Winners and Losers of Philadelphia Eagles' Week 4 Performance
Forcing a turnover on the opening drive and scoring the ensuing touchdown set the tone for the Eagles, who never trailed and looked leaps and bounds the better team. As Philip Rivers' Chargers always do, though, the opponent played up to their competition and put pressure on Philly to close it out with a fourth-quarter comeback.
Thousands of traveling Eagles fans who made the StubHub Center look more like Lincoln Financial Field didn't see a comprehensive and convincing win, but it was still one that vindicates the Eagles as contenders. There are certain weak spots on the roster, but when the rest of it is clicking, they'll prove to be tough to beat.
Let's take a closer look into the positive and negative trends from Week 4, as the Eagles get ready to return home to face the Arizona Cardinals.
Winner: A Suddenly Dominant Run Game
Where's this been?
The Eagles run game, largely an abomination through two weeks of the season, has suddenly become one of the most dominant ground attacks in the two that have followed. Philly scampered for a whopping 214 rushing yards, alleviating almost all the pressure on Carson Wentz's shoulders.
LeGarrette Blount looks like the back that most Eagles fans thought he couldn't be after Week 1, rushing for 136 yards on 16 carries and a signature 68-yard run that should go down as one of the most resilient runs of the NFL season. Remember when people pegged him as a potential preseason cut?
Beyond that, the committee is performing in a way only head coach Doug Pederson could have dreamt. Wendell Smallwood amassed 79 total yards while taking up some of Darren Sproles' duties, and Corey Clement iced the game in the fourth quarter with 10 carries for 30 yards and two critical third-down conversions.
All of the sudden, the Eagles are tied for third in the league in rushing with 572 yards through four games. The tune has dramatically shifted in regards to an Eagles offense that initially appeared to be very heavily lenient on the arm of Wentz. Now, Philly has the look of a complete offense that could very well turn into a machine.
Loser: 4th-Quarter Defense
If the Eagles defense played in the fourth quarter like they have in the first three throughout the season, they would likely be the league's only undefeated team on the heels of some awfully convincing victories.
One week after a distasteful 24-point fourth quarter given up to the Giants, the Eagles' porous defense in the last 15 minutes reared its ugly head again. Los Angeles rallied with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, putting the onus on the offense to effectively win the game. Without three third-down conversions by the Eagles, it's easy to envision Rivers orchestrating a late game-winning drive.
To recap, the fourth-quarter Eagles have given up 14 points to the Chiefs, 24 to the Giants and 14 to the Chargers in the last three outings. They did enough to prevail against the winless Giants and Chargers, but similar performances against better teams will likely breed different results.
Of course, the Eagles defense is pretty undermanned, but that's no excuse in today's NFL for a unit's level of play to dip so considerably late in a game. There's a lot to like from defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's unit, but that needs to be shored up.
Winner: Ball Security
For all the promise that Wentz showed throughout his rookie campaign, cutting back on turnovers became the primary area for improvement. He threw 14 picks last season, and some of his fumbles led to defeats in winnable games.
After a shaky start to 2017 in that department, Wentz is hitting his stride with ball security. He threw two picks in the first two games but is now without a turnover in two straight games.
Even without committing a turnover against the Chargers, Wentz and the offense still had to step up and protect a lead in the fourth quarter. If they had thrown an interception or lost fumble into the mix, the outcome could have been quite different.
These are the types of games that the Eagles lost a season ago, and a big reason as to why they're winning them in 2017 is better ball security.
Loser: Torrey Smith's Hands
The Eagles thought they were adding some of the most reliable hands on the team and a consistent deep threat when they signed veteran Torrey Smith. So far, they've gotten a whole lot of nothing.
Smith continues to get open deep down the field—and continues to drop those chances. He dropped another pass Sunday, putting his total to four on the season.
Compare those four drops to his 10 catches, and Smith's struggles become all the more frustrating. That's a ratio that would have most players riding the bench for a few weeks, if not worse.
