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October 02, 2022

Final observations: Eagles 29, Jaguars 21

Eagles NFL

The Eagles are 4-0 for the first time since 2004, thanks to a 29-21 victory over the Jaguars on a rain-soaked field in Philadelphia.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• The Eagles appeared to be playing with fire in the third quarter, sputtering on offense and on the verge of conceding a touchdown on the other side of the ball. For a team with little second-half success this season, it appeared they might finally be punished for being first-half frontrunners.

That was until James Bradberry came up with a monster play late in the third quarter, picking off Trevor Lawrence to end a promising drive for Jacksonville. Right as it looked like the Eagles could be in danger, one of their most consistent performers of the season came up huge:

Down multiple starters in the secondary, Bradberry's play was nothing short of massive, and further replays showed he was reading Lawrence the whole way, ready to strike as soon as the QB let the ball go. It should also be noted that he had this opportunity because of a well-timed blitz call from Jonathan Gannon. Though Philadelphia's defensive coordinator doesn't dial up the heat as much as most fans want, they've had a lot of success with their situational use of the blitz, using pressure to force quarterbacks into poor decisions.

After Bradberry's big takeaway, it was back to the Miles Sanders show for Philadelphia. Sanders did some of his best work of the season on Sunday, empowered by terrific play in the trenches and a great sense of purpose with the ball in his hands. Though they had to live with a couple of long, winding runs along the way to his big day, Sanders did some decisive running between the tackles to complement the damage he did with speed and agility in the open field.

Ultimately, that drive only ended with a field goal, but they were the Eagles' first second-half points since the opener. Take what you can get, I suppose.

• Philadelphia's defense deserves a lot of credit for their efforts against the Jaguars, rallying in a big way after it looked like this game could get out of hand early. The pass rush, dormant in the early games this season, has come alive in a big way over the last two weeks.

Though some of their success comes down to Trevor Lawrence's shaky grip on the football, the Eagles sent waves of pressure at the QB, earning plenty of what came to them. It was Haason Reddick's time to shine early in the fourth quarter, the Temple product speeding around the edge for a strip sack that the Birds ultimately came away with after a bit of chaos.

Plays like these are ultimately why they paid Reddick in the offseason. After engaging with a would-be blocker early in the play, Reddick sheds him easily and flies through space to Lawrence, who was totally unprepared for Reddick to get there at that moment. Speed kills, and Reddick's ability to shrug off the blocker and explode through space ultimately put the offense in a beautiful spot for more points. Those guys needed whatever help they could get in the second half, making Reddick's play that much more impactful.

Philadelphia's front seven had what felt like a great day at the office, different guys popping up throughout the afternoon. There was an early burst through the line from rookie Jordan Davis, blowing up a play before it could get started. Fletcher Cox appeared right at home in the mud, forcing Lawrence into some uncomfortable situations with bullrushes up the middle. And linebacker TJ Edwards made some great plays in space, plays that are that much harder to make when you're just focused on trying to keep your feet under you.

As if to drive home exactly how dominant they were on Sunday, Reddick came up big again when Jacksonville got the ball back with a chance to tie the game late in the fourth. Reddick came up with another strip of Lawrence as the pocket collapsed around Jacksonville's QB, sending the Linc into hysterics:

With the pass rush growing in stature, this group poses danger for opponents all over the field, and they should feel pretty proud of what they've been able to accomplish so far this year. If Reddick plays at this level moving forward, even for short bursts, they have a chance to be scary good.

• Sanders has not been a true feature back so far this season, in part because run-pass options with Jalen Hurts often end up in the hands of the QB. But he has been an effective, occasionally dynamic runner for the Eagles this year, and Sunday's effort against the Jags was his best effort yet, a performance that helped carry the offense through miserable conditions in Philadelphia. 

When Sanders is at his best, you see his quickness show up without him trying to hit a grand slam on every play. There's a shimmy through a narrow hole, a bit of fancy footwork, but you're ultimately seeing Sanders move decisively, getting upfield and accepting that a gain of five to seven yards is better than potentially taking a loss in pursuit of a giant gainer.

