Biggest Takeaways from Philadelphia Eagles' Week 4 Loss
For a few fleeting moments, it appeared as if everything would be okay for the Philadelphia Eagles. Then it all came crashing down in the span of five minutes and 39 seconds—the length of time it took Washington to drive down the field and score a game-winning touchdown.
Rather than improve their record to 2-2 and lend the appearance that they were trending upward in a weak NFC East, the Eagles fell to 1-3 against and ceded important ground to a divisional opponent.
Forget the Super Bowl chatter that chased this squad into September. It's October now, and this team will be lucky to make the playoffs.
Naturally, Chip Kelly is under the microscope, as people argue whether it's Chip the head coach or Chip the general manager who's to blame for this debacle. Kelly is certainly at the heart of the issue either way, although the biggest takeaway as we reach the season's quarter pole might be that there's a lot of football left to play.
Yes, there are plenty of negatives, and we will touch on them all this week. However, there were some silver linings in Sunday's loss, even if a lot of people don't want to hear about them.
Still Not Enough from Running Game
On one of the Eagles' opening plays of the game, DeMarco Murray rushed for 30 yards. The rest of the afternoon, the reigning/soon-to-be-former NFL rushing champion carried seven times for only six yards.
Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles combined for 37 yards on nine attempts—4.1 yards per carry. That's fine and all but nothing sensational, nor does it reflect the number of runs that went for negative yards or minimal gains.
Needless to say, the Eagles' ground attack continues to underwhelm. They've been able to break off some big runs in recent weeks, lending the appearance that it's been more effective than it really is.
They've also had fewer handoffs blown up in the backfield for massive losses, so by those standards, there has been some improvement over the past two weeks.
Not nearly enough, though.
The Eagles converted just 14 first downs on Sunday, and a big reason for that was the offense's inability to create manageable first downs. That starts with production on first and second down, which usually comes in part from running the football.
The Eagles simply can't do so with regularity at the moment, and it's having a ripple effect.
Not only does it put quarterback Sam Bradford in a tough spot, but the defense is on the field all day as well. After Washington possessed the ball for over 41 minutes on Sunday, the unit finally snapped, allowing the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Offensive Line Depth an Issue Again
The issues in the running game can be traced right back to the offensive line, which has not been good. And now that the Eagles have suffered numerous injuries up front, the unit is as patchwork as ever.
By the end of Sunday's game, the lineup hardly resembled what suited up on opening day. Backup Matt Tobin—who started the game at right guard—was in for seven-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters at left tackle. As a result of the injury to Peters, reserve Dennis Kelly had to take over for Tobin at right guard.
Lane Johnson was out there, but perhaps in spirit only, as the right tackle labored with an injury of his own.
Meanwhile, the Eagles have perennial journeyman Allen Barbre starting at left guard for two-time Pro Bowler Evan Mathis, who was released unnecessarily in June over a financial dispute.
Compounding matters is the fact that the Eagles have not invested a draft pick in their offensive line since using the fourth overall pick on Johnson in 2013. No more picks in that draft, none at all in 2014, none at all in 2015.
Is it any wonder this organization is having trouble replacing aging and departing players up front, let alone finding people to fill in when players inevitably miss time?
Of course not, and as a result, the Eagles offense is struggling to run the football. This week, protecting the quarterback was also an issue.
Where's the Pass Rush?
Last season, the Eagles finished tied for second in the NFL with 49 sacks. They boasted one of the most feared pass rushes in the league.
Little has changed in Philadelphia's front seven, yet through four weeks, the production hasn't been there. The Eagles have just six sacks on the season, tied with four other teams for 22nd. Worse still, they were only able to get to Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins once on Sunday behind a pedestrian offensive line.
Give Cousins some credit—he has a quick release and doesn't take a lot of sacks in general.
Then again, he tends to make a lot of poor decisions and throw interceptions when he's under pressure, but he wasn't picked off once by the Eagles in part because the quarterback was seldom under fire.
What's the problem? It's difficult to say. Brandon Graham replaced Trent Cole as starter at one of the outside linebacker spots, yet Cole only had one more sack (6.5) than Graham (5.5) last season with far more playing time.
Mychal Kendricks has missed some time with injuries and is in more of a rotation, yet rookie Jordan Hicks looks poised to replace his 4.0 sacks from 2014 from the interior linebacker position.
There's no real reason why this personnel shouldn't be just as effective at rushing the passer as last season, but that hasn't been the case. Perhaps more blitzing is in order? It's clear the Eagles defense can't make the Kirk Cousins of the world feel that comfortable in the backfield.
Kicking Game an Issue
Signed this week to replace an injured Cody Parkey, Caleb Sturgis missed a 33-yard field goal and an extra point. In the words of the immortal Andy Reid, "We can all count. Those points would've helped."
It's not like Parkey had been getting the job done, either. He missed a go-ahead 44-yard field goal in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1. He struggled during preseason games as well. Actually, Parkey's issues date back to the Eagles' Week 16 loss to Washington in 2014, where he missed from 34 and 46 yards in a three-point game to eliminate the team from playoff contention.
There's no need to belabor the point. The kicking game stinks, it has for awhile and it's cost the Eagles a lot of games in a short timeframe.
At Least Sam Bradford Was Okay
On the bright side, Sam Bradford played quite possibly his best game in an Eagles uniform.
Bradford completed 15 of 28 passes for 270 yards (9.6 yards per attempt) and three touchdowns, good for an efficient 122.6 rating. A fourth touchdown was called back due to an illegal formation penalty.
While you would still like to see better than a 53.6 completion percentage, that was largely a symptom of Bradford attempting a lot of deep passes for the first time all season. While he missed a few opportunities downfield, those are lower-percentage throws by nature—plus it was refreshing just to see him take shots.
Bradford was also under siege for much of the afternoon. The quarterback wound up getting sacked five times and took a nasty-looking hit that sent him limping to the trainer's table. He wouldn't miss a snap.
So there's hope for Bradford yet. If he can continue to build off this performance, we may be looking at Sunday's loss as the start of something positive.
Eagles Only 1 Game out of 1st Place
Any time a team is sitting on a 1-3 record and just lost to the perennial laughingstock of its division, it's difficult to be optimistic. Right now, there's very little reason to use the words "Eagles" and "playoffs" in the same sentence.
Except the NFC East truly is wide open.
The Dallas Cowboys lost for the second week in a row on Sunday night, while Washington and New York Giants victories only push their respective records to 2-2. Technically, the Eagles are only one game back of first place.
Obviously, the tiebreaker situation doesn't look good right now. With losses to Washington and Dallas, the Eagles are way behind in the divisional standings. The Week 1 interdivisional loss to Atlanta doesn't look as bad, seeing as the Cowboys and Giants also fell to the unbeaten Falcons.
The Eagles haven't done much to earn fans' trust this season, but they had a chance to win all four games and even led in the fourth quarter against Atlanta and Washington. They need to play better and more consistently.
However, thanks to a weak division, the playoffs aren't out of the question just yet.