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September 10, 2023

First half observations: Eagles 16, Patriots 14

In their Week 1 matchup with the Patriots, the Eagles got off to a fast start, but are stuck in neutral after 30 minutes.

FOXBORO, M.A. — In a game that's been equal parts sloppy and infuriating, the Eagles lead the Patriots 16-14. Here are my takes from the first half. I will additionally have these after the end of the fourth quarter.

Let's get after it....

The Highs

• Jalen Hurts completed just 52.0 percent of his passes as a rookie in 2020. Rookie Hurts had some juice, possessing both the electricity and intangibles he would later show on a weekly basis. There were warts though. 2020 Hurts isn't making this tight-window touchdown throw, but 2023 Hurts absolutely is:

DeVonta Smith's technical refinement as a receiver is incredible. He's one of the league's best route-runners and there was little doubt he'd get his feet in bounds on a play like that. 

• Kenny Gainwell was the starting running back and on the field for the first nine offensive snaps. He had six touches, totaling 40 yards. I wrote during training camp that Gainwell was getting the majority of running back touches, particularly in the run game. It's a running back committee at the core, but someone has to lead the team in carries. It looks like it'll be Gainwell, who also had a nice block on Hurts' red zone first-down run on that drive, too. 

Some more burst on Gainwell in those goal-to-go carries would've certainly been beneficial, as the Birds had to settle for a field goal early. 

I don't foresee this being the game plan every week, but that's what the Eagles are rolling with right now. 

• Big Play Slay! With New England driving a bit and in Eagles territory, a Mac Jones pass went off the hands of wideout Kendrick Bourne into the hands of Darius Slay, who scampered 70 yards back to the house. That's the third defensive touchdown of Slay's Eagles tenure. The vibes were a bit off before that. That opening Eagles drive stalled in the end zone. Ezekiel Elliott had a big first-down run for the Pats. Things could've gotten dicey in the first quarter, but that big defensive TD broke things open.

• Jordan Davis has the signature moment of his young Eagles career. On a Patriots screen to Elliott in their own territory, Davis forced a fumble, which Zach Cunningham recovered:

Davis showcased great awareness there to not just go for the tackle, but to pop that sucker out of there.

Davis was later commanding double teams, too. That's exactly the gravity the Eagles envisioned he'd bring when they traded up to draft him last April. 

• Jalen Carter has picked up the "Baby Rhino" nickname for his teammates. He was disruptive in his first ever NFL action, making quick work of New England's makeshift offensive line. This type of immediate impact from a young defensive tackle is rare.

• Sydney Brown laid the wood first NFL tackle on New England punt returner Marcus Jones. The dude flies around the field.

The Lows

• The weather, to put it plainly, was a mess. Heavy rain up here in Foxboro took a toll into the early second quarter. It's why the Eagles leaned on Gainwell so heavily in the run game early. It was on display when there was a snap communication between Hurts and Jason Kelce, but, luckily for the Eagles, a Patriots penalty negated a gigantic loss that would've likely kept them scoreless on that opening drive. 

Wet conditions arose again when Jake Elliott missed an extra point following Smith's touchdown catch. It played a part, but did not tell the full story, when it came to the Eagles' later offensive woes as well.

• The special teams unit is still iffy. There's that Elliott missed XPA. Arryn Siposs actually had a decent 50-yard punt to open the second quarter, but poor work from the Eagles' gunners allowed a 21-yard return that put New England in Eagles territory. 

• The Eagles' offense is far from last season. As mentioned above, that opening drive should've been seven, not three. They went three-and-out deep in their own territory at the end of the first quarter/beginning of the second. Their first full second quarter drive ended the same way. The ensuing offensive drive? Another three-and-out. The next? You guessed it: a three-and-out.

Hat tip to Bill Belichick. The Eagles' pass-blocking unit has been poor with strong coverage against the Eagles' star wideouts. Hurts is getting kicked out of the pocket after his first few reads aren't there. This where Hurts' legs can be an x-factor, he has just 16 yards on four carries. 

• A third-and-10 run to Boston Scott at their own 14? C'mon, Brian Johnson. That type of call is palatable when you're between the 40s and are going to for it on fourth down, not when in dire need of an offensive spark. 

• Following Slay's huge pick, the Eagles' pass defense got into a funk. Pats wideout Demario Douglas created all the separation on a deep out route against Avonte Maddox on New England's scoring drive. Jones lofted a pass into the end zone that tight end Hunter Henry hauled in with ease with Reed Blankenship in coverage. Despite the (justified) rave reviews about his summer performance, this is still Blankenship's first game as an unquestioned starting safety. There will be hiccups. 

The two biggest weaknesses on this team coming into Week 1 were at safety and linebacker. As the half progressed, Jones was feating on over-the-middle throws. His second TD throw of the game at the tail end of the first half really hammered home those woes. 

• No deep shot at the end of the half with the offense out there and two timeouts? They're on D to start the second half and their lead is deteriorating. 

The Whoas

• Before the game, the Gillette Stadium PA was playing "No Excuses" by Alice in Chains, "Age of Consent" by New Order, "Method Man" by Wu-Tang Clan and "Feel the Pain" by Dinosaur Jr. During one commercial break, they blasted "Wolf Like Me" by TV on the Radio, one of my all-time favorite songs. Later, it was "Only Shallow" by My Bloody Valentine. Can I get a link to their Spotify playlist? 

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