By Kevin McGuire
A week after securing first place in the NFC East and hitting the reset button on a rough start to the 2015 season, the Philadelphia Eagles let first place slip right back into the hands of the New York Giants after losing on the road against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night in Charlotte. A 27-16 loss to the Panthers dropped the Eagles to 3-4 on the season, and leaves the Birds with plenty of concerns to address during a crucial bye week.
Starting slowly once again proved to put the Eagles in a hole out of the gates, and this week the offense did not have what it takes to dig out of it. Sam Bradford completed just 23 of his 42 pass attempts, with receivers dropping more than enough passes to kill any chance of winning. Bradford tried getting rid of the football quickly for much of the night but still managed to succumb to pressure he was unaware was coming at him as the offensive line crumbled at key moments. Ryan Mathews led the Eagles running the football, carrying the football six times for 97 yards and a touchdown, but he carried it just once after scoring a touchdown on a 63-yard run. DeMarco Murray carried the ball 18 times for 65 yards.
The story of the game was dropped passes by the Eagles receivers, but play-calling once again came into question at times. The Eagles offense is based on taking advantage of quick passes, but right now there are not enough good hands in the field getting in position to get a hold of the ball. Jordan Matthews was targeted by Bradford seven times and he caught just three passes. Darren Sproles only caught five of the 10 passes in his direction, and Josh Huff caught two of five passes his way. Red zone miscues were also huge, with two trips inside the 20-yard line resulting in zero points.
The Eagles offense just continues to struggle to start well, and this has been the case in all but one game this season. If this does not get addressed, the Eagles will continue to struggle to build momentum as the season progresses.
The Eagles defense did do a solid job of creating opportunities with three interceptions of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. The defense also did a respectable job getting off the field, holding Carolina to just two third-down conversions out of nine. Carolina’s strength though is running the football, and that was a problem for the Eagles Sunday night. Carolina rushed for 204 yards with Jonathan Stewart going for 125 yards and Newton adding 20 yards and a touchdown and Ted Ginn Jr. getting involved for a big 43-yard run.
At times basic fundamental tackling was non-existent. No play proved that more than Byron Maxwell’s flailing attempt at a tackle on a third-quarter touchdown catch by Carolina’s beefy Michael Tolbert Malcolm Jenkins had already bounced off of Tolbert and the Carolina rusher carried four Eagles into the end zone for a 21-6 lead. The defense still did enough to keep the Eagles in the game, even as Carolina opened a double-digit lead.
Special Teams: C-
Kicker Caleb Sturgis did miss a field goal, but it was a 50-yard attempt and he hit a 52-yard attempt earlier in the game. even the best kickers will tend to miss a field goal attempt from 50 yards, and Sturgis did kick three field goals and hit on his extra-point attempt to do his part. Punter Donnie Jones was once again steady when called upon, with three of his five punts falling inside the Carolina 20-yard line.
The Eagles got absolutely nothing in the special teams return game. Darren Sproles was able to return just one punt, and he picked up just two yards on that opportunity. The Eagles had zero kickoff return yards as Panthers kicker Graham Gano was solid doing his job. Because there was nothing in the return game, the grade for special teams has to be weighted down.
Another week, another list of offensive concerns for Chip Kelly. Seven weeks into the season, there is no more room for any excuses for slow starts or dropped passes or a serious lack of communication. These are problems that need to be ironed out by now, even with a new starting quarterback and other new faces in key positions. The Eagles continue to be slow starters, which suggests the game plan going into games just is not good enough or too predictable. The solution may not be quite as simple as just Kelly mixing things up with play-calling, but something needs to be done before it is too late. Fortunately, the Eagles play in a mediocre NFC East and they still have an opportunity to turn things around.
So now the focus shifts to the next game. First the Eagles must take advantage of the bye week to review what has worked and what has not through the first seven games of the season. Maybe the bye week will serve the team well in getting the offense on the same page and rebuilding any sort of confidence across the field. When the Eagles return to the field they will once again do so in the national spotlight when they visit Dallas for a Sunday night game on November 8. The Eagles lost the first meeting between the two NFC East rivals back in Week 2, 20-10. Dallas dropped to 2-4 with a loss to the New York Giants Sunday afternoon and will be coming off a home game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.