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November 07, 2021

First half observations: Eagles 10, Chargers 7

Utilizing a ground-and-pound offense to the delight of the home crowd, the Eagles are leading the Chargers 10-7 at halftime. 

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

The Good

• It looked like the start of a long day at the office on the Chargers' first offensive series, with the Eagles immediately conceding the field position advantage they'd just gained thanks to a beautiful Arryn Siposs punt. Tortured by Keenan Allen on the opening series (four receptions and 39 yards on that drive alone), the Eagles offered very little resistance regardless of how they lined up. They sat back in their base coverage, they sent blizers on occasion, and the outcome was the same each time — Chargers gains.

Thankfully, they got their act together in the red zone. Darius Slay played physical coverage to get a stop on first-and-goal, Davion Taylor made a nice stop in the run game on second down, and a critical third down was botched by the Chargers, who tried to use a quick throw to beat the pressure. That set up a do-or-die play on fourth down, and Slay emerged once again, combining with Andre Chachere to stop L.A. short of the end zone:

They had a read on that play the whole way, with the rollout condensing L.A.'s usable part of the field for no real reason. But credit to the Eagles for responding and reacting quickly in that spot, ultimately keeping this one knotted up.

• Once again, the Eagles started rolling in this game once they got back to basics on offense and played to the strengths of their team. Playing smashmouth football with Jordan Howard running and Jalen Hurts under center looks natural for this group, and an offensive line that struggled in pass protection at times looked flat-out dominant when they decided to run the ball instead.

It does make you wonder why Howard couldn't get an opportunity before Miles Sanders went down with an injury. Power running is something they've lacked all season, and as soon as Howard was added to the lineup, the Eagles were suddenly getting all the "must-have yards" on early downs to put them in advantageous positions on latter downs. That makes all the difference in the world for an offense with a developing quarterback, who is much better positioned to succeed when he can play out of, say, second-and-five compared to second and 10 to go. Play-action fakes have been a lot more threatening the last couple of weeks, and the Eagles' intermediate passing game suddenly looks better than it has looked for a lot of the season.

(Will Sanders inherit a similar role when he comes back? For all the gifts he has, decisiveness is not necessarily one of them, and he might suddenly find himself in a battle with Howard for touches the way things are trending right now.)

After Howard briefly conceded his spot in the backfield to Boston Scott, he was called upon once more on third-and-goal early in the second quarter, and Howard punched it in the way only a power back can, finding a crease in the middle of the line and bullying his way through:

The Eagles ran the ball eight times on their first scoring drive, and I'm not sure how many more times this staff needs to see that script play out in order to understand where their bread should be buttered. Run the ball and good things will happen. By controlling the ball and the clock and allowing their interior linemen to tee off against opponents, this looks like a much more competent football team.

• The coaching staff deserves credit for this much — they have made real adjustments to how they're playing and approaching the game, evolving as you would hope a young staff can during their first season in charge. Running the ball has been the big development on offense, but Jonathan Gannon's boys have arguably done more to alter their approach, responding to the calls to be more aggressive from, well, pretty much everyone.

The process has been more important than the results so far, because blitzing didn't accomplish much in the first half aside from drawing a roughing the passer penalty midway through the second quarter. But the Eagles made the Chargers have to think about what they might be facing on a play-to-play basis, and that alone changes the game. It puts guys in a better position to make plays and surprise the quarterback, and it has contributed to improved run defense after a miserable stretch of the season on that front.

For my money, the Eagles have also looked better simply tackling players the last couple of weeks, between improved play from linebacker TJ Edwards and contributions from a rotating group of safeties. Marcus Epps had a pair of big tackles on the Chargers' third drive of the game, tackles that ultimately set up their second fourth-down stop of the afternoon, and with L.A. running a lot of quick-hitting offense, making plays in space will be critical to getting off the field in this one.

• Loving the dose of designed Hurts runs we have seen in recent weeks. The guy has great gifts on the ground, and the Eagles might as well use them.

• Arryn Siposs has a decent case for Philly's best performer this season, which is an indictment of the rest of the team but certainly a testament to the new punter's production. The Eagles are consistently pinning teams back against their own end zone, with Siposs uncorking some beauties when he's called into action. 

The Bad

• It wasn't all bad for Hurts on Philadelphia's opening drive, which started in a relatively promising fashion. With Philadelphia's offensive line struggling to block early in the game, Hurts remained composed and hung in the pocket as long as he could, a step forward based on his tendencies all season. His roll to the left to find Dallas Goedert was a necessity rather than a panic move, and the throw was excellent.

Once again, however, Hurts missed an opportunity to make a big play downfield. Goedert got open in the middle of the field, and the pressure on Hurts in the pocket caused him to sail the throw just enough to throw Goedert off:

It wasn't the cleanest pocket in the world, but this is a play that should probably be made, and the pressure had a chance to make an impact because Hurts didn't get the ball out sooner.

(Speed in decision-making is maybe half of the battle/issue with Hurts. DeVonta Smith has hurt his own cause with some bad drops during his rookie year, but there are plays where he breaks wide open early, and Hurts either misses it altogether or doesn't deliver the ball until defenders have closed the space. Processing speed is an important trait, and Hurts lags behind the competition a lot of the time.)

• It's very hard to hang around in games if you have no ability to bother the opposing quarterback, and though Justin Herbert is a promising young quarterback, the Eagles made him look absolutely untouchable for a lot of the first half. They rarely got meaningful pressure on Herbert, even when they sent extra men at him, and when they sat back and played in their more passive base defense, Herbert simply picked them apart, hurting them regardless of whether it was a quick hitter or a slower-to-develop play.

Philly's success on fourth down probably obscures their overall success rate in this game so far, is all I'm saying. They had a good half, all things considered, because keeping points off of the board is all that matters in the end. But I would expect them to get burned if they can't make Herbert feel the heat at some point.

The Ugly

• Avonte Maddox has quietly put together a really good season for the Eagles, one of the only consistent performers on a unit that has swung wildly between competent and abysmal on a week-to-week basis. The Eagles watched him walk into the locker room before halftime, and though he returned to the field early in the second quarter, we'll have to keep an eye on him the rest of the way.

• Punting on fourth-and-five on the opponent's 45 is such a cowardly move. Siposs rewarded Sirianni for the decision with a beautiful punt on their opening series, but that should be a go situation most of the time if you have absolutely any confidence in your offense.

The Chargers showed you exactly why you play aggressor in that situation — even with basically the best special teams result possible, the Chargers marched right down the field, picking up chunks of yards by going to Keenan Allen early and often. The defense stiffening up near the goal line does not change the rest of the drive or the worthlessness of briefly being ahead in field position. Attempting to score points is the name of the damn game.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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