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The Eagles are not good: Assigning blame, plus why Doug Pederson is the key to a turnaround

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The Philadelphia Eagles are in first place in the NFC East, but there’s no need to sugarcoat what everyone already knows: They are not good. Fortunately for them, or at least their 2020 playoff hopes, neither is any other team in the division. But we’re not here to talk about those other wayward franchises, who are a combined 7-21 through Week 10. We’re here to talk about the Eagles. What is wrong with them? Who is at fault? And where do they go from here?

The short answer: This is a total team effort. The Eagles, despite your fleeting memories of their magical 2017 title run, have been just clutch enough to hover above mediocrity for two and a half years running. Since Doug Pederson and Nick Foles hoisted the Lombardi Trophy and rewrote Philly sports history, the Birds have gone 22-20-1, including the playoffs. That doesn’t absolve the 2020 Eagles of their shortcomings, but it speaks to a greater issue: This team’s warning signs have been pulsing for a while.

The emphasis there should be on signs — plural. The Eagles are not generally underwhelming because of Carson Wentz. They’re not generally underwhelming because of Doug Pederson. They’re not generally underwhelming because of general manager Howie Roseman. They’re generally underwhelming because of all of them. This, folks, is a failure at every primary level of leadership.

We would preface this dissection by elaborately touting all that the current Eagles triumvirate (Wentz, Doug and Howie) accomplished together — Wentz was once MVP material, a key to the Super Bowl run; Doug was once the boldest decision-maker in the NFL; and Howie’s penchant for trades and salary cap manipulation once revived a roster left for dead by Chip Kelly. But there’s no need to rehash this any further. We are in 2020 now, nine games into the Eagles’ season, and unless Father Time himself decides to reverse the clocks, this team will have gotten worse in three straight years.

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Twenty years from now, everyone will still look fondly upon the group’s miraculous journey to the promised land. But right now? The facts are the facts: They aren’t good enough.

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If you want to assign blame to the coach, QB and GM, you might put it in this order:

  1. GM
  2. Coach
  3. QB

Wentz, in Year Five, has been disconcertingly off-target, hurting the Eagles more than helping them as he freestyles his way into turnovers; and Pederson somehow never has his team ready to play until December. But Roseman is the architect of an outfit that’s fatally depended on familiar faces — many of whom are older and, thus, declining or oft-injured. Injuries have certainly bitten the Eagles over the years, but the longer you commit to 38-year-old left tackles or 33-year-old wide receivers, the more you wonder if Philly hasn’t courted medical issues rather than been jumped by them.

If you disagree with the order of blame, it doesn’t matter much, because again, this entire package feeds on itself. It’s like a self-perpetuating problem. Roseman spends on banged-up veterans. Pederson can’t field the same lineup for more than two weeks at a time, let alone maximize their talent. And Wentz is left to play “hero ball” — the exact thing everyone slams him for doing — in a frenetic attempt to pick up the pieces. In the end, no one consistently rises to the occasion.

And that’s how you get a 3-5-1 team staring down the barrel of a 4-9-1 or, perhaps more likely, 3-10-1 start. There are other issues, of course: Jim Schwartz’s defense rarely quits, but boy is it good at folding right when the offense needs them to step up; Brandon Graham is about the only member of a vaunted and expensive D-line making a weekly impact; and even the best talents — from Zach Ertz to Dallas Goedert to Jason Kelce — have either gone missing or found ways to contribute untimely mistakes.

How on Earth, then, do the Eagles march forward? Well, for one, they’d better do it with more grit than any of Pederson’s previous underdogs, because even if they pull off an upset or two over the next five weeks, they’ll barely be clawing at .500 ahead of their last two divisional games. It’s one thing to play the “no one believes in us” card for three straight years; it’s another to play it for a fourth year as the losses pile up, and then expect everyone to enter the playoffs with their heads high.

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Really, though, the fate of the 2020 Eagles probably depends on Pederson more than anyone. Roseman’s work is largely done; the roster is what it is, for better or worse. And while Wentz, being the QB, is obviously the biggest on-field X-factor, with ESPN’s Tim McManus arguing this week that No. 11’s inefficiency has inflated criticism of Doug, the fact is it’s Pederson’s team that’s regressed for consecutive seasons. It’s Pederson’s team that can never seem to start hot. It’s Pederson’s team that’s shuffled through offensive minds with no apparent chemistry and/or cohesive plan. It’s Pederson’s team that has sorely lacked creativity.

Consider, for example, Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants: Pederson had 14 days to get the Eagles even mildly energized for a chance to basically put the NFC East title away, and Wentz, for once, did not turn the ball over in a fine, if unspectacular, performance inside the confines of Pederson’s game plan. The team still lost 23-17 at the hands of a two-win rival they’d seen just a few weeks earlier. Worse yet: It was totally predictable. Infuriating? Only if you’ve somehow missed the last two and a half years of this club under Doug. Apathy would’ve been a more appropriate response.

And that’s where we come to the one thing that should give Eagles fans hope. Because while apathy is an expected emotion for these Eagles, who also started both 2018 and 2019 no better than average, the one thing missing is disinterest from the guys running the plays. Typically, when an NFL team marries itself to this kind of humdrum disappointment, a la the 2011-2012 Eagles that got Andy Reid fired, or the 2015 Eagles that got Chip Kelly canned, the locker room checks out along with the fans. Under Pederson, that has never happened. If they bottom out in the ensuing weeks, maybe that changes. But history suggests it won’t. For whatever reason, the Eagles never quite stop playing for Doug, whether it’s Week 17, whether they’ve just lost their QB, or whether everyone declares them dead.

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Pederson can’t afford to just assume his team will somehow flip a switch as it always does, even if this year’s NFC East dictates that, yes, he very much can. Why? Because the Eagles will be one-and-done for a second straight year if that’s the case. Does Schwartz’s defense need to be better? Of course. Does Wentz need to play more — even if just mentally — like the big-money QB he is? Absolutely. What the Eagles need more than anything, however, is for their head coach to take charge.

Offense is Pederson’s specialty, or so we think, so he must figure that out, whether it means muting the voices around him, whether it means inserting himself as Wentz’s new QBs coach, or what have you. The long-term questions, about his ability to adapt and/or evaluate talent alongside Roseman, will remain no matter what happens down the stretch. But here and now, for the remainder of 2020, this is his gig. Nearly three years ago, Pederson won a world championship against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick with Nick Foles at QB and a defense that surrendered 33 points on the big stage. If he can’t figure out a way to muscle this group to two more divisional wins in this NFC East and keep his playoff streak alive, then the Eagles have even bigger issues than we thought.


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