Eagles-Seahawks: What we learned from Sunday night's 24-10 loss

Tuesday, 05 December 2017, 05:37:45 AM. Ten day-after takeaways from a night when Doug Pederson's squad ran into a formidable opponent and a hot quarterback, and simply made too many costly mistakes.

SEATTLE — The Eagles’ nine-game winning streak came to an end at CenturyLink Field on Sunday night. They ran into a formidable opponent and a hot quarterback, but Doug Pederson’s squad simply made too many costly mistakes in a 24-10 loss. Here’s what we learned:

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1. The Eagles aren’t a fluke, Part IX. Did anyone really believe the Eagles would win 15 regular season games? Certainly not before the season. And likely not even after a 10-1 start.

That doesn’t make the loss to the Seahawks any easier to stomach. But the Eagles were bound to get punched in the mouth sometime in December, and the fact that it was Seattle that delivered the knockout shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Pete Carroll and his unit have been in many heavyweight bouts over the last five-plus years. The Seahawks may not be as fearsome as they were three or four years ago, but they’re still a top-notch team that always seems to be playing its best football toward the end of the season.

Did Seattle win as much as the Eagles lost? It was both. But one defeat to an elite squad in a difficult environment isn’t going to offset the first 11 games. And it’s not like the Eagles were overmatched. They outgained Seattle 425 to 310 in total yards. They had only one three-and-out on offense, and their defense pressured Russell Wilson for almost the entire game.

But you can’t take points off the board. A holding penalty negated a LeGarrette Blount run down to the 1-yard line in the first quarter and the Eagles had to settle for a field goal. That’s four points likely given away. Carson Wentz fumbled at the 1-yard line on the most pivotal play of the game. That’s at least three points and probably four more coughed up.

Poll

Who’s to blame for the Eagles’ mistakes against the Seahawks?

Doug Pederson elected to go for it on fourth and three at the Seattle 25 late in the third quarter with the Eagles down, 17-3, but the play failed. Jake Elliott hasn’t been automatic this season, but 43 yards would have been a chip shot for the Eagles kicker.

All told, that’s a possible 14 points the Eagles squandered.

The Seahawks certainly played a role in those missed opportunities. But the Eagles weren’t outclassed. They’re still a good team. They still have a chance to topple a playoff-caliber team on the road when they travel to Southern California to face the 9-3 Rams on Sunday. How they respond will say a lot more about their postseason prospects.

2. Doug Pederson isn’t a fluke. The Eagles coach didn’t have one of his better games. I spent a significant amount of space in my column for the newspaper examining some of his more curious decisions — the challenge he didn’t make on Wilson’s lateral/illegal forward pass, the challenge he did try on Torrey Smith’s third down catch, the reluctance to gamble on two first half fourth downs, the aforementioned fourth and three attempt that failed.

But there wasn’t a single choice he made that was egregiously poor. You can fault him for not challenging the lateral because it came at such a crucial moment. He said he made his decision based upon the information he received from the upstairs coaching booth. He said his coaches didn’t see every replay because the Seahawks hurried and ran the next play. But he also said that he didn’t toss his red beanie because his earlier challenge had lost a timeout.

He might have been correct about Smith’s spot, but I don’t think it was worth the risk when the Eagles had been successful on every fourth and one this season. And Wentz, eventually, converted.

Pederson didn’t suddenly turn into Rich Kotite. He’s had far too much success this season to flip the narrative after one game. But he did fall short in a game with postseason quality. The Eagles have coasted for weeks and hadn’t been tested. And the same could be said of their coach, who still doesn’t have many tight wins to his name.

I’m not holding that against Pederson. He just doesn’t have as much experience in those situation as Carroll. The Seahawks coach knew that.

“In my mind, I was hoping that we would be close with these guys in the fourth quarter,” Carroll said. “We’ve been in so many tight games, it wouldn’t be anything new for us. I thought they might be in a situation that was a little different.”

