After starting the season 10-1 and looking like Super Bowl favorites on their way to try and avenge their loss in last year’s big game, the Philadelphia Eagles' tail spun to the end of the season. They not only lost five of their last six regular-season games but got embarrassed in the Wild Card round against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 32-9. They were favorites (barely) in the game, and it was over before it ever started. Any glimmer of hope, however small, they gave the Philly faithful was quickly and very rudely ripped away. What exactly went wrong? It’s tough to point towards one thing.
Now the Eagles go into an offseason with way more questions than answers, namely how in the freaking world are they going to replace future first-ballot Hall of Fame center Jason Kelce. I know he didn’t officially announce his retirement just yet, as he said on his podcast with his brother Travis Kelce, New Heights, but I think it’s only inevitable.
As the offseason begins, yours truly will be giving weekly “State of the Birds” articles. For now, let’s dive into the big takeaways from the Wild Card loss and attempt to discover what went wrong.
Can Someone Please Learn How to Tackle??
This has the most infuriating and “drive-me-to-drink” takeaway from this embarrassment of a game if you can even call it a game. The Eagles' defense forgot to get off the plane, and they almost looked like they didn’t even want to be there outside of Brandon Graham. During film rewatch, which I wanted to gouge my eyes out doing, I counted 29 total missed tackles during the game. By my count, the Eagles also had just 18 tackles on their first attempt. The Bucs’ ball carriers were literally like bowling balls just bouncing off the Philadelphia defenders and gaining tons of YAC. David Moore, of all people, who came into the game with just five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown in the seven games he played in during the regular season, was a game-changer for Tampa Bay. He made a huge play in the first quarter when he caught a pass and broke several tackles to the end zone to complete a 44-yard scoring play. On the play, cornerbacks Eli Ricks and Avonte Maddox ran into each other and fell in the middle of the field to give Moore wide-open space to run.
At one point in the second quarter, tight end Cade Otten even bounced up and kept going after a tackle from Nicholas Morrow because he was so used to bouncing off and not getting tackled.
The nail in the coffin for the Eagles was late in the third quarter when rookie receiver Trey Palmer caught a screen pass and broke tackles on his way to a 56-yard touchdown. The PAT made it 25-9 and the way the offense was looking, it was over.
Chris Godwin snagged a 23-yard touchdown to make it 32-9 with less than six minutes to go.
Letting Baker Bake
One of the keys to victory for the Bucs that I mentioned in my preview for this game, was giving Baker Mayfield time to bake. On the Eagles' side of things, they had to put some pressure on Mayfield to limit his ability to throw downfield. Spoiler alert: the Eagles failed to get much pressure, and a lot of baked goods were made. There were certainly moments in the game where the Birds got pressure, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
The Eagles got key pressure on Mayfield towards the end of the first half on a 3rd-and-10, with Graham and Fletcher Cox getting there before Graham finished off the sack. Although the Eagles’ offense didn’t take advantage, it was a huge third-down stop in a key part of the game.
Another key third-down sack came early in the third quarter when Cox and rookie Nolan Smith combined to take down Mayfield. Once again, the Eagles' offense failed to take advantage.
The third and final sack of the game for the Eagles came on a 3rd-and-1 with less than five minutes to go in the third quarter. Milton Williams came rushing up the middle and took down Mayfield to push Tampa Bay out of field goal range and force a punt. Despite all the missed tackles, the Eagles defense wasn't letting the back-breaking play happen just yet. The offense failed to step up and take advantage of the defense getting them the ball back, as they were still down just 16-9 at this point.
Outside of these three sacks, the Eagles struggled to get to Mayfield and let him move out of the pocket far too easily while making plays with his arms and legs.
During the regular season, the Eagles set a franchise record with a 48.0 percent third-down conversion rate, good for third in the NFL. The team that played on Monday was nowhere near the same team. They haven’t been that team in a while, to be fair. Against Tampa Bay, Philadelphia was flawless on third-down conversions. Flawless if you’re trying not to convert a third down because they were 0-for-9. Not great, Bob. They could not sustain any drives or move the ball, really at all. The issue was, that most of their third downs were 3rd-and-long which is not usually going to have a high conversion rate. The Eagles had been relying on getting into 3rd- and 4th-and-short situations throughout the season before going with the nearly automatic Brotherly Shove for the first down. Well, they only had one such Brotherly Shove attempt in the game, and let’s just say it wasn’t automatic.
