What Went Wrong With Philadelphia Eagles After 3-0 Start?

Sunday’s 32-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was the final nail in the coffin for the 2016 Philadelphia Eagles. They trailed 29-0 to a team that entered the day 4-7-1; some late garbage-time scores from the Eagles shouldn’t hide what was an all-around embarrassing effort. At two games under .500 in the NFC’s most competitive division, it would take an absolute miracle for Doug Pederson’s squad to pull themselves back into the thick of the playoff race.

So what went wrong? After such a promising 3-0 start behind then-MVP frontrunner Carson Wentz, why are we left to pick up the pieces in what will be a third straight season without a playoff appearance for the Eagles – and an eighth straight without a win?

Is it Pederson’s fault? Should we blame Chip Kelly for leaving us with this roster? Is it Agholor’s fault? Is it – forgive me, Eagles fans – the fault of the first-round quarterback, who was supposed to be a savior? In all actuality, it’s a combination of all of those, coupled with the fact that no one expected the rest of the NFC East to be quite this good, this soon. In the blame game, here’s where I start with this year’s now 5-7 club.

 

Carson Wentz caught everyone by surprise the first three weeks, and that raised expectations through the roof.

It was glorious when the Eagles started the season 3-0, winning every game by a double-digit margin. Carson Wentz – who wasn’t even a starter until a week before Opening Day – had five total touchdowns to no interceptions, and he showed the poise of a 15-year pro on his way to the Hall of Fame. We had to know that wouldn’t last, but a 2-7 record since is demoralizing. Wentz has severely regressed. It’s no secret that he’s playing with an awful group of pass-catching talent. It’s also becoming increasingly obvious watching the games that Wentz isn’t making the throws that he used to. He’s sailing his throws. He’s short on his deep passes. He fumbles too much.  His mechanics have been questioned. All that doesn’t mean he’s a bad quarterback. He has the size and work ethic and talent and desire to have a long and successful career at the position, and how he responds this offseason will tell the organization and the fanbase a lot about him.

 

Lane Johnson’s suspension was a crippling loss to an offense that is already devoid of talent at the wide receiver position.

It’s no coincidence that the Eagles’ downfall started when Lane Johnson was suspended. In the first four games, Johnson was healthy and dominating at right tackle, and as a result, the Eagles were averaging 29 points per game. In the eight games since, they’re 2-6 and have averaged 19 points per contest. They were the third-highest scoring team with Johnson, and they’re the 21st highest-scoring team without Johnson. With Johnson on the field, the Eagles aren’t the Dallas Cowboys, but they have themselves a top-three pair of bookend offensive tackles.

 

You can’t win football games when you’re trotting out Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham and Bryce Treggs for regular snaps.

Outside of Jordan Matthews, the Philadelphia Eagles’ wide receivers aren’t just bad. They’re historically awful. Nelson Agholor is a sad case of a player who is just overmatched at the NFL level, and he’s even letting it go to his head. Agholor is 132th among all players in receiving yards (287). He’s 114th in receptions (31). He hasn’t caught a touchdown since Week 1.

Dorial Green-Beckham hasn’t been much better, posting just a 33/359/2 statline. Josh Huff was released earlier this season. That essentially leaves undrafted rookies Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner taking regular snaps. Does that sound like a formula for success? Even the Eagles’ running game has been subpar, with the team essentially putting forth a four-headed backfield that ranks just 16th in the league in rushing yards per attempt.

 

They have a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. What do you expect?

When you look at the 2016 season as a whole, it’s reasonable. The Eagles, with a rookie head coach and rookie quarterback – not to mention an underwhelming group of offensive playmakers – are 5-7. They’ve struggled to move the ball, although Wentz has shown flashes. The defense has had tremendous stretches of brilliance, and gone through a long dry spell. The special teams has remained a constant bright spot, and speaks highly about the performance of coordinator, Dave Fipp. Looking at the sum of the parts as a whole, this season is probably what we all expected. I predicted the Eagles to be 6-10 (link). At this rate, that’s about what they’ll end up being. It’s just the way it has happened that has been so disappointing.

 

Jim Schwartz’s defense, led by $100 million man Fletcher Cox, has cooled off.

The Bengals scored on their first six possessions against the Eagles in Week 13, and that was without A.J. Green. For the second straight game, Jim Schwartz’s much-heralded defensive line produced zero sacks. In fact, the Eagles have one total sack in their last three games – and it’s been for no yards. They haven’t recorded an interception since they beat Matt Ryan in Week 10. Fletcher Cox, he of the $100-plus million contract, has two total tackles and no sacks in the last month. Mychal Kendricks has been invisible all season, and we’ve come to expect that from him, but what about Vinny Curry? Where has Brandon Graham been?

