Spadaro: Eagles stray from winning formula in ‘eye-opening’ first loss

Spadaro: Eagles stray from winning formula in ‘eye-opening’ first loss
Spadaro: Eagles stray from winning formula in ‘eye-opening’ first loss

Spadaro: Eagles stray from winning formula in 'eye-opening' first loss

Spadaro: Eagles stray from winning formula in ‘eye-opening’ first loss

This is a formula tried and true in the NFL and one the Eagles had followed historically well in their first eight games, all victories: Win the turnover battle, turn the opposing offense into one that had to play catch up with the passing game, and minimize penalties.

On Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field in the team’s Salute To Service game, though, the script flipped on the Eagles, who fell to the Washington Commanders 32-21 for their first loss of the season to drop to 8-1. The team responded in the locker room the right way, and in the big picture how they bounce back from the defeat is the most important piece of all of this, but the 60 minutes of football played against the Commanders is worth examining before moving on in this short week.

“We started out hot and then they responded,” wide receiver A.J. Brown said, “and then we started kicking ourselves in the foot. If you don’t play great ball in this league, if you don’t protect the ball, it’s going to be hard to beat anybody. It’s definitely eye-opening. You’ve got to be humble in this league and you have to go out and prove it every week.”

All three phases of the team contributed to the loss – you win as a team and you lose as a team, right? – so let’s look under the hood as the Eagles lost for the first time in four prime-time games in 2022.

Offense

Things started so well for quarterback Jalen Hurts and the offense. A Josh Sweat strip-sack and recovery at the Washington 18-yard line by defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu set up Hurts and he and the offense took advantage in three plays – a Hurts 12-yard run, a Boston Scott 5-yard gain to the 1-yard line, and then a Hurts quarterback sneak for his sixth rushing touchdown of the year gave the Eagles a quick 7-0 lead.

On the offense’s second possession, the Eagles went 9 plays and 78 yards and scored on a Hurts pass to tight end Dallas Goedert – a fake quarterback draw out of the shotgun, and instead Hurts pulled up and popped a pass over the middle to Goedert for the score and a 14-7 advantage.

However, the Eagles then generated very little offense on their next three possessions – all the way until late in the third quarter (more on that later) – before manufacturing a 12-play, 80-yard drive for a Hurts-to-DeVonta Smith touchdown pass narrowed the Washington lead (more on THAT later, too) to 23-21.

And that was it for the offense. Philadelphia turned the ball over three times and all three really hurt – a great, amazing throw from Hurts to Brown in the second quarter hit Brown’s hands, but then was jarred away in coverage and somehow intercepted at the Washington 14-yard line by a defensive back Darrick Forrest and led to a Washington touchdown, a fumble by Goedert in the fourth quarter in Eagles territory led to a Washington field goal, and then, on the next possession, a 50-yard Hurts-to-Quez Watkins completion on which Watkins made a great catch at the Washington 23-yard line, got up and then had the ball punched away at the Commanders’ 20-yard line and recovered by Forrest at the 15.

The score was 26-21 at the time and the giveaway was a huge turnaround in the game. Watkins stood up and accepted the blame after the game.

“Honestly, I was just trying to make a play for the team. I know I didn’t get touched (after hitting the ground on the reception) and I knew I had left two (defenders) behind, so I just got up and tried to get some extra yards,” Watkins said. “I didn’t have good ball security. We’re taught to have good ball security and it cost us. That’s our details. I was hoping I was touched before I fumbled but I knew I wasn’t touched before I got up. I take the blame for that one.”

  • It was that kind of night for the offense – frustrating.

Defense

Washington executed a ground-based, keep-the-Eagles-offense-on-the-sidelines strategy following the early Eagles’ takeaway and a touchdown, sticking to the running game and mixing in some play-action passing and giving the offense makeable third downs. In running 51 offensive plays in the first half, Washington converted 9 of 12 third downs, ran for 100 yards on 29 carries, and, other than the first possession, gave quarterback Taylor Heinicke time to complete 12 of 21 passes for 145 yards, with 6 of those completions and 76 of those yards to wide receiver Terry McLaurin (he finished with 8 catches for 128 yards on 11 targets) to lead 20-14 at the half.

In its lone third-quarter possession and its fifth straight scoring drive, Washington drove 71 yards on 14 plays, consuming 8 minutes, and 23 seconds off the clock, to up the advantage to 23-14.

This is the formula, and the Eagles know it: Run, run, run, and then use play-action passing. Get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly. Try not to turn the ball over – Heinicke had one interception but otherwise kept it simple on a 17-of-29 night on which he passed for 211 yards.

“That’s what teams are going to do,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “They are going to run until we stop it. We’ve got to fix our issues. It ain’t about nobody else but us. People can run all they want to run but we have to do our part, too.”

Said linebacker Kyzir White: “It’s a mentality. We have a great group of guys and I think we’ll be good, so we need to work and get better and that’s going to be the way we respond, the way we react. This makes us even more hungry. When we get back to work on Wednesday, we have to be hungry, even hungrier than we’ve been.”

Commanders vs. Eagles | November 14, 2022

The Eagles hosted the Washington Commanders in a Monday night showdown at Lincoln Financial Field.

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