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October 31, 2017

Eagles refused to take any trap from winless Niners

At first glance, it wasn’t really that big a deal that the Eagles rolled over the San Francisco 49ers at the Linc on Sunday afternoon.

Nothing really to stand up and bang your chest about, right? Sort of what you expected from a very good team that faces a very bad team.

By the end of the dreary afternoon, the Eagles had posted a 33-10 victory over the Niners. The Eagles headed to their locker room with a halfway record of 7-1, while the Niners headed back west with a miserable 0-8 mark on the season.

So, on the surface, it was just a connect-the-dots, matter of fact victory by the better team over a lesser opponent.

Ho Hum.

Well, don’t be so fast to gloss over the victory. Dig a little deeper and you will see that this last game showed a bit more of the Eagles’ character as they earn a status at the top or near the top of the NFL pecking order.

This was hardly a statement game, but there was every reason to expect the team to slip a gear after that statement wins at Carolina. It was a rainy, miserable afternoon against a decided underdog, and it in the past it would have been half expected that the Philadelphia Eagles would have a classic case of playing down to their opposition.

In this case, it was only half true, and only half the time.

The best part of the Eagles’ victory over the Niners is that the offense under quarterback Carson Wentz actually missed a step or two, and the defense was more than able to pick up the slack. The defensive line was so good that it often appeared its members were offside all afternoon as they hounded the San Francisco offense and quarterback C.J. Beathard.

If the Niners did manage to avoid the rush, the Eagles defensive backs were poised to make big plays to turn the game around. Amazingly, what appeared to be a huge problem area at the start of the season has turned into a relative strength as the Eagles have learned to button down on pass coverage.

The biggest turnover occurred when cornerback Jalen Mills picked off a pass intended for Pierre Garcon and took it back for a touchdown and a 17-0 lead going into halftime. After the game, Mills noted the value of the team’s film study during the week, making him confident to jump the route and make the play.

After catching the ball, Mills suggested that some good-natured teasing by his teammates concerning his ability to run back a return fueled his cut back from the sideline and toward the end zone. He simply was not going to be satisfied with just intercepting the pass, he was going to run it back.

The play tells you a lot about the Eagles level of preparation, and what is obviously a tight group of players. In an NFL dotted with solo acts, the Eagles under coach Doug Pederson have shown every sign of a team that realizes the strength of their team is in the pack.

Of course, there has to be a leader of the pack, and although Wentz has a subpar game in terms of raw statistics and quarterback ratings, he was again sturdy when they needed him most.

In this case, the mental toughness of Wentz was on display following a bad mistake. The only time the game appeared to be in any sort of jeopardy was in the third quarter after Wentz threw an interception. Two plays later, the Niners had gone 21 yards for a touchdown, and the Eagles led, 20-7.

It was still a lead, but there was a chance for the Niners to get some momentum.

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Instead, on the ensuing possession, Wentz capped a 75-yard drive with a 53-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery and it was basically lights out for the Niners.

The fact that Jeffrey caught the touchdown was another good sign for an offense that has a variety of weapons, including tight end Zach Ertz, who once again caught a touchdown pass.

Also evident in the game was the improvement of No. 1 draft pick Derek Barnett who blocked a field goal and had two solo tackles a couple of quarterback hurries.

The too there is the growing feeling that kicker Jake Elliott is money from 50 yards out. Elliott set a club single-season record with his fifth field goal of 50 yards or more with a 51-yarder Sunday. You can give general manager Howie Roseman credit for bringing Elliott on board earlier this season, and the threat of his foot booming long field goals will be a huge factor into December and beyond.

If you want to look at the worries, the Eagles could still use a running back that can block better than their present collection, especially since Wentz is already at risk of being blindsided due to the absence of injured all-everything left tackle Jason Peters.

No matter, Roseman has a few hours left before the NFL trade deadline. He's already added ex-Dolphin RB Jay Ajayi and he is reportedly anxious to bring in some depth. Then again, the way this team is rolling, you don’t want to tinker too much with a green wagon rolling toward the Denver Broncos and a very possible record of 8-1 when they hit their bye week.

It might all seem too good to be true, but the rest of the NFL is discovering that Wentz and the Eagles are the Truth.