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October 24, 2021

First half observations: Raiders 17, Eagles 7

The Eagles are down multiple scores at the half despite a good start in Las Vegas, trailing the Raiders 17-7 after 30 minutes of football.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• It only took Nick Sirianni six weeks of getting killed for it to adjust how they set up, but the Eagles finally came out and ran the damn football. I guess the extra time to evaluate things after a Thursday night loss really made a difference because the Eagles' opening script looked nothing like the team that has sputtered for most of this season.

Putting Jalen Hurts under center for most of the opening series — I know, another huge development — the Eagles played power football, letting Miles Sanders eat up chunks of yards and using the threat of the run to set up credible play-action passes. Hurts had a beautiful lofted throw to Dallas Goedert for 24 yards on the opening series, with the Raiders sucked toward the line somewhat thanks to the threat of the run. A novel concept to actually run the ball in order to execute run fakes in the passing game. 

And when it was time to finish the drive off, rookie running back Kenneth Gainwell was there to deliver, scooting into the end zone to give Philly the opening score and an early lead:

Can't draw it up any better than that. Let's hope to see more drives like that moving forward.

• Avonte Maddox's interception was more about Derek Carr's ineptitude than anything special Maddox did in coverage, but credit to him for coming up with the turnover regardless, reacting quickly to end the Vegas threat:

It was a good opening series overall for Maddox, whose tackle earlier in the series would have been enough to force a fourth down for Vegas if Nick Sirianni had, you know, just let the play stand instead of accepting a penalty.

• Broadly speaking, we saw a lot more variety from the Eagles on offense in the first half on Sunday. We saw more pre-snap motion, more of Hurts under center, a designed QB run without any run-pass option to slow it down, pass plays designed to hit intermediate routes, and yes, the staple plays (e.g. screens) that have become familiar to Eagles fans in the early days of the Sirianni era.

Whether you think Sirianni has shown enough to this point or not, at least he looks like he's capable of adjusting and learning after the first half in Vegas. Small bar to clear, given some of the head-scratching decisions he has made this season, but progress all the same.

• I appreciate Sirianni going for it on fourth-and-short inside their own territory. They have a great QB for those specific situations, and they might as well lean into it.

The Bad

• As if Sirianni was trying to squander the goodwill created from Philadelphia's opening drive, the Eagles' head coach made the questionable choice to accept a penalty midway through Las Vegas' first drive, choosing to make the Raiders try to covert a 3rd and 15 on their own half of the field rather than 4th and 3 in Eagles territory. I'm not sure what the numbers say about that one, but the outcome was as bad as it gets for Philly — a big play down the sideline for the Raiders to convert for the first and extend the series.

It did not end up mattering much in the end, with Maddox's interception killing the drive, but a head-scratcher for sure.

• You can add at least a couple more botched throws to Hurts' tally after the first half in Vegas. The biggest miss, even if it was on a relatively short slant throw, was a brutal toss in DeVonta Smith's direction that ended up hitting Smith's ankles. The rookie wideout had beaten his man off of the line and had room to pick up a ton of yards after the catch, but Hurts didn't give him a real chance to bring the ball in, let alone break off a big play after doing so. And it wasn't the only miss of the half in Smith's direction — Smith got his hands on another Hurts throw over the middle early in the second quarter, but the placement on the throw was absolutely brutal, leading to another incompletion on what should be an easy play for Hurts.

Hurts has had too many missed opportunities every week. It's one thing to miss on the deep shots that are inherently lower percentage throws. You have to make the layups. The evidence is mounting that Hurts leaves too many of the easy ones on the field to be trusted with the keys to the franchise.

• It was not a good half for Philadelphia's defensive front, who struggled to do much of anything to impact the game. The Raiders finally seemed to realize they could brutalize Philly on the ground on their second series of the game, beating the Eagles with old-fashioned power football. It didn't go much better for the Eagles when the Raiders went to the air, either, mostly because Carr felt absolutely no pressure in the pocket, afforded the time to sit in the pocket and assess his options any time Vegas wanted to pass.

The Raiders' first score of the day, an insane Foster Moreau catch in the end zone, is the sort of play you have to tip your cap on. Can't get mad when the opponent makes a tough play:

Aside from that, though, the Raiders just outmuscled and outexecuted the Eagles most of the half. A familiar theme this season.

I get that it's sort of the entire point of this scheme and defense, but the predictability these guys play with is absolutely infuriating. It essentially allows the opponent to establish the terms of engagement every week, knowing the Eagles aren't going to challenge/threaten them with blitzes or other wrinkles that could throw them off. The Raiders are a bottom-of-the-barrel team running the ball, and the Eagles are making them look like an elite ground-and-pound group. Absolutely infuriating to watch every week. You can't be light on talent and ultra-conservative. It's just a stupid way to go about using this group, if you ask me.

(By the way, you would think the Eagles' defense would at least be good at defending screens, given the number of screens they probably see in practice every week. But they struggle there on top of everything else, which puts a cherry on top of this diarrhea sundae.)

• It wasn't a whole lot better for the boys in the trenches on the offensive line, and that's in spite of the fact that they finally had a relatively healthy and talented group to put out there. With Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson as the bookends, the Eagles theoretically should have been able to turn the line back into a strength, but the first 30 minutes have been just as shaky and unpredictable as most of the season has been.

Perhaps some of this is due to the constant shuffling the Eagles have done with the guy who was recently paid to be their franchise left tackle. Mailata has gone from starting LT to RT back to RT, and while there are fewer excuses to struggle now that he's back in the "correct" spot, letting him settle in at one spot (and the spot he's typically good at) has to be the priority from here on out.

• I just truly don't understand what is going through Sirianni's brain sometimes. There are plenty of times to run the ball. I don't think, "Down a touchdown with time to drive down the field and with the opponent getting the ball at the half" would be high up my list. Gainwell putting it on the turf is still Gainwell's fault, but what are you doing, man?

The Ugly

• Sanders finally felt like the integral part of the offense everyone expected him to be coming into this season, which made it hurt even worse that the good vibes came to an end 13 minutes into the game when Sanders went down with some sort of foot/ankle injury. You always hope for the best in these situations, but after watching Sanders try to walk off the field and then ultimately drop to the turf so the trainers could come look at him, a lot of the optimism faded. And it got worse once he was off of the field, with the shot of Sanders being carted into the locker room pretty worrying for Eagles fans. Hide your eyes if you don't want to see what happened on the play:

A brutal turn of events for a guy who has produced when given opportunities this year. Expect a lot more Kenneth Gainwell the rest of today.

• Taking a false start penalty on third-and-three that subsequently turns it into a third-and-eight is the sort of thing the Eagles have done all year, and it's a big reason why their record was 2-4 coming into this one. Shoot yourself in the foot enough times and opponents only have to work so hard to beat you.

• I am begging the NFL to change their replay standards and just make the best call you can based on the available evidence. Gainwell was probably down on his gut-punch fumble late in the first half, but instead of being able to make the common-sense judgment, the officials had to stand with the original shaky call. This isn't a court of law, we don't need the standard of proof to be beyond a reasonable doubt, just make the common sense decision and move on so we don't spend 10 minutes watching the same bad angles over and over. 

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