PHILADELPHIA >> While you were gloating over that plane towing the Super Bowl LII score above Gillette Stadium last Thursday, the defending champion Eagles were getting punched in the mouth for the second straight week.
And guess who did the punching this time?
Preseason is no excuse for 20 penalties, 10 sacks and five turnovers, including four interceptions. And it’s not just on the players.
Doug Pederson and the Eagles can’t even get fourth down right. They’re 1 of 5 in that department, not at all like the lethal gunslingers who last season were 3-for-3 in the playoffs and 17-for-26 (65.8 percent) in the regular season.
The sacks are alarming. Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles was spun around like a top by the New England Patriots, who knocked him out of the game with shoulder pain on the third of their seven sacks en route to a 37-20 victory. Left tackle Halapoulavaati Vaitai took responsibility for the sack that stunned Foles, and some of the others. He said he was “embarrassed” by the showing.
“The last time I played that bad was the first game of my rookie year,” Vaitai said. “It’s another wakeup call.”
It should be a wakeup call for the coaching staff, as well.
Vaitai felt out of sync from the very first snap, explaining that he “opened up too fast” and couldn’t correct it. Bad day or not, the Eagles should have adjusted their blocking scheme or altered the play-calling before Foles was hurt. They sure had time.
Additionally, Pederson’s critique of Vaitai made it seem as if the tackle was the only reason for the sacks.
“He’s definitely played better,” Pederson said. “We know exactly who he is. He’s hard on himself, like anybody is. There are some things he would want back, obviously, but at the same time, he understands what he needs to do to continue to get better and improve.”
Add all of these bits and pieces together and you have an Eagles team with a lot of issues that, if not corrected now, will have to be addressed while they’re playing three of their first five games against playoff teams, and another in the blistering heat of Tampa, Fla.
And remember this:
The Eagles are counting on Vaitai or 36-year-old veteran Jason Peters, coming off a torn ACL, to protect the blind side of quarterback Carson Wentz, who’s coming off a torn ACL, and get out in the open field to help on screens to free 35-year-old running back Darren Sproles, who’s coming off a torn ACL. If an ACL truly is a two-year injury, meaning the player doesn’t feel he’s all the way back until the second season, the Eagles are going to be have modify the offense. Did we mention that wide receiver Alshon Jeffery hasn’t practiced yet?
Speaking of Wentz, he’s not a sure thing to start the season. Pederson said Sunday Wentz would begin splitting first-team snaps with Foles in 11-on-11s. With Foles suddenly looking old and the unproven Nate Sudfeld slinging it wildly like Brett Favre in the early days, the Eagles have considerable bonding to do to get ready for the Atlanta Falcons in the Sept. 6 regular season opener.
A healthy Wentz would go a long way toward getting the Eagles on the same page. The third-year veteran is a perfectionist who doesn’t tolerate mistakes. If Wentz avoids a setback, the energy he brings to practice could rub off on teammates — and coaches — who are making a lot of mistakes with the other quarterbacks in the game. A healthy Wentz would be like finding the vaccine for this ugly virus affecting the Eagles now.
“He’s looked great,” right offensive tackle Lane Johnson said. “He’s ready to get out there and play. The only thing that’s bothering him is he wants to play right now and they’re holding back the reins. I can’t wait until he’s back out there.”
The Eagles hit the road Thursday to oppose the Cleveland Browns.
The third preseason game is the dress rehearsal, with the starters playing into the third quarter.
Unless Wentz is cleared for contact over the next three days, which appears unlikely, Foles will start again. Pederson said he doesn’t need to see Wentz, Peters or Sproles play in the preseason to feel comfortable playing them in the opener.
NOTES >> Jeffery heard about the report saying he could start the season on PUP. And he didn’t dispute it Sunday. He’s coming back from surgery to correct a torn rotator cuff that he played with through last season. … Cornerback Jalen Mills returned to practice after sitting out the Patriots game with cramps. The heat and humidity last week caught up to Mills, who hasn’t missed a regular season game due to injuries in two years with the Eagles. … Pederson said veteran tight end Richard Rodgers (knee) would be week-to-week. Running back Donnell Pumphrey (hamstring) likely will miss his third preseason game, per the head coach. ... The Eagles practiced outdoors in the rain Sunday. A sign, perhaps, that Pederson no longer will be Mr. Nice Guy leading up to the season opener.