By MATT SANTOLERI
Going into the 2020 NFL season we knew things were going to look a lot different than in years past.
It didn’t take a genius to understand how a lack of preseason games, training camp, and full padded practices with hitting, was going to lead to sloppy play and increased injury rates. These were all sacrifices we knowingly signed up for so we could get a sense of normalcy in our lives during a year that has been anything but normal.
With this in mind, we tried to hone in our lofty expectations of week to week success and settled for competitive toughness that would pay off in a playoff berth in the end, regardless of how ugly it was to get there.
As the weeks went on and it became more apparent that the NFC East was going to allow a historically bad team not only gain a playoff berth, but host a home playoff game, the goalposts of success were moved closer than ever.
Six or Seven wins along with a resurgence of healthy players and momentum felt like a low enough bar for this team to cross. For the 3-6-1 Eagles who are still at the top of the NFC East going into Week 12, I have to reconsider that bar and if we shouldn’t just throw it in the dumpster fire that has been the Eagles 2020 season.
Starring down the barrel of four more consecutive matchups with teams that have not only winning records, but chances to make noise in the postseason, it’s impossible to get excited after the Eagles 22-17 loss to Cleveland.
When only considering points the offense has scored the Eagles rank No. 28 in the league with 19.8 points scored per game through Week 11 and on this stretch will face the first, third, fourth, and fifth ranked scoring offenses in the NFL.
It truly is an any given Sunday league but with how poorly the Eagles have played up to this point, I think it more likely they are 3-10-1 after this stretch than beating any of these teams.
This team just simply can’t beat good teams and its more obvious than ever that the bad team
they are more likely to beat on any given week is themselves.
The Eagles are best in the league at things you don’t want your team to excel at like being ranked first in fumbles per game, second in interceptions per game, and having the third worst turnover margin.
Having sports back in everyone’s lives during this difficult time was supposed to improve our mental health but I can’t imagine Eagles fans are feeling better when consistently bad football is what they have had as a “distraction”. What exactly has led to this disaster of a season and where do the Eagles go from here?
CARSON WENTZ IS IN A PLACE NO ONE SAW COMING
Carson Wentz is playing the worst football of his career, Doug Pederson is calling the most unimaginative offense in his tenure, Jim Schwartz has forgotten about the back seven of his defense, and Howie Roseman is at the center of it all with horrendous drafting and bad contracts.
I have been a big Wentz defender over the last few years pointing out the lackluster weapons he’s had at his disposal and MVP caliber 2017 run as reasons to believe in him getting back to form. It feels like 2017 was a decade ago now because the QB we have seen for most of 2019 and all of 2020 is just simply not very good.
The Eagles have locked themselves into Wentz for the foreseeable future as his dead cap money doesn’t even start to make sense with cutting him until the 2022 season when it’s a shade under $25 million. Even then, that’s a huge pill to swallow and more than likely won’t happen until 2023 when its closer to $15 million.
This means the Eagles are stuck with Wentz for better or worse until then barring a restructure and trade like Nick Foles did to end up in Chicago from Jacksonville. This makes the second round selection of Jalen Hurts that much more puzzling and one that needs to be talked about in terms of asset allocation.
If you can justify picking a back up quarterback just outside of the top 50 then what more do you need to see from your starter to give you the motivation to make a change to him? I’m not saying Wentz should be permanently shelved at this moment but at this point you are sending the message to the rest of the team that his play is acceptable and bares no consequences.
If Wentz continues his play down the stretch and doesn’t get benched, in the midst of a game at least, then I think even bigger changes are needed in the offseason then what I expect will happen.
When considering those offseason changes, getting a real offensive coordinator in Philadelphia has to be one of the highest priorities going into 2021. Doug Pederson just is simply not calling a good game for his struggling QB and is exacerbating the problems that exist within the offensive structure.
Over the last two games the Eagles have gone 2-21 on third down (9.5 percent) which is the absolute worst conversion rate in franchise history over a two-game span since this stat was counted in 1978.
Wentz is not playing well and has missed opportunities himself but team stats like this reflect a much larger issue. They are getting no juice on first and second down which is putting this team behind the sticks in third and long situations. The lack of explosive plays has been an issue for too long as they seemingly need double digit play drives to have any hope to score.
This is on its own isn’t great but when during this same two game stretch a passing play of 20 yards or more downfield just hasn’t happened, its detrimental to winning. I wouldn’t call his offense vanilla, but it surely is predictable and stale.
IS COACHING OR PERSONNEL TO BLAME?
This team needs a Frank Reich like figure who can contribute to the scheme of this offense and bring a sense of stability to the play calling. I think Doug deserves another shot in 2021 to fix his faults but that simply won’t happen without significant help.
This leaves Jim Schwartz and Howie Roseman as the most likely candidates to bear the brunt of this disappointing season going into next year. Howie in my opinion is the one who failed this team the most in 2020 and that stems from decisions he has made in years prior as much as this one.
From his atrocious drafting that has left the team having to hope for contributions from their future Hall of Fame, but currently washed, Left Tackle in Jason Peters to giving out albatross contracts to malcontents like Alshon Jeffery, that cost the team in the locker room and on the field, he has abjectly failed at his job.
Between JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Jalen Hurts, the Eagles are getting almost nothing from high leverage second round picks while players that were on the board at the time are putting in All-Pro seasons elsewhere.
Moves that could have helped the Eagles this year surround Wentz with adequate talent like going after DeAndre Hopkins or Stefon Diggs never materialized because of the cap hell the Eagles are facing in 2021 and beyond.
Roseman had put them in that hell by kicking contracts down the road. Going all in to win championships sometimes means having to tear it all down and rebuild when that window closes but the Eagles can’t even do that quickly because the window has slammed shut quicker than Roseman’s timeline expected.
Jeffrey Lurie seems to trust Roseman more than the fanbase does at this point however, and so it’s likely he will get at least one more crack at fixing the mess he has gotten the Eagles into. I believe he should shake Roseman’s hand, thank him for 2017, and move on to someone who has a better eye for talent in the draft.
Schwartz was hired the same offseason as Pederson but was here before Doug which makes this the easiest of the separations. He hasn’t been a total disaster as the defensive coordinator or anything, but he has been maddening with which positions he puts value in.
His insistence in keeping players like Nate Gerry and Jalen Mills in the game plan despite their limitations has caused one too many gray hairs for fans.
He leaves his secondary on islands and asks non-coverage centric linebackers to go against their strengths.
In the Wide 9 scheme that Schwartz has adopted it puts most of the success on the back of his front and applying consistent pressure. In 2017, they had the horses to make this a reality and it showed with success on that side of the ball.
Since then, more times than not that area where so much of the cap strapped resources have been poured into, has just not produced like it has needed.
The Eagles who now have a healthy Malik Jackson and signed Javon Hargrave to a massive deal are giving up 45 more yards on the ground this season per game to opposing teams than they did in 2019.
Inability to find young talent and bad free agent acquisitions would usually fall squarely on the GM’s shoulders but we know that Schwartz has lots of influence in player transactions for his defensive unit.
Players like LJ Fort, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, and Jordan Hicks who all have succeeded at their new destinations leaves a lot of questions on Schwartz’s ability to spot and develop talent. Having players fail in Philadelphia and succeed elsewhere would be painfully on its face but the fact that these players all play positions this current roster is weak at is just insult to injury.
Heads need to roll in the offseason and unfortunately for Schwartz, he is just simply the easiest to move on from.*