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October 29, 2017

Eagles hardly played their best, but still looked dominant in win over 49ers

On a damp, dreary day in South Philly, the Eagles once again proved why they’re the only one-loss team left in the NFL – and that’s not easy to do when the team you’re facing is 0-7 and you’re coming into the game as a double-digit favorite.

In reality, there’s only one way to look impressive when everybody is already expecting you to come away with a win: dominate.

That’s just what the Birds did on Sunday afternoon, beating the lowly San Francisco 49ers both on the field and on the scoreboard as they cruised to a 33-10 victory in which they saw contributions from everywhere, whether that be on offense, defense or special teams. It was such dominant performance by the Eagles that Carson Wentz didn’t even finish the game – that’s right, Nick Foles played the final five minutes of the game. 

If you just looked at the stats, however, it would be somewhat difficult to believe that the Eagles won by more than three touchdowns. But in a game some worried could be a trap game for the red-hot Birds, they were able to impose their will despite a slow start and a relatively mediocre day for the offense – not to mention bad weather throughout.

"Any time you win a game in this league, it's a special thing. They're hard to come by," Pederson told reporters after his team improved to 7-1, its best start since 2004. "It’s things that we talk about during the week that we just can't have any letdowns. The guys really respond to that. Obviously, it pretty much rained the whole game. It's going to maybe knock you off just a little bit with the forecast, with the weather, whatever, but the guys really responded, and did an outstanding job all game long. And to score 33 like that, it was pretty impressive for them."

It was impressive, sure. But it was also sloppy.

The rainy weather definitely played a part in that – but both teams played in the same conditions. And while some, myself included, thought the weather could be a great equalizer in this one, it was obvious to anyone watching which team was in first place and which one was still searching for its first win. 

On offense, Wentz finished 18-of-32 for 211 yards, his second-lowest yardage total of the season, two touchdowns and an interception (84.2 rating). It wasn't a bad day; it's just not what we've grown accustomed to seeing out of the second-year passer in recent weeks. 

“The weather was really not a big factor," Wentz said. "I thought the flow of the game for us offensively, we were slow. We were slow early on. [The 49ers] did some good things that limited what we did offensively early on and we just had to make some adjustments and stick to our game plan. 

"Offensively, I know we have to be better. We have to be better. Starting off sluggish like that for two straight weeks – we have to get that cleaned up.”    

There were still plenty of good signs from the offense:: Zach Ertz caught another touchdown, a wideout made another big play to find the end zone (this time it was Alshon Jeffery), and Doug Pederson called another balanced game. 

Eagles running backs finished with 27 carries for 107 yards (3.96 YPC), including 54 from leading rusher Corey Clement and another 48 from LeGarrette Blount, who put the game officially out of reach with his fourth-quarter touchdown run. 

However, it wasn’t all positive. 

Wentz was once again feeling the pressure, taking three sacks and seven hits. But before you go screaming at Halapoulivaati Vaitai, you should know that it wasn’t all on him. There were mistakes across the line, but against lesser competition, the Eagles were able to overcome a rough first half and keep their quarterback upright for the remainder of the game. 

"I think initially, until I can watch the tape, it felt like [Vaitai] played okay," Pederson said. "We went into the game plan, sending him back over his direction a little bit and helping both our tackles, but primarily over on the left side. He settled into the game and did a nice job."

On the other side of the ball, Jim Schwartz’s defense took control early on and never looked back. They held the 49ers to just 238 yards of offense (3.7 YPP), the fewest they’ve surrendered all season, and forced a pair of interceptions, including a pick six from cornerback Jalen Mills.

Up front, the Birds once again looked strong defensively. For all the hits Wentz took, that was nothing compared to Niners rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard. The Eagles defense finished with four sacks and 12 QB hits. They also had 12 tackles for loss and 10 passes defended. 

"The way they put pressure on the quarterback, just a dominating performance," Pederson said of the defense. "It starts with the defensive line. I thought in the back end they did a great job of coverage – just tackling too in the open field. There were some great tackles in the open field, and [LB] Mychal Kendricks stepped up and had a couple PBUs. I thought overall it was a great team effort today."

Finally, on special teams – that’s right, I said at the top that they got big plays in all three phases – the Eagles had a big field goal block from rookie Derek Barnett. 

“I think that was my first field goal block," Barnett said "It was a good call and we practiced it. When they called it, I was confident I was going to get the ball. I probably should have scored because we had some guys out front, but I am just glad we got the ball back and put the offense in a good position.”

But even that had a not-so-happy ending. Let's watch that "celebration" again...

Looks like Barnett won't be taking over for Donnie Jones anytime soon.

At the end of the day, the good far outweighed the bad for the Eagles. And the simple fact that they were able to dominate another team, no matter how bad that team is, without having their A-game, speaks volumes about how good they can be. 

"It's a great locker room," Pederson said of his team. "We have great leaders on this football team. They know how to keep the guys focused. We talked about it all week: we were coming off that emotional Monday night game, to really a relatively short week, physically a short week a little bit. And then to come out and play and stay in there for four quarters and not overlook this team is a tremendous effort by the players in that locker room. 

"That's the one thing I've really appreciated about our guys is they just kind of [take it] one week at a time, one game at a time, and they did it again today."

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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