NEW ORLEANS — On Tuesday, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh started his media conference by saying “a lot of energy and thought” was being dedicated to the offense’s slow starts.
The Eagles entered Sunday having scored 21 first-quarter points on the season — a league low. Fixing that inefficiency was a primary focus this week, and a must to keep up with the high-powered New Orleans Saints.
The effort produced zero results. The Eagles were blanked in the opening quarter for the eighth time in 10 games and found minimal success the rest of the way, allowing Drew Brees and the Saints to speed ahead en route to an easy 48-7 win, dropping the defending champs to 4-6 in the process. The 41-point loss is the largest by a defending Super Bowl champion, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the Eagles’ worst since 2005.
“I honestly thought we were going to come out here firing based off the game plan, based off the plays that were installed. We just can’t stay on the field in the first quarter,” said tight end Zach Ertz, who was limited to a season-low two catches for 15 yards. “That is a key part of the game and we are not staying on the field in the first quarter. We’re not scoring points.”
Philly’s playoff hopes are still alive thanks to the state of the NFC East. The Washington Redskins are in first place at 6-4 and just lost quarterback Alex Smith for the year with a broken tibia and fibula. With two games still remaining against Washington and one against the 5-5 Cowboys, there is plenty of opportunity ahead.
But it’s becoming increasingly questionable as to whether the Eagles have what it takes to do anything with that opportunity. They have problems aplenty. Injuries to the secondary left safety Malcolm Jenkins surrounded by a bare-bones cast that included Chandon Sullivan, De’Vante Bausby, Rasul Douglas, Cre’von LeBlanc and Corey Graham. The front four was unable to generate a pass rush. New Orleans outgained the Eagles 547-196.
The plummet in offensive production remains the most startling issue, and raises questions about what — and more pointedly, who — is missing.
There have been injuries, yes, but there were injuries last year. Carson Wentz had been having a good season before Sunday’s down performance. Ertz is on pace for an historic season, Alshon Jeffery has been solid and they even added Golden Tate at the trade deadline. Yet the Eagles came in averaging 22 points per game, a full touchdown off their 2017 average. New Orleans was ranked 31st in pass defense coming in, yet Wentz threw for just 156 yards and tossed three interceptions. He was as animated as he’s ever been on the sidelines at different points in the game.
“It was a culmination of a lot of things. I’ve played a lot of football games in my career ever since I was a kid and this is one of the worst losses I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating all around.”
While offenses around the league have benefited from the way the game is being officiated, the Eagles have gone in the opposite direction.
The offense is coach Doug Pederson’s baby. He said that he’s responsible for scripting the first 15 plays, the results of which have been disastrous to this point. He earned the reputation as an innovator last year during the team’s run to the Super Bowl, and maintained a hot hand as a playcaller even after Wentz went down with injury and Nick Foles stepped in.
But his group has been ice cold this season. The major difference between this year and last year, besides the fact that opposing defenses have had time to really study up on the system, is that Pederson is without offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. The teams they left for — the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings — entered the week ranked seventh and 15th in scoring, ahead of the 21st-ranked Eagles, who were third in that department last season.
“I told them not to hang their head. I told them that we’re gonna come to work this week. We got a great opportunity in front of us,” Pederson said of his message to the team. “We’re gonna stay committed. I asked them that — I’m gonna lead this football team, and follow me. And it’s every man in there — they embrace that, they understand that they’re gonna — obviously we’re held accountable to the way we played today. But we’re gonna look at the tape, we’re gonna fix the mistakes and be ready for New York.”
Does Pederson miss having Reich as his sounding board? Does he missing having DeFilippo help design red-zone offense, which slipped from second in the NFL (64 percent TD rate) to 17th (56 percent)?
Their replacements, Groh and QB coach Press Taylor, are well-thought of and have bright futures in their own respect. But something is very wrong at the moment. The offense is broken. It’s hard to leave Sunday’s shellacking at the Superdome feeling any other way.