Eagles waited way too long to get DeVonta Smith involved vs. Bucs

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Eagles waited way too long to get Smith involved vs. Bucs originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

TAMPA — The Eagles traded up to draft DeVonta Smith and watched as he went on to have a great rookie season, often showing why he has the potential to be a special receiver in the NFL.

Then the Birds got into the playoffs and didn’t throw to him.

OK, that’s overstating it. Because the Eagles did throw to Smith in their 31-15 playoff loss to the Bucs, but they waited too long to do it. Smith is supposed to be this team’s No. 1 receiver and he wasn’t targeted until late in the second quarter, when the Eagles were already down three scores.

What gives?

“Early on, you always want to get your playmakers going as early as you can, but again the defense dictates some of that and the amount of plays we had dictates some of that,” head coach Nick Sirianni said. “We really didn’t have a good drive until our third or fourth drive, where it was a sustained drive. But no doubt, that’s my job to get DeVonta going earlier because he’s a heck of a football player.”

READ: How will Jalen Hurts' playoff performance affect his future?

Before Smith was targeted on Sunday, Jalen Hurts had already thrown 14 passes. Half of them went to Dallas Goedert (fair enough), but then 2 to Miles Sanders, 2 to Jalen Reagor and 1 apiece for Boston Scott, Quez Watkins and Kenny Gainwell.

I get that the Eagles had trouble sustaining drives early on Sunday. And fewer drives means fewer passes means fewer opportunities for Smith.

But zero targets? For your unquestioned No. 1 receiver?

Just can’t happen.

Eventually, Hurts targeted Smith 11 times in the game, the second-most behind Goedert’s 12. And Smith had four catches for 60 yards, which doesn’t include an acrobatic grab on a 2-point conversion.

But every single one of Smith’s catches on Sunday came when the Eagles were already down big.

“And of course we want to get him going, but there’s different things that play into that, but I’ll accept that,” Sirianni said. “That starts with me, regardless of how the drives are going. We definitely have to get him going earlier and he wasn’t a part of it early. There were some things called to him and the defense early on forced the ball to go somewhere else. You want to get him going, but you also don’t want to force to him with what they’re doing.”

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Sure, you don’t want to force it to Smith. That’s fair. But if the defense is working to take him away, you have to manufacture ways to get him the rock. If you can manufacture touches for Jalen Reagor, you damn sure better be able to manufacture touches for DeVonta Smith. I get that they’re different players with different skills, but let’s not overcomplicate the matter here. If you have any shot to beat Tom Brady and the Bucs, you need to score points. And in order to score points, it’s probably a good idea to get Smith going.

The Eagles try to go into every game with two main targets in mind. They want to get Goedert the ball, they want to get Smith the ball. And they want to do it early and often.

Now, it’s probably unfair to pin the lack of early targets all on Sirianni. Because Hurts has to find his No. 1 target and the young quarterback didn’t have a very good afternoon. And some of it is probably on Smith too.

But as this franchise moves forward, Smith is going to be a big part of the offense. And the next time the Eagles are in a playoff game, he better get the ball when they still have a shot.