Redskins to settle for a field goal. Instead, the automatic first down opened the door for a Washington touchdown.

An illegal block by rookie running back Wendell Smallwood in the third quarter wiped out a 38-yard Carson Wentz completion to Dorial Green-Beckham that would have given the Eagles a first down at the Washington 27.

Eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters was flagged for a false start on a third-and-nine in the fourth quarter. Safety Rodney McLeod inexplicably lined up offsides on a second-and-four, giving the Redskins a first down that gave them just enough yards for a 50-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal.

And let’s not forget right guard Brandon Brooks’ false start on a third-and-four at the Washington 5 with just under six minutes left in the game.

 

MISSING LANE

It would’ve been a nice little story Sunday if fifth-round rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai, with his parents in the FedEx Field stands watching, had stepped in for PED-disgraced right tackle Lane Johnson and done a bang-up job against the Redskins in his NFL debut.

But that didn’t happen. Vaitai had a very rough day against Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. With the 6-6, 320-pount Vaitai surrendering ground way too easily, Kerrigan beat him for a sack on the fifth play of the game, then beat him for another sack early in the second quarter, turning a hopeful second-and-three situation into one of too many Eagles third-and-longs.

The Eagles made adjustments to help Vaitai. That worked to a certain degree. But it created other problems, both with the rest of the line and with the passing game.

One of the solutions was to keep tight end Zach Ertz in for blocking help on pass plays. That helped Vaitai. Trouble is, it took away one of Carson Wentz’s most dangerous receivers.

On Sunday, Ertz, who had 13 catches against the Redskins last December, was targeted just three times and had only one catch for 22 yards.

That’s the fewest receptions Ertz has had in a game since November 27, 2014 when he was shut out in that 33-10 Thanksgiving Day win over Dallas. But Ertz played just 20 snaps that day. He played 46 on Sunday.

One possible solution would’ve been to use more two- and three-tight end sets. But the Eagles only did that on nine of their 48 offensve plays.

They used “12’’ personnel (two tight ends) five times. Ran the ball four of those times (for eight yards) and threw an incompletion on the fifth. Used “13” (three tight ends) four times. Ran it three times for 20 yards. The other one  was on the Eagles’ first play of the game, when Brent Celek lined up next to Vaitai. Wentz was sacked on that play.

 

NO RUSH

The staple of Jim Schwartz’s  wide-nine defense is the pass rush. The Eagles went into Sunday’s game ranked second in the league in sacks per pass play. They had decked the quarterback 14 times in their first four games. That’s a 56-sack pace.

But they met their match down in D.C. The Redskins have a solid, underrated offensive line that is ranked second in sacks allowed per pass play. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been sacked just eight times in 226 attempts.

None of those eight sacks came Sunday. The Eagles’ pass rushers seldom got close to Cousins. The one time they did, a frustrated Fletcher Cox drilled him late on a third-and-four play. The roughing-the-passer penalty he drew kept alive a second-quarter touchdown drive.

It was the first time in 22 games that the Eagles have failed to register at least one sack.

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sports/eagles/Five-reasons-why-the-Eagles-lost-to-the-Redskins.html

 

 

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