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Seahawks slow Eagles’ Super Bowl express

Posted by Eric Fisher On December 3

Only time will tell if Sunday night’s 24-10 loss to the Seahawks was a minor bump in the road or a warning sign of bigger problems ahead.

Carson Wentz missed a few open receivers, head coach Doug Pederson made a few questionable decisions and the Eagles’ running backs didn’t break any long runs. But everyone is entitled to an “off” week.

This will only become an issue if the Eagles’ lose next Sunday (4:25 p.m.) to the NFC West-leading Rams (9-3), who are one game ahead of the Seahawks (8-4). A loss next week would drop the Eagles (10-2) into a tie with the Rams, with the Rams holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. It could also drop the Eagles into a tie with the Saints (9-3) and leave them behind the Vikings (10-2) in the battle for homefield throughout the NFC playoffs.

But we won’t know any of that until after next Sunday’s game with the Rams. All we know now is that the loss prevented the Eagles from breaking the franchise record for consecutive victories and from clinching the NFC East title.

The NFC East title is a foregone conclusion. The only scenario in which the division title would escape their grasp would be if the Eagles lose all four of their remaining games while the Cowboys win all four of their remaining games.

The Eagles, however, have their sights set on higher goals. They’re seeking homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. That advantage would include a first-round bye and a smoother path to the Super Bowl. The Eagles would rather host playoff games at Lincoln Financial Field than travel to enclosed stadiums in New Orleans or Minnesota.

Missed opportunities

In order achieve their higher goals, the Eagles will have to avoid the mistakes and wasted opportunities that plagued them against the Seahawks.

The Eagles, who had scored at least 30 points in five straight games and hadn’t scored fewer than 20 points since last season, didn’t reach the end zone Sunday until 12:08 remained in the game. They squandered several earlier opportunities to score touchdowns.

During the second quarter, with the Eagles already in a 10-0 hole after allowing a first-quarter touchdown for the first time all season, responded with a long drive that started from their own 17-yard line. On the 13th play of the drive, LeGarrette Blount bulled his way to the 1-yard line, but receiver Nelson Agholor committed a needless holding penalty near the end of the run. Even without the hold, Blount would certainly have advanced inside the 5. Instead, after the penalty was assessed, the Eagles ended up having to settle for Jake Elliott’s 29-yard field goal.

On the first possession of the second half, Wentz drove the Eagles nearly 75 yards for what could have been a game-tying field goal. But Wentz fumbled as he dove for the goal line on second-and-goal from the 6. The ball bounced harmlessly out of the back of the end zone, turning possession over to the Seahawks at the 20.

Despite repeated pressure by the Eagles, Russell Wilson managed to make plays, including a 47-yard pass to Doug Baldwin, who ran away from safety Rodney McLeod’s coverage and reached the 1-yard line, setting up a 1-yard touchdown that opened up a 17-3 lead.

The Eagles can take comfort in the fact that they won’t be facing Wilson again this season (unless the teams meet in the playoffs). Wilson completed 20 of 31 passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns. He frequently eluded Eagles pass rushers, avoiding big losses by scrambling or throwing the ball away.

Not meeting the challenge

Wentz had some magic of his own. Facing third-and-13 from the Eagles 16, Wentz made an unbelievable throw while being brought down by a defender as he stumbled forward. The pass sailed over surprised cornerback Byron Maxwell, the former Eagle, to Agholor for a remarkable 51-yard gain.

Four plays later, Wentz moved to this right, and then turned and threw a perfectly timed lob to Agholor (7 receptions, 141 yards) for a 27-yard touchdown with 12:08 remaining.

But Wilson pulled off a Houdini act of his own. On third-and-9 from the Seahawks 41, Wilson escaped the pressure and ran up the middle. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to gain enough for a first down, Wilson pitched the ball to running back Thomas Davis, who raced to the Eagles 35 for a 24-yard gain.

The Seahawks scored the final touchdown, virtually putting the game out of reach, at the end of that drive. Wilson connected with J.D. McKissic, a speedy back who found a mismatch with linebacker Mychal Kendricks.

But the touchdown may not have happened if Pederson had challenged Wilson’s pitch to Davis during the 24-yard gain. Replays showed the pitch from Wilson to Davis was a forward pass, so the play shouldn’t have resulted in a long gain, but Pederson didn’t challenge the play.

Pederson also decided to go for the first down during the third quarter instead of kicking a field goal on fourth-and-3 from the 25-yard line. Linebacker K.J. Wright disrupted the fourth-down play with a blitz that left Wentz with barely any time to throw, but the decision to go for it was questionable. The Eagles trailed 17-3 at the time. A field goal would have brought the Eagles within 11 points, a margin that could have been made up with a touchdown, two-point conversion and field goal. Why not kick the field goal and get closer to striking distance?

On the other hand, Pederson decided to punt on fourth-and-2 at the from the Seattle 46 with 18 seconds left in the first half. Pederson has been aggressive on fourth down this season, but chose not to be on this occasion.

There also were some play-calling issues. Wentz only threw for 45 yards during the first half (he finished the game with 348 yards) with the Eagles seemingly using a conservative approach.

Ertz injury a concern

But Pederson hasn’t made many sideline mistakes this season.

And Wentz hasn’t struggled to hit many open receivers, and the running game, which only gained 58 yards on 20 carries – excluding run by Wentz – has been excellent.

One problem that might carry over to next Sunday is that tight end Zach Ertz, the Eagles’ leader in receptions this season, left the game in the third quarter due to a possible concussion. If Ertz can’t play against the Rams, it obviously will affect the Eagles’ chances to win the game.

If the other issues disappear, though, they will merely be a blip on the radar.

If the other problems persist, though, we will look back at the loss to the Seahawks as a danger sign that shouldn’t have been ignored.

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