McMullen: The ‘Golden’ Debut That Was Never Planned
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - At least two of the Eagles' narratives during a shaky start to the season wilted in the cold air of South Philadelphia on Sunday night.
There was the shooting-ourselves-in-the-foot spin from the reigning Super Bowl champions, who accomplished the rarest of things against the Dallas Cowboys, a penalty-free game in the 2018 NFL [only the second of the season in the entire league), but yet somehow managed to lose 27-20 to a dysfunctional organization.
Then there was the talking point of things are just fine with Mike Groh and Press Taylor replacing Frank Reich and John DeFilippo as the two top lieutenants in Doug Pederson's offense with the use, or lack thereof, of Golden Tate, cementing the exact opposite.
Tate, a 30-year-old former Pro Bowl receiver with an expiring contract acquired at the trade deadline for a third-round pick, played in only 29 percent of the offensive snaps (18 of 62), an egregious end game when you consider the Eagles' offensive coaching staff had extra time to cobble together a game plan with the Cowboys in mind, coupled with Tate's football IQ.
Consider that two others teams also acquired receivers at or near the deadline, the Cowboys with Amari Cooper and Houston with DeMaryius Thomas. Dallas got Cooper on Oct. 22 and by Nov. 5 was on the field for 85 percent of his team's snaps in his debut (50 of 59 snaps) and followed that up by playing 80 percent 55 out of 69 against the Eagles.
Thomas and Tate, meanwhile, were both acquired on deadline day, Oct. 30, and the former was on the field for the Texans four days later toiling in 49 of 62 snaps (79 percent). The Eagles had seven more days and barely got Tate, a player with the larger reputation when it comes to the nuances of the position, on the field as the offense remained Zach Ertz all day, every play with the Pro Bowl tight end hauling in 14 of 16 targets.
“It is always great when you get to spread the ball around to everybody. It just so happened to be a lot of times it was Zach [Ertz] with the way they were playing coverages and the way they played their techniques," quarterback Carson Wentz claimed after the game. "I don’t know how many times we threw to him or how many completions he had, but I am sure it was a lot. To have that chemistry with him, with the way they were playing him, it is just how it worked out tonight.”
Perhaps if Tate is on the field, however, those coverages change.
"I guess the short answer would be, yes," Pederson said when asked if Tate could have been involved more in the offense. "We had a certain number of plays for him and wanted to get him into the game and just get him some touches. I thought one thing we did do was we did spread the ball around, whether it was through RPOs or play-action or even just straight drop back. I know Zach had 14 or 16 targets or something like that, but he's the type of player that can handle that. [WR] Alshon [Jeffery] as well. As we go, we'll continue to increase the things we do with him."
As we go?
A team who admits it needs a playmaker and brings in a 30-year-old rental with eight games left on his contract has to be savvy enough to understand that the phasing-in process needs to be immediate, not ramped up.
On Monday, the revionish history was shifted toward tempo.
"We had a nice, little plan for him going into this game," Pederson explained. "And it was all huddle calls. And, in fairness to Golden, the third series of the game I went straight up-tempo to try to generate some spark. It's all code words and different things, and moving guys around a little bit. So in fairness, I didn't want to put him in a situation where he felt uncomfortable.
"Going forward, as we go, that will increase for him. You'll see him in there a little bit more."
Pederson often called Reich his "voice of reason" when the now Indianapolis head coach was his offensive coordinator. That sounding board and the guy who almost certainly would have pushed Pederson to make Tate a bigger part of the game plan has been lost and so has the firewall that protected it, the highly-regarded DeFilippo, now the OC in Minnesota.
There's your real narrative behind a 4-5 start.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen