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Rams-Eagles preview: 6 notes about Philadelphia

Carson Wentz, Fletcher Cox, Darius Slay and an unfortunate injury situation

Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp Photo by Yong Kim-Pool/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Carson Wentz right after the Rams picked Jared Goff and then a year later, they won the Super Bowl. The Eagles have gone 9-7 in the two seasons since, falling short of expectations for both head coach Doug Pederson and Wentz, who seemed to be on the brink of a brilliant run when they surprisingly upset the New England Patriots without even needing their franchise QB.

After his Week 1 performance, one of the lowest rated in FootballOutsiders history, some may be wondering if the Eagles do need Wentz at all. At least, until they’re able to surround him with a healthy and talented offense again.

Philadelphia was the “upset” of the week by losing a 17-0 lead to Washington Football Team and giving up 27 unanswered. A patched up offensive line couldn’t keep Washington’s first round draft darlings off of the oft-tackled Wentz and he finished the game with eight sacks and three turnovers. Adding injuries to interceptions and incompletions, the Eagles enter Week 2 with even less certainty at offensive line, defensive end, wide receiver and special teams than they had entering Week 1.

Week 1 tends to have too large of an influence on our opinions of a player and/or a team, so I encourage you to be skeptical of the following and its impact on Sunday’s game. Nevertheless, these things are true and should matter for this game, one way or another.

Carson Wentz is coming off of one of his worst career games

Concerns abound for Wentz after his performance against Football Team and it’s more than the final stat line, which is bad but doesn’t say as much as some of the splits.

24-of-42, 270 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, eight sacks, 6.43 Y/A, two fumbles (one lost)

  • On second down, Wentz was 6-of-11 for three yards, getting sacked twice and losing 14 yards. Wentz’s net result on second downs was -11 yards on 13 plays.
  • He threw two interceptions on 1st-and-10. His first interception setup Washington at the PHI 45 and Dwayne Haskins cut the lead to 17-7 right before halftime. His second interception setup Washington at the PHI 20 and the ensuing touchdown drive cut the lead to 17-14.
  • In the 21-50 yard line area of his half of the field, Wentz went 11-of-21 for 167 yards and those two interceptions, a rating of 39.3.
  • After Football Team took the lead, Wentz went 4-of-7 for 29 yards.
  • In the second half, Wentz was 10-of-20 for 88 yards and an interception.
  • He was sacked five times out of shotgun and three times under center.

There are numerous plausible explanations for this performance and the “cause” is an amalgamation of those reasons, which include:

  • The Eagles lost Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks before the season and first round left tackle Andre Dillard not long after that. Right tackle Lane Johnson (ankle) didn’t suit up but says he plans to play this week. The Eagles have 22-year-old Nate Herbig, undrafted in 2019, starting at guard and 38-year-old Jason Peters starting in place of Dillard. An offensive line with Peters, Johnson and Jason Kelce brings back memories of the 2017 Super Bowl, but Peters was consistently beaten by rookie Chase Young and Johnson is returning from ankle surgery. Herbig and Jack Driscoll (fourth round rookie, played in 50 snaps) didn’t receive positive reviews from Week 1 and the team even signed veteran Jamon Brown off of a practice squad on Tuesday.
  • Receiver DeSean Jackson was limited to 54% of the snaps as Doug Pederson looks to manage his playing time so he can have a full season. Alshon Jeffery remains out with a foot injury. Rookie first rounder Jalen Reagor had a 55-yard reception and two punt returns, but they didn’t go much of anywhere and Reagor fumbled once. Pederson said he and fellow rookie John Hightower “were just OK.” Wentz completed only two-of-eight targets to Reagor and Hightower. 2019 second rounder JJ Arcega-Whiteside played in 28 snaps and was targeted zero times. No Eagles wideout was targeted more than Greg Ward — an undrafted college quarterback who was more popular than Jackson, Reagor, Arcega-Whiteside and Hightower — and he hauled in five of seven targets for 31 yards.
  • If there is a quarterback in the league today who could have his coach come out and randomly announce that he’s going on injured reserve with an issue that’s never been mentioned before, it’s Carson Wentz.
  • Washington has drafted Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Da’Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen in the first round over the last four years. They combined for 3.5 sacks, while veteran Ryan Kerrigan had two and Matthew Ioannadis had 1.5. Linebacker Jon Bostic had one sack and three QB hits. Head coach Ron Rivera helped Carolina finish second in sacks last season. Football Team could have the best pass rush in the NFL.
  • (Note: When you want to search for a game you might go with something like “Eagles-Rams” but now we are supposed to search “Eagles-Football Team” which brings up ... the Eagles. Because they are a football team. And Dan Snyder is considering this as a permanent name.)
  • Pederson mentioned the wet weather and the ball potentially slipping out of Wentz’s hand.

Carson Wentz had a bad game. It doesn’t mean he will have another bad game this week, but he will definitely struggle more than usual if he doesn’t have more help.

