Watching how this latest game unfolded along with their previous three, it’s obvious the Titans, despite all kinds of offensive deficiencies, have fabulous decision-makers on the sideline.
Head coach Mike Vrabel, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and defensive coordinator Dean Pees completely outcoached their counterparts and also masterfully held things together after the Eagles appeared to take command with a touchdown for a 17-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
The Titans scored on all but one of their second-half possessions and then came back from a 3-point deficit in overtime to win with 9 seconds remaining in overtime.
More on this to come, but suffice to say the Eagles have a lot of work to do.
The Eagles had the ball first in overtime and used their running game almost exclusively to move into range for Jake Elliott to put them ahead with a 37-yard field goal.
Jay Ajayi took off for runs of 7, 9 and 15 yards. Wendell Smallwood added a 13-yard burst. And before anyone knew it, the Eagles had a first down at the Tennessee 17.
Alas, they stalled from there, meaning the field goal would not be enough to win it.
For Eagles wide receiver and Vanderbilt product Jordan Matthews, who was unemployed two weeks earlier, catching a 56-yard touchdown pass from Carson Wentz had to feel extra special, considering the venue.
Sunday’s game was his first appearance as a professional in the city in which he used to play his college ball.
It also put the Eagles ahead in the second quarter.
Besides battling a series of misplays that consistently put them behind the chains, the Eagles’ offense fought an uphill battle all day because of their starting field position after punts and kickoffs.
When the Eagles finally broke through with a healthy return of 11 yards by DeAndre Carter of an average punt by Kern late in the first half, a facemask penalty by Sidney Jones meant they would have to start at their 14-yard line instead of the 38.
Granted, Carter’s 42-yard return late in the fourth gave them excellent field position and led to the game-tying field goal.
In the first half, here’s where their six possessions started: 25, 20, 5, 3, 14 and the Tennessee 17 (following an interception), which they weren’t able to fully capitalize on thanks to some inexplicable clock management by Pederson, who, on third-and-three from the 10 with 11 seconds remaining decided to try a running play.
His explanation for the run call?
“I thought, just get the first down, burn the timeout and then maybe have 8 seconds left to start taking shots into the end zone,” he said.
Much like the previous year, shorthanded has quickly become the Eagles’ default setting in 2018 — the one difference being multiple injuries to some position groups (RB, WR), which they were able to avoid last year.
Yes, receiver Alshon Jeffery returned to pay immediate dividends (eight catches, 105 yards, TD). But not able to answer the bell was running back Corey Clement (quad). This, after safety Rodney McLeod was placed on injured reserve the day before.
Jeffery had an outstanding day — perhaps even stronger than he envisioned.
“I still have to get my wind back,” he said. “It’s coming along.”
Asked if expected to play this much in his first game back, he said: “Probably not.”
Stretching the defense
Though they didn’t connect, they made the correct call to try.
On the Eagles’ first offensive play from scrimmage, quarterback Carson Wentz attempted a deep play-action pass to Nelson Agholor, who was open in a seam down the right side. The pass was overthrown, but the shot was worth taking for a team that hasn’t had that many good deep opportunities through the first month of the season.
They would go on to take timely shots down the field, with one paying off in the form of Matthews’ 56-yard TD reception and another when Jeffery caught one for 31 yards.
Whether they come around the corner or up the middle, blitzers are getting home with alarming frequency against the Eagles these days.
In this game, that put them behind the chains too many times for comfort. In general, this trend is very likely to land their franchise quarterback in the hospital.
And the next time, they might not be so lucky. In fact, it’s just about a certainty they won’t be.
Wentz was sacked four times and hit 11 others. That’s an impossible way to win in this league against any opponent.
The Eagles had no answers, either, other than they would have to watch more tape and make corrections.
“Sometimes we throw in hot, sometimes we try to disguise stuff, run different stuff,” tackle Lane Johnson said. “That’s the way the league is in trying to make sideline adjustments. It’s just tough, man.”
Wentz called the beating he took “part of the game. I’ll watch the film and see whether I would hold onto the ball too long or [there were] some miscommunications in protections.”
For the Eagles, “miscommunication” would be the understatement of the century.
On this day, nobody was close to being on the same page.