After a crushing 32-14 loss to the Bengals, there is understandably a lot of questions concerning the present and future of the Philadelphia Eagles and many will go unanswered. But with so many storylines naturally emerging after such a tough loss, what are the five biggest questions facing Doug Pederson’s team?
What’s happening to the backfield?
The Eagles rushing attack has been less than impressive in recent weeks, but that’s mainly due to the absence of Ryan Mathews and a lingering injury hampering Darren Sproles. Wendell Smallwood has been the back carrying the load for the Eagles, but if there’s one thing that has been absent from start to finish this season, it’s the committee effort.
With the exception of a sensational effort against the Steelers, the backfield has lacked shape, continuity or any kind of direction. Ryan Mathews has played as a lead back and a goalline rusher, Darren Sproles has either had over 100 all purpose yards through catching numerous screens or next to none in some cases. Kenjon Barner has been near silent in the last few games and the Eagles decided to pass the ball 60 times against a Bengals Defense that gave up an average 120 yards on the ground per game.
The question really becomes, just what is or isn’t happening to the Eagles backfield? Is the committee effort being replaced or has it simply just become an optional extra for Doug Pederson’s Offense. Right now Carson Wentz needs all he help he can get..and forcing him to throw a total of 130 times in his last 3 games is depriving him of the stability on the ground the Offense craves.
Has the Jim Schwartz pass rush been thwarted?
The Eagles Defense has been without a sack for two consecutive weeks now, while the run Defense has done little to stop their opponents. Perhaps even more worryingly, the unit has lined up against two wounded Offensive lines without a stable run game and a Bengals Offense with key pieces missing.
Fletcher Cox alluded to the fact that teams are simply adapting to the Eagles hard-nosed style of Defense, but if that’s really the case…then surely it becomes the responsibility of Jim Schwartz to keep things fresh.
The effort is certainly still there, as Brandon Graham showed in yesterday’s loss, but the production isn’t..and for whatever reason, what was once a borderline elite Defense is now “just another 4-3” to many.
Is Carson Wentz really regressing?
When discussing the play of Carson Wentz, it’s very easy to fall on the lack of help around him, poorly executed play-calls or struggling offensive line. But it’s kind of ironic that the same issues that plagued Sam Bradford and vilified him are now the reason’s we look to give Carson Wentz a pass on the season.
In his last five games, Wentz has thrown three touchdowns and eight interceptions, a stark contrast to his hot start in the City of Brotherly Love. While the points about a lack of help and being forced to throw 60 times in a game are valid, if you overthrow a 6’5 receiver, chances are that even with the right help that he would still be struggling.
As much as this season was never meant to be a competitive one and seen purely as a year of development, it’s important to view Carson Wentz through an unbiased lens. Yes, he’s a rookie who was thrust into a situation that was a worst case scenario and yes he has had a severe lack of help..but the overall performance of Carson Wentz has dipped and the mistakes are no longer a rarity.
That’s not to say Wentz has been disappointing or that the Eagles have made a mistake by any means. The rookie still does some phenomenal things with the Football and has shown every sign of becoming a franchise quarterback this season. But the reality is that beyond the smoke and mirrors, Carson Wentz has still played a significant role in the stagnation of the Eagles Offense.
What is the Eagles biggest offseason need?
Each week, the offseason needs become clearer and clearer, but which is more prominent? The birds desperately need a playmaker on Offense, but week after week, the Eagles cornerbacks continue to struggle.
It’s a tough equation to solve as production can fluctuate on a near weekly basis, but there’s no doubt that this offseason could be just as dramatic as the last. Howie Roseman will be relied on heavily to patch the holes on this roster, but which direction will he choose to go down? Offense or Defense?
The “build from the ball out” philosophy is something seemingly adapted by the Eagles during the offseason so it would be less than surprising to see them focus on bolstering a now very weak wide receiver corps. But at the same time, we’re now seeing just how important cornerbacks are when the pass rush simply can’t do it’s job.
It’s a decision that will ultimately be made by the Eagles front office, but there appear to be two very clear areas of need on this team, it’s just a case of defining which one is more urgent.
Has Doug Pederson lost the locker room?
I wrote an article on this just last night and the only way we’re going to find the answer is through a week of press conferences and a judgement of how the team fare on Sunday. The pressure is undoubtedly on after such an effortless performance against the Bengals, but how his team responds will no doubt speak volumes of the attitude inside the locker room.
It’s probably too premature for any kind of coaching change, but with Carson Wentz voicing a disagreement about the reasoning behind Sunday’s loss, combined with the team’s lack of fire throughout the game will test Doug Pederson’s ability to connect with his players to its core.
Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports