Wentz, Eagles stymied by Redskins
WENTZ, BIRDS STYMIED BY SUDDENLY HOT REDSKINS Lack of any competent replacement creates Lane to Wentz for Redskins
LANDOVER, MD. >> The first whisper leaked in early August. The first warning siren came seconds later.
The report: Lane Johnson had flunked a performance-enhancing-drug test. If so, as a second-time offender, it would cost him 10 regular-season games. The reaction: Trouble for the Eagles. Major trouble. Season-defining trouble.
With that, there were more tests and samples and rationalizations and trials and finally, last week, a resolution. Johnson was guilty, according to the NFL. His 10-game suspension would start Sunday, when the Eagles were to visit Washington.
So it was there that the Birds’ season would turn the wrong way in a 27-20 loss to the Redskins that will resonate throughout the tight NFC East for the rest of the season. There, the Eagles learned that the suspension of their valuable right tackle was more than an inconvenience. There, they learned that Johnson’s carless indiscretion, no matter how much he tried to rationalize his selection of vitamins, was enough to curdle everything from their pass protection to their running game to the still-developing skills of a rookie quarterback.
“Lane is a big part of what we’re doing,” Doug Pederson said, as a losing streak hit two games. “He was playing well. And it was disappointing from that standpoint. But at the same time, we were handed these cards and we’re going to play them. We will put up the best five up front. This is our job as coaches. This is what we get hired to do. And we are going to do that this week.”
Even as his team stomped to a 3-0 start, which included a 34-3 victory over the Steelers, the one card Pederson was most quick to snap onto the table was the one that could buy him some patience. It was the front office that essentially exchanged veteran Sam Bradford for rookie Carson Wentz. And with that, there was some measure of prescribed organizational tolerance. But it was Pederson last week, when confronted with the loss of Johnson, who chose not to boost his offensive line with a veteran, but to trust Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a rookie, at right tackle, as if he were as OK with developing a young player as he was in developing a playoff team.
The trouble didn’t start too early. Just the first play. That’s when the ’Skins Ryan Kerrigan came through the Vaitai side and smothered Wentz. Before the first drive was over, Kerrigan would sack Wentz again. By then, the theme of the afternoon was established: The Eagles, with a rookie quarterback playing his first division
game, and on the road, would be under pressure for the next threeplus hours. And so would their coaching staff, which would be forced to employ other tricks to prevent Wentz from being battered, including adding a tight end on that side or keeping an extra blocker in the backfield.
To a point, it worked. But the Redskins were relentless, and the stress multiplied. And as it would happen, Wentz was not only sacked twice on the Birds’ first possession, but on the last two plays of their final drive, too.
The Halapoulivaati Vaitai experiment eventually may make sense. But one week in, it already has a chance to seep into Philadelphia sports lore as a punchline.
Remember that time in Washington …
“It started out just trying to get his legs,” Pederson said. “We felt that he settled into the game. As the game wore on, we used more help on his side — really, on both edges. He’s a warrior. He’s a battler. He stepped up to learn from it and get ready for next week.”
Somebody will have to be ready. That’s because Johnson admitted to trusting a cockeyed app from the players’ association that he says indicated that whatever supplement he was ingesting was NFLapproved. The chemistry tests said otherwise.
Next week, the Birds will face the undefeated Minnesota Vikings in the Linc. The way the NFL is, that would have seemed a tough spot for Minnesota. But the Eagles will not be a problem for many teams if their quarterback is under the same assault as
Wentz was Sunday.
“I don’t think the offense was real different,” Wentz said. “I think it was tough for us to get in the groove today. It didn’t feel like we were in sync very well, especially in the first half. The flow of the game was weird.”
That wasn’t necessarily Vaitai’s fault. He did settle later in the game. Pederson did, however, have other options, including moving Allen Barbre to tackle and using guard Stefan Wisniewski, a sixthyear offensive-line pro.
“I definitely think I can help and I will help any way I can,” Wisniewski said. “Right now, that’s being a backup. But I am hoping I will get a shot eventually.
“I was told that ‘V’ (Vaitai) had been practicing really well and they wanted to give him a shot.”
Though Wisniewski thought that, he, too, had been practicing well, he understood the situation. He was not going to play. “Not unless,” he shrugged, “somebody got hurt.”
Vaitai and the entire offensive line emerged in fine health Sunday. Wentz did, too. Pederson did say he wanted to get Vaitai ready for next week, a hint, though short of a declaration, that he was not prepared to change his plan.
But the Eagles are 3-2 and Johnson still has another nine games to serve. His absence already has mattered. Those warning sirens were right.
Nowhere to Hide: Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, center, is sacked in the second half Sunday against the Washington Redskins, Sunday in Landover, Md.
Out of Reach: Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, right, is unable to hold onto a pass in front of Washington free safety Will Blackmon in the second half.
Running Wild: Redskins running back Matt Jones, left, tries to rush past Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham, center, and linebacker Jordan Hicks in the first half Sunday.