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Eagles - Lions Postgame: No Defense for This Loss
Ryan Mathews is going to get blamed for the Philadelphia Eagles first loss of the season, but there were plenty of other reasons they lost to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, by a score of 24 to 23.
Sure, Mathews' fumble on the Eagles' 45 yard line with only 2:34 remaining in the game, and the Eagles trying to run out the clock with a 23-21 lead, was a big reason why the Eagles lost. But those 21 points that the Lions scored against the Eagles defense on their first three possessions of the game put the Eagles in an early hole that they ultimately couldn't overcome.
One of the big story lines of this game was Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz returning to Detroit, where he was once the head coach of the Lions. The narrative was that the dominating Eagles defense that had only let up an average of 9 points per game, would be able to contain the Lions offense. The Eagles hadn't let up a passing TD all season and it was assumed that their pass rush was going to dominate a Detroit offensive line that was young and prone to penalties. Well none of that materialized in the first half, as the Lions made it look easy in scoring on their first three possessions, to take a 21-7 lead.
Theo Riddick caught a 1-yard TD pass from Mathew Stafford on the opening drive of the game, where the Eagles defense looked completely over-matched. Riddick added an 18-yard TD catch on their next possession, as he went into the endzone untouched, to put the Lions up 14-0. To make matters worse for the Eagles, all they were able to produce early in the contest was penalty flags.
The Eagles managed to stay in the game with a long drive of their own, that ended with a 1-yard Mathews TD run, but that momentum was short-lived. The Lions stormed right back down the field to go up 21-7 on a 14-yard Marvin Jones TD reception. The drive included a successful 4th-and-1 conversion from the Lions at their own 47, after the Eagles had successfully challenged the spot on a first down by Detroit.
At this point, it looked like the Lions were going to pull a repeat of the drubbing they laid on the Eagles last Thanksgiving. The Eagles defense wasn't getting pressure on Stafford. They weren't stopping the run, in spite of the fact that Riddick has never been known as a rushing threat. And they had already accumulated a season-high 8 penalties. Only a Caleb Sturgis 50-yard FG pulled them to within 21-10 at the half.
Some people may not have noticed that Eagles LB Nigel Bradham didn't play in the first half. The coach apparently "benched" his best LB for most of the first half for being a "Dumbass" on the bye week. (Schwartz referred to Bradham as a dumbass for having a loaded guy in his bag when he attempted to board a flight from Miami to Philly) The Eagles won't confirm that they were punishing Bradham, but seeing how the defense played horribly without him on the field, perhaps they should have just fined him instead. Bradham recovered a fumble in the second half and the Lions only scored 3 points after an Eagles turnover, while he was in the game. That is not a coincidence.
The sad part is that Eagles rookie QB, Carson Wentz was a respectable 12-for-14 for 117 yards and 1 TD at the half. And how strange is it that I was able to write so much about this game and not mention Wentz until now? That's because the story of the first half was how horrible Jim Schwartz's defense was in the first half.
Now, Schwartz did manage to make some adjustments at halftime and held the Lions without a point until there was 1:28 left in the game. And no, Matt Prater's 29-yard FG to put the Lions up 24-23 was not exactly the defense's fault, after that Mathews fumble at the Eagles 45 yard line. But the Eagles did give up a big 27-yard completion to Golden Tate on 3rd and 4, to set up that winning FG. So maybe it was their fault.
Why did the Eagles lose to the Lions?
Stafford finished only 19-for-25 for 180 yards and 3 TDs. His only turnover was an unforced fumble, but he did not throw an interception. He also was not under much pressure throughout the game. Yes, the Eagles did somehow manage to sack Stafford 4 times, but all of the pressure the Eagles applied was after the Lions had already scored 21 points. I know Schwartz doesn't like to blitz, but he needed to do something earlier than he did and it cost the Eagles the game.
Almost as bad as the Eagles defensive performance in the first half was their season-high 14 penalties for 111 yards. The Lions came into the game leading the NFL in penalties, but were only flagged 2 times for 18 yards. Of course, you can't blame the refs, since all of the Eagles' penalties were obvious. They also came at incredibly inopportune times. The Eagles settled for that Sutrgis 50-yard FG because they incurred 3 penalties on that drive at the end of the first half. RG Ron Brooks was flagged for holding on a long 4th quarter run by Mathews that would have given the Eagles a first down in the redzone. Instead, they settled for a 49-yard FG to give them a 23-21 lead. There were many other stupid penalties, such as pass interference, both offensive and defensive, that hurt the Eagles, as well. It was the first time this season that Eagles coach Doug Pederson's team looked undisciplined and it cost them dearly.
Wentz (25-for-33, 238 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) will also get criticized for the first interception of his career, but I didn't have a problem with it. The Eagles had the ball on their own 25, with 1:28 left in the game and no timeouts. Pederson said that the play was not necessarily meant to be a long pass down the middle to Nelson Agholor, but Wentz had his WR in single coverage and took a shot. The throw was not great and Agholor did a terrible job in locating the ball in the air, but it was a risk worth taking. Some will see it as a rookie-mistake for Wentz. The first rookie mistake of his rookie season. I see it as more of a positive that the young QB has confidence in his arm and his receiver to make the play. It's what the great QBs do.
I'm not saying that Wentz is a great QB yet. But I like his mentality in that spot. He saw a chance to win the game and he took it. It didn't work out and the Eagles lost the game. But dammit, something tells me that he's going to connect on more of those than not during his (hopefully) long tenure as the quarterback of the Eagles.
The Eagles lost a game to an inferior opponent that they had no business losing to. The defense looked horrible for most of the first half and diminished some of the luster on the "genius" defensive coordinator. The starting RB fumbled the game away when he should have been doing everything in his power to not fumble. The rookie QB threw his first interception on what many will call a rookie mistake. And the Eagles gave away a chance to remain in first place in the NFC East.
NFC East Standings
New York Giants
In spite of all that, the Eagles are 3-1 in a season that everyone assumed was going to be a rebuilding year. It was a really bad loss, but at least it wasn't as bad as the last time they lost to the Lions. Sorry, that's the best I could come up with for a team that gave away their chance to be undefeated.