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October 01, 2023

First half observations: Commanders 17, Eagles 10

The Eagles will need to mount a second half comeback against a divisional foe to remain undefeated.

A less-than-encouraging first half is in the books. Through 30 minutes, the Eagles trail the Commanders 17-7. Here are my observations from these first two quarters. Be sure to tune into PhillyVoice for my final observations once the fourth quarter whistle blows, too.

The Highs

• The first play from scrimmage was a one-yard gain on the ground from Commanders running back Brian Robinson Jr. Fletcher Cox, Josh Sweat and Nicholas Morrow were all active on the stop. The NFL's best run defense played up to the level they established the first four weeks of the season.

• The efficiency Jalen Hurts showcased during his MVP-caliber 2022 campaign was on display on the Eagles' opening drive. Hurts was a perfect 7-for-7 through the air. That includes two third-down completions as well, putting the offense in a position to score on a five-yard D'Andre Swift run. Hurts has emphasized that winning is all that matters, his stats and the way the team's passing offense is viewed be damned, but that was a reassuring start after the unevenness of his first three games.

• Nicholas Morrow over the last two weeks: one sack, three tackles for loss, a safety and a fumble recovery. There was an expected step back for the Eagles at linebacker going into this season, and the group played pretty poorly in Week 1 up in Foxboro, but they've more than held their own since. 

Shaded to Washington center Nick Gates' right shoulder, Morrow bursted through the line for a huge third-down sack in the second quarter:

• Josh Sweat has 2.5 sacks through 3.5 games. Amongst pass rushers across the NFL, I'd say he's just below the Jaguars' Josh Allen for most underrated. 

• DeVonta Smith had yet another acrobatic, highlight-reel catch against Washington, turning into a theme for him in his career. It was a bit of an underthrow from Hurts, but Smith, despite his slender frame, went up and Mossed the Washington secondary:

Again, not the world's greatest throw, but, hey, Hurts put an elite playmaker in a position to have a momentum-shifting catch. It allowed the Eagles to add a half-ending field goal ahead of getting the ball to start the third quarter. 

The Lows

• Terry McLaurin: really freaking good. He's on the rise to stardom. He had two first downs for a total of 29 yards on Washington's early touchdown drive. The Eagles' secondary injuries woes, from being down two slot corners to multiple safeties, is catching up with them. Sam Howell averaged 8.3 yards per attempt as Washington capped off a 14-play drive with a Curtis Samuel jet sweep into the end zone.

• Howell then averaged 14.0 yards per pass on Washington's second scoring drive, yet another 75-yard march to the end zone complete with costly penalties. Starting a fourth-string safety and throwing a second-year undrafted corner to the wolves is, fairly predictably, not working out for the Birds. The Eagles were the beacon of health during the 2022 season on their way to the Super Bowl. Some regression was inevitable, but being this banged up has left their passing D totally vulnerable. 

• Howell's first half stat line: 13/17, 161 passing yards, 9.5 yards per attempt, 105.3 QB rating.

• The first punt from Braden Mann, in his second game as an Eagle, went for just 34 yards, not even pinning Washington in their own 20. His second punt netted 34 yards of field position. Mann was fine on Monday against the Buccaneers, but that's not a way to endear yourself to the fan base in your South Philly debut.

• Hurts had a wide open Smith who he overthrew on the Birds' third drive on a third and 12. It could've been six while Washington had a one-touchdown lead. Hurts' deep ball was his best quality during his first three games this season, but that's a rough miss.

• Too many penalties. I will never fault a Philadelphian for wanting to blame a referee for the Eagles' struggles, but this is the game the officials are calling. They need to be pristine. 

The Whoas

• The TV broadcast did not give a replay of a costly third and 11 defensive holding call against the Eagles on Washington's first scoring drive, nor did the stadium. I guess we'll never know what ticky-tack call led to the Birds surrendering seven points! Zach Cunningham was called for the penalty. Given Cunningham's pursuit up field to tackle a scrambling Howell on that one, I'm not quite sure who he was sticky in coverage. Perhaps "No. 52" was a wrong call by the referees? Nothing surprises me when it comes to this collection of individuals. 

• I saw a Puma midnight green Doug Pederson jersey in the section in front of the press box. Gone from Philly, but certainly not forgotten.

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