For the first seven weeks, the Eagles were second in the league in fewest yards allowed. They were tied-third in sacks. They had allowed the sixth-lowest passer rating to opposing quarterbacks. They had completely shut down Ben Roethlisberger. They were the first team to noticeable rattle Sam Bradford, who had been playing like the league MVP for the first quarter of the season.

The competition has been tough recently, that’s for sure. Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers are top-tier quarterbacks, and Andy Dalton is still a veteran Pro Bowl signal-caller. But the Eagles haven’t just regressed; they’ve been laughably bad as of late. That’s on Schwartz.

 

Chip Kelly’s moves are really starting to hurt the Eagles.

Four years into his head coaching career, it’s becoming increasingly evident that Chip Kelly is undermatched at the NFL level. After starting his career 19-9, he’s 9-23 since, but it was his work as a general manager that really depleted the Eagles’ roster.

Kelly’s decision to outright release DeSean Jackson didn’t even make sense at the time, and looks worse when you see the fact that the Eagles trotted out Dorial Green-Beckham and Bryce Treggs in a must-win NFL game. Jackson has 13 catches of at least 50 yards since 2014; think the Eagles could use a downfield playmaker like that? Meanwhile, LeSean McCoy – traded for Kiko Alonso – is playing arguably the best football of his career right now. Since Week 5, he’s averaging a ridiculous 6.09 yards per carry with six scores. Kelly’s incompetence as a general manager has stripped the 2016 Eagles of top-tier talent they can’t just get back.

 

Now we see why the Eagles were less than thrilled about hiring Doug Pederson.

It was no secret that Doug Pederson wasn’t the first choice of Jeffrey Lurie/Howie Roseman; in fact, it’s not ridiculous to say he was only hired because Lurie wanted to bring back Andy Reid all over again. Pederson’s resume was underwhelming, as he had never even been a coordinator at the NFL level. He was literally coaching high school football just eight years ago. And maybe now we see why the Eagles were less than thrilled about hiring Pederson.

He started off so strongly, but now he appears overmatched on a game-to-game basis. He literally challenged a two-yard completion last week. He botched the handling of the Josh Huff saga. He called 60 pass plays against the Bengals in a game in which undrafted rookie free agent Paul Turner was the team’s leading receiver. His team has quit on him, and there are still four games remaining on the schedule. The Eagles insist Pederson’s job is safe, but what do you expect them to say in year one?

 

Some of the blame for the season has to be placed on Howie Roseman.

Former general manager-turned-equipment-boy Howie Roseman reassumed his roles as general manager this offseason and proceeded to wheel and deal to sign up the Eagles’ core players. The moves looked spectacular at the time; after seeing Chip Kelly rid himself of every player not named Riley Cooper, it was a blessing to have Roseman recognize the homegrown talent the Eagles had.

But all of a sudden, the moves don’t look so good.

Tight end Zach Ertz was signed to a new $42 million deal, and he currently ranks just 17th at his position in receiving yards (452). He’s found the end zone just twice, one of which came in Sunday’s blowout loss at the hands of Cincinnati, and we’ve all seen how rarely Ertz breaks a tackle. And forget about asking him to block.

Pass-rusher Vinny Curry inked a $47 million contract, and if that seemed like an outrageous amount to pay for a player that had never started a game in his career, you’re right. Curry has provided minimal impact off the bench, registering just 1.5 sacks and nine total tackles all season. That’s replacement-level production, and the Eagles are committing $9 million per year for that.

Per the NFLPA Twitter account, the Eagles have spent more money against the cap than any other team since 2011. They’ve spent over $613 million. No other team has even topped the $600 million mark. You want to know how many playoff wins Philly has during that span? Try zero. Some of that blame has to rest on Roseman. He hasn’t been the GM the whole time, but he’s had a significant impact on the club. It looked like they were trending in the right direction, but now? No one really knows what to think. The final four games will reveal a lot about the 2016 Eagles – and who will still be here when 2017 rolls around.

 

Follow Cody Swartz on Twitter.

 

Posted by Cody Swartz

The oldest and wisest twin. Seven-year Eagles writer. Former Phillies writer. Half-marathoner in training. Sabermetrics lover. First-time dynasty fantasy football league participant. Follow Cody Swartz on Twitter (@cbswartz5).

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