2016 Week #14: Eagles vs. Redskins

While the ominous clouds that hovered over Paul Brown Stadium last Sunday foretold of the chilly rain that was to eventually began following the game, it could have easily been a harbinger of things to come for the Eagles.

The Birds reached their low point of the season on Sunday, losing to the Bengals, 32-14, in a game that wasn’t even as close as such a blowout score would indicate.

From the start, the team looked more like they were out to leisurely paddle down the Ohio River in a canoe as opposed to trying to win a football game and possibly saving their season.  At one point in the 3rd quarter, they were down 29-0, before waking up and scoring 14 unanswered points to try and make a game out of it.  But by then, it was too little, too late.

One would think that this was the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980’s that the Eagles were facing.  Or the Patriots team that has won four Super Bowls with Tom Brady & Bill Belichick.  But no, this was the lowly Bengals, a team that entered the game with a record of 3-7-1.  This was the Bengals who haven’t won a playoff game since George H. Bush was President and Madonna’s “Justify My Love” was the #1 song in the country (Jan. 1991).

But being that we have now entered the period between Thanksgiving & Christmas known as the “season of giving”, the Birds defense, and especially their secondary, was in a giving mood all day, giving up chunks of yardage whenever Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton wanted to throw the football.

The loss to the Bengals only brought more questions in a season that has fallen faster than Santa coming down your chimney:

Has quarterback Carson Wentz just hit a rookie wall with no talent around him?  Or is he just not that good?

Is rookie coach Doug Pederson just going through growing pains as a rookie coach?  Or will his hiring be a royal pain in the Eagles side for years to come?

What happened to Jim Schwartz’s defense, which looked so good in the early part of the season?  And why does he refuse to blitz when the pressure, or lack of it, from his front four just isn’t working?

Why was tight end Zach Ertz doing his best impression of ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov instead of blocking Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict when Carson Wentz was trying to scramble for a first down?

Unfortunately, there is nothing under the Eagles proverbial Christmas tree that will likely provide any answers to these and many other pertinent questions that inquiring minds want answered.  For that, we may have to wait till the offseason…and what a cold, empty offseason it may turn out to be.

For a change, the few bright spots that came out of this game were actually from the wide receivers.  Nelson Agholor, who has been fighting demons in his head all season long, actually caught everything that was thrown to him.  Sure, he only caught four passes for 23 yards, but at this point, it’s all about “baby steps” for Agholor.

In addition, undrafted rookie receiver Paul Turner, who only caught everything thrown his way in the preseason, earning him a spot on the team’s practice squad, impressed in his 2nd game, hauling in six catches for 80 yards.  But Turner’s success begs the question… if the guy is catching everything, why did it take an injury to Jordan Matthews to get him on the field?

With December upon us, the Eagles sit two games back of a wild card spot with four games to play in a tight, jumbled race.  To get into the playoffs, they would need to win out, six geese a laying (as in losses from six other teams), two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.  Much like the commercial, you may get that Lexus RX 350 for Christmas if you ask Santa nicely, but gifting you an Eagles postseason birth may be too difficult even for Old Saint Nick.

This Sunday, the Birds will try to right their ship when they face the Washington Redskins, which, ironically, are one of the six teams that are in front of them in the NFC wild card race.

This team needs a win more than Jill Stein needs a hobby, but it’s hard to determine whether they will actually get it or not.  It wouldn’t surprise me if they came out, played hard and won,  but it also wouldn’t surprise me if they lost out in what has become a frustrating season.

For that reason, I really don’t have a prediction, but for the Eagles sake, hopefully it’s the former.  Otherwise, the faithful in the stands will become much more naughty than nice…

Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week (all times in EST and on Sunday unless noted otherwise):

Cowboys at Giants 8:30 PM NBC – Game of the Week

Raiders at Chiefs 8:25 PM NBC (Thurs)

Steelers at Bills 1:00 PM CBS

Seahawks at Packers 4:25 PM FOX

Ravens at Patriots 8:30 PM ESPN (Mon)

2016 Week #13: Eagles at Bengals

Last offseason, when Eagles fans were lamenting the winter and looking forward to Phillies spring training and summer days spent down the shore, the NFL schedule makers were hard at work putting together the 2016 NFL schedule.

The “who” and “where” of the schedule had already been decided as soon as the last regular season game of the 2015 season had ended.  But it was the “when” that was yet to be determined.

With the availability of facilities, team requests, and travel dates all needing to be taken into account, there were many permutation combinations that could have taken place to configure the schedule.  And ultimately, the one that was created for your 2016 Philadelphia Eagles seems to be both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because a team that not many had high hopes for started out the season 3-0.

