Week 5 produced a mixed bag for the Eagles in their loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. There were a few really good performances and some encouraging signs but unfortunately there were also some poor performances as well as some recurring issues that ultimately prevented the Eagles from winning the game. Here are the studs and duds from a frustrating Sunday afternoon.
STUD: Travis Fulgham
Who else could we start the studs list with but Fulgham. The unknown former practice squad player followed up his game-winning touchdown in Week 4 with an absolute monster game in Week 5. He finished with 10 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown in an absolutely stunning display. He made the kind of tough, contested catches that we haven't seen an Eagles receiver make in years and almost singlehandedly carried the Eagles passing game. It certainly seems like the Eagles have found themselves a keeper.
DUD: Jim Schwartz
Where do we even start here? Schwartz's schemes were poor all day long, he continued to fail to make adjustments, he continued to misuse his personnel and fail to play to his players' strengths and then, as if all that wasn't bad enough, he made one of the biggest coaching blunders by any coach all season with the game on the line.
With the Eagles trailing by two late in the game, they had an opportunity to get a stop and a chance to go win the game. When the teams lined up, Nate Gerry (more on him later), the Eagles' worst defensive player, was lined up against Chase Claypool, the Steelers receiver who had already torched the Eagles for three touchdowns on Sunday. The announcers noticed it. Everyone in the stands noticed it. Everyone watching at home noticed it. And Ben Roethlisberger certainly noticed it. Big Ben immediately changed the play, more or less telling Claypool, and the defense, that the ball was coming his way. Of course, Gerry got torched, Claypool scored a fourth touchdown, and the Steelers scored the game-sealing touchdown. The whole thing was inexcusable, from Gerry potentially lining up against Claypool in the first place to Schwartz not having a plan B in place in case a clear mismatch presented itself.
STUD: Miles Sanders
Sanders rushed 11 times for 80 yards and two touchdowns while adding two catches for 19 yards. He provided the most explosive Eagles touchdown run in 20 years and provided a spark just when it looked like the game might get out of hand early. And he did all of it against one of the best rushing defenses in the NFL. Sanders managed to find production in an incredibly tough matchup and played a huge role in keeping the Eagles in the game.
DUD: Nate Gerry
We'll keep this short, and if you want to see more on Gerry see the Jim Schwartz blurb above or go look at virtually any of our other stud/dud articles from this season. All we need to say is he continues to be terrible, he continues to be in the picture virtually every time something bad happens to the Philadelphia defense, and I can't be convinced that there isn't a better player somewhere on the streets. It's hard to imagine the Eagles defense being much worse off playing 10-on-11 at this point. Gerry is constantly a net negative and it's ridiculous that the team continues to trot him out there each week.
STUD: Rodney McLeod
McLeod continued his strong season on Sunday. He finished with seven total tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass defensed. Much like his defensive backfield mate Darius Slay, we don't hear much of McLeod's name during broadcasts, an indication of his excellent work in coverage. He continues to fly around the field and make plays for the Eagles.
DUD: John Hightower
Look, we don't want to be too hard on the rookie here. It's not like he's failing to live up to lofty expectations, and the fact that he finds himself on this list is as much an indictment of the other issues plaguing the Eagles (poor scouting/drafting, injuries, etc.) as it is of Hightower himself. Still, he had a couple of huge blunders on Sunday that negatively impacted the game.
His inability to get out of bounds on a play late in the first half ultimately cost the Eagles points as they ran out of time and he dropped a potential touchdown pass. Granted, it was a somewhat difficult catch, but a catch an NFL receiver has to make nonetheless. Again, the fact that Hightower is being relied upon in such high-leverage situations is an indication of bigger issues with the team, but he directly cost the Eagles between three and 14 points on Sunday in a game they lost by nine. The reality is that Hightower is being counted on by this team right now, and he came up short on Sunday.
DUD: Zach Ertz
Where was Ertz on Sunday? The only memorable part of his day was the miscommunication/broken route that led to a Carson Wentz interception. Ertz finished with one catch on six targets for six yards. One catch. For six yards. While catching just 16.7% of the balls thrown his way. It's just a terrible look for a guy who spent training camp grumbling about his contract, and now he has invited speculation that his mind isn't in the right place.
DUD: Malik Jackson
The defensive line as a whole didn't have the kind of impact on Sunday that it had been having for most of the season, but Jackson stands out for one big reason. Not only didn't he finish with just one tackle, he also took an absolutely unacceptable dead ball penalty that turned a third-and-goal for the Steelers into a first-and-goal that was ultimately converted into a touchdown. Without the penalty, perhaps the Eagles get a stop on thrid down and force a field goal, or maybe the Steelers try to go for it on fourth down and get stopped. Instead, we never got a chance to find out.