Deep into a 100+ yard game, Sanders punched in an important touchdown for the Eagles, ultimately pushing the Birds into a commanding lead they would not give up:

When they needed him to act more like a power back late in this game, Sanders rose to the occasion, running through arm tackles and picking up tough yards to help close this game out. Sanders' year has not been as loud as guys like Devonta Smith and AJ Brown, but he has been a critical piece of this offense and featured heavily in Sunday's victory over the Jags.

• Saying "AJ Brown is built for conditions like these" sort of undersells that Brown is built for basically any conditions. He's big, he's fast, and the Eagles have used him all over the field the first four weeks of his tenure here. So far, so good.

When they weren't gashing the Jags on the ground Sunday, the Eagles were frequently looking for Brown, who made a living on routes over the middle on Sunday. While the Eagles have had some excellent tight ends over the years, they've had few wide receivers in recent memory who can match Brown as a big, durable target over the middle. Really, you're probably going back to Terrell Owens for that specific part of his skill set, a guy who can take a big hit and deliver some force himself if he catches the ball on the move.

He just did not seem fazed at all by the slick conditions at Lincoln Financial Field. Brown constantly had defenders guessing what his next move would be, sticking a foot in the ground and showing unique flashes of agility on a field where any sort of side-to-side movement should have been near impossible. It may not have been as loud as his week one effort against the Lions, but this was a strong Brown game overall.

(His failure to haul in the fourth-down throw from Hurts late in the game is noted. Needed to have that.)

• Jake Elliot's field goal was ultimately wiped out when the Eagles accepted a roughing the kicker penalty, but booting that ball through in these conditions is a hell of a task without getting hit as you're following through. Elliott has not had a lot of tough work to do yet this season, but that would have been a highlight of his year so far if they didn't accept the penalty.

• The Eagles are 4-0. They fight through adversity. They shrug off injuries. They look pretty damn good.

The Bad

• The gap between Avonte Maddox and Josiah Scott is massive if there was any doubt about that heading into this game. Jacksonville's offense wasn't all that inspiring on Sunday, but they had consistent success targeting whoever Scott was matched up with in Sunday's game. 

 Up-and-down play from Hurts in horrible conditions to throw the football should have been expected. But most issues he had related to decision-making, rather than passes dying in the wind and rain at the Linc. Hurts was a bit too slow as a decision maker, and he made some strange choices while trying to climb the pocket, bailing on a couple of passing opportunities that he had more time to consider.

To be fair to the QB, Hurts was let down on a couple of occasions by mistakes from his pass catchers. Dallas Goedert dropped what should have been an easy third-down conversion early in the fourth, and moments like that end up making Hurts' numbers look worse than they probably should have been. The quarterback is far from the only guy who needs to improve their second-half performances.

All told, not a game to write home about for Hurts, but one that featured enough throws in big spots to help move them toward victory. Every week does not need to be an MVP-caliber performance from the QB, and after throwing an early interception, he did well to stay calm and avoid compounding that mistake with risky behavior. He showed maturity if nothing else.

• Every time the Eagles drop one of their pass rushers into coverage, bad things happen. It would be wonderful if they simply stopped doing it, so that I don't have to watch Josh Sweat getting cooked in coverage, for example. 

The Ugly

• The worst news coming out of this one is that Philadelphia's relatively healthy roster may take a hit in the short term. And the Eagles did not deal with absences and issues for depth pieces, either. Three of their top players — DeVonta Smith, Darius Slay, and Jordan Mailata — dealt with issues at one point or another in this one, with Slay and Mailata missing what was effectively the entire game after picking up knocks early in the game. Isaac Seumalo joined that list late in the game, when it appeared teammate Landon Dickerson stepped on him in the process of trying to execute a block.

Smith would return to the game fairly quickly, so that appears to be the best news they could get on that front. For everyone else, we'll have to wait and see.

(One silver lining here: I think the fill-ins for injured guys were mostly excellent on Sunday, which is a testament to the quality of their depth players. Sua Opeta had the key block on Sanders' fourth-quarter touchdown, just moments after being called into action for the injured Seumalo.) 


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