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November 02, 2020

First half observations: Cowboys 9, Eagles 7

Eagles NFL
Carson-Wentz_110120_KateFrese Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.

The Eagles are trailing the Cowboys 9-7 at halftime, and a trio of Carson Wentz turnovers will be all anyone talks about at halftime for good reason. Philadelphia is in a tight game with a terrible version of their rival thanks to some awful decision-making from Wentz.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• The Eagles were yards away from being in a double-digit hole to start the game, thanks to a brutal Carson Wentz turnover on their opening drive of the game. Brandon Graham to the rescue:

Philadelphia's veteran defensive end is having a terrific season, contributing to what has been their best unit on the team by a longshot. This sack carried some additional weight because of where it happened on the field and how the game could have tilted from there, but the body of work has been just as excellent.

• Jalen Reagor has had to sit and watch as a lot of receivers drafted after him have torn up the league while he sat out injured, and that had to sting a little bit. No better way to silence skeptics than to come out in the first quarter of your return and pick up a touchdown, taking advantage of pre-snap motion to find the edge and sneak in for six.

It's not the downfield burst we saw in the first game of the year, but it's no less effective or important to the success of this offense. Expect to see the Eagles to get creative with how they use Reagor, who they don't have to lean as heavily on because of another wide receiver on the roster.

• I'm not sure we have taken enough time to appreciate that Travis Fulgham showed up and just started offering star-level production at wide receiver. It's even more improbable when you consider how bad their track record is when it comes to identifying talent at the position, but boy has it made a huge difference for the offense.

Fulgham consistently beats his man to get open and give Wentz a window to throw into. This was a beautifully lofted throw down the sideline, but it's made possible by Fulgham torching his guy in the first place:

Having a guy who routinely makes plays like these draws attention in a similar way to a great shooter in basketball. The defense has to be aware of where you are at all times, and the other skill position players benefit from teams spending extra energy on the No. 1 guy. Between Reagor's speed and Greg Ward's reliability on third down, the Eagles may quietly have a nice receiver core at this rate.

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(And by the way, that means there's no reason we should see DeSean Jackson and/or Alshon Jeffery the rest of the way, even if they get healthy.)

• I'm not the biggest Boston Scott guy in the world, but he should be getting the ball constantly in the second half. This Cowboys defense can't stop the run to save their lives, and Scott has already carved out a nice little evening for himself through the first 30 minutes.

The Bad

• Nothing like conceding 17 yards of space on third and 17 to allow Dallas to get into field goal range on their opening drive. Sticks defense makes me want to throw something at the television.

• There have been quite a few bad sacks taken and bad turnovers coughed up by Carson Wentz this season, but his fumble on the first drive of the game truly takes the cake. Everything about the play was bad, starting with the botched playaction fake that went to absolutely no one in the backfield, ending with Wentz refusing to throw the ball away and a recovered fumble for Dallas. This is just ugly:

Wentz is now up to 55 fumbles in 64 games, a staggering number for a guy that only recently started to find his footing as a runner again. It's not like he's coughing most of these up on big open-field hits or great plays by the defense, he's putting the ball on the turf mostly as a result of his own stupidity.

As we have noted many times throughout the year, he's making the same bad mistakes now as he did his first year in the league. He's taking entire halves just to get rolling and string a few plays together. Not a great sign.

• Have to harp on this again to make sure we don't gloss over it: this is a playaction fake to Casper the Friendly Ghost:

That's the mark of a bad/disorganized football team.

• If the first fumble wasn't bad enough, can I interest you in another one? The second Carson Wentz fumble of the half felt less like an individual Wentz error and more of an offense-wide failure, one that even extends to the coaching staff.

To start — I didn't mind the decision to go for it in that spot on fourth and three, because Dallas' defense is bad and playing aggressive with a bad QB across from you is quite alright. But the process behind the play was terrible. Philadelphia let the play clock run down and then tried to rush into a play, which seems pretty silly when you have the superior unit in the matchup. The execution felt and looked rushed as a result:

Even with those qualifiers, Wentz absolutely has to do better here. There are two different guys near the stick who could have converted the fourth down, and all it would have taken was an easy throw over the middle to get it done. Don't have to take my word for it, either.

You can't afford to miss on these plays. Many of these get forgotten when Wentz makes another beautiful throw later in the game, but even when they don't lead to turnovers, they're a big part of the problem for this quarterback.

• Is it possible to have your worst turnover of the season three times in the same half of football?

I say this with 100 percent sincerity — what in god's name is Wentz thinking making this throw? You just got gifted 15 yards on a shaky penalty by Dallas, you only need to control the ball and the clock in the final two minutes, and you make this throw into double coverage on first down? For who? For what?

Wentz often draws comparisons to Brett Favre for the wild swings in quality of play, but it's probably more accurate to say he looks like Jameis Winston as a decision-maker a majority of the time. You cannot make dumb plays this consistently and be a good NFL quarterback. It's simply not possible, regardless of how terrible this division is. This is the worst defense in football and Wentz has them looking like the 85 Bears. Good grief.

The Ugly

• I've been killing Pederson for his grasp of game-flow all season, and I have to do it again tonight — what is Pederson doing going to the Jalen Hurts package on the play immediately following Wentz's best throw of the opening quarter? The guy is streaky, so allowing him to attempt to build a hot streak might be a good idea. Instead, the rookie QB picked up a delay of game and they went right back to Wentz after the penalty.

How about a botched WR throw on third down and six from around midfield? As much as I have been wanting to see a Greg Ward throw at some point, this team needs to master the basics before they can start pulling out the exotic plays.

Don't even get me started on the fourth-and-one play to end their offensive half. 

• The good news for the Eagles: Ben DiNucci absolutely stinks. They would be losing by a lot more if Andy Dalton was playing. 

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