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October 09, 2022

First half observations: Eagles 14, Cardinals 10

The Eagles squandered what looked to be a commanding lead and head into halftime with a thin 14-10 advantage over the Cardinals.

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

The Good

• It was an excellent start to this game for the Birds on defense. After a strong display of tackling on plays in space, the Eagles sent pressure at Kyler Murray on third down, flushing him out of the pocket and forcing a harmless throw out of bounds to start off on the right foot. Credit to Kyzir White on that specific play, who closed down quickly and got the good guys off of the field.

On the other side of the ball, it was all about Dallas Goedert on Philadelphia's first series. Two different screens went for first-down yardage after the ball was put in Goedert's hands, with Goedert shrugging off some light contact while cutting through space and showing his versatility on the outside. The Eagles went hurry up early, keeping the Cardinals on their toes as they marched into scoring territory.

Something I love about this Eagles group, which was mostly true under Doug Pederson as well — going for it on fourth-and-short is barely even a thought. AJ Brown had barely picked himself off of the turf by the time the Eagles lined up to sneak it with Hurts, and after a conversion to keep the drive alive, the Eagles decided to sneak it with Hurts again. Thanks to a little assistance from Goedert, who pulled Hurts with him toward the end zone, the Eagles took a seven-point lead early in Arizona.

The Eagles are playing with a hit-first mentality right now, and that's an easy style to fall in love with. Make the opponent play on your terms, and you're going to come out on top more often than not.

(A quick note on the fourth-down mentality — it is easy to be aggressive when you have a force-creator like Hurts taking the ball from behind center. High atop the list, if not at the top, of short-yardage weapons at the position.)

• As if things couldn't have started any better for the Eagles, their second defensive possession was better than the first. CJ Gardner-Johnson was able to come away with a downfield interception on Arizona's first play following the Hurts touchdown — talk about efficiency.

The secondary play has been so, so good this season, which has continued even with Avonte Maddox sidelined due to injury. 

• From my memory, the Eagles have had some issues containing reverses in recent years, so kudos to Josh Sweat for diagnosing one such play and stopping the Cardinals in their tracks on the third series of the day. Sweat's read forced the Cardinals into a third-and-long, with the throw on that play ultimately falling to the turf for an incomplete pass. 

• After a successful opening series, Philadelphia slowed down considerably, with sideways and short-yardage throws turning up nothing of substance. The ground game wasn't much better, though you could blame crappy turf for Hurts going down untouched on one particularly third-down rush.

A little bit of Hurts magic got the Eagles moving in the right direction again. On a play that looked dead in the water, Hurts rolled to the outside to buy time, absorbing a hit as he threw across his body to find DeVonta Smith for a first down:

Dangerous? A little bit, but Hurts put that pass exactly where it needed to go, and it's also the sort of improvisational play that sets a QB like Hurts apart from many peers. Keeping his eyes downfield under pressure was the key here, allowing the Eagles to pick up much more yardage than a potential scramble might have. Not sure we have seen many throws/plays like that from Hurts during his time here, at least before this season.

It would not be the only time Smith featured on that drive, and it would not be the only time Hurts' awareness moved the Eagles downfield. Feeling the heat in the pocket during a dropback in Arizona territory, Hurts picked the perfect time to step up and run for it, picking up a first down plus some extra yards to move the Eagles into the red zone. Bailing too early has been one of the few potential points of critique for Hurts this season — a minor one at that — but he had a masterful understanding of what to do and when in the first half on Sunday. 

And after moving the ball masterfully between the 20s, why mess with a good thing once you get around the goal line? The Eagles ran back-to-back sneaks against the Cardinals to punch it in for the second time of the day, Hurts getting in without much issue to make it 14-0 Eagles.

This team is running like a well-oiled machine right now. Hurts deserves a huge portion of the credit for that.

The Bad

• Hurts' control of the offense is obvious in that you rarely feel like the Eagles are in any danger of a big mistake this year. At worst, they have to eat a throwaway or a play that ends short of the sticks. Most of the time, you don't feel any fear about where the ball is headed, and playing smart has not meant playing conservatively. Any 50/50 throw has been to one of their excellent weapons on the outside, with Smith and AJ Brown nearly always in a position to win the battle.

Well, at least that was true for most of the first half and this season. Hurts got away with a bad throw midway through the second quarter, tossing one that never really had a chance to make it to Brown. He was fortunate it was bobbled and the interception was overturned.

• The Eagles have been a better tackling group this year than they've been in a long time, but TJ Edwards and Gardner-Johnson both had pretty brutal whiffs on Hollywood Brown's touchdown late in the second quarter. Edwards has been one of their best tacklers in space all season, so it was especially disappointing to see him fail in that spot and allow the Cardinals to get their first points of the day. 

From where we sit right now, that play looks like a potential turning point in the game. After starting off so well, the Eagles let the Cardinals get a bunch of yardage after contact in the second quarter, and a team that looked outclassed has found life. Plenty of work left to be done.

• Philadelphia's offense has not been particularly good in second halves, so they've left themselves with some work to do in order to put this game away on the road. It does help that the crowd has turned it into a glorified home game, naturally.

• Marcus Epps made a big-time breakup late in the first half, which the Eagles managed to waste with an unprepared special teams unit on the very next play.

Can't say the special teams have been all that inspiring this year, and as we've noted throughout the season, that looms larger in tighter games. This one looks like it might come down to the wire.

The Ugly

• The early blemish of the first half was Landon Dickerson retreating to the locker room with an apparent leg injury, ruled questionable to return by the Eagles before the first quarter had ended. More to come on that front, I'm sure.

• No matter how deep you think the Eagles are on the offensive line, they're eventually going to lose too many guys to continue playing at an elite level. Even with Cam Jurgens waiting in the wings, it's a bit stressful watching Jason Kelce limp to the sideline with a return to action up in the air. Kelce going straight to the locker room is not a great sign.

• I gotta say, for as talented as Kyler Murray is, his whole vibe at QB feels kind of off. He was visibly upset with Zach Ertz after the two failed to connect on a play in the second quarter, and while I can understand the frustration — and concede he's not the only guy to react like that — it's better handled on the sideline in a quiet conversation.

• The Cardinals' field seems like total junk, and the rash of injuries to Eagles players looked connected to that issue.

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