Thankfully for the Eagles, Smith is a veteran they can trust to work on his issues and turn things around. He's acknowledged the struggles, tweeting after the game: "in the middle of the worst stretch of my career."
On a day where the Eagles wide receivers combined for less than 100 yards through the air (96), they need Smith to come through when he's called upon.
Winner: Zach Ertz
The Eagles receivers struggled Sunday, but they can get away with it when Zach Ertz is proving every Sunday why he's quickly becoming one of the league's best tight ends.
Ertz had another workmanlike performance, catching five passes for 81 yards. His 38-yard reception was one of the biggest plays of the game, and he led all Philly pass-catchers in yards once again.
He is coming of age, leading all tight ends in the league with 326 yards. His 26 receptions are six more than any other tight end, and Rob Gronkowski is the only other tight end with more than 200 receiving yards.
Let's not forget that Ertz restructured his contract over the offseason to give the team more cap flexibility to sign players around him. With the way he's playing, some of those guys who got extra money because of Ertz should be buying him dinner.
Loser: Alshon Jeffery
Alshon Jeffery opened up Sunday's game perfectly, snagging an eight-yard touchdown on the team's first drive and seemingly setting the stage for his best game as an Eagle.
He went on to catch two more passes on the next eight drives.
Jeffery deserves credit for scoring, but Sunday's matchup was unquestionably the type of game he's expected to dominate in. The Chargers were without star cornerback Jason Verrett, leaving Jeffery with a favorable matchup that he has the physical tools to win.
Even on a day that the Eagles wideouts didn't have to do too much, you'd expect Jeffery's skill set to give Wentz the best opportunity to move the chains. Instead, Nelson Agholor's speed and shiftiness became the go-to presence on the perimeter as Agholor finished with twice the yards (58) on the same amount of catches.
The Eagles offense appears to be good enough to win a lot of games that Jeffery doesn't make a big impact in, and that's a huge silver lining. But it doesn't bode well for Jeffery's long-term future in Philadelphia or the hopes for a fat contract this offseason.
Winner: D-Line Performance Sans Fletcher Cox
Missing the anchor of the defensive line and going up against a Chargers team that's been much more intent on establishing the run wasn't an ideal combination, but the Eagles' defensive line depth showed their teeth.
Philly's front four completely shut down the Chargers' run game, forcing them into an almost exclusive aerial attack as the game went along. L.A. only ran the ball 13 times, with feature back Melvin Gordon amassing just 22 yards on 10 carries.
More than half of the Chargers' rushing yards came on a single play, which was a 35-yard touchdown run from Austin Ekeler on his first carry of the season.
The pass rush didn't dominate but still sacked Rivers twice and forced him to throw it away on a few more occasions. Coming off a zero-sack performance against the Giants, somewhat of a return to form was a nice sight.
The front won't be its usual self until Cox returns from a calf injury, but the likes of Beau Allen and Timmy Jernigan proved they can step their game up to alleviate the burden.
Loser: Deep-Ball Defense
The secondary will continue to be a weak spot for the Eagles for the foreseeable future, and that's easier to stomach when the offense is putting up 25-plus points per game. But the holes there are becoming more noticeable by the week.
Philadelphia's offense appeared to be taking over the game in the second quarter after taking a 13-0 lead, but one play got the Chargers back into it. Tyrell Williams burned the Eagles secondary for a 75-yard touchdown, getting behind the defense when they should have been expecting a shot from Rivers.
Keenan Allen also torched the Eagles with a 50-yard reception, which set up a critical fourth-quarter touchdown that put a lot of pressure on Philly to close out the game.
To his credit, cornerback Rasul Douglas has performed above expectations as a rookie who got thrust into the lineup after injuries. Fellow corners Patrick Robinson and Jalen Mills have been impressive overall, considering the circumstances. But the unit could be one of the biggest surprises on the team if they shore up their issues with the deep ball, and it just hasn't happened as of yet.