McMullen’s Quick Hits: Wentz under siege as Redskins top Eagles
(973espn.com) - You can blame Lane Johnson for a number of things and a lot of Eagles fans are probably pretty angry at the suspended right tackle right now for putting the words Halapoulivaati Vaitai into their vocabulary.
But, the high-profile nature of the rookie Vaitai’s struggles against underrated Washington edge rusher Ryan Kerrigan on Sunday does not explain the sudden issues Jim Schwartz’s defense are having as Philadelphia dropped its second straight game, a 27-20 setback to the Redskins.
The fact that this was a one-possession game in the waning moments with the Eagles having a chance to deadlock things before Carson Wentz spiked the team’s final drive by taking back-to-back sacks, was a testament to the fact that Philadelphia scored on both special teams and defense.
“I’ve got to get the ball out," Wentz admitted. "I’ve got to get the ball out. I can’t take those sacks and that’s definitely on me, you know? The line gave me time on both of them. Those are things I just have to learn.”
Generally, when you do that, you’re going to win the football game but the Eagles’ offense was absent for the entire first half and the defense struggled with both gap control up front and coverage on the back end.
When you add in a second straight penalty-ridden performance, you have a 3-0 start and first place status evaporate to 3-2 and third place with the NFL’s only unbeaten team on deck, the Minnesota Vikings.
The Redskins outgained the Eagles 493 to 239 in the game with Wentz finishing just 11-of-22 for 179 yards as he was sacked on five different occasions, two of them coming from Kerrigan, who tortured Vaitai on a consistent basis in the rookie’s NFL debut.
Ryan Mathews paced Philadelphia’s rushing attack with 9 carries for 60 yards, while Jordan Matthews caught three balls for 75 yards.
"I don’t think the offense was real different, I think it was just tough for us to get in the groove today," Wentz said. "It didn’t feel like we were in sync very well, especially in the first half."
TOP AND PENALTIES
The Eagles came into this game leading the NFL in time of possession but reverted back to the Chip Kelly days on Sunday, holding the football for only 25:47 with much of that coming late in the game.
Meanwhile, the team saw a steady parade of yellow for the second consecutive game, being flagged 13 times for 114 yards. You have to go back to 1952 to find the last time Philadelphia had two consecutive games with more than 110 penalty yards.
Most of the calls were legit, however, with the noted exception of Wendell Smallwood getting hit with a ticky-tack block-in-the-back penalty that erased a big play when Wentz extended things and found Dorial Green-Beckham.
“Penalties and third downs, that’s the name of the game," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "It starts with me. I have to go back and evaluate. It is just a discipline thing. I have to look if our guys are in position, are they out of position, are they moving their feet, not moving their feet. Whatever they are doing to cause the penalties – some of them are legit, obviously – but it is an area we definitely have to clean up, that and third down.”
BIG V IS BIG TROUBLE
Expecting Vaitai to step into the starting lineup and be even a reasonable facsimile to one of the best right tackle in football, the suspended Johnson, was folly and maybe the biggest mistake Pederson has made to date.
The decision was continuity over putting his best five options on the field and from an analytical standpoint, keeping Allen Barbre at left guard made at least some sense because you upset the apple cart at just one position instead of two.
That said, there is no way Kerrigan ragdolls Barbre at RT like he did Vaitai and by kicking the veteran out and inserting the time-tested Stefen Wisniewski the Eagles would have fielded a better unit as a whole.
With Minnesota, one of the better pass rushing teams in football up next, the Eagles may not want to double down on this decision.
"Had a couple missed assignments early and felt like he settled into the game as the game wore on," Pederson said when discussing Vaitai. "We used more help on his side as the game wore on as well, really on both edges. He’s a warrior, he’s a battler. He stepped up and did a god job. He’ll learn from it and be ready for next week.”
NO GAP CONTROL
Probably the most alarming aspect of the Eagles’ poor day defensively was their inability to stop a mediocre running team. Washington came in averaging only 86.4 yards per game on the ground and piled up 230 against what is supposed to be one of the better front sevens in football.
Some will point to the groin injury Bennie Logan suffered that took him out of the mix but Philadelphia was struggling mightily when the LSU product as in the lineup as well.
The main culprit was the right side of the Eagles’ line, which was consistently caved in by Trent Williams, including on the run that sealed the game for the Redskins.
If Connor Barwin continues to struggle in run support, Schwartz needs to find a way to get Vinny Curry more snaps on the right side.
As stated on The Sports Bash on Friday, the tea leaves pointed to Leodis McKelvin sitting again with his nagging hamstring issue and that proved to be the case with Schwartz pulling the trigger on rookie Jalen Mills as the starter.
To no surprise, Mills had a very difficult time dealing with the speed of ex-Eagle DeSean Jackson. That said give Mills credit. After allowing a 35-yard gainer to Jackson, he settled down from there and played admirably against a team with a lot of weapons.
Down 14-0 and reeling, Smallwood got the Eagles right back in the game thanks in part to a celebration penalty that forced Dustin Hopkins, normally a touchback machine, to kick the ball off from the 20. Hopkins did his job and kicked it high but Philadelphia put together a well-blocked return that Smallwood took back 87 yards for a TD.
The rookie showed the juice he has in his legs and getting him more involved in the RB rotation should be something on Pederson’s plate in the coming weeks.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen