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October 27, 2019

Final observations: Eagles 31, Bills 13

Eagles NFL
102719-DougPederson-USAToday Rich Barnes/USA Today

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson looks on against the Buffalo Bills during the second quarter at New Era Field.

Coming off a pair of bad defeats, the Eagles delivered a huge victory on the road in Buffalo to right the ship, setting themselves up for an important home stretch of the schedule in November. Philadelphia's 31-13 victory has them back at .500 (4-4), and it's a victory that will quiet all the noise about the locker room for at least one week.

Here's what I saw in the second half on Sunday afternoon. [Click here for observations from the first half.]

The Good

• It did not take long for the Eagles to break open the game on offense. On their very first possession of the second half, Miles Sanders finally showed off the running talent Philadelphia drafted him for. And, by the way, he had a little bit of help from Jordan Howard, who had the key block to spring Sanders.

Part of Philadelphia's problem in the backfield has been how telegraphed everything is when you have either running back on the field. Some two-back sets might help to offset that issue, and it sure worked like a charm for Sanders' first monster run of his career. The 65-yard touchdown is the longest run from an Eagles rookie since Bryce Brown was (briefly) tearing things up in 2012, so let's hope this is the start of something bigger and not just a brief flash in the pan.

And look, I don't want to give too much credit to myself here, but I did, in fact, praise Sanders in the first half and emphasize how huge it would be to get him going in the rushing attack. You're totally welcome for being the reason the Eagles running back finally got going, so feel free to send me gift baskets whenever you'd like.

• It was a tale of two halves for Alshon Jeffery, who looked disinterested in the game for about the first quarter-and-a-half of football. He was a new man in the second half, helping the Eagles stretch the field in addition to picking up tough yards over the middle.

With Jeffery doing a lot of the heavy lifting on Philly's second drive, it was left to... Boston Scott, of all people, to finish off the drive with a power run between the tackles. And the diminutive running back made the most of his opportunity, picking up the first score of his career.

What a difference it makes when you have guys all over the offensive depth chart making plays.

• The defense deserves every bit of the criticism it has gotten this year, especially for their awful play on third down, but credit to them for standing tall and getting a stop after Scott's third-quarter fumble put them in a tough position. It's a situation they've found themselves in far too often this year, only this time, they proved capable of cleaning up a mess and bailing out a teammate from another unit.

On back-to-back plays, the Eagles came up with big stops. First, it was Brandon Graham, who hauled down Josh Allen in order to set up a pivotal fourth-down play. Containment had been a problem all afternoon for the Eagles, but Graham came up with a big sack when they needed it most.

Facing strong winds, the Bills elected to go for it on fourth down and finally got a play from somebody in the secondary, with Ronald Darby ending the threat for Buffalo. You don't need to be perfect on defense, you just have to come up with enough timely plays to get it over the line. Mercifully, the Eagles came up with a few against Buffalo.

• With the winds swirling in Buffalo, the Eagles did not call on Carson Wentz to dominate the game through the air. But when it was time for the Eagles to kill the game off and bleed the clock in the fourth quarter, the ball was put in Wentz's hands, and he rewarded his head coach for letting him decide the outcome of the game.

Post-knee injury, the Eagles have been hesitant to use Wentz's legs as a weapon outside of asking him to buy time against pass rushes. But after hitting the Bills with screens all afternoon, Pederson used a fake screen to deceive Sean McDermott and let Wentz loose on a QB draw, picking up a critical third down.

That scoring drive chewed up 8:17 of game time, and once the Eagles created that 18-point gap, the game was over.

But if that was the extent of Wentz's day, we probably aren't talking about an Eagles victory. Luckily for Philadelphia, Wentz barely looked fazed by the conditions in Buffalo, hitting on a variety of throws all over the field against a good Bills defense. He hit deep shots down the sideline, underneath throws over the middle, swing passes, touch throws, a little bit of everything. 

Wentz's life was made easier by an Eagles rushing attack that was as good as it has been all season, with Howard and Sanders providing thunder and lightning to keep Buffalo guessing. Howard was absolutely bulldozing Bills players by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, and this was the sort of complete performance the Eagles needed to get rolling in the right direction.

• Game-planning has been a sore spot with the fanbase all season, but I think most people will come away tremendously satisfied with the pivot from Doug Pederson and Co. The offense was far more inventive than it had been in the month prior to Sunday's win, and even though all of those plays didn't end up working out, it showed Pederson is not stubborn enough to look at the tape and recognize when changes need to be made.

Think of all the different wrinkles we saw Sunday we didn't get in weeks past. Multiple running backs in the backfield at once, designed quarterback runs, a blend of run designs to keep Buffalo guessing, and trust in Wentz to make plays instead of skewing too conservative due to the elements. The Eagles have struggled to find the creative sweet spot this season, but this was an excellent day in that respect.

• I think the powers that be in Philadelphia should send Orlando Scandrick a bouquet of roses. Who knows how big of a difference his comments made, but they certainly didn't hurt.

• As bad as the Eagles have been at times this season, they just need to get to the final month of the season with a puncher's chance at winning. Outside of a date with the Cowboys, the home stretch is a cakewalk, and today was pivotal in keeping their playoff hopes alive. One week at a time.

The Bad

• I mean this sincerely — what does Mack Hollins do? Why even bother putting him on the field? Is JJ Arcega-Whiteside that useless that he can't be used in his role? He's just out there having a nice leisurely jog from the look of things.

And to make matters worse, his supposed prowess on special teams hasn't even shown up for Philly. He picked up an absolutely ridiculous running into the punter penalty on Sunday, and maybe one of these weeks, one of these years, he will prove he's capable of doing something useful on an NFL field.

• Cole Beasley is going to be torturing the Eagles until he's 55 years old. He's the wide receiver version of Jason Witten.

• Okay, Doug, the sweep plays to Nelson Agholor were cool for a little misdirection in the first half, but I think maybe you need to chill out on that one. 

• Buffalo's first scoring drive of the second half is exactly why no one can or should ever trust Philadelphia's defense. On first and second down, they showed all the signs of a team who could get off of the field and help the Eagles sustain momentum. On third down, they looked like the cast of The Little Giants at the beginning of the movie, meandering aimlessly and getting bullied.

The Bills converted third-down throws of 14, eight, and 13 yards to get into the endzone. The last of those plays was an especially embarrassing attempt to stop Devin Singletary on a swing pass, and the rookie running back just ran right through the secondary for an easy touchdown. Look at where 32/Rasul Douglas is on this play, and wonder how the hell a small running back gets through here.

But even singling that play out feels unfair, considering how badly Sidney Jones got burnt by Beasley on the outside earlier in the drive. This group just routinely falls flat on their face on third down. Jim Schwartz can't seem to figure out when to send a blitz (probably never, TBH) and when to stay home, which is a bit of a problem for a defensive coordinator.

• Honestly, this is what I get for praising Boston Scott. I somehow haven't learned my lesson with this Eagles team. 

Please, I beg of you, everyone on the Eagles roster, just take the simple and safe route from time to time. Call for a fair catch, let a kick go for a touchback, do whatever you have to do to not blow the bits of forward progress you're able to make.

The Ugly

• Miles Sanders was in the middle of his best game in an Eagles uniform, so of course he was escorted to the locker room with some sort of issue midway through the third quarter. Nothing gold can stay, word to Robert Frost.


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