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September 14, 2023

First half observations: Eagles 13, Vikings 7

Halfway into their Thursday Night Football matchup, the Eagles lead the Vikings by a score of 10-7.

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Jalen-Hurts-run_09142023_Eagles_Vikings_Frese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 14: A photo from the Philadelphia Eagles game against the Minnesota Vikings on September 14, 2023 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. (Photo by Kate Frese/PhillyVoice)

Two quarters into their nationally televised affair at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles lead the Minnesota Vikings 10-7. Here's what I saw from the first half of play...

The Highs

• Facing a third and five on their opening drive, Jalen Hurts dropped back to pass and didn't like anything he saw. He darted up the field in an attempt to get the first down. With defenders beating down on him, unsurprisingly, Hurts powered his way to a first down. The Linc roared. It felt akin, on a smaller scale, to his touchdown run against the Vikings in Week 2 last season. 

• Let it rip! Hurts aired one out deep to DeVonta Smith shortly after. Smith's jump-ball ability is overlooked given that he's a smaller wideout with a slim frame, but he can go up and grab it, as Eagles fans saw throughout the 2022 campaign. The ball was underthrown some by Hurts, as Smith had to come back to get the ball instead of being in stride on his way to the end zone. 

After whiffing completely on the go route, Vikings safety Harrison Smith ran down to get Smith in a weird attempt to wrap him and touch him down even after the play was dead. As evident by the 2017 NFC Championship game, the Linc is Smith's own personal hell.

• Jordan Davis has taken a second-year leap. This past Sunday in Foxboro was unquestionably his best NFL game yet, making big plays with a forced fumble and his first career sack. On the Vikings' third down of the night, it was Davis who was out there alongside Fletcher Cox ready to tee up on Kirk Cousins. Davis wasn't a factor in any of those obvious passing situations in 2022. He's making a point to be in 2023 though, crushing Cousins and helping force a fourth down punt.

He sacked Cousins late in the first quarter for a seven-yard loss, too. It was never in doubt that Davis would be effective as a run-stuffer at the pro level. The Eagles traded up in the first round for him last year, however, with the hope he could develop as a top-tier pass-rusher given his size-speed combination. The early returns are damn good there. Give Eagles defensive line coach Tracy Rocker his flowers with how well the team's young defensive tackles are playing.

• Justin Evans is being relied upon heavily, playing 96 percent of the team's snaps against the Patriots. That's even more true in Reed Blankenship's absence as he recovers from a rib injury. It was a special teams play, however, where Evans made his (first) big impact as am Eagle, forcing a fumble on a punt return that Nicholas Morrow recovered.

As Eagles fans were ready to throw their remotes at their TV following more blown punt coverage and seemingly a huge return, Evans popped the ball out of Brandon Powell's hand. 

On the first play of Minnesota's ensuing drive, Avonte Maddox knocked the ball out of Vikes RB Alexander Mattison's hands and Evans was in the right place at the right time to dive on that sucker and give the Birds killer field position. 

• Jalen Carter blew by Vikings second-string center Austin Schlottman with ease early in the second quarter, blowing up Mattison for a three-yard loss. Carter is viewed as a future star. The "future" tag may be removed sooner than originally imagined.

• D'Andre Swift had just one carry and two total touches in Week 1. With Kenny Gainwell sidelined with a rib injury, Swift was the Eagles' go-to rusher in the first half, running for 62 yards on 5.2 yards per carry. Gainwell received the vast majority of the team's training camp RB touches and the same was true against New England, but Swift has always been the Eagles' most talented back. Gainwell may be entering the Wally Pipp zone. Swift also has been good in pass protection. 

• Dallas Goedert is halfway between a tight end and an offensive tackle when it comes to working as a blocker in the run game.

• A 61-yard field goal for Jake Elliott? In the words of the legendary Larry Poffer: "Not a problem." 

The Lows

• The red zone offense is leaving a ton to be desired 1.5 games into Brian Johnson's time as the Eagles' play-caller. A third-down QB draw from the eight-yard line going in was a bit of a head-scratcher even with Hurts' ability to barrel his way through defenders. That's a third and three play, or something to be called when the offense is definitely going for it on fourth down. The Birds had to settle for a 24-yard field goal.

• A third down QB power run with five yards to go for a first down was stuffed for a five-yard loss on the Eagles' next drive. The stadium groaned as Hurts was stuffed immediately and went nowhere. 

The Eagles first two first quarter turnovers that set up decent field position. They got exactly zero points on them. If this one goes in the loss column for the Birds, failing to capitalize here will be the main reason why. 

• While T.J. Hockenson is a little overrated given the fantasy football world and the massive contract he just signed, it was a given that he'd have a productive night given these Eagles linebackers and safeties. He finished the first half with four catches for 37 yards and a TD. The Eagles are going to be susceptible to big games from tight ends all season long. 

• Jalen Hurts' first turnover of the 2023 season was an ugly one. Two plays after taking a seven-yard sack, Hurts launched a ball into double coverage towards Smith with Vikings safety Theo Jackson nabbing the interception. Hurts telegraphed that one. Jackson read it all the way as Smith ran an in-breaking route. The 2023 season is just six quarters in, but Hurts has been sloppier as a passer than he was in his clear-cut, MVP-caliber run in 2022.

The Whoas

• Rashaad Penny currently has zero carries as an Eagle. 

• Minnesota called a timeout just before Hurts trucked into the end zone on a classic Tush Push. Were they trying to ice this like it's a field goal? Regardless, Hurts scored immediately after, so it was all for naught. 

• The NFL's touchback rule where if an offensive player fumbles through the end zone, the other team gets the ball is dumb. In reality, the offense should just get the ball at the 20-yard line. On what appeared initially to be a TD at the end of the half, Justin Jefferson fumbled as he fell to the ground by the pylon. Touchback and Eagles ball. That doesn't make sense, but Eagles fans will gladly take it!

• Super Bowl LII champion Malcolm Jenkins was the Eagles' honorary captain on Thursday and received a great ovation after the first quarter from fans at the Linc. A lot of those same fans probably wish he could suit up given how thin they are at safety! 

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