Eagles Are Failing the COVID Stress Test

John McMullen

PHILADELPHIA - Everything about Sunday in South Philadelphia was strange.

Fans were replaced by cardboard cutouts of Jake Tapper and Gritty. Intimidation from passionate, often ravenous partisans turned to a $500 million antiseptic television studio. Perhaps it was apropos Jurassic Quest was next door at the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center because the NFL like life “uh, finds a way."

The Eagles did not, however, following up an epic collapse against the talent-deficient Washington Football Team with a road-apple performance against a team with more playmakers, the Los Angeles Rams.

FOX even piped it boos to give the TV broadcast that Philly flavor after the latest Carson Wentz and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside failing. The worst duo since oil and water shockingly wasn't on the same page.

The NFL's COVID-19 season is a giant stress test to every team in the league and the Eagles, long considered one of the strongest organizations in the NFL, are failing.

"We're obviously frustrated," Wentz said after the 37-19 setback. "You never want to start 0-2. ... There's enough things through two games, offensively speaking, that we can put on the tape and know we're right there. ... Don't panic; we'll be OK.”

There is no empirical evidence to back that sentiment, however.

Wentz is graded No. 33 in a 32-team league by ProFootballFocus.com through two weeks, ahead of only Denver's Drew Lock. Meanwhile, the revamped receiving room is led by the 33-year-old Deason Jackson as expected (No. 74 of 113) and the rest has been a disaster with Jalen Reagor at 104, Greg Ward at 105 and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside at 112. If John Hightower played enough he would also be in the 100s.

"I don't care who you (have) throwing. I don't care who the receivers are. Two and a half weeks to prepare for your first real game; it's not enough time," coach Doug Pederson said Monday. "It's not enough time, and it's a constant work-in-progress and we continue to work, and I continue to kind of restructure practice a little bit so we can spend more time during practice getting these throws and getting - detailing the fundamentals of the route and the details of the route."

The issue with that explanation is obvious. The other 31 teams are in the same boat and many have handled the stress test better while only a few have been worse.

Right now the biggest thing the Eagles have going for them is the division. The WFT and the New York Giants still stink and Dallas, despite its rip-roaring comeback against Atlanta on Sunday, seems destined to underachieve yet again in the NFC East.

In other words, 0-2 is hardly insurmountable and another 9-7 division title is a possibility. Expanded playoffs, meanwhile, means another wild-card spot but the math to get there is already problematic considering how the Eagles have played.

Everything starts with the quarterback and Wentz has played poorly after no offseason. He was never the most accurate passer in the world but things have regressed and that kind of thing is usually tied to mechanics, long a concern with the now fifth-year player dating back to his first position coach John DeFilippo.

"Flip" was a taskmaster who used Carson Palmer, maybe the best of the modern QBs when it comes to mechanics, as his template, pushing Wentz consistently toward that standard, something that wasn't always greeted warmly at times.

Current QB coach and passing game coordinator Press Taylor has a more friendly and certainly less adversarial relationship with Wentz and there is good and bad to that. Right now we're witnessing the negative part of that equation.

"I guess you can point to a lot of different things: missing OTAs, not having all the necessary maybe reps during training camp, missing preseason games, whatever it might be, the timing of things that we do in the passing game and just missing these throws," Pederson said when discussing Wentz's accuracy woes. "They are throws that he typically would throw, and it's a little bit, too, on the receivers. Sometimes the receivers need to make the catch as well. So it's things that we have to continue to work."

The interception to JJAW highlighted the issues.

Wentz was late with the throw and forcing an issue that didn't need to be pressed considering it was first down. Once the window was closed by his own hesitation, either move to the next progression or simply give up on the play and live for second down.

"On that particular play, that one's unacceptable," said Pederson. "That one is not part of the play. It's a back-side progression, obviously, and it's unfortunate. I've got to do a better job, offensively we have to do a better job with plays of that nature; that we coach those a little bit bitter and the details of that particular route.

"It was a little bit of a new concept for us in the game plan this week and we've got to do a better job, but that one's unacceptable. Carson would say the same thing and we've got to own that one."

Wentz's issues didn't make Miles Sanders fumble, though, or force the Eagles defense to allow 191 yards on the ground and 449 overall.

The COVID stress is illuminating issues on both sides of the football.

"We started to chase plays rather than being in the moment and trusting one another consistently," said veteran safety Rodney McLeod after the game.

While Wentz insists the "the sky is not falling," his All-Pro center offered up the more pragmatic approach.

"I try not to look at it big-picture," Jason Kelce said of the team's 0-2 record.

The first step to getting out of the hole is to stop digging.

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM and every Monday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SportsMap Radio. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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