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October 09, 2022

Final observations: Eagles 20, Cardinals 17

Eagles NFL

The Eagles did not have their best stuff, but they moved to 5-0 with a 20-17 road win over the Cardinals on Sunday evening. 

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• The Eagles came out of the halftime tunnel badly in need of a pick-me-up. Starting the second half with an excellent Miles Sanders run through the right side of the line certainly qualifies, and that was evidently all it took to get the Eagles moving back in the right direction. It helped that the key block came from (who else) Jason Kelce, who looked to be pretty badly shaken up before limping off of the field late in the first half.

Unfortunately, after moving with ease into the red zone on the first possession of the half, the (good) Birds got called for a questionable hold that completely derailed their drive. They got three points out of it anyway, but not how they would have wanted to finish a promising series.

• Third down was a huge issue for the Eagles early in the second half, with Kyler Murray and Co. converting a pair of plays they looked to have no reasonable shot at. When the opponent converts multiple low odds plays in a tight game, it can feel like the sky is falling, and there were thousands of Chicken Littles panicking in the third quarter.

Thank goodness the Eagles have Haason Reddick, whose slow start for Philadelphia has given way to a monster debut season in midnight green. With Murray and the Cardinals looking to knot things up at 17, it was Reddick who found the edge and hauled down Murray for a big-time sack, stopping the Arizona threat right then and there:

Reddick rebounding from a slow start has been perhaps the most important development on that side of the ball in recent weeks, as it has coincided with a jump in play for the entire front seven. The danger one excellent pass rusher causes can lift up a whole group, and Reddick is doing serious damage right now. 

(Unfortunately, the rest of the group did basically nothing on Sunday, so that last graf applies more in a general sense than to this specific game.)

• On balance, I thought this was a disappointing day for the offense. Their best drives looked as good as their best all season, but too many possessions came unraveled because of penalties, questionable play calls, and poor execution all over the field. The injuries in the trenches notwithstanding, it was a sloppy day, with drops and missed assignments and a number of other problems.

Fortunately, they managed to come up with a killer, clock-eating drive when they needed it most, showing off the versatility and balance they were missing for most of the game. The run game was criticial during that stretch — between Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, and some tough yards on the ground from Jalen Hurts, the Eagles mauled the Cardinals between the tackles, ultimately putting this game away.

They needed some big yards through the air to keep the possession alive, mind you. None were bigger than Dallas Goedert's third-down conversion, a catch that ultimately left the tight end with plenty of work to do. With pressure on Hurts in the pocket and tacklers closing in on Goedert, both men hung in and hung on long enough to extend the series, Goedert keeping his balance long enough to convert on third-and-11.

The Eagles have pretty consistently noted that they'd left money on the table throughout their 4-0 start, and this game might rank as their outright worst performance on offense to date. In spite of that, they dug deep and found a way to make it happen when it appeared hope was fading, adding to their growing rep as a team able to fight through adversity. Not pretty, not especially clean, but the win doesn't count less in the standings. Count your blessings and start prepping for the Cowboys.

• Relying on a backup kicker from your practice squad who isn't much of a football fan sounds like a recipe for disaster. But Cameron Dicker was perfect on Sunday, and that was a critical piece of the Eagles squeaking this one out. The other team's backup kicker ultimately lost them the game!

The Bad

• My big offensive complaint for this game comes down to play design and play calling. The Eagles clearly must have believed short and/or sideways throws were a path to big plays against the Cardinals, because they featured early and often against Arizona. That looked to be the smart move early on, with Dallas Goedert personally picking up multiple first downs on catches that displayed his athleticism on the outside. Unfortunately, they kept going to a well that eventually ran dry, and the Cardinals began to anticipate those throws, wrapping up Eagles players before they could gain any momentum.

Give some credit to the Cardinals, I suppose, as whatever they were doing downfield presumably impacted where the Eagles were trying to go with the football. But there were too many designed screens to think that you could just tip your hat to the opponent and call it a day.

I do understand the idea behind using screens to work around injuries to the offensive line, getting the ball out before pass rushers could get home to Hurts. The Eagles did not handle blitzes well against the Cardinals, so it's not as easy to justify slow-developing plays within that context. But this offense has cooked all season because of their ability to find balance — they've often felt as likely to look for AJ Brown or Quez Watkins deep as they have been to use the read-option for a nice gain on the ground. Each piece of the offense flows out of another, and opponents have often been uncertain as to what's going to come next. 

At best, the Eagles were topping out with intermediate throws on Sunday, and while that led to some nice plays and decent gains, there was not enough downfield action for the Eagles on Sunday, not even close. Big reason this one came down to the wire.

• Giving up a first down on third-and-17 is just inexcusable, even with what I thought was a fairly generous spot from the officials. Can't let that happen. Terrible job in space by Marcus Epps specifically. It's easy to pile on the defensive coordinator when the Eagles are playing passively on that side of the ball, but a lot of their issues in this game were basic, fundamental mistakes. Subpar angles, whiffs on tackles, errors that they've largely kept out of their repertoire this year.

On the other hand, Jonathan Gannon also reverted to some really infuriating tendencies the deeper the Eagles got in this game. Early on, the Eagles brought some pressure at Kyler Murray, and that was one of the early keys to the game, leading to quick Cardinals possessions and a comfortable lead for the Eagles. Gannon's boys took their foot off of the gas as time wore on, sitting back in coverage and often sending just four men at Murray, apparently hoping he would struggle to beat them as a pure pocket passer. As it turned out, Murray was able to find the hot hand during the period of the game where the Eagles did little to challenge him, and that had them scrambling for solutions late, Murray in a groove at the worst possible time.

The combination of passive scheme and poor play within that scheme was disappointing to watch. Arizona didn't light up the scoreboard, but they moved it with very little resistance for a lot of this game, and that's to the great shame of Gannon's unit. They didn't do a ton well — Cardinals lead runner James Conner averaged over six yards per carry for most of the game, running through a lot of Philadelphia arm tackles on Sunday evening.

• Jalen Hurts' decision to throw the ball on third-and-goal late in the fourth quarter was, well, we'll say questionable at best. This season has featured very few head-scratching moments through the air, with Hurts doing a great job of attacking teams without putting the ball at risk. There were at least two plays in the game against the Cardinals where the defense had credible opportunities for picks, and he was fortunate Arizona capitalized on neither of those plays. Time will tell whether this was a regression back toward Hurts' play in previous seasons or a couple of isolated mistakes in what has been a strong season to date.

The Ugly

• Britain Covey is simply not the guy who should be returning punts for this team. Little-to-no upside has been flashed, and he nearly gifted the Cardinals a free possession with poor decision making in the second half. Philadelphia's special teams are just not good overall. It's not a good sign when a backup kicker signed as an injury replacement looked better than most of the regulars in that unit.

• A big story coming out of this game is likely going to be the state of Philadelphia's offensive line, and deservedly so. It would have been tough enough to get it done without Jordan Mailata, a unique athletic talent at left tackle. Then the Eagles absorbed absences — even if temporarily — for Landon Dickerson and Jason Kelce. Though they have a future replacement waiting in the wings for the latter, it doesn't mean they want to rely on Cam Jurgens sooner than they planned for.

Kelce was ultimately able to tough it out and get back on the field, much to his credit, but keep a close eye on his health throughout the upcoming week.

• Kyler Murray may well have beaten the Eagles in regulation with better decisionmaking at the end of Arizona's late drive. The slide short of the sticks before a spike of the football to stop the clock was a killer combo.

• I don't believe in icing the kicker, and think the Eagles should have saved a timeout in the event they needed to try to score again, but I suppose you can't argue the result. 

• I won't be on Eagles-Cowboys duty next Sunday, as next weekend is my wedding and the start of my honeymoon. The next we meet for Eagles coverage will be Halloween weekend against the Steelers, and I trust my PhillyVoice colleagues will manage to keep things humming without me. Hoping to catch next Sunday night's divisional tilt while on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.


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