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October 14, 2021

First half observations: Bucs 21, Eagles 7

The Eagles hung around for a bit but were pretty soundly outplayed by the Bucs in the first half on Thursday night, and they head into halftime trailing 21-7 with hope around Philadelphia dwindling.

Here's what I saw in the first 30 minutes.

The Good

• It wasn't necessarily the prettiest opening drive, with a 15-yard penalty and a few negative run plays slowing the Eagles down on their first offensive possession, but the Eagles were able to keep pace with Tampa Bay after the first exchange of blows. That's ultimately what matters, even if the process to get there left something to be desired.

Let's be clear — Jalen Hurts had a couple of bad throws as the Eagles marched down the field, including on the underthrown pass that allowed Jalen Reagor to draw a 48-yard pass interference penalty. But his legs were useful, with Hurts converting a critical third down on the ground early in the drive to keep their scoring chances alive.

The highlight of the drive, by far, was a catch from Quez Watkins on a tipped Hurts pass, with Watkins somehow maintaining his concentration and hauling the pass in to move the chains once again:

We've highlighted Watkins' speed early and often this year, but he has simply found a make plays regardless of where you put him and what the context is. Great start to the year for him.

Once Philly got close to the goal line, it was easy money from there, with Zach Ertz waltzing into the end zone for six points:

That was arguably a worse pick than some of the ones that have erased touchdowns for Philly in other games this year, but they'll take it, given how the rest of the half went.

• Good job to Anthony Harris on the interception late in the half, though that looked like an arm punt more than anything else. But hey, given the lack of interceptions this team came up with for years, I won't complain about any turnover they can force.

The lateral and subsequent return, on the other hand? Needs a bit of work.

The Bad

• As the Eagles found out the hard way on the first possession of the game, they don't get to face off with Sam Darnold every week. And after electing to give Tampa Bay the ball on the first possession of the game, perhaps a lot of people were brought back to reality regarding how good this team actually is.

The Buccaneers did whatever they wanted to do on their first drive of the game. Save for a nice play by Josh Sweat late in the drive, Leonard Founette was able to pick up five yards a pop or so to set Tampa up well for second and third downs, giving Brady all sorts of options and play designs every time he dropped back. With an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions — Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown is a hell of a trio — the Eagles looked like they were drawing dead whenever the Bucs wanted to throw the ball, and that's before you get to the options they have at tight end.

So of course, the opening score went to a tight end, as Ryan Kerrigan waved helplessly at a lofted throw to OJ Howard in the corner of the end zone:

Not exactly how you want to start your evening on defense.

There's a strong argument that the second drive was even more embarrassing for the Eagles, who sat back in a relatively soft zone with no pass rush and just let Brady pick them apart. It's not like they did any better when the Bucs wanted to play smash-mouth football, either. Fournette was just battering defenders every time he got the ball and put his head down, even on plays where the blocking wasn't up to par. Brady marched the Bucs right back down the field on drive No. 2, ultimately finding Brown in a pocket of space near the five-yard line, and the human catch machine did the rest of the work:

If you can't stop the run, get to the quarterback, or make plays in the secondary, you're out of ways to get stops on defense unless there's an act of divine intervention. Maybe the Eagles will say a team prayer in the locker room at halftime.

• Fournette vs. Alex Singleton in the open field does not appear to be a good matchup for the team wearing green jerseys. Would be nice if the Eagles picked up a single starting caliber LB at some point before the heat death of the planet occurs.

• If Reagor generated any goodwill with the effort he made to a draw a pass interference penalty in the first quarter, he pissed it away on the dropped pass that went right through his hands in the early stages of the second quarter. The good vibes never last for this guy.

(I'm sure there will be a group of people who make an excuse for Reagor about the ball being tipped on the way by or claiming he was held or some other such explanation. It's a play he should have made, end of story.)

• Once again, there were a handful of throws in the first half that Jalen Hurts just outright missed on. There wasn't an overwhelming pass rush, or a route error from a teammate, but Hurts either turfed a ball in front of his teammate or put it somewhere they couldn't get to it, a theme that is becoming too common through 5.5 games this year.

You could sum up the problem with Hurts like this — almost every week, it takes him getting something going on the ground to grow into the game as a passer. Hurts' legs are admittedly better than most, but they should be a bonus and a way for him to escape pressure, not the driving force behind his success as a quarterback. And though the natives are restless, I don't see this as a half where you place a lot of blame on Nick Sirianni and the gameplan. It's not like you can run the ball with much success against Tampa, who would welcome the opportunity to stifle Philly at the line of scrimmage. The Eagles got guys open and gave Hurts multiple options on a bunch of plays where he came up short, and no amount of owning up to those mistakes in postgame interviews and meetings will change that fact.

Even as the defense began to stiffen up and try some new things — Jonathan Gannon used a five-man front to rush Brady at one point in the first half — the offense continued to sputter and miss gimmie plays. Chances to seize momentum from elite teams aren't going to present themselves often, and Hurts was a big part of blowing a golden opportunity in the second quarter. The interception he threw down the sideline was the kicker:

Watkins didn't make the best read on this play, but this is not a good throw or decision. It's hard to win with subpar QB play any week in the NFL, but certainly so against a defending Super Bowl champ as talented as the Bucs. We'll see if the second-half rally is on as it has often been for Hurts this year.

The Ugly

• I hope to god to never see Ryan Kerrigan attempting to defend a pass ever again. 

• The NFL's replay and catch rules are dumber than I wish they were. This seems like a pretty obvious case of the ball hitting the ground, which would make it incomplete, but because of the initial ruling on the field, we had to sit throw an insanely long review for basically no reason:

We don't need several minutes to make that call. 

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