The Eagles lost the game far earlier than in the fourth quarter, but Pederson’s decisions throughout the game were magnified. They didn’t come up spotless under the microscope.

Camera icon David Maialetti/Staff Photographer Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said he didn’t challenge Seattle’s lateral due in part to information he received from the upstairs coaching booth. 

3. Too much was asked of Carson Wentz — at least on this night. The Eagles’ offensive recipe for success over most of the season has been balance. Their run-pass ratio and ball distribution was as balanced as any team coming in. It made them difficult to defend.

Wentz had played at an MVP level for most of the first 11 games, but he wasn’t asked to win games solely with his arm — except for in the loss to the Chiefs. His Year 2 jump has been so significant that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he’s only in his second season. He dropped to throw more than 50 times against Seattle. His running backs ran the ball only five times in the second half.

The Eagles trailed for the entire game, so the run-pass ratio was bound to be lopsided, but Wentz had so much placed on his plate. And against a very good defense and a quarterback of equal or more skill, he succumbed.

He missed a wide-open Nelson Agohlor early. He underthrew him when a more accurate pass would have likely netted six points later. And he had two turnovers. It’s only one game. Wentz still did some remarkable things. He’s still a gifted quarterback and will only get better. But mistakes, like coach’s decisions, are magnified in big games, and Wentz made far too many.

4. Wentz’s aggressiveness came back to bite the Eagles. I wrote a column after the Panthers victory in October on how Wentz’s gutty play both in the pocket and on the run had galvanized the Eagles. But there were potential risks in his go-for-broke style. He could get hurt, he could lose yards or he could turn the ball over.

The Eagles don’t want to take that aggressiveness away, especially when so many positive plays have come as a result. That touchdown pass to Clement against the Redskins? That doesn’t happen if Wentz swallows the ball and takes the sack like so many other quarterbacks would have done. That spin move scramble and dive forward for a first down against the Bears? That doesn’t happen if he doesn’t throw caution to the wind.

Wentz picked up a few first downs with his legs against Seattle. His athleticism gives the Eagles that dynamic. But his occasional reluctance to slide does leave him open to hits and possible turnovers. His dart to the goal line on the opening drive of the third quarter was fearless. He smelled the end zone and went for it face forward. But Seahawks defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson took his shot and poked the ball loose and through the end zone.

“Saw on film he likes to fight for the extra yards,” Richardson said.

That’s typically a green light for defenders to not ease up once he crossed the line of scrimmage.

“I saw the goal line, so I thought it was going to be close,” Wentz said. “Made that extra lunge and it cost me.”

It cost the Eagles big time.

Camera icon DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (right) fumbled the ball away just short of the goal line under pressure from Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, costing the Birds a touchdown.

5. Russell Wilson is damn good. The Seahawks quarterback was clearly the best the Eagles had faced this year and likely for the rest of the regular season. He’s had a year as great as Wentz’s and had been asked to do more behind a woeful offensive line and alongside suspect running backs.

The Eagles knew the caliber of quarterback they were to face. They had seen Wilson up close only a year ago. But it had been weeks before they saw a quarterback at least in the top half of the league — Kirk Cousins in Week 7 and Cam Newton the week before. Neither is as good as Wilson, in my opinion.

He must have escaped from five or six would-be sacks. The Eagles got him twice, and he had to throw the ball away on several occasions — some of them potential grounding penalties that were never called — but Wilson had the Eagles defensive linemen running around like Rocky chasing a chicken.

Are the Eagles going to see a quarterback as elusive down the stretch and potentially in the playoffs? No, unless they face the Seahawks again. But they will likely see one as good in the postseason — when/if they clinch.

This was a good test for the Eagles defense, one you’d rather they didn’t pass in December than in January.

6. Jim Schwartz picked a bad time to zero blitz. That’s basically my lone knock on the Eagles defensive coordinator’s play-calling. He hasn’t blitzed much over the last month and he didn’t blitz much on Sunday. But Schwartz got burned on his all-out pass rush on third and 10 midway through the third quarter.

