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September 25, 2023

First half observations: Eagles 13, Buccaneers 3

Here's how the Eagles' first half played out against the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football, highlighted by a huge 34-touchdown toss from Jalen Hurts to Olamide Zaccheaus.

A sluggish first quarter gave way to a momentum-shifting second quarter for the Eagles in Tampa Bay. The Birds are currently up 10-3 against the Buccaneers. Here are my takes from the first half...

The Highs

• After the discourse surrounding whatever went on during the Eagles' Thursday Night Football win over the Vikings, Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown looked like BFFs on the Birds' opening drive. Two passes went Brown's way and the Eagles picked up 44 yards along the way. 

It was an uneven first half for Hurts, with stalled drives no doubt frustrating the entirety of the Delaware Valley, but a 34-yard touchdown toss to Olamide Zaccheaus late in the second quarter quickly flipped the vibes of this Monday Night Football affair:

Phenomenal pocket presence. Gutsy throw while a clear crushing blow is coming. Top-tier quarterback play. It appeared the tables had turned until Hurts' ugly late interception (more on that in a bit...). Agian, it's been a mixed bag of a night. 

Zaccheaus is getting his first start as an Eagle with Quez Watkins sidelined with a hamstring. Zaccheaus didn't get much of a chance to showcase his game during training camp, but he's quickly endearing himself with play like that.

If you were sick of hearing that D'Andre Swift played football at Saint Joe's Prep, wait until you hear where Zaccheaus went to high school.

• The Eagles gave Kenny Gainwell the majority of first-team reps all summer. With the entire running back group healthy, Gainwell had 18 touches in Week 1 and was the featured back. It took Gainwell missing Week 2 with an injury for the Eagles to realize the optimal setup for this team: Swift as RB1. He ripped off an eight-yard run on their first play from scrimmage and had a successful pickup on a screen, a rarity in the Nick Sirianni era. 

Swift is averaging 7.7 yards per touch through two quarters and looks super explosive. 

Operating as an objective, forward-thinking football viewer, consistently moving the ball through the air is the best way to have year-over-year success in today's NFL. If you have five maulers up front, a beast tight end and a running back who can read his blocks, however, run it down the other team's throat. That can get you by week to week! 

• Sydney Brown had the biggest play of his young career, disrupting the ball on a third down throw in the red zone when Mike Evans was as open as anything in the end zone:

It was immediately clear during training camp that Brown was a high-energy, high-effort player that flies around the field. He's making good on that in his third NFL game.

• The Eagles' linebacker group has constantly maligned, and they do have major shortcomings in the passing game, but Zach Cunningham has been a huge positive against the run. The Eagles entered Week 3 with the best run defense in the NFL and that's largely due to their terrifying interior defensive line unit, but credit to Cunningham for holding his own there. 

• Reed Blankenship's first half line: three solo tackles (including one tackle for loss), a PBU and a diving interception off Baker Mayfield:

Mayfield walked into Raymond James Stadium tonight wearing a Ronde Barber throwback jersey if you needed any extra incentive to be foaming at the mouth currently, Eagles fans...

• Joe Buck called Jalen Carter a "star in the making." Wrong. He's a star right now.

The Lows

Re: Hurts... Both Eagles players and their coaching staff were quick this week to shoot down any schematic comparisons to the stomping the Eagles received during the 2021 Wild Card in Tampa. Then-defensive coordinator/current head coach Todd Bowles devised a gameplan that had Hurts play his worst game as an Eagle. Hurts was closer to that QB in the first half than his 2022 MVP self before that huge third down TD strike to Zaccheaus. 

His head-scratching interception with under a minute left was rough. Poor pass pro from Swift, yes. That's still on QB1 though. Turnover luck stayed in the Birds' favor, however, and they were still able to build a double-digit lead with a second Jake Elliott field goal not too long after. 

• Gainwell's first touch since Week 1 in New England was a fourth-and-two run up the gut that got stuffed deep in Buccaneers territory. That's some curious running back usage given the way Swift looked early! I harped on this over the last two months: the Eagles coaching staff is much higher on Gainwell than the average Philadelphian. Swift, naturally, ripped off 14 yards on the Eagles' first play of their ensuing drive. 

The Whoas

• The Britain Covey Game! Now firmly on the Eagles' 53-man roster, Covey ripped off the best punt return of his pro career in the first quarter, hitting the hole hard for a 52-yard pickup. Sirianni looked hype as hell on the sideline for that one. It set the Eagles up for the first points of the evening courtesy of a Jake Elliott field goal.

• For the love of everything good in the world, stop with the split screen of tonight's two Monday night games, ESPN. 

• I've had enough of this Buccaneers mascot for a lifetime. Go back to Treasure Island!

• If you need a halftime chuckle, some Cowboys schadenfreude is always good:

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