A blessing because a team that traded its starting quarterback a week before the season commenced ended up starting a rookie at the position who looked poised and beyond his years as he stood in the pocket, giving fans reason to believe that he may replicate the success that rookie quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco before him had experienced (a visit to the conference championship in their rookie season).

A blessing because the Eagles saw an oasis of riches that were possible before them as they stood alone in first place in the NFC East after three weeks.  Perhaps this team, the one that most expected to go 7-9 or 8-8, would surprise everyone and go deep in the playoffs.

But then there were losses to the Lions, Redskins, and Giants…all games where the Eagles fell behind early 14-0 but still had chances to win in the end.

An overtime loss to the Cowboys as well as a Monday night loss to the Packers also followed.  And a Seattle loss in which they were simply overmatched in the 2nd half.

And while there were quality wins over the Falcons and Vikings sprinkled between the losses, suddenly a 3-0 start had turned into 5-6.

Suddenly, the Eagles schedule had become a curse.  A curse, because a 3-0 start was the equivalent of “Fool’s Gold”.  A curse because the oasis of riches that the Eagles and their fans had seen after that Pittsburgh win was nothing more than a mirage.  Whether that mirage was just a longer path to the promise land or a toxic wasteland remains to be seen.

Looking back, the Eagles started off 2-0 by beating two teams (the Browns and Bears) that have won a total of two games between them.  Their third win, a thorough beating of the Pittsburgh Steelers, looked to be a victory against a  possible Super Bowl contender, but the Steelers have shown since then that they are slightly above average at best.

If you told Birds fans back on Labor Day that they would be 5-6 after eleven games, no one would have been surprised.  It’s just how they got there that’s disconcerting.

Turn the order of the Eagles season around and it paints a much different picture.  If the Eagles had started out the season at 2-6 and then reeled off three straight victories to get to where they are now, many would have seen it is a sign that the Eagles are progressing under first year head coach Doug Pederson after an initial “probation” period, involving getting to know him, his system, how he operates, etc.

The positive spin is that the Eagles had chances to win in all of their losses (including Seattle in the first half) .  The negative to all this is that a few of their losses can be pointed directly to their head coach.

If Doug Pederson chooses to kick a field goal against Dallas, that could have been a victory. If he decides to stick with a game plan that is working against a Packers defense that was allowing 37 points a game in its last four contests, the Eagles win that game.  Instead, they only managed to score 13 points.

Perhaps the scary thing about Pederson isn’t that he is another Andy Reid.  Perhaps the scary thing is that he is nowhere close and is overmatched.  That would set the Eagles back even further than all the bad receivers Chip Kelly drafted and good skill players he let go.

Let’s hope for Pederson’s sake and ours, that Doug is simply experiencing growing pains as a first year head coach and will only get better with time.  Let’s hope that his “growing” into his job (along with his quarterback), coupled with good drafts in the next few years means this team can do much better than 7-9 or 8-8 for years to come.

As for this season, there is still time to right the ship.  The good news is that the Birds are only 1.5 games behind the last playoff spot currently held by the Washington Redskins, whom they will play at home next Sunday.  The bad news is that there are four other teams between them and Washington all vying for that wildcard spot, whom the Eagles will have to overtake as well.

The Birds will face, what should be, their easiest opponent out of their five remaining games this Sunday.  Cincinnati is one of eight teams, in my estimation, that is out of the playoff race (if not mathematically, then for all intents and purposes).  The Eagles will face a wounded Bengals team that needs to simply be put out of their misery.  Whether they are good enough to insert the final dagger remains to be seen.

I’m picking the Eagles simply because I’m an Eagles fan.  Well that, and because I’m heading to Cincinnati for the game.

In the best case scenario, the Birds win at 1 PM, and the Redskins and Buccaneers both lose in their late afternoon games, resulting in a HUGE Eagles – Redskins matchup at the Linc next Sunday.

In the worst case scenario, the Eagles lose to the lowly Bengals, the Redskins win at Arizona, and we are better off spending next Sunday being tortured at the mall than tortured watching our Birds.

Let’s hope for the former…Birds win 30-17.  Just don’t ask me why.

Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week (all times in EST and on Sunday unless noted otherwise):

Cowboys at Vikings 8:25 PM NBC (Thurs) – Game of the Week

Chiefs at Falcons 1:00 PM CBS

Dolphins at Ravens 1:00 PM CBS

Bills at Raiders 4:05 PM CBS

Giants at Steelers 4:25 PM FOX