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October 23, 2020

First half observations: Eagles 10, Giants 7

Eagles NFL
Wentz-dives-eagles_102220_usat Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz runs for a touchdown during the first quarter.

The Eagles got off to a flying start against the Giants on Thursday night, but some poor decisions from Carson Wentz kept the game close, with Philadelphia leading just 10-7 at halftime.

Here's what I saw. 

The Good

• Welcome back to DeSean Jackson, who wasted absolutely no time getting involved for the Eagles on Thursday night. Their first play from scrimmage was a handoff to Jackson, who followed good blocking on the right side of the line for a first down, and then immediately followed that up with a catch along the left sideline for another.

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Getting off to a fast start has been an issue for the Eagles this season — they had points on their opening drive just once this season prior to Thursday night. Jackson being back certainly seemed to help matters there, and once they picked up the initial first down, the Eagles transitioned into tempo offense, which seemed to bring the best out of quarterback Carson Wentz.

And after extending the drive himself with a scramble on fourth down, it was the QB who got to finish off the drive on a zone-read play:

That's how you start a football game. 

• For a guy making his first-ever NFL start, Sua Opeta looked quite alright on the left side of the line. A holding penalty late in the first quarter aside, he held his own in the spot next to Jordan Mailata, helping the Eagles get the running and screen game going with a few key blocks.

His most important block of the half came on a slow-developing screen to Boston Scott, with Jalen Hurts sucking the Giants in with a fake around the right side of the line. But it still could have been blown up if Opeta hadn't nailed the block to free Scott, and he came through to spring Scott for a nice first-down pickup.

(I guess it's my fault that as soon as I wrote these nice things about Opeta, he immediately regressed, including on a play toward the end of the half where he got blown off of the line. But still!)

•While we're here — I continue to like the plays that get Hurts involved. Teams are focusing a lot of attention on him whenever he's on the field, and on the rare occasion he gets to do something with the ball, Hurts has looked plenty capable. Unfortunately, you still can't do a heck of a lot with a second QB in the same way you can use, say, another receiver or running back.

• It was only going to be a matter of time before Daniel Jones turned the ball over, and when the opportunity came knocking, Jalen Mills answered. I have my gripes with him as a cover corner, but this is a great extension and grab to come up with the turnover.

Turnovers are really only as valuable as the offense can make them, and unfortunately for Mills, Wentz had a howler on the ensuing drive. Doesn't take away from the nice defensive play. 

• The defensive line continues to impress this season, and Derek Barnett was the guy able to get to Jones for a big sack in the first half. Every week it feels like another guy is having a big day/night and picking up the rest of the group, and that's exactly how this team has been designed to win on defense. They are pulling their weight in a big way this year.

The biggest play of the half came from Josh Sweat, the team's breakout player of the season (at least on defense). Sweat forced a fumble late in the half to get the Eagles the ball back with a chance to add points before halftime, only for the offense to let them down again.

• Travis Fulgham makes at least one great catch/play per half, and part of that seems to come from the increased trust on Wentz's end. He believes Fulgham can go up and make tough catches, and Fulgham gets opportunity after opportunity to prove his quarterback right. This is lights out on pretty much every level, including the throw:

With time and development, this connection is going to get even better.

The Bad

• After a long and productive run with the Seahawks and Lions, Golden Tate might as well have been Cardboard Cutout Tate during his stint with the Eagles. Most fans were so convinced he was washed that no one really cared when he signed for the Giants in 2019.

So of course he was able to come up with a really nice touchdown catch to open the scoring for the Giants. I don't think there was much more to be done by Cre'Von LeBlanc on this play, it's just a really nice throw and catch on New York's end.

Doesn't make a Tate TD/TD celebration combo any less infuriating.

• Two negative things stood out in that half for Wentz — his tendency to hold the ball too long and locking in too hard on one receiver. The former was the more obvious problem, with Wentz taking at least a couple of bad sacks instead of getting the ball out or even looking to turn upfield as a runner. 

Thankfully, he was able to mitigate some of the damage with his arm, including on the drive where he basically erased a 2nd & 26 hole. But he also showed why you can't always blame the line for his sacks and issues with pressure. On the interception he threw midway through the second quarter, Wentz basically created the pressure himself, abandoning the pocket too early and eventually throwing a duck that was picked off.

His decision-making is just baffling sometimes. Wentz was lucky to avoid a disaster play earlier in the same drive where he threw an interception, but that cross-field throw ended up falling harmlessly to the turf. Yes, you have to live with some gambling from Wentz, but not outright insanity. What's most maddening is that he follows these plays with really good stretches of football. The ultimate Jekyll and Hyde quarterback.

(Wentz also missed Fulgham on what looked like it would have gone for a touchdown, keying on Jackson and failing to come up with anything on a pivotal third down. But I'd have to look at that play again before crushing him too hard, and I understand the desire to get it to Jackson in a big spot in his first week back.)

• No more short throws to a 5'7" running back in the middle of the field, please. They're a recipe for Wentz having throws knocked down at the line, or even worse, for him to airmail over Boston Scott's head for picks.

• Doug Pederson's aggression is completely nonsensical this year. The Eagles got the ball back with two timeouts and almost two full minutes at the end of the half, and the decision he made was to run it on first down. The only reason it wasn't a bigger deal is that the Giants screwed up even worse when they got the ball back about a minute later. 

• Maybe we should start having a conversation about the Jake Elliott extension. 

The Ugly

• Controversial opinion: if Lane Johnson is hurting so bad that he can't make it through the first series before being yanked, he shouldn't be playing at all. I get and admire that he wants to be out there, but on a short week, there was even more incentive than usual to keep him on ice and let him get extra rest before the next game.

He is a tough SOB. He's also never going to get close to healthy at this rate.

• Both the Eagles and the Giants were completely out of sorts on this fourth down play midway through the first quarter, and man are the Eagles lucky they didn't get punished for it.

The good news is the Giants aren't coached by a longtