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November 26, 2017

First half observations: Eagles 24, Bears 0

Is there such a thing as trap games if you come out ready to play every single week, no matter the opponent? That's the question the Eagles have forced us to reckon with after another dominant opening half against a subpar team. Even with a couple uncharacteristic mistakes against the Bears, the Eagles head into halftime with a comfortable 24-0 lead.

The Good

•  After the Eagles' offense stalled around midfield on their first drive, the defense got the opportunity to attack rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the Bears pinned near their own end zone. Three plays and a terrible punt later, they handed the ball back to Carson Wentz in enemy territory.

It took a fourth-down conversion for the Eagles to move the chains, but the risk paid off. Four plays later, Wentz hooked up with his favorite target, Zach Ertz, for six points.

Ertz was heavily involved in the first half gameplan, which suggests he might be back up to speed after a slow return to the lineup against Dallas. That's great news for Wentz and Doug Pederson because the quarterback has established better chemistry with some other important playmakers during Ertz's downtime.

 •  Alshon Jeffery came out ready to play in this one, which is no surprise for a guy going against his former team. As we've seen for at least the last month or so, Wentz has grown comfortable tossing it in Jeffery's direction, which leads to plays like this one:

That's a play made by two guys who are clearly on the same page because that possession was never going to anybody else on the field. The corner is completely unprepared for the quick throw, and the only guy who is ever getting his hands on this ball is Jeffery.

The two men hooked up once again to close the half, with Wentz floating a beauty to Jeffery in the back of the end zone to send Philadelphia into halftime with the big lead.

Jeffery is looking more and more like a guy Howie Roseman needs to lock up in the offseason. He is now tied with Zach Ertz for the team touchdown lead, and his combination of size and speed adds an element to the offense the Eagles don't have elsewhere. His quarterback sure looks like he wants him to stick around.

•  Wentz can struggle with some placement on his balls, but boy oh boy is he capable of turning nothing into something in the backfield. Chicago completely blew up a screen play midway through the second quarter, and it looked like Philadelphia was headed toward a certain end of its series. A quick pump fake from Wentz was all it took to dispel that notion.

He'll tell you himself that his focus is always on keeping his eyes down the field, but you can't discount how valuable it is to have a quarterback who can get those tough yards himself when plays break down. It's backbreaking for a defense to feel like it played everything right, only for the opponent to come up with a first down anyway.

Following Wentz's heroics on third down, he gave the ball to Nelson Agholor in space and let his guy go to work. Agholor took care of the rest.

The Eagles have plenty of playmaking talent, and simply need to make sure they generate enough opportunities for their guys to win one-on-one matchups. They do a pretty great job of that as a unit, and it certainly doesn't hurt to have a guy behind center who can create extra chances with both his arm and his legs.

•  The first-half fumbles put a damper on a pretty dominant half for the Eagles, but you still saw a number of heads-up football plays from guys up and down the roster. A perfect example was this special teams contribution from Kenjon Barner, who quickly turned from a punt returner to a teammate dragger as the moment dictated it.

I say this without an ounce of hyperbole: this is one of my favorite plays of this excellent Eagles season. This is something fans will point to and chuckle at given the scoreboard, but plays like these along the margins are often the difference in winning and losing when the games get tighter in December and January. Something that is fairly meaningless against a poor Chicago team looks a lot different in a one-score playoff game.

It's a credit to the players and the coaching staff that they are making heads-up plays in the heat of the moment.

•  The Bears did not pick up a single first down in the first half. That is a remarkable achievement for Philadelphia's defense, regardless of the opponent.

The Bad

•  Jake Elliott's first kickoff of the afternoon went out of bounds. It was a complete shank, and the rookie kicker continues to look off as we head toward playoff time. Hopefully, this is just a simple mistake vs. it being a product of Elliott not being right post-concussion, but even before the head injury Elliott has grown inconsistent. The Eagles can't afford for special teams to be a question mark when the playoffs start.

•  Malcolm Jenkins is an excellent football player, but this is a head-scratching play from the veteran safety.

After being gifted a turnover and a guarantee of good field position, Jenkins doesn't have to do anything but go down with the ball. You can see he's aware there's no immediate running lane available to him after the interception, and when that lightbulb goes off in his head, he's a smart enough football player to know he needs to protect the ball above all else.

The same problem reared its ugly head when the Eagles got the ball back several minutes later. LeGarrette Blount ripped off a run for 40+ yards and it looked like the offense was finally on track, but he failed to secure the ball at the end of the carry and it ended up on the turf.

The only way the Eagles can lose to a team like Chicago is if they beat themselves. These two plays are easily preventable, and even if the Eagles win, they'll make a nice talking point for the coaches during film study next week.

•  Pederson's use of a challenge late in the second quarter was a complete head-scratcher. After Agholor was marked down short of the sticks, Philadelphia had very little ground to cover to pick up a first down. Even if his challenge had been rewarded by an overturn of the initial spot, it's a minimal yardage gain and not really a high-leverage play. On fourth-and-inches in Bears territory, you already expect the Eagles to convert with a QB sneak.

They did just that on the very next play, extending the drive despite the botched challenge. Once again, this sort of thing matters more if you're in a battle against a better team, and is mostly meaningless when you're up 17 points in the first half against the Bears. The Eagles could have used that final timeout in the final two minutes, when they had to tailor their offense around not having the third timeout.

Whoever contributes to Pederson's decision-making process on challenges needs to have their head examined on this one.

The Ugly

•  Is this a good or bad omen?

On the one hand, this could be a reflection of what the Eagles think of this lowly Bears team. On the other, Eagles fans are historically used to their team crapping the bed field just when the team lulls them into a sense of comfort.

This is the most I will ever talk about an eagle pooping during a football game.

•  John Fox's team was gifted an out-of-bounds kick and a fumbled turnover midway through the second quarter. On fourth-and-two in Eagles territory and his team possessing a 3-7 record, Fox decided a punt was the best move for his football team. In a similar situation further up the field on the next possession, he elected for a long field goal attempt.

That is cowardly football for any team, but especially for one that has nothing to lose. If you're going to play not to lose when you're already buried at the bottom of the division standings, why bother even showing up?

•  This is a trash sign, and it is disappointing that there are Eagles fans who actually responded positively to it.

It's the sort of classless display that feeds the stereotype of ugly Philadelphia behavior other cities love to harp on all fans in the area for. Do better.