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September 26, 2019

Final observations: Eagles 34, Packers 27

It took a heart-pounding stop deep in their own territory to get it over the line, but the Eagles came up with a gut check win in Green Bay on Thursday night, outdueling the Packers in Lambeau by a score of 34-27.

Behind a resurgent rushing attack, the Eagles got it done. Here's what I saw on Thursday.

The Good

• Objectively, this was probably one of the best Thursday Night Football games in its short history. It's not being measured against a group of winners, but still. 

• The fanbase has only been demanding for more Jordan Howard since, oh, I don't know, the opening week of the season, and it's about damn time he got a chance to leave his mark on the offense. Howard excelled in more of a feature role on Thursday night, but it was not necessarily the volume of touches that stood out the most.

While Howard isn't known as much of a threat as a receiver, it's important for the Eagles to establish they're going to go to him on pass plays. It doesn't matter how good he is as a runner if teams know he's only on the field to carry the rock, so mixing him into the passing attack is going to be essential to unlocking the run game.

But back to his performance on the field — Howard took advantage of a great night for the offensive line, picking up chunks of yards up the middle with ease. And thanks to some great play design and balance from Doug Pederson, he was able to score on a screen pass early in the third quarter, a rarity for Howard.

The best part about Howard's night for the Eagles is that he was probably the second-best runner for Philly. After breaking off a nice kickoff return in the first half, Miles Sanders finally found his stride and ran decisively behind some excellent blocking from the offensive line. We have always known he has talent, but it finally looked like Sanders is starting to put it together on Thursday night.

Developing a real 1-2 punch would be a game-changer for the Eagles, especially if they can get both backs going in both phases of the offense.

• If you're looking at the catalyst for Philadelphia's offensive performance, it's hard to start anywhere but the offensive line. They have come under a lot of (rightful) scrutiny for underperforming over the first month of the season, but with the Eagles staring down the barrel at a possible 1-3 start, they delivered their best overall effort of the season by a mile.

It was clear from the very first play from scrimmage that they were out to prove a point. Miles Sanders managed to pick up just four yards on the play but it was through no fault of the blocking. The rookie could have walked out to the team parking lot to retrieve the team bus to drive through the hole, and all throughout the game, Philadelphia managed to get their runners untouched before they reached the second level.

When the backs can get a head of steam going and Wentz isn't running for his life, this offense is capable of great things.

• A lot of people had beef with Pederson going for two with a seven-point lead, especially as the game stayed tight down the stretch. I still think it was the right process there — if you can make it a two-possession game without much penalty for failing to convert, that's a no brainer for me.

I would take issue with the play call if I was going to highlight anything. Something better than a fade, please.

• Carson Wentz was not in the position he was last week, where he was forced to try to overcompensate for a bunch of poor play around him. He and the team were better off for it, and though Wentz didn't have his best night, he made plenty of big plays throughout the night to help get a tough win on the road.

The Eagles didn't have a lot of room for error with Rodgers dealing on Thursday night, and Wentz was able to keep him off the field by extending drives with third-down conversions. They came on a variety of plays, from QB sneaks to crossing routes involving Zach Ertz, and he ultimately did what needed to be done to keep the Eagles in front of Green Bay.

Even some of the incompletions Wentz threw were on plays that I like to see from him. With Alshon Jeffery back in the lineup, Wentz gave him plenty of opportunities to win one-on-one battles on the outside, and those are reps they need to get in game situations now so that Wentz is confidently making those same plays when games get tight and the stretch run is here.

• I saw it with my own two eyes, and I still can't believe Nigel Bradham caught an interception to end the threat of the Packers winning. What a plot twist.

The Bad

• Here is a clip from Dumb and Dumber many of you will recognize.

That clip is basically the reverse of Andrew Sendejo's night at the office. It was bad enough that he sucked in coverage for most of the second half, he also leveled Avonte Maddox in the closing minutes of the game, leading to an extended stoppage and a whole lot of concern about Maddox's well being.

Take it away, Mike Wallace:

• The new pass interference reviews are horrendous, but I didn't like Doug Pederson's decision to challenge at the end of the third quarter either way. If the NFL is only going to overturn these based on egregious mistakes, you have to approach the challenge knowing that and only pull the flag out if it is a slam dunk. This wasn't that.

• It's going to be hard to argue against anyone who is begging for the Eagles to go out and get secondary help at this point. One of the best corners in the league is available in trade talks right now, and while Jalen Ramsey would come with an expensive price tag, the alternative is watching Philadelphia's ragtag group of corners continue to get roasted deep into the season.

Their inability to do anything to slow down teams through the air has had an impact on how the Eagles are scheming. Jim Schwartz has been a lot more liberal with his blitz calls this season, and while it has helped Philly get pressure on QBs from time to time, more often than not it has led to big plays for opponents. But their normal setup isn't exactly bowling teams over either — Aaron Rodgers was plenty comfortable getting the ball out quick no matter how many guys the Eagles sent, with Philly's secondary unable to offer much resistance.

When you're getting carved up regardless of the strategy, that is not a great sign for the unit. How do you even grade the defensive line when quarterbacks can routinely deliver balls to open receivers in less than a second and a half?

Whether it's going back to the drawing board, adding a big piece, or praying that the return of Jalen Mills can save you in about a month, something has to improve.

(Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins are exempt from this criticism, as McLeod made two monster plays on Philadelphia's goalline stand and Jenkins is, well, Jenkins.)

The Ugly

• You never want to see a player taken off on a stretcher, but you especially don't want it to be a product of your own teammate leveling you going across the middle. Here's hoping Maddox is ultimately okay after getting his bell rung by Sendejo.

While we're here — it is absolutely asinine that a team gets charged a timeout in this scenario, as the Eagles were on Thursday night. I understand the league wants to avoid anyone faking injuries to stop the clock in a tough spot, but it really shouldn't be that hard to use discretion if that's why the rule is in place.

• I'm not sure why you would even bother having a review process for interference calls if the result is looking at obvious pass interference on replay and saying, "Eh, we're good." This is as clear cut as it gets:

It's obnoxious that the rule exists simply because the Saints are a bunch of crybabies, so at least make it worth the time we spend waiting on review. NFL officiating is abhorrent.

• Midway through the fourth quarter, Green Bay had first-and-goal from the one-yard-line and didn't run the ball once. This is what I think of Matt LeFleur:

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