Thursday Night Football: Eagles must find way to overcome receiving woes

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By Charles Walford – Philadelphia Eagles Writer

Dropping is catching in Philadelphia, it seems. I suggested last week – after defeat in Atlanta was all but confirmed by Nelson Agholor’s drop with the end zone in sight – that we would struggle to see a worse miss all season. Well, it took just one week for Dallas Goedert to rival it, spilling the simplest of over-the-shoulder takes in the end zone as time was running out for his side in the 27-24 defeat by the Detroit Lions on Sunday. It was an easier chance to score than Agholor’s though, ironically, the back-up Wide Receiver going over a few plays later meant Goedert’s miss was less costly.

Though what it does once again show is without the first-choice Wide Receivers DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffrey, this Philadelphia Eagles side offer little threat to anyone. And while it looks as though Jeffrey will take part on Thursday night, one can’t escape the nagging feeling that he is being rushed back before he is ready. It is a move that may backfire on Doug Pederson, but it is hard to blame the Head Coach for drastic measures in an attempt to boost his misfiring offense. 

In the week 1 victory over Washington, Jackson and Jeffery combined for 13 receptions, 203 yards, and 3 touchdowns. They missed the majority of the Atlanta defeat and all of the loss to the Lions. Their absence has been notable, not least in the receiving corps’ struggles simply getting hold of the ball; in all, seven catches were dropped against the Lions. 

Arcega-Whiteside got in on the dropping act against the Lions. Credit: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The receiver who did show promising signs on Sunday – though did drop a pass that would have put his team in field goal range with 90 seconds left  – is Mack Hollins, back in contention after his mysterious year on the sidelines. He made four catches for 62 yards. Agholor showed his toughness in breaking three tackles and going ten yards after contact for the first of his two TDs, but he too was guilty of a drop. The Rookie Wide Receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside was notable only for, yep you guessed it, a drop late in the fourth quarter. And there is no escaping the fact that the man with most receiving yards on the day for the Eagles was Miles Sanders, the Rookie Running Back. If anything summed up Eagles woes out wide is was Darren Sproles being called for offensive pass interference as he made a catch just inside the lines.

As for the supposed main facet of Sanders’ game, the man who before the season was eager not be judged as the new Saquon Barkley, is going about shutting down those comparisons in exactly the wrong way. Yes, he is getting little help from the Offensive Line, but he appears to lack the explosiveness and improvisational talent that sets the elite runners apart. It wasn’t a total bust of an afternoon, making 53 yards on 13 carries to go with 73 receiving yards on two catches, but more is expected – and required – out of the backfield. He was also guilty of two fumbles.

Sanders fumbles the ball on a day of poor handling by the Eagles. Credit: Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media

As for the man whom a section of the fans hold responsible for all the team’s woes, 19 completions from 36 for Wentz was not a good look on Sunday. But it was not just the horrendous drops that denied him better stats and an extra TD; his offensive line has become porous to the extent that at one point they simply stopped playing and allowed their quarterback to be sacked with minimal effort on the part of the Lions. They might argue that he could reasonably have been expected to have got rid of the ball long before they stopped blocking, but the play – which has gained much traction on Twitter – encapsulates the season so far; mildly shambolic. 

So, what hope is there against the 3-0 Packers in Lambeau on a short week’s rest with Jackson still banged up? Pederson is not looking to use injuries as an excuse, telling the media this week:

“The one thing for me that stands as the head coach in the last couple games are the self-inflicted wounds… The turnovers, the penalties, things that have cost us yards or cost us points obviously in these two games. If we just eliminate that – take the injuries aside – we have a chance to win both football games.”

“If we just make the plays that kind of come our way. Make those plays, then maybe we’re talking a different story. … (Injuries) are not what’s keeping us from winning these two games. … We just have to get better.”

I said last week it would be naive to write off the Eagles’ chances with 14 games to go. With 13 games, such a judgment feels less naive, as it is very hard to envisage anything other than a home win on Thursday night.

Preston Smith, who has 4.5 sacks through three games – including two taking less than 3 seconds from the snap – will have a field day unless the Eagles O-line improves (and, not for nothing, the Packers conceded only 35 points in three games), while Aaron Rodgers will have all the time in the world against a D-line that is simply failing to exert enough pressure on the quarterback. Those would be big enough issues to contend with, even without all the drops. 

Prediction: Packers 31, Eagles 17

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