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November 04, 2022

First half observations: Eagles 14, Texans 14

The 7-0 Eagles sputtered on defense to open Thursday Night Football, and the Birds find themselves in a 14-14 halftime deadlock with the Texans as a result.

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

The Good

• The composure Philadelphia's offense showed on their opening series of the game was nothing short of terrific. Already down 7-0 by the time they got their crack at it, Jalen Hurts and Co. faced multiple third downs before they had even crossed midfield. But like they have all season, the Eagles relied on Hurts' dual-threat talents to get them out of tough situations.

Hurts' best play of the drive came on a third-and-long where the Texans flushed him out of the pocket and threatened to end the drive before it could really get going. Rather than taking off and trying to run his way out of trouble, Hurts kept his eyes downfield as he rolled around the right side of the line, hooking up with Quez Watkins for a big gainer. Moments later, it was Hurts hooking up with A.J. Brown, who picked up two more tough yards after the catch to move the chains again. And again, as the Eagles marched closer to the goal line, Hurts floated a touch pass to Dallas Goedert on third down, extending the drive one final time to set up Philadelphia on first-and-goal.

17 plays into their opening possession, Miles Sanders was brought down at the two-yard line, leaving Nick Sirianni with a big decision to make. As we've seen throughout the year, that's not much of a decision at all for Sirianni, and the Eagles kept it simple, giving the ball right back to Sanders on play No. 18. They finally arrived at paydirt:

It was not their most clinical drive, and there was quite a bit of pressure on Hurts in the pocket, leading to an errant throw or two and one near interception that tipped off of Brown's hands down the sideline. But the Eagles kept coming and had the cooler heads on the critical plays, and much of the credit belongs to the quarterback who delivered when it counted.

•  After Hurts' second-quarter fumble, the Texans had a beautiful opportunity to seize the momentum and put the NFL's lone undefeated team on their heels. Thanks to Javon Hargrave, the Eagles didn't have to worry about that for long.

Thanks to a second-down blitz that blew up Houston's attempt to pick up some cheap yards, the Texans had to drop back and throw on third down, providing an opportunity for the pass rush to earn their keep. Though new acquisition Robert Quinn was initially stonewalled alongside him, Hargrave was able to burst through the line and chase Mills around, leaving the QB between a rock and a hard place. With Quinn in front of him and Hargrave coming from behind, Mills had to take the sack and give up the possession:

Quinn getting double-teamed on this play is part of why he was brought here. Houston's fear of him allowed Hargrave to attack a one-on-one matchup, and he won it handily.

• With Houston's pass rush getting home a bit too much early, the Eagles appeared to feel running the ball was the antidote to their problems. That was a profitable view to take, as it turns out, with the Eagles mashing on the ground en route to their second score of the game.

Just about everybody on the field contributed to an excellent run of blocking for the Eagles. The usual suspects, e.g. Jason Kelce and Jordan Mailata, made their presence known throughout the series. But we also got some excellent lead blocking from the likes of wideout Zach Pascal, who moved a member of Houston's secondary back to allow Miles Sanders to snag at least a few extra yards on an early carry.

The lead rusher on the drive, and the first scorer of the day, certainly deserves his own portion of the credit. Sanders played downhill, purposeful football, wasting no time in the backfield before breaking through to the second level. Sanders was already hitting another gear before he even reached the line of scrimmage, and he chewed up yards as a result.

Naturally, it was another Eagles rusher who ultimately pushed them over the goal line for their second touchdown of the game. Kenneth Gainwell got the call on a critical third down in the red zone, and the smallest man on the field ran with power to earn his tuddy the hard way:

Nothing complicated about that series. Smashmouth football has not been their calling card this year, but the Eagles showed off plenty of it to go up 14-7.

• It may not have been a high-scoring half for the offense, but they absolutely dominated time of possession and put together a pair of long, impressive scoring drives to take the lead in this one. They beat the Steelers almost exclusively with big plays a week prior, and this was a reminder of how many ways they can hurt you on offense.

• Good job by the offense to get into range for a field goal right before halftime expired. The Texans left them just over half a minute to get it done, and they managed to make it happen fairly easily.  Unfortunately, Elliott pushed the kick to the right. 

The Bad

• It's unclear if Jonathan Gannon and the members of Philadelphia's defensive line were aware this game started at 8:15, but the Texans were clearly aware that it was time to get rolling. Before the boys in the trenches managed to wake from their stupor, the Texans had already marched down the field and put seven points on the board, with Davis Mills sitting comfortably in the pocket for most of that series.

The lack of push in the middle wasn't the only issue, of course. Avonte Maddox had an opportunity to make a play in space to potentially end the series, and Rex Burkhead made him whiff, picking up a few extra yards and a critical first down in the middle of the field. An early wake-up call for all involved, or so you hoped at the time.

Perhaps we should make note of the fact that Jordan Davis' absence has coincided with some poor run defense to open this game. The Eagles did an okay job when the Texans tried to get to the outside, but running between the tackles heavily favored Houston, the combination of Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave struggling to make things happen. Combined with poor tackling, they allowed Houston to hang right with them in this game, and they need to stiffen up to pull away in the second half.

(Credit due to Texans running back Dameon Pierce, if we're being honest. That kid was out there running like he had a point to prove, and his run heading into the two-minute warning was a sight to behold, Pierce bouncing off of would-be tacklers en route to a huge gain.)

The Eagles should have been able to stack the box and load up on Pierce, given the state of Houston's passing game/weapons. But with Pierce running wild on them for most of the half, they somehow also managed to let the Texans hit them through the air for touchdowns twice. So they didn't do much of anything well as a group. We'll see if they wake up at halftime.

• Philadelphia's second series on offense looked like it was going to be a heck of a lot easier than their first, with Hurts connecting on back-to-back strikes that hit A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith for big yardage. Brown may well have had a touchdown if he hadn't gotten tripped up around midfield, and you could tell he felt the same, because he rolled around in disgust immediately after he hit the turf. Tough break.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, play No. 3 was a disaster, with pass protection breaking down quickly around Hurts. One problem: Hurts never realized the pressure was coming, which is a rarity this season, and former Eagle Steven Nelson forced a fumble after hitting an unsuspecting Hurts in the pocket:

Everything about this play was off from the start, with Jason Kelce's snap appearing to catch Hurts by surprise. Hurts' ball security has been elite so far this year, so I imagine this is a play he'd like to have back.

• Seriously, have the Eagles successfully executed any wide receiver screens this year? It's consistently a neutral or worse play for Philly, and yet they keep trotting them out every week. 

(Correction: Zach Pascal picked up positive yards on a WR screen in the second quarter. Finally!)

• The tackling was less than good in the first half, let's put it that way.

The Ugly

• I can't believe Britain Covey is still back there returning kicks and punts for the Eagles, or an NFL team in general.

• Rhys Hoskins not exactly draping himself in glory, is what I am gathering from the few tweets I saw about the baseball game during the first half.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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