Two plays that looked terrible. Two plays that over the last couple days evolved into symbols for the Eagles’ lack of effort Sunday in Cincinnati. Two plays that drove Eagles fans crazy.
There was Zach Ertz seemingly playing toreador on Vontez Burfict in the first quarter, and there was Rodney McLeod seemingly standing by and watching Jeremy Hill score from two yards out.
The Eagles fell behind a 3-7-1 Bengals team that hadn’t beaten anybody in six weeks 19-0 at halftime and 29-0 in the third quarter before losing 32-14.
That’s five losses in their last six games and a 5-7 record after a 3-0 start.
And the Ertz and McLeod plays looked like the worst offenders on a day when the Eagles’ overall level of energy and effort coud be questioned.
On Tuesday, two days after the Eagles lost their third straight game, offensive coordinator Frank Reich and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz defended Ertz and McLeod and explain what appeared to outsiders to be a lack of effort.
Ertz’s play appeared to be the worst offender. It looked like he simply elected to step out of the way instead of at least slowing down the 250-pound Burfict as he chased Carson Wentz, who was heading out of bounds on a keeper.
Wentz gained 10 yards on the scramble, which occurred 6 ½ minutes into the game with the Bengals up 3-0.
“I have learned over the years to trust the players' instincts,” Reich said Tuesday. “I look back on it after. It didn't really jump out at me, honestly, the first time, because Carson was so near to the sideline. The block was a non-factor in the play.
“Sometimes you get a shot like that and you take it. Other times, to be honest …
“I played with a guy, Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, who was famous for avoiding hits. That's why he played all the time. He was never hurt. You saw when Burfict hit DGB – he got hurt almost as DGB did.
“So there was a side of me, when I look back on it, I want Zach playing the last four games. It was a non-factor in the play. You want to tell the player, ‘Hey, go ahead and knock him out,’ but sometimes you have an instinct as a player, and over the years I've just learned to trust the instinct of the player.”
McLeod, in his short period in an Eagles uniform, has never appeared to be a guy who shies away from contact.
But that’s exactly what it looked like on Hill’s touchdown run, which gave the Bengals a 10-0 lead with 1½ minutes left in the first quarter.
“Yeah, I don't (want to say) you're off base, but I looked at that play … and his fit on that play is not inside, his fit is outside,” Schwartz said. “And he got caught flatfooted. He's getting ready to fit backside. All of a sudden the ball pops out front side, and he wasn't expecting it right there.
“I'll tell you what, I'll put my name on Rodney McLeod any day. That guy plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. He's tough. He's not the biggest guy on the field but that guy is a warrior, and he's going to do anything he can to win that game.
“He got caught flatfooted, probably no different than a baseball player that's sitting on a fastball and you throw a change-up and he looks foolish on the play.
“That wasn't his best presentation. He didn't look good on that play. But I think that had a lot more to do with where he was expecting that ball than anything else. …
“That guy is a warrior. Like I said, I'll put my name beside Rodney McLeod any time.”