The defensive ends group is also in disarray

Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer has to be pleased with how Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein performed against big names like Demarcus Lawrence and Everson Griffen on Sunday. Kromer would love to see another game like that against the Eagles and while these players undeniably have names, they might not be as recognizable to the football viewing population.

Philadelphia was without Derek Barnett in Week 1 and his status for Sunday is unknown. The same goes for Brandon Graham, who went into concussion protocol last week. The team also recently placed Vinny Curry on injured reserve and is expected to be without him for at least four weeks.

If Graham and Barnett remain out, then the starters could be Josh Sweat, a fourth round pick in 2018 with zero career starts and who had four sacks in 352 snaps last season, and Genard Avery, who went one round after Sweat but to the Browns. Avery had 4.5 sacks and 14 QB hits as a rookie but was traded to the Eagles in 2019 for a fourth. He’s posted one sack in nine games with Philadelphia. The only other options are seventh round rookie Casey Toohill and practice squad player Joe Ostman.

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz did highlight Sweat as someone he expects to be a “big contributor” this season regardless and early signs are positive.

Sacks are only one area of a defensive end’s game of course. There’s also run defense, pass pressure, plugging up a gap and plenty more. But in any of those cases, we have a good idea that Barnett and Graham are better options for the Eagles than Sweat and Avery. Their availability will be worth closing monitoring.

Darius Slay is on the Eagles now

In case you missed it, Slay forced his way out of Detroit and the Lions traded him to Philadelphia for 3rd and 5th round draft picks. The Eagles then signed him to a three-year, $50 million contract, four days before signing nickel corner Nickell Robey-Coleman away from the Rams. Robey-Coleman may have some insight into LA’s offense and the tendencies of players like Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, but it may not have a major impact on their performances.

The Rams did hire a new offensive coordinator and bring in a couple of new weapons.

The main concern for Kupp and Woods would be Slay and while PFF hasn’t liked him recently, players still respect him as a shutdown coverage cornerback. He played well against Washington’s Terry McLaurin in Week 1 and will be Schwartz’s second-most important player.

How productive will Fletcher Cox be this season?

Cox remains the most important and Sunday’s game will feature the NFL’s two best defensive tackles, according to plenty of people. This isn’t a question about Cox’s effectiveness necessarily but it’s worth exploring the formula that went into his results over the last two seasons:

2018 - 10.5 sacks, 34 QB hits

2019 - 3.5 sacks, 10 QB hits

Cox went crazy two years ago, posting seven game with at least three QB hits and three more with two. Then last season, Cox had zero game with three QB hits and only two with two. He played in all 16 games but took part in a QB sack in only four of those contests.

In Week 1 against Dwayne Haskins and his offensive line, Cox posted two tackles.

This week, center Austin Blythe and guards Joseph Noteboom and Austin Corbett will have the duty to contain one of the NFL’s premier defensive players. It’s the same for the Eagles offensive line when they’re on the field — and they have Jason Kelce — but Kromer’s focus isn’t necessarily celebrating a lack of experience on the edge for Philly, so much as it is figuring how to keep Cox away from Jared Goff and the running backs.

Eagles lose special teams captain and cornerback depth

Third-year cornerback Craig James was named special teams captain this year and signed a one-year, $1.5 million extension with Philadelphia but was placed on IR at the same time as Curry. He played in 25 special teams snaps against the Football Team as Pederson’s gunner on punt returns and more, but will be out several weeks, at least.

This does not impact the Eagles’ starting secondary — Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox and Nickell Robey-Coleman — and James isn’t the number four guy either as that belongs to Cre’Von LeBlanc. But those are the only four corners that Philadelphia will have this week unless they promote Trevor Williams from the practice squad.

Dallas Goedert could be the next Zach Ertz while there’s still Zach Ertz

Ertz, 30, has posted at least 70 catches and 800 yards for each of the last five seasons. His peak was 2018, when he had 116 catches for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s been fantastically productive and his Hall of Fame case could be interesting if he’s only in the middle of his career. But with the way that Goedert is playing, the Eagles may opt to extend the younger player over the veteran.

That’s a thought going around for down the line but in the case of this week, it seems like Philadelphia just has two quality receiving options at tight end.

Goedert led the team with eight catches for 101 yards on Sunday and dating back to last season, he’s been targeted 94 times in his last 13 games. That’s a lot of targets for a starting tight end, let alone a number two. Goedert has turned those opportunities into 68 catches for 738 yards and five touchdowns.

In that same stretch, Ertz has caught 64 of 101 targets for 666 yards and six touchdowns in 12 contests.

It’s not hard to see potent offensive potential with the Eagles: Wentz, Ertz, Goedert, Jackson, Reagor, Jeffery, Miles Sanders (missed Week 1, unknown status for Week 2), Peters, Johnson, Kelce. We got a glimpse of that in Week 1, when Philly scored two touchdowns and one field goal over their first four drives.

But they had two interceptions, one fumble lost, two turnovers on downs, one missed field goal and five punts to end the game. That’s so bad that you almost can’t believe they’d be able to repeat it. Brandon Staley is going to make them try.