September 08, 2019
How does that old saying go? It's not how you start but how you finish? The Eagles lived that saying on Sunday afternoon, climbing out of a 17-0 hole to hand the Washington Redskins a 32-27 defeat on the opening weekend of the season.
One game down, one win over a divisional opponent. And while a victory over Washington may have been expected going in, it's still an essential victory for a team that hopes to do major damage in the playoffs down the line.
Here's what I saw on Sunday.
• The Eagles' rushing attack looked miles better when they stepped out of the halftime tunnel, and while some of that can be credited to personnel — rookie back Miles Sanders finally got a chance to cook a little bit — a majority of the credit belongs to the offensive line. They ran identical plays back-to-back on their opening series of the half, creating huge holes for Sanders and Darren Sproles to dash through and pick up big yardage.
But things got tight around the goal line, and that's where the franchise quarterback showed what he's made of on a beautiful play to pick up six points.
This is everything you love about Wentz in one play. He uses his mobility to buy himself time, and his head is always looking up and trying to find one of his guys in the endzone, never thinking of trying to scramble through the rush for a touchdown. And once he spots Alshon Jeffery in the back of the endzone, he delivers a damn near perfect throw through traffic right into Jeffery's gut. He makes it look easy, but it's definitely not.
That opening drive was the Eagles at their best. They played smash-mouth, downhill football and bullied Washington deep into the red zone, and when they needed to sprinkle in a bit of magic, Wentz delivered.
• You could not have scripted a better return for DeSean Jackson, who made an absolute mockery of Washington's secondary over the top. And it's not like he was up against scrub corners either — Josh Norman drew the assignment for a lot of the day, and even he struggled to match Jackson when push came to shove.
After hauling in his first touchdown on a deep throw from Wentz late in the first half, Jackson made it two on the day with the score that put the Eagles in front midway through the third.
In years past, there have been questions about whether Wentz is occasionally too tentative when it comes to throwing deep balls, and that conversation would grow louder when Nick Foles would step in and take shots all over the field. But maybe it was just a matter of going out and getting somebody whose skills matched the sort of deep target Wentz needed and wanted. Wentz and Jackson look tailormade for one another, and the Eagles got a healthy mix of deep shots in for Jackson without having to take the rest of their weapons completely out of a gameplan.
Jackson has always been a fan favorite, and boy is that not going away after a spectacular opening week.
• I don't think you could say there was an individual standout in the rushing attack, and the breakout performance for rookie Sanders will have to wait for another week. But you can see exactly why he's going to get a ton of opportunities to play early, because he's excelling at things a lot of young backs struggle with when they first hit the NFL.
At the top of the positive list was his pass blocking, which prevented Wentz from taking big hits on more than one occasion, leaving the window open for him to step into throws. It's one of those things that often gets lost as the highlights pile up throughout a game, but that doesn't make it any less essential to victory.
And of course, we did see some flashes from Sanders as a runner, albeit in brief spurts. You can see why the Eagles liked him coming out of college, with his combination of power, agility, and elusiveness showing up in limited action vs. Washington.
• Jeffery did not put up the big highlight plays Jackson did on Sunday, but the two top wideouts on Philly's roster showed why it's important to have that yin and yang at the top of your depth chart. When they need to stretch the field, they now have the burner who can just outrun everybody. When you need to tuck it in to a big body in tight spaces, Jeffery is still the guy, and that's before considering the damage guys like Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, and others can do.
Despite their early sputtering, the Eagles eventually showed why they were considered such a scary unit on offense coming into the year. They have talented players with varied skill sets all over the field, and when Pederson is at his best, he's dialing up plays that match their strengths. Next week, the goal just has to be to start doing that before a quarter-and-a-half has gone by.
• Philadelphia's secondary got bailed out by a couple of errant Case Keenum throws — he had another deep touchdown locked up before overthrowing his target in the third quarter — but give credit where it's due to the entire unit for stepping up in the second half.
It wouldn't have mattered that the offense got rolling if they weren't getting stops to match those possessions. But by stifling Washington for basically the entire second half, the defense really helped momentum build at Lincoln Financial Field, fueling a crowd that was ready to go nuts and an offense that just needed to find their sea legs.
• More Jordan Howard moving forward, please. He ran with purpose all afternoon, and I have a feeling that's going to be useful for the Eagles down the stretches of games just like LeGarrette Blount was during the Super Bowl year.
Honestly, despite some protests from the locals (myself included) about the overuse of Darren Sproles in the first half, the multi-faceted rushing attack looked great in the end.
• If all the gushing about his receivers and his connection with them didn't make it clear, that was an elite performance from Wentz after shaking off a tough start. He dropped throws into tight windows, made perfect use of his legs without putting himself in real danger, and took absolute control of the game after halftime. Performances like those put him on the MVP shortlist during the Super Bowl year, and while we're a long way from handing out any hardware, I imagine he'll be quite content with his start to the new season.
• Here's what I'll say for this section — we shouldn't just write off the first quarter-and-a-half of football because everything after that lived up to the preseason hype. There were some real flaws shown off during that time period, from the coaching staff's decision-making to some holes they have in personnel. Perhaps they needed a kick in the ass to get going against a bad team, but it's the season opener against a division rival. That shouldn't be necessary.
That being said, everyone did a good job of stepping up and adjusting after that. Wentz took more shots down the field, the defensive front stepped up, the secondary tightened, and they responded well as a group. You can't erase a tough start, you can only respond by putting your best foot forward, and they did exactly that from midway through the second quarter onward.
Frankly, the coaching staff will be happy on some level that the opening period of the game happened. It gives them a lot of film to show the team this week, and they will hopefully all grow from it.
• Terrible call on the penalty that brought back what should have been Miles Sanders' first touchdown. Josh Norman blatantly tried to sell the "hold" on J.J. Arcega-Whiteside with a dive, and unfortunately, he was rewarded for it.
• Let the record show that Jackson could have been helping the Eagles for years if it wasn't for Chip Kelly.
• The Eagles nearly emerged from the opener unscathed, but Malik Jackson was carted off of the field right around the two-minute warning, which will need to be monitored.
• Prayers up for anyone who bet the Eagles (—10) today. Tough back door cover.
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