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October 30, 2022

First half observations: Eagles 21, Steelers 10

Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown dominated the Steelers to the tune of three touchdowns in the first half, putting the Eagles up 21-10 on the Steelers at halftime.

Here's what I saw in the first 30 minutes.

The Good

• Poor Kenny Pickett did not get the welcome home I imagine he wanted to open Sunday's game. Coming off their bye week, Philadelphia's defense came out of the tunnel ready to hunt the quarterback, and after catching him stumbling on second and long on the opening series, third down got a whole lot worse for Mr. Pickett. The tape will tell you everything you need to know about Haason Reddick's first sack of the day:

Talk about a wake-up call for Pittsburgh's offense. It doesn't get much better than that on defense, and the Eagles earned a quick three-and-out to start the day.

• Jalen Hurts was not at his sharpest to open this one, and the same goes for his top wide reciever, with Hurts and A.J. Brown struggling to connect early in the first quarter. Hurts needed a little bit more velocity on his throws, and Brown needed to show off some stronger hands on comebackers. They would have been forgiven for taking a bit to get going after the week off. 

That "problem" took all of a few more plays to work out. With time to drop back in the pocket, Hurts unloaded a deep ball to Brown down the middle of the field, and nobody was going to beat Brown to the ball in the endzone on this play:

This has been the scary thing about the Eagles' offense this season. They're capable of putting together methodical, clock-eating drives when they must, and they've needed plenty of those thanks to some issues in second halves. But they're not an overly conservative football team, and Hurts has had plenty of success chucking it downfield to his big-time playmakers. They've struck a great balance that keeps teams from keying in on one area of the field, and they look like a group ready to prove they're as elite as their record says they are.

(Worth noting: Dallas Goedert was the other hero of this drive, the recipient of a fourth-down throw that left him with some work to do to bring it in. Philadelphia's aggressiveness ultimately paid off thanks to the tight end, buying Hurts and Brown the opportunity they needed to find paydirt.) 

•  The second drive for Philadelphia was not all that different from the first. Hurts didn't look particularly sharp, partially because he had pressure on him and partially because his velocity did not seem to be there early. They compensated for that fact with some good play designs and playmaking when they needed it on third downs, continually moving closer to the end zone.

And then Hurts had his opportunity to look for AJ Brown down the sideline, and he delivered perhaps his best throw of the season, a rope that hit Brown in stride for his second touchdown of the day:

Continually focusing on the next play and the next opportunity is part of why Hurts has been so good this year, and you even hear that in his messaging after Philadelphia's wins this season. There's always a bit of regret expressed by Hurts, noting that they're leaving plays on the table and still not playing to their max potential. It's easy to receive that as genuine as a result of Hurts' progress this season — the proof is in his production that he takes his craft seriously, and even when he doesn't have his best stuff, he's only ever a play or two away from uncorking a beauty.

(It speaks to how spoiled we've been with the Eagles this year that an "okay" half for Hurts featured multiple touchdowns and issues that really didn't even matter. A few underthrown passes had no impact on Philly's offense, and this group just keeps on rolling.)

• Seeing Jordan Davis just overwhelm teams in the middle of the line still has the wow factor this early in his career. Maybe that dwindles as it becomes more of a regular thing over time, but watching that mountain of a man barreling toward a runner or quarterback is a sight to behold.

• Did you sense the theme of the day before or after A.J. Brown hauled in his third touchdown of the first half? Topping their second touchdown of the game would have been damn near impossible, but Hurts and Brown did their best as the half moved along, the QB dropping one in the bucket to Brown with a corner and safety both lurking nearby.

The chemistry these two have had together in Year 1 is nothing short of spectacular, and makes you dream about what might be ahead for them in the future. Nothing has been able to slow these two down except for perhaps a lack of targets for Brown on occasion, and even then, that's a product of Hurts needing to spread the ball around to other guys on the team.

Coming up with two of your best throws of the season within one half is quite a feat, especially when you do it during a season where your team is undefeated at 6-0 and playing as well as anybody in football. Even the biggest Hurts skeptics have to have disappeared by now, right? He is in command, slinging the rock, and on top of all the improvements he has made as a passer, Hurts' dynamism on the ground has given them a significant edge over most teams in short-yardage situations. He is a unique talent, and the Eagles are where they are in large part because of his play.

The Bad

• The Eagles shot themselves in the foot a couple of times on Pittsburgh's second possession, taking a drive that could have ended harmlessly and all but giving the Steelers seven points.

Philadelphia's first big mistake of the series was a James Bradberry holding call, which wiped a Brandon Graham sack off the board and ultimately gave the Steelers new life after it looked like they'd be lining up to punt. The more costly mistake came much later in the drive, immediately following what looked to be a great example of bend-don't-break football. As the Steelers lined up to kick a chip-shot field goal, the officiating crew blew the whistle on Brandon Graham for a rare defensive delay of game penalty. Using the opportunity to reconsider their options, the Steelers ran a gadget play and had receiver Chase Claypool throw the football, turning what looked like a sure three points into a touchdown and a tie game. At least it was a well-designed play, if that makes you feel any better:

The play design aside, this was completely avoidable and very unfortunate for the Birds.

• Can't say I loved DeVonta Smith running backward for a loss of 10 yards after catching a screen pass. He's smart enough to know you might just have to eat a short loss rather than compounding the problem as he did on that play.

As a general rule, it feels like the Eagles have very little success on wide receiver screens. Not sure why that is, given the weapons they have on the outside, but they have a lot more success setting up Goedert on those short throws. 

• If we're nitpicking, Hurts ran himself into a sack on the final drive of the half. There was pressure on him for sure, but he climbed the pocket too far and too fast and got put into the dirt as a result.

The Ugly

• A defensive delay of game? Really? 

• I am once again writing that the punter and normal punt returner are completely uninspiring. Not the worst positions to save a few bucks on, I guess, but I can't escape the feeling that their mediocre options there will come back to bite them in the playoffs. 

• A.J. Brown getting penalized for taunting after scoring his third touchdown of the half is absurd to me. If ever there was a time when guys should be allowed to flex a little bit, it's after they've scored a third touchdown in four possessions. 

• We'll keep an eye on Jordan Davis, who needed help getting off of the field late in the first half and then immediately took a trip to the blue tent. Given that he was carted back to the locker room before halftime, I don't suspect good news is coming. 

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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