Brotherly Shove Me Off a Cliff
Yeah, about that Brotherly Shove. 92 percent. That’s how nearly automatic it is, and on Monday, the one fail came to be and it wasn’t even on a 3rd or 4th down. This one came on a two-point conversion attempt after the Bucs were flagged for an offsides on the extra point of Philly’s only touchdown, and the ball was moved to the one. The Eagles’ offensive line got no leverage, and Hurts was pushed back before getting to the endzone. At that point, it was 16-9 with three minutes left in the first half. At the end of the day, two points didn’t mean anything. But it could’ve given the Eagles a swing of momentum in the game. At that point, I knew it was over. When the Eagles can’t even convert their close-to-automatic play, they have (close to) no shot.
Astronomical Coaching Failure
They aren't fully to blame, because the players still have to make the plays, but the coaching from the Eagles staff wasn't good enough the last seven weeks of the season. The offensive play-calling has been a disaster, and the defense has not been much better. The change of defensive play calling from Sean Desai to Matt Patricia in the middle of the season certainly didn't lead to positive changes. Since he took over play calling, the Eagles gave up 27.8 points per game. Against Tampa Bay, his defense allowed 426 yards to a team that ranked 23rd in total offense this season. Mayfield tore the Birds up for 337 passing yards and three touchdowns, while the league-worst rushing attack of the Bucs gashed them for 119 yards on 4.1 yards per carry.
Then there's the offense, which was just incredibly head-scratching over this tailspin. While he wasn't great either, Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson set Hurts up to fail.
One example of terrible play calling was to end the first half when the Eagles decided to play conservatively and were content to go to the locker room. This would've been okay if they had been able to take advantage of getting the ball to lead off the second half. But instead, they went three-and-out - Swift lost a yard on a rushing attempt, Hurts missed Quez Watkins on a deep ball down the sideline and then Hurts was sacked.
Another play that just made me yell at my TV was the first play of the Eagles' only touchdown drive. It just made no sense what they were trying to do that play. Dallas Goedert was set up for a screen after Swift was put in pre-snap motion, and Hurts faked the handoff. But when he threw the screen pass to Goedert, Julio Jones was also right in the vicinity with Bucs defenders already swarming. Why throw it there? The pass went off of Goedert's hands and dropped to the ground. By the way, Cam Jurgens - who would be Kelce's replacement if he does retire - was called for a penalty for being an ineligible man downfield, anyway.
It “Hurts” to Watch
Hurts was just awful in the game and has completely fallen off a cliff since last year's Super Bowl. It's hard to put a finger on what exactly has gone wrong for the once MVP-caliber quarterback. The stats don't tell the story, as they aren't terrible from a numbers standpoint. But that's why the eye test matters. In the loss, Hurts was 25 of 35 on passes for 250 yards and one touchdown while running just once for five yards. That was the major sticking point; Hurts has lost his ability to run and evade the pressure. The worst play was when the Bucs scored a safety with the line of scrimmage at the 14-yard line.
A SAFETY WHEN THE BALL STARTED ON THE 14-YARD LINE. All I ask is HOW???? Hurts, instead of throwing the ball away to evade pressure, basically backpedaled into his own endzone 14 yards back and then waited until way too late to try throwing it away and was called for an intentional grounding. A safety. After starting at the 14. No matter how many times I say it, I still can't explain how in the world you can let that happen. Ever. This is when I started to down the whiskey like water.
Yes, It Could Have Been Worse
You would think that it really couldn't have gotten any worse. But it could have. Mike Evans didn't kill the Eagles' secondary alone, as five different Tampa Bay receivers recorded 45 or more yards. If Evans had been on his A+ game, it would've been uglier. Evans dropped two passes right in his hands, one of which would've been a deep touchdown or down at the 1-yard line. Overall, the Bucs were credited with four drops in the game.
The Positives - Yes There Are Some
In an embarrassing game like this, any positives you can take away are at least something to take into next season. Hurts was without his top receiver AJ Brown, who he missed, but he relied heavily on DeVonta Smith. The former Crimson Tide receiver got going in the second half and caught a 55-yard pass down the left slot to get down to the 5-yard line. The ball was a beauty by Hurts and easily his best throw and play of the game. Hurts then hit Goedert on an easy pitch for a walk-in touchdown as the Eagles found paydirt for the only time in the game. Smith was honestly the only offensive weapon to show up, as he finished with eight catches for 148 yards on 12 targets. Outside of that, it was promising to see Nolan Smith getting pressure, which is a good omen to the future of the young defensive line.
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