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October 08, 2023

First half observations: Eagles 17, Rams 14

With big plays from Dallas Goedert, A.J. Brown and Jalen Hurts, the Eagles are up on the Rams in Los Angeles after two quarters.

In their first trip to Los Angeles since that fateful day at the Coliseum in December 2017, the Eagles are up on the Rams 17-14. Here are my first half observations from the game. Be sure to stay tuned for PhillyVoice for my final observations when that last whistle blows, too.

The Highs

• Dallas Goedert's numbers haven't matched his talent level and ability so far in 2023. That says less about Goedert and more about the Eagles' offense, which has one again relied heavily on the run game and the star receiver duo of A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. On the game's opening drive, however, the Birds were feeding Goedert. He hauled in catches of 12 and 19 yards for first downs early. It culminated with Goedert catching a touchdown in traffic on a huge third and goal. He finished with four catches for 45 yards and a TD on that drive alone. That's more than he had in any previous game this season. 

Goedert's a team player who's not worried about his stats publicly and remains a force as a blocker for D'Andre Swift and the backs, but it's good to see the Birds maximizing their star-level tight end. 

• That first touchdown drive was the most the Eagles have looked like their 2022 selves since the Super Bowl.

Our own Jimmy Kempski played down these concerns in a recent mailbag, but Jalen Hurts looked noticeably slower to me during the first quarter of the season. He hasn't been able to fully turn the corner on rollouts against the opponents' edge players. I saw some of that early in the first half against the Rams, but Hurts showcased some classic wheels on a first down run early in the second quarter. On a third and nine, Hurts ducked pressure in the pocket and narrowly moved the chains:

He continued on with that as the first half wore on. Hurts had a nice 10-yard run on the Eagles' first scoring drive where his agility was fully on display and a later third and nine QB draw first down, too. 

It was understandable that Hurts would run less in 2023 given injury prevention and his development as a passer, but in those moments he does take off, juice like that is desperately needed.

• There was one hell of a broken tackle from Kenny Gainwell to pick up a first down on a dump-down pass from Hurts.

Gainwell lost his go-to back role after missing Week 2 and Swift going supernova in the following couple of games. While that's best for the team overall, I'm sure it stings for him. The Eagles continue to give him snaps as a third-down back and plays like that will go a long way to keeping him on the field.

• On the final drive of the half, this was an incredible throw from Hurts and an even better catch and run from Brown:

That play was a momentous seven-point swing, as an ensuing DPI call in the end zone and a Tush Push from the Birds put them ahead 17-14.

The Lows

• Second-year undrafted corner Mario Goodrich in his third career game was tasked at times to stick Cooper Kupp, who's coming back from injury. That's just a mismatch that the Eagles have no real answer for with the injuries that have depleted this secondary. Avonte Maddox and Zech McPhearson are lost for the year. Bradley Roby was signed to the practice squad and a game elevation this week. Whether it was Goodrich or rookie Eli Ricks or any of the Birds' other options, they have no real answer for Kupp.

Ricks matched up 1-on-1 with Kupp on a fourth and one in Eagles territory on the Rams' first drive was the lock of the century to be converted. There isn't much blame you can truly throw Ricks' way. He and these other young DBs are just in way over their heads. Kupp totaled 56 yards on five catches on that drive, putting the Rams in an easy position to pick up a touchdown on a three-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to Tutu Atwell. 

Even Pro Bowler Darius Slay was burned by Kupp on a 39-yard gain at the tail end of the first half that put L.A. in Eagles territory. 

• After a dime to A.J. Brown towards the sideline wasn't able to be hauled in early in the second quarter, Hurts missed badly on a throw to a wide-open Quez Watkins on a third and 10. You can't win them all, but Hurts assuredly would like that one back. That needed to be a seamless completion in what's cooking up to be a close one.

•A third and short bubble screen to Watkins should be removed from the playbook immediately. Watkins completely messed up post catch on his attempt to run and grab a fresh set of downs, but that's the issue. The ball shouldn't be going his way in this high leverage situation. You have Goedert, Brown and DeVonta Smith. You have the best run-blocking OL in the game. Either go for the big body pass-catcher or pound it up the middle twice. That led to the Eagles settling for a field goal to make things 10-7.

• For all the worries about Kupp, Pucua has been tearing it up as a rookie. On a go-ahead touchdown with under a minute remaining in the second quarter, Pucua got the best of All-Pro James Bradberry going down the right sideline, expertly getting separation and flashing late hands in the end zone. Both of the Rams' TDs came with Bradberry in coverage. 

It's been an underwhelming day for the Eagles' two big-name corners and the entire secondary as a whole. More help from this stacked pass rush unit against an iffy Rams OL is a requirement in the second half. 

The Whoas

• You could hear "E-A-G-L-E-S" chants on the TV broadcast from the fans that traveled out West to SoFi Stadium. Another Eagles takeover in L.A. was to be expected, but to steal the crowd atmosphere that early is remarkable. Kudos, Birds fans. 

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