This was a game that was there for the taking. The Eagles found rhythm and flow on offense with Carson Wentz and an absolutely lights-out performance from Travis Fulgham. The only problem was the defense and the fact that they, in turn, surrendered a lights out performance to Pittsburgh rookie wideout, Chase Claypool. Claypool’s historic day helped lead the Steelers to a 38-29 victory.
Let’s Get into the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from this one:
- This one may need its own category titled: The Great. Travis Fulgham absolutely decimated the Pittsburgh passing defense. The former 6th-round pick-turned-practice squad call-up absolutely torched the Steelers for 10 catches-152 yards-1 TD. Fulgham made plays for the Eagles offense, that seemed to find its rhythm with a reliable and consistent player at wide receiver. Fulgham was active all afternoon. In the redzone, making either contested catches or getting open with technically sound route running. Fulgham is the first Eagles player to have 10 catches for over 150 yards a touchdown since Jeremy Maclin in 2014. Fulgham now has 12 catches-209 yards-2 TDs in his first two weeks in an Eagles uniform. The Eagles may have found a diamond in the rough.
- Carson Wentz found his footing in this one, as did the entire offense. Wentz was accurate on most of his passes, besides a few low passes and 2 interceptions (1 of which was a prayer on 4th & 20 in the 4th quarter with under 1:00 remaining, the other was a missed illegal contact play). Wentz completed 20-35 passes for 235 yards along with 2 TDs and the previously mentioned 2 interceptions. The presence of a wide receiver who was capable of at least being somewhat functional and formidable in the passing game improved Wentz’s performance in a major way. Wentz trusted his wideouts to make plays and he threw them the ball, accurately and precisely. Last week, Wentz regained some confidence and this week he continued that steady matriculation of improved play.
- The Eagles offensive line as a whole played well. Although they surrendered 5 sacks and over 10 QB hits, no one absolutely bombed. Against a team like Pittsburgh, which generates enormous amounts of pressure, this can be looked at as a positive.
- Other reasons for optimism:
- JJ Arcega-Whiteside had a nice 37 yard reception at the end of the half (the clock then expired right afterwards).
- Miles Sanders showed game-breaking speed on a 74 yard scamper to the endzone in the first quarter.
- Jalen Hurts completed a 18 yard pass on his first career throw.
- The defense got a turnover (that’s THREE in TWO weeks).
- The Eagles were down 31-14 but battled back to make it 31-29, so the offense at least has some resemblance of life.
- The Eagles linebackers didn’t give up any touchdowns to *Linebackers*.
- John Hightower had a few plays that can be characterized as, “rookie mistakes”. The rookie wideout made a catch by the sideline near the end of the first half with 43 seconds remaining and failed to get out of bounds, which forced the Eagles to burn a timeout. Later on in that drive, with about 22 seconds remaining, Carson Wentz escaped pressure and launched a beautiful 49-yard pass downfield to Hightower in the back of the endzone. The pass went right through Hightower’s hands. Hightower attempted to catch more with his body and wait for the ball to come to him, rather than going up and attacking the ball and coming down with the catch. Hopefully, Hightower can rebound from this outing next week.
- Zach Ertz performance this season has been alarming. Ertz appears slower, less decisive and less engaged offensively. Through the Eagles last two games Ertz has just 15 yards on 5 catches. In Sunday’s matchup, Ertz finished the day with a single catch and just 6 yards. Ertz has to be better.
- The Eagles cornerbacks (Jalen Mills specifically, Darius Slay too though) had a rough game. Chase Claypool torched the defense for 7-110-4 (yes, 4 touchdowns). No matter who the Eagles put on Claypool, they couldn’t stop him. Mills was absolutely destroyed on a 3rd and 6 pass from Roethlisberger to Claypool, in which Claypool completely turned Mills around with terrific route running and release. The Eagles corners were taken to school by a rookie 2nd round pick.
- At the beginning of the 3rd quarter, Cre’Von Leblanc had an absolutely demoralizing missed tackle on 3rd and 5 that would’ve given the Eagles the ball back with momentum and a chance to take the lead in a 14-17 ball game. This eventually lead to a 58 yard scamper by Ray-Ray McCloud, which would set Pittsburgh up in the redzone where they would score.
- Miles Sanders had a 74 yard rushing touchdown in the 1st quarter. He then saw the ball only ten (yes 10) more times the rest of the game. Sanders finished the game with 11 carries for 80 yards. Yes, Pittsburgh did a good job of stopping Sanders at the line of scrimmage a few times, but you can’t just go away from the run like that. Doing so makes your offense one dimensional. Before the season began, the word out of NovaCare was that Sanders was going to be the Eagles bell cow and he would (in the words of Duce Staley), “handle the whole load.” If so, let him be that bell cow back. It’s absolutely asinine that Sanders didn’t get the ball more.
- Jake Elliott missed a 57-yard field goal with 3:18 remaining in the game that would’ve put the Eagles ahead by one. Elliot had made 60% of field goals longer than 50 yards before this season. He nailed a 54 yarder in week 3 against the Bengals and his career long is 61 yards. Elliott’s field goal attempt was preceded by an incomplete pass intended for Travis Fulgham, which brought up a 4th and 5. It would’ve made sense to run it in that situation to gain a bit more extra yards for an Elliott attempt.
- The Eagles defense was flat-out, outclassed in this one. Whether it was the lack of pass rush, atrocious pass defense, or terrible playcalling, the Eagles defense can be attributed to one of (if not the) biggest reasons this game was lost. Opposing offenses repeatedly get this defense going horizontal on jet motions, gadget plays and sweeps. The Eagles defense can be over aggressive to a fault at times.
- The linebackers (Nate Gerry and Duke Riley) continue to get thrashed in coverage, week in and week out. This weeks recipient of the “Eagles Linebackers Can’t Cover Me” award is Eric Ebron, who finished with a modest 5 catch and 43 yard performance. Although the biggest whiff by the linebackers (Eyes on you Gerry), came later in the game.
- Jim Schwartz struggles a lot with utilizing personnel correctly. His defense (yes, his defense because he has personnel say) lacks discipline, focus and ability at times. The amount of gadget plays that have been used against this defense and the fact that they’ve continuously worked should be an indictment on Schwartz ability to prepare his defense during the week.
- The ugliest moment of this game came on the back-breaking 4th touchdown by Chase Claypool with 2:59 remaining. Claypool lined up in the slot and was matched up on Nate Gerry. That sentence causes me to shudder. I simply do not understand why, when you understand the following: 1) Claypool has wrecked your defense the entire game 2) Nate Gerry is one of the worst (if not the worst) coverage linebackers in the league 3) Pittsburgh is likely going to Claypool due to the matchup. Not checking out of the play or signaling for a timeout to re-assess the defensive formation is completely asinine by Schwartz. The Eagles offense battled and clawed its way back from a 31-14 hole to make it a 31-29 game, and in the blink of an eye, it was all evaporated by a terrible coaching blunder by Jim Schwartz.
- *Side-Note*: The officiating in this game was absolutely atrocious. Several missed calls (including an abysmal illegal contact foul by Vince Williams on Zach Ertz which lead to an interception by Wentz).
Ultimately, the Eagles were right there in this game. A ticky-tack calls by officials and bad plays by the Eagles changed the course of the game (none bigger than Jim Schwartz and Nate Gerry’s redzone blunder). The Eagles offense showed signs of life and they may have found a real player in Travis Fulgham. Next week the task gets even tougher as the Eagles return home to face the reigning MVP, Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens