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November 14, 2021

First half observations: Eagles 20, Broncos 10

Eagles NFL

The Eagles' offense is humming in Denver, and they lead the Broncos 20-10 thanks to a big half from the Jalen Hurts/DeVonta Smith combination.

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

The Good

• Philadelphia's first drive stalled out in the red zone, but there were a lot of encouraging takeaways even with the anti-climatic ending. The primary option on the drive was none other than Boston Scott, who was buried in the running back rotation to open the year but has come on strong in the absence of Miles Sanders.

With Scott able to hide behind blockers and surprise guys lurking at the next level, he has produced on a pretty consistent basis when he has gotten time and touches. And he got a ton of help from the big dudes in the trenches on his first big play of the day, a run up the gut that most of the people reading this could have picked up at least a few yards through. Scott took it for 17, pushing the Eagles into Denver territory early in the drive. Scott also picked up 16 yards on a screen pass later in the drive, using the first block on the outside to break through to the second level and pick up another chunk of yards. Though we've maligned the overuse of screens from this coaching staff this season, they were effective on the opening series, and it should absolutely be a big part of their arsenal to take advantage of their speed guys.

Add on a nice run from Jalen Hurts out of an RPO to open the drive and a tough delivery to Quez Watkins when he was flushed out of the pocket, and the Eagles were knocking on the door early.

• Speaking of nice plays from Hurts, Sunday's first half featured one of the best opening quarters he has played all season, and likely in the conversation for best overall quarter he has had throwing the football. There were little plays to get something out of nothing, hits on intermediate routes, and a big scoring play down the sideline to his No. 1 option, all encouraging in their own ways.

Before Dallas Goedert got knocked out of the game, he and Hurts connected on a couple of excellent plays early on. The first came when Hurts was under duress in the pocket and was forced to deliver a lofted throw to Goedert moving toward the sideline, and he dropped it where only Goedert could get it. A play later in the drive ended with Goedert getting hurt, but it's an example of the sort of progression you want to see from Hurts — rather than bailing out and running here, Hurts sidesteps pressure in the pocket and steps into a throw, ultimately getting a nice gainer downfield as a result:

And then there was the big one, a play-action throw out of shotgun where Hurts threw DeVonta Smith a 50/50 ball against Patrick Surtain, the guy taken immediately ahead of him in this past spring's draft. It was a 50/50 ball in the best way possible — Hurts delivered this one early so that Smith could try to make a play on the ball in the end zone before safety help could arrive, and the rookie wideout rewarded him for the opportunity, hauling in a highlight-reel touchdown to keep the good vibes rolling:

You saw a little bit of everything from Hurts on that drive and in the first half, so much so that there will be a few, "Is he figuring it out?" thoughts bouncing around the Philadelphia area. Let's see how he looks in the final 30 minutes.

• So nice, DeVonta Smith had to score twice in the first half. Following another long march down the field, it was Smith who broke open in the end zone late in the first half, and Hurts left no doubt, hitting him right in the hands for another six points:

(Is that a Sam Cassell big balls touchdown dance, by the way? It's banned in the NBA these days, so always fun to see it emerge without drawing a penalty.)

After an up-and-down start to the year, Smith has truly come alive over the last couple of weeks, picking up chunks of yards at a time and putting points on the board when he's had opportunities. That seems to be most of the battle — Smith's route-running is so clean that he consistently breaks away from his man in coverage, with Hurts simply needing to get him the ball out of those breaks instead of waiting to throw until he's open. When you get to a place where you can simply expect your guy to get open and make a play, a quarterback-receiver partnership becomes a hell of a lot more dangerous.

We should note, by the way, that Hurts had another masterful series to get Philly downfield on this one, using his legs at an expert level to eat up yards between the 20s. And when the Eagles began to get close to field goal range, facing some third-and-makable situations late in the drive, Hurts always seemed to make the right decision at the right time, and the Eagles gave him some help by running the football and beating the Broncos in the trenches on a pivotal play or two. At last, this looks like an offense with an identity.

• Jonathan Gannon had the Eagles playing press coverage with a single-high safety on the opening series, and the Eagles forced a quick three-and-out, putting pressure on Teddy Bridgewater and succeeding in jamming Broncos receivers on or near the line-of-scrimmage. Is this the start of a new day for the defense? The results are in — no. But moments of hope are still nice, you have to admit.

The Bad

• The Eagles keep trying to find ways to force the ball to Jalen Reagor even though the results suggest that's a losing strategy roughly 75 percent of the time. With Reagor not doing much as a deep threat, that has increasingly meant trying to give him the ball as a runner or on screen plays, and they have been lucky when they have only gone nowhere. Reagor was tackled for an eight-yard loss on his first touch of the day Sunday, which prompted this statistical reminder from our own Jimmy Kempski:

Even if you have your doubts about the other individual pieces of this offense and the coaches in charge of them, guys have shown signs of progress during the season. No one could accuse Reagor of looking like he's taking a step forward, and that's with even more opportunity than he had during his rookie season. Perhaps the guy just stinks.

• For as heavily as the Eagles have leaned on screens this season, they rarely seem to strike when everything lines up to capitalize on one. The Eagles had Scott with blockers in front of him and a potential touchdown in their sights midway through the second quarter, and Jordan Mailata just could not execute when they needed it.

• The Eagles are up against a team missing its offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, due to COVID protocols. You would not be able to tell judging by Philadelphia's defensive performance — they have continued to get blown apart when opposing teams run the football, they gave up a huge gainer early in the second quarter, and buckling down around the goal line one time does not make up for what was a mostly bad effort in the first half. This group needs to be better, and it's not really clear where the improvement is supposed to come from.

On paper, the Eagles would look a lot better if their defensive line could simply put pressure on quarterbacks, and there were signs late in the first half that they're trending in the right direction. A rare Derek Barnett sack ended a Broncos drive and gave Philly a chance to pad the lead before halftime, and with the Eagles in pole position at halftime, perhaps that will allow Gannon to unleash a few blitzes and make life miserable for Bridgewater in the second half. Still, not exactly an inspiring effort.'

• Can't believe Quez Watkins dropped the potential touchdown Hurts threw him at the end of the half. Could not have been a better ball, and Watkins just straight-up missed it.

The Ugly

• Letting 20 seconds run off of the clock during a two-minute drill when you have two timeouts and are already on the opponent's side of midfield is really stupid. Hurts and Sirianni botched that one.

• Dallas Goedert looked dazed after taking a big hit midway through the first quarter, and nobody should have been surprised at that result, because it was an outright dirty hit aimed right at his head. The only shock was Goedert not drawing a flag on the play, with the officials just staring at him as he got rocked in the head and even ushering him toward his sideline after they realized he was in a daze. The rules are different, obviously, but that was an ejection level hit at the college level, and the exact sort of thing the NFL claims they want to stop to protect players. LOL at that notion.

Goedert was ruled out for the game barely over a minute into the second quarter, which suggests he probably has a concussion as a result of that hit. A tough loss for the Eagles, and a joke of a response from the officials.

• Barnett trying to offload his offsides penalty onto the Broncos in the red zone was one of the funnier things he has done this season, I'll give him that. Unfortunately, the humor doesn't offset another dumb-ass penalty from the king of dumb-ass penalties.

Would this guy even be on the field if it wasn't for his original draft status? A mid-round pick who constantly killed the team with penalties and rarely got to the quarterback likely wouldn't see the field. At least he finally came up with a sack late in the first half. It's about damn time!

• Getting called for a taunting penalty after giving up a first down is emblematic of the season the Eagles are having on defense. The only reason Philly's taunting penalty in the first half stung a bit (besides the obvious reasons) is because it was committed by Avonte Maddox, who has been one of their better and smarter players all season. When Maddox is getting you into trouble, this group is going to hell in a hurry.


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