Wilson said that he told his offense to be ready for the zero blitz in the huddle.

“When you study tons of film, you can kind of recognize what teams are trying to do and when they want to do it and everything else,” Wilson said. “You have a clear understanding. When we were in the huddle, I told them, be ready for the all-out blitz.”

Wilson then changed the snap count to get the Eagles to show Cover 0. He then changed the protection, kept the tight end in and when the Eagles sent the house he heaved a deep pass to Doug Baldwin, who had gotten behind safety Rodney McLeod. Baldwin’s catch was originally ruled a 48-yard touchdown, but a replay showed that he stepped out at the 1. It didn’t matter, Seattle scored on the next play.

Earlier, Wilson and his receivers had success on several quick-timing routes — slants, rub routes, etc. The Eagles played some soft coverage, but they were also pressing, and Wilson just made some accurate throws.

I don’t know if this was some method for beating Schwartz’s defense, or if the Eagles just needed to tip their caps to Wilson. They hadn’t allowed a play longer than 32 yards in the previous seven games and only allowed one — the 47-yard Baldwin grab — in Seattle.

I don’t think the Seahawks “figured” Schwartz out. But the lack of a forced turnover stood out — as did the zero blitz.

7. Nelson Agholor has come full circle. It’s frankly amazing how far the Eagles receiver has come in a year. And he couldn’t have picked a better game and stadium to show it. A year ago, Agholor hit his professional low in Seattle. I don’t think I need to rehash.

He was already having a stellar season, but he exploded on Sunday. He was the best skill position player on the field, minus the quarterbacks. Agholor caught a career-high seven passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. He could have had far more production had Wentz been on target. He was open all game — short, long, and intermediate. The Seahawks didn’t have an answer.

On a night when the Eagles’ top two receivers were mostly held in check, Agholor showed that he probably needs to be featured more in the offense.

8. Halapoulivaati Vaitai is going to have games like this. Vaitai wasn’t bad. But he wasn’t good either, and Frank Clark was able to get to Wentz several times. The Seahawks defensive end finished with two sacks and two quarterback hits. He also had another tackle for loss.

I still must watch the all-22 film to assess his play completely. I thought Vaitai had some moments in the run game. A kick-out block on Corey Clement’s 8-yard tote on third down in the second quarter was technically sound. But Vaitai was inconsistent enough for me to notice during the game.

Left tackle is an unforgiving position. He’s still learning. He’s just going to have to do it on the job.

9. Alshon Jeffery picked a bad time to have his worst half of the season. You can only catch balls if they’re thrown in your direction, so it’s not like Jeffery was dropping passes in the first half. Zero targets likely meant that he wasn’t always open, which happens.

But the holding penalty on Blount’s run was a killer. He didn’t even need to grab the defensive back. And it’s not like it was first time he was called for holding downfield.

Jeffery leads the Eagles with seven penalties — two were declined — and three happened on blocks.

He looked more like the receiver the Eagles signed to a four-year, $52 million extension in the second half. But the optics of his first half performance weren’t good.

Jeffery has had a solid season. He’s made a difference in Wentz’s development. But he’s yet to have a 100-yard game. I think he could deliver this Sunday in Los Angeles.

10. And some leftovers. Brandon Graham recorded his eighth sack on the season and continued add to his career best when he partnered with Derek Barnett to bring Wilson down. …

Jay Ajayi led the way with 31 of 75 snaps at running back. Clement was next with 28. Blount followed with 14. And Kenjon Barner — who was inexplicably on the field on the fourth and three try — had two. …

Zach Ertz had just one target in the first half. He caught two of four targets in the second half for 24 yards. He left with a concussion — the second of his career. …

Najee Goode took all the injured Joe Walker’s snaps at middle linebacker save for one. New Eagle Dannell Ellerbe was on the field for one play.

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