PHILADELPHIA — That familiar angst is back in the City of Brotherly Love.
It doesn’t truly feel like football season around here until the Eagles fan base has a concern or two to gnaw on. A target to direct their frustrations towards. Yes, Philly is aware the sky is not falling at 8-1, but life is best lived with one eye trained towards the suspicious clouds overhead, just in case.
Monday’s 32-21 loss to the Washington Commanders brought back a sense of normalcy. It snapped the Eagles’ undefeated streak, and as receiver AJ Brown said afterwards, “now all this 17-0 s— is over with.”
The focus has shifted to the team’s weaknesses — namely, the rush defense — the growing injuries (none bigger than the one to tight end Dallas Goedert) and the questionable officiating calls, all of which played a part in the Eagles suffering their first defeat of the season.
Nationally, there’s been some conversation about whether the Eagles have been exposed.
With nine games down and eight to go, and questions about this team bubbling to the surface without the shield of an unblemished record, this is a good time to take a closer look at the Eagles’ state of affairs as they get ready to face the Indianapolis Colts in Week 11 (Sunday at 1 pm ET, CBS)
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Significance of Goedert’s injury
Part of the reason fans are mad about the non-call facemask on Monday by linebacker Jamin Davis is because Goedert was injured on the play. He was placed on injured reserve Wednesday with a shoulder injury and will miss at least the next four games.
Goedert was playing like a top-three tight end in coach Nick Sirianni’s view, and the numbers back that up: He is second on the team in receiving yards (544) and tied for second in receiving touchdowns (3) behind only Brown.
“With guys going down, the roles of other players are going to get bigger,” Brown said.
Fortunately for quarterback Jalen Hurts, he still has a pair of top-end receivers to throw to in Brown and DeVonta Smith, a strong line to operate behind and other wideouts like Quez Watkins and Zach Pascal, who can pick up some of the pass- catching slack. There are also a couple of young tight ends in Grant Calcaterra and Tyree Jackson, who can make some plays alongside Jack Stoll. But the drop-off between starter and No. 2 across this roster is arguably the greatest at tight end. (Lane Johnson at right tackle also has a strong case.) Goedert is elite both as a receiver and blocker. The bottom line is Hurts’ job and the job of the offensive coaches just got harder.
“It’s not going to be easy to replace Dallas,” Sirianni said, “and not just one person does it.”
Run defense remains an issue, but two big signings could help
It seems odd, at first glance, to suggest the loss of rookie tackle Jordan Davis, who was playing just north of 30% of the defensive snaps, would have such a drastic impact on the team’s ability to stop the run. But, similar to Goedert, there just wasn’t anyone on the roster like him.
The 6-foot-6, 340-pound Davis was critical in making defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s hybrid scheme work. With Davis occupying multiple blockers and serving as a wall along the interior, rushing lanes were harder to come by. The stress was less on the linebackers and safeties, who often play back in Gannon’s scheme to prevent the big play in the passing game. The numbers tell the tale: Before Davis sustained a high ankle sprain against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8, the Eagles allowed 3.9 yards per rush with him on the field versus 6 yards per rush with him off the field. In the last two games without Davis, they gave up 152 rush yards to the Commanders and 168 yards to the Houston Texans.
“We’ll be all right. Everyone’s stressing out. Everybody’s been in a panic. I think we can correct our own problems and go out and do what we did earlier in the season,” said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. “We know it’s going to get cold and teams will start to run the ball, and let’s just face it: The last few weeks we gave up 100-plus yards on the ground. We know that’s not us. We’ll be better as a group.”
The task only gets tougher from here: they face Jonathan Taylor, Aaron Jones, Derrick Henry and Saquon Barkley over the next four weeks.
Help is on the way. The Eagles signed veteran defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph to one-year deals on back-to-back days this week. The locker room chemistry has been pitch-perfect to this point in the season; adding new pieces to the equation runs the risk of affecting that. And at ages 34 and 35, it’s hard to know how much they have in the tank. But both are accomplished players who should learn their roles fairly quickly. Suh, a three-time first-team All Pro, proved he can still be a disruptive force last year, posting six sacks, seven tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hits for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Joseph (6-foot-4, 329 pounds) is more of a space-eater in the mold of Davis. He should at least help keep things patched together until Davis returns. Davis is eligible to come off injured reserve in front of the Dec. 4 game against Henry and the Tennessee Titans.
“We think he’s the right type of guy for the locker room,” Sirianni said of Joseph. “We think he’s still a heck of a football player and he’s going to be able to help us.”
Special teams could end up biting them
By just about any metric, the Eagles have put together a stellar first half-plus of the season. They’re second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA team rankings, fourth on offense and fifth on defence.
But special teams? That rating dips all the way to 24th.
From getting duped on fake punts to extending opponents’ drives with a roughing-the-kicker call, like they did against Washington, this unit has made a blunder almost every week. To this point, it hasn’t cost them. But it could eventually if they keep it up, especially in the playoffs when the quality of the opponent goes up.
On the bright side
Having Goedert, Davis and slot corner Avonte Maddox (hamstring) on injured reserve throws a bit of a wrench into the operation. The wear and tear of the season is starting to have an effect: Right tackle Jordan Mailata, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury for weeks, joked that the offensive line is currently being held together by “sticky tape.”
But injuries happen, and all things considered, the Eagles are well-positioned to maintain their standing atop the NFC.
Sticky tape or not, the offensive line remains one of the best in football. Hurts is playing at an MVP level and, even without Goedert, has more quality options than most. The defense, for all the hand-wringing over the rush defense, is No. 1 in the NFL in takeaways (20), No. 2 against the pass (177.7 yards per game) and No. 7 in points allowed (18.6 ppg).
What’s more, Philadelphia has the fourth-easiest remaining schedule in the league, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, and is projected to be favored in all but one of their games, the exception being the Christmas Eve showdown at the Dallas Cowboys.
To boil it down: Monday’s loss to the Commanders helped bring some of the team’s flaws to light. But the Eagles still have fewer than most.