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November 03, 2019

First half observations: Eagles 12, Bears 0

The Eagles did not play their best half of football of the year, but they were still able to walk into halftime with a comfortable lead thanks to a lot of Chicago ineptitude. Philadelphia leads 12-0 and will get the ball to start the second half.

Here's what I saw in the opening 30 minutes.

The Good

• For the second week in a row, Fletcher Cox came out of the tunnel as if he was shot out of a cannon. As much as I'd like to point and laugh at Mitch Trubisky for looking like a deer in the headlights, as he tends to a lot of the time, Cox deserves a lot of the credit for dismantling all of Chicago's best-laid plans.

With Trubisky unable to hang around in the pocket too long, life suddenly got much easier for Philadelphia's defensive ends, who either pressured Chicago's QB into bad throws or outright brought him down. 

The Bears also couldn't run the ball whatsoever, and anytime you can put the responsibility all on Trubisky's shoulders, you're in for a good day. Cox was at the center of it all, collapsing Chicago's interior as early as the second play of the game. When you're able to do that, life gets a heck of a lot easier for everybody else on the defense. He looks as sharp and as healthy as he has been all year. 

• A week after the Eagles dominated the Bills with the run game, the offensive line showed up ready to maul. Both Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders had huge holes to run through, and with the rookie's vision looking like it's improving every week, Philadelphia's running back duo picked up right where they left off in Buffalo.

Frankly, one of the only complaints you could make early is that they didn't run the ball enough despite overwhelming the Bears up the middle. Their opening drive felt like it should have ended with one of Howard or Sanders punching it in, but the Eagles got a bit pass-happy inside the five.

(In fairness, I often complain they don't put the ball in Wentz's hands enough. Just felt like they should have stuck with the clear advantage in this specific instance.)

• A little more on Sanders — the hesitation he showed while running early in the season appears to be fading away more and more every week. Did he rip off a huge touchdown run like he did against the Bills? No. But Sanders didn't dance in the backfield hoping for a home run on every play, instead focusing on picking up the must-have yards and using his combination of power and elusiveness to pick up extra yards on top of that.

Sprinkle in the same skills he has shown as a pass-catcher down the field and in the screen game, and Sanders is starting to look closer to a three-down back. That doesn't mean they have to drop Howard from the rotation, of course, but when teams have to fear play-action no matter which back is on the field, it opens up options for the Eagles elsewhere.

• Zach Ertz has gotten a lot of attention from opposing defenses this year, which has severely limited his impact compared to recent seasons, but the first half on Sunday was the best he and Wentz have looked together all season. He may be the biggest benefactor of Philadelphia's improved rushing attack, as the more attention linebackers have to pay to the backfield, the easier it's going to be for Ertz to create early separation and get open.

We know Wentz is going to find him when he does. And though he got away with a little bit of contact on the team's opening touchdown of the day, this is what we've come to expect from Ertz:

The guy who is pejoratively called "YAC Ertz" by those who are bothered by his inability to run after the catch will be happy to know that Ertz even broke a tackle or two in the first half. It was as complete a half as you could have hoped for from Ertz, and if this is what the second half of the season is going to look like for Ertz, the offense is going to get a lot tougher to stop.

• Welcome to Philadelphia, Genard Avery, who picked up a sack in his very first half in Philadelphia. I'm not sure how he emerged with the credit for a play where it looked like Philadelphia's entire defensive line tackled Trubisky, but good for him.

MORE: Upon further review: An exclusive look behind the scenes at NFL headquarters on game day

The Bad

• I'm not sure if the ire should be directed at Doug Pederson or Mike Groh, but Philadelphia's third-down playcalling was absolutely abysmal early on. The Eagles were moving down the field rather easily against Chicago, and rather than sticking with what worked, they got real cute once they found themselves in the red zone, which frankly has been one of the few areas where the offense has been good this year.

You can give them credit for moving the ball much better than they have in recent weeks, but there's no need for misdirection when you're blowing away the opponent at the point of attack. The screen pass that got blown up on their second drive was particularly infuriating, as the fascination with screens on third-and-manageable has been a running theme all season.

There were some other head-scratchers from a playcalling standpoint in the first half. Third-and-inches in Bears territory and you run Howard from six-seven yards deep in the backfield? Just call a sneak, it's not that complicated.

• Why is Darren Sproles the only guy getting the ball on three straight plays out of the two-minute warning? Why is Sproles getting touches at all with how good the other backs have been recently? Questions for someone smarter to answer than I am, apparently.

• The Eagles should frankly be up by more with how disjointed the Bears looked on both sides of the ball. Chicago's defense got crushed at the point of attack and picked up offsides penalty after offsides penalty, bailing the Eagles out after several weird play calls. The offense was just as bad, with the Bears at -10 yards from scrimmage when the Eagles got the ball back at the two-minute warning.

The Eagles are leading comfortably and getting the ball back at halftime, but they shouldn't bank on Chicago to continue falling all over themselves for another 30 minutes. Go for the jugular. It's good practice for when you play a team with a pulse, in any case.

• Andrew Sendejo's unnecessary roughness penalty toward the end of the half is among the most braindead penalties you could possibly pick up, and it isn't the first time this season he has cost the Eagles 15 yards because of his own stupidity. He brings almost nothing to the table, and if he stays on the roster much longer, he's going to cost the Eagles a mid-round draft pick because of the comp pick formula. No real reason for him to be on the roster.

• There has not been a single time this season where I can recall saying, "Man, that was a nice play by Mack Hollins." If he's appearing on your broadcast, odds are it's not for a good reason.

• Buddy, Mitch Trubisky effing stinks. 

The Ugly

• If you bet on Dick Stockton butchering someone's name as early as the first offensive possession for the Eagles, congrats on cashing out when he gave credit to "Miles Saunders" for a nice run.

• If you were expecting DeSean Jackson to act as a decoy during his first week back in action, you were proven wrong on the very first series for Philadelphia. Jackson drew a pass interference flag on the first play from scrimmage, and he caught another pass later in the series to set up a third-and-short for Philadelphia, creating rare separation on the outside for Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, his time on the field did not last long. Jackson was on the sideline with his helmet off by the time the second series started, and he would eventually head back to the locker room, (and then return to the sideline) with no word yet on his condition. After such a long layoff, it's not a great sign that he's already (potentially) back on the shelf.

In other news, Dick Stockton evidently believed Jackson went back to the locker room with, "an equipment situation," so maybe you should hold out hope that he's right and everyone else's instincts are wrong.

• Okay seriously, Dick Stockton, how in the world did you think Zach Ertz was "down at the one" on a touchdown where he hurdled several yards into the endzone without being close to being down. Seriously, watch this replay and listen to his assessment at the end.

I don't ask for much from a sports broadcast, but someone who has working eyeballs would be a good start.

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