McMullen’s Quick Hits: Lions ‘Slay’ Eagles
(973espn.com) - There are no gimmes in the NFL and the Eagles found that out the hard way in Detroit when a pair of late-game turnovers cost them dearly in a 24-23 loss to the Lions.
Philadelphia battled back from a pair of two-touchdown deficits, scoring 16 straight points at one point to take its only lead more than midway through the fourth quarter when Caleb Sturgis booted a 49-yard field goal to make it a 23-21 game.
After Jim Schwartz's defense forced a three-and-out, the Eagles were on their way to sealing things with their four-minute offense, picking up one first down before facing a manageable 3rd-and-2 from their own 45 with under three minutes to go.
Doug Pederson decided to keep it on the ground and that proved to be a mistake as Ryan Mathews coughed it up after a pitch sweep when Darius Slay put his helmet on the football. Tyrunn Walker managed to corral it before it went out of bounds and Detroit was back in business.
"Hindsight is obviously 20/20, but the thing is in that situation, in kind of knowing them and studying them, that’s an aggressive situation, kind of a got-to-have-it situation and I felt like getting the ball on the edge with guys out in front was our best possible play at that time to get the first down," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. "We didn’t execute properly.”
The big play on the ensuing drive was Matthew Stafford finding Golden Tate getting behind Nigel Bradham in zone coverage for a 27-yard gain to the Eagles 12 which was then accentuated by a roughing the passer call on Bennie Logan.
The Eagles defense stiffened from there and the Lions did a very poor job milking the clock. There was still 1:32 left when Matt Prater put Detroit back on top with a 29-yard FG.
On the first play after the kickoff, though, Slay struck again as Carson Wentz hurled a beautiful deep ball to Nelson Agholor but Slay simply outdueled the underachieving receiver, hauling it in for the rookie quarterback’s first NFL interception on 134 pass attempts.
“It’s not necessarily designed for that, but the opportunity was there," Pederson said of the hom-run throw from his QB. "Detroit did a nice job defending the actual first and second progression on the play, and then you’re hoping maybe you get the pass interference or penalty at that point or an incomplete pass. It’s worth a shot.”
CHECK OFF ANOTHER BOX
Despite the disappointing ending, you can check off another box when it comes to Wentz, who was spectacular in defeat. The rookie quarterback was a poised as ever despite facing some serious adversity for the first time in his NFL career.
He finished 25-of-33 for 238 yards with two TDs and the pick and probably should be 4-0 as a starter even not being let down by Mathews and Agholor.
You can argue that Wentz shouldn’t have forced the deep ball on first down when he basically had 90 seconds left and only needed a field goal but he read man-to-man coverage and lofted a beautiful ball, giving his receiver an opportunity to make a play and the corner looked like the play more comfortable with the ball in the air than Agholor.
“It was something that we had seen from them out of the first half at the end from their two-minute drives, one of the coverages, so it was kind of an alert I had breaking the huddle," Wentz said when describing the play. "You always want to get the drive started on the right foot, especially in those situations, but the coverage kind of dictated that and we didn’t’ make the play. They made a great play and that’s how it worked.”
“It wasn’t a perfect throw, obviously," he continued. "I tried to give Nelson (Agholor) a chance to make a play. I left it too far outside. The cornerback made a great play, hats off to him. He made a great play and sealed the win for them.”
The Eagles have to seriously consider Agholor’s playing time in the coming weeks. If you look at Wentz’s main targets against the Lions, they were all successful with the notable exception of the former first-round pick.
Jordan Matthews caught all four balls thrown his way and Zach Ertz snared three-of-three in his return from a two-game absence. Dorial Green-Beckham was three-of-four and Josh Huff caught all three of his opportunities. Agholor, on the other hand, managed just two catches on seven targets.
BRADHAM THE BONEHEAD?
Nigel Bradham has had a quietly effective season for the Eagles through the first three game. Off of it, he’s become a familiar face around the Miami Police Department and Philadelphia may have sent him a message by sitting him out for the majority of the first half.
Pederson claimed they wanted to give Stephen Tulloch some more looks in his return to Detroit and that makes sense in the base defense but the fact Mychal Kendricks was in the nickel early tells you all you need to know.
You may even respect Pederson’s and Jim Schwartz’s convictions but from a football perspective, it really hurt the team as Kendricks’ recurring nightmare, Theo Riddick, punished the Birds for making the decision, torturing the embattled linebacker as a receiver out of the backfield.
Bradham did get beat late by Tate on the big play late but that’s a receiver and it was evident the Eagles, as a whole, are much stronger in pass coverage when Bradham was out there.
SMALL SAMPLE SIZE
It didn’t make a ton of sense, from both a statistical and common sense standpoint, that the Eagles defense had not given up a passing TD through three games for the first time since 1934 and that ended quickly on Sunday.
Stafford and Riddick hooked up on a one-yard score on Detroit’s first possession and by the time the first half was over, the Lions scored through the air or two more occasions. Kendricks was obviously a major culprit but Nolan Carroll also really struggled early and Ron Brooks couldn’t handle the physicality on Anquan Boldin in the slot at times.
Overall, Stafford was very sharp early and the Eagles suffered from some shoddy tackling and discipline issues.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF A STRENGTH
Jim Caldwell took advantage of the aggressiveness of Schwartz, using a lot of misdirection with Tate and throwing it to the flats with Riddick to offset the front four’s ability to penetrate and get up the field.
Sometimes you have to tip the cap to the opposing play caller. However, Schwartz adjusted to it and the Eagles’ defensive slowly began to dominate the game after taking the opening salvo.
After intermission the Lions gained just 19 yards on the first four possessions, fumbling once and punting three times.
TOO MUCH YELLOW
The Lions came in as the third-most penalized team in football but it was the Eagles who saw the flag thrown at them 14 times on Sunday, a stunning increase from the 22 penalties they had through the first three games. That’s nearly a 50 percent upticks in penalties and when you lose by one point on the road, that’s an issue.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen