October 31, 2021
The Eagles are beating up on the winless Lions, holding a 17-0 lead heading into halftime in Detroit. Is anybody getting Wild Card fever yet?
Here's what I saw in the opening 30 minutes.
• If there was a positive to having to watch this monstrosity of a football game, it was Philadelphia's approach on defense to start the game. A week after coming under fire for playing bland, vanilla defense, the Eagles played more aggressive against the Lions, and it helped them keep Detroit off of the board.
Marcus Epps was the star man on the first drive for Detroit, with Philly's depth safety getting into the backfield on a blitz and stopping a Lions run before it could get started. A pass breakup on third down later, the Eagles were off of the field with no harm done.
But it was Josh Sweat who stood out the most, picking up a pair of third-down sacks where he just ran around or through Detroit's attempts to block him. On the second sack of his afternoon, the Lions had an extra man to help stop him in tight end T.J. Hockenson, and Sweat went past him and Detroit's right tackle like they were not even there, getting to Jared Goff to kill off another drive:
Philly forced as many punts in the first quarter (two) as they did the entire game against the Raiders last week. The competition is what it is, but they're doing their job so far.
• Jalen Reagor's speed has not shown up nearly as much as you'd like as a deep threat, with the Eagles struggling to get him going as a home-run hitter. But perhaps he has a future as a consistent running threat with the Eagles, because they found a way to tap into his pace in the first half on Sunday.
After picking up separate first downs on a jet sweep and an end-around earlier in the drive, Reagor was given an opportunity to punch it in near the goal line, and he, unfortunately, lost his footing in the process. But throughout the drive, you could see some of the traits the Eagles liked in him coming out of TCU, with Reagor bursting through space once he got the ball in his hands.
Boston Scott was the guy who would eventually punch it in and score the game's opening touchdown, waltzing in rather easily on a big third-down play:
Scott getting the starting nod, by the way, was quite a surprise given how little he has been used this season to date. But he has looked competent enough as the lead guy, focused on picking up the must-have yards and not worrying too much about trying to hit home runs. So far, that has been enough against this poor Lions team, and Scott didn't look out of place in short-yardage situations at all during the first half.
• This was a half that simply justified all of the complaints Eagles fans have made about the team through the first seven weeks. Demands to run the ball more have been there since the start of the year, and even without their No. 1 rusher, the Eagles' commitment to the run paid off and helped open up the offense. On defense, Jonathan Gannon sent more blitzes and had his guys playing aggressive football, and you'll be shocked to learn it made a difference, paying off with sacks of Goff and a missed throw or two when he came under duress.
(Independent of Philly's change in approach on defense, the defensive line also simply just played better. That group has underperformed in a big way recently, with veteran players like Fletcher Cox openly griping about how they've been used, so it was nice to see them bounce back. When the Lions decided to go for it on fourth down late in the second quarter, the Eagles blew through Detroit's offensive front and came up with yet another sack in a big spot.)
Moments like these are encouraging, signs that the young coaching staff isn't necessarily stuck in their ways with a lot of season left to play. Perhaps they really have been listening to all of the complaints and can grow along with this team throughout the season. On the other hand, it's also pretty infuriating that it took until the eighth game of the season for professional football coaches to figure out you might need to run the ball and send blitzes to win football games. Better late than never, I suppose.
To that end — it was not a particularly impressive (or particularly bad) half for Jalen Hurts as a quarterback, but this is the sort of game script that will actually allow him to develop at a reasonable pace. Asking Hurts to drop back and throw the ball on basically every play is asking far too much out of him, and Hurts benefitted as much as anyone from the team's renewed focus on the run. On the small handful of throws he had to make in the first half on Sunday, Hurts delivered some tough throws into tight windows and picked up a couple of critical first downs with his legs on their second touchdown drive. And instead of asking him to make it all happen around the goal line, the Eagles played power football, using Jordan Howard to bulldoze right through the center of the line.
You don't have to overthink this sport most of the time. Play with balance on both sides of the ball and you're going to end up in a good place more often than not. This was an excellent half for the Eagles no matter how crappy their opponent is.
• This was a high degree of difficulty play to only pick up a little bit more than a first down, but considering how many times I've complained about the Eagles lack of inventiveness this season, I can hardly spin this gadget play into a negative:
The Eagles should be getting weird more often, and testing these plays against a hapless Lions team is a smart way to build toward bigger things down the road.
• DeVonta Smith has had plenty of cover to underperform, given how Jalen Hurts has looked throwing the ball lately, but there have been too many drops on catchable passes from him. The ball he couldn't bring in on their first possession of the game should have been an easy catch.
• Not sure what Kenny Gainwell did to get demoted to RB3 this week, but I suppose if the ball is moving and they're having success with the Scott/Howard combo, there's no reason to get worked up about it.
• Hurts routinely breaking out of clean pockets (or at least close to clean pockets may be his single worst trait as a quarterback. There have definitely been times when the offensive line has struggled this season, forcing Hurts to use his legs to avoid sacks, but there are far more plays where he can step up in the pocket and he simply doesn't. Whether it's because he doesn't see the opportunity or feels more comfortable breaking to the outside, it's a tendency he is going to have to work on if he has any aspirations to be a long-term starter in the league.
One positive moment on this front — Hurts' best play of the half, a juking run through Lions defenders midway through the second quarter, came when he stepped up and through the pocket, taking what was in front of him instead of trying to bounce another play to the outside immediately.
• The Lions are freaking bad, man.
• Hurts somehow managed to help the Eagles by stepping out of bounds on a rollout in the pocket down in the red zone, wiping out what would have been an ineligible man downfield penalty because of a technicality. There's still no way in the world he should have held onto the ball long enough to run out of bounds with it. Insanely dumb play.
• Reagor getting going in this game and then immediately suffering an ankle injury feels like a fitting summary of his Eagles career to date. Carted off to the locker room before the first quarter was up, let's hope it's not a serious issue.
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