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Eagles Evaluation: Defense Fails Birds In Pittsburgh

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By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor

This was a game the Eagles should have won.

The Eagles ragtag offense really got going behind four key weapons and hung nearly 30 points on what was one of the league’s top defenses coming into the game.

Unfortunately, that effort was wasted as the defense failed to stop more than three of the Steelers’ drives.

The game itself was encouraging to see: If this is what the offense can do with many backups, it is reasonable to think that replacing players like John Hightower, JJAW and Richard Rodgers with Jackson, Jeffery and Goedert would lead to a stronger offense.

Combine that with the showing that the Eagles defense had against San Francisco last week, and the Eagles should be able to hang with any team.

Instead, the defense did not show up and only half the team making the plays that were needed was not enough against an undefeated team.

The Eagles should be totally discouraged by their loss in such a winnable game, but the fact that the team has now played two of the best teams in the league down to the wire despite their injuries should not be discounted by fans.


Personnel Changes

  • Lane Johnson left, again, with an injury and was replaced with Jack Driscoll. Driscoll is essentially a starter at this point as he can expect to be in every game as Lane Johnson was last healthy almost a year ago.
  • Despite Craig James returning to the roster, the Eagles opted to start Jalen Mills at corner once again despite his better fit at safety. When Darius Slay left with injury, James replaced him.
  • With Edwards out, the Eagles turned his snaps to Alex Singleton.

Stock Evaluations

Buy: Travis Fulgham

Travis Fulgham had a huge play this week, but was an absolute monster this week. In just his second game since being promoted from the practice squad, Fulgham racked up 152 yards on 10 receptions to go along with his second career touchdown.

At this point, Fulgham has really looked every bit the part of a true NFL receiver out on the field, showing off many of the traits that the Eagles expected Arcega-Whiteside to show when they drafted him. Having a productive receiver on a rookie deal is big for the Eagles and the team should not stop using him as other receivers return from injury. He, along with Reagor and Ward, could prove to be the beginning of a good, young receiving corps.

Sell: John Hightower

The rookie speedster has been garnering praise since he drew a couple pass interferences in the game against the Bengals. Unfortunately, short passes and penalties appear to be all he can contribute so far. Hightower is averaging one catch for 7.8 yards per game, terrible for a supposed deep threat. Each pass to him downfield appears to be just “out of his reach” with a defender right on his tail. The only deep pass they’ve hit on was the pass he dropped in the end zone this week – one that would truly have turned momentum and given the Eagles a lead before halftime.

Over the past two games:

Receiver
Snaps
Targets
Receptions
Yards
TDs
John Hightower
98
8
4
40
0
Travis Fulgham
83
16
12
209
2
Greg Ward Jr.
89
12
8
64
1

The coaches can heap all the praise for him they want and it can continue to be talked about all of the snaps he’s playing, but a "deep threat" who never makes the catches deep and manages just a few short catches a game is not an effective player. He did make a critical play on the two-point conversion, but here again, Hightower was not brought in for two to eight yard gains and has not lived up to his billing as a speedy downfield threat nearly a third of the way through the season.

Buy: Carson Wentz

While under siege the entire game (he got hit on nearly half of his drop backs and sacked five times in 35 opportunities) and dealing with constant misses/drops to Ertz and Hightower, Wentz managed to rack up 258 yards and two touchdowns leading the offense of Sanders, Fulgham and Ward to a performance that should win most games.

Instead, the 29 points he helped put up meant nothing thanks to a defense that could do nothing against simple slants and screens. His ground game was not great (four rushes for 11 yards) thanks to the constant pressure he was under, but he took care of the ball well. Stat sheet watchers will point to the fact that he had another two interceptions on the game, but one was due to Zach Ertz, who stopped running his route and let the ball go to a defender, while the other was on fourth and long serving as a hail mary to keep the game close or at least a punt to help his defense, so one was on his tight end and the other was an acceptable, perhaps even encouraged, play.

Sell: Zach Ertz

One catch for six yards in six targets. An argument could be made that the first interception was due to PI or illegal contact, but Ertz just put his hands up and stopped running, relying on the referees, who had shown their ineptitude all game, to give him a call rather than continuing on with the play. Ertz is really setting himself up for that big contract with his dropped passes, absolute lack of energy and total of 17 yards over the past two games when the team has needed him. Ertz does not appear to have his head in the game, so there is no reason to pay him what he is asking. At this point, the Eagles would be wise to consider trades this offseason that could net them a first-round pick for Ertz and look to draft another playmaker at the position with it like Pat Freiermuth or Kyle Pitts.

Buy: Jordan Mailata

There was one play where Mailata was beat on a speed rush, but he otherwise held up pretty well throughout the game, including an excellent block on a stunt that converted a third and long and eventually resulted in a touchdown drive. The Eagles should be looking to extend Mailata this offseason at this point. If he can keep up this level of play, let alone improve on it, I have not a clue what to do with Andre Dillard, but Mailata should be the starting left tackle for this team moving forward.

Sell: Jake Elliott

Elliot came in with a two-point deficit and could have given the Eagles a lead with a 57-yard field goal. The kick immediately sailed to the right and didn’t come back at all, missing the points and sealing the team’s third loss. This was a kick that Elliott can make, so it was disappointing to see. Still, the referees and John Hightower completing their jobs properly would have never left Elliott in such a position, so take that with a grain of salt.


Sideline Chatter

  • Learn the names of the referees in this game as they should all be working at your local supermarket soon. The NFL somehow put out a crew filled with guys who had never seen football played before, calling a catch on a play Claypool fell out of bounds with his foot in the air, calling at least three egregious defensive PI on the Eagles, an awful offensive PI call against the Steelers, calling an interception on a ball the Eagles picked up off the ground and plenty of calls for things that never happened.
  • The above can be seen with the Steelers first touchdown drive where, on a 1st and 20, Ben Roethlisberger is going to be wailed by Fletcher Cox and is pulled down from behind on a clear holding penalty (uncalled) and the Steelers gain four yards, the referees call a defensive PI on Darius Slay minutes after the play was over to gift the Steelers 21 yards and a first down and then, after two stops by the Eagles defense, Malik Jackson is called for unnecessary roughness that didn’t occur to gift the Steelers six yards and a first down. That’s two new sets of downs and a 41-yard swing on a 62-yard drive. If the Steelers only get a field goal there, the Eagles are leading by the time they recover the fumble.
  • The Eagles production the last few weeks through the air has primarily come from Greg Ward, Travis Fulgham and Richard Rodgers, so one would think it would be wise to get these guys on the field at the same time, but getting just Ward and Fulgham out there proved to be a challenge let alone Rodgers.

Team Focus

The Eagles will play the Ravens next week. Two weeks ago, the Eagles should have been given no chance against this team, but with their past two games against top competition, the Eagles should not be counted out and will be looking to escape the most difficult three-game stretch of their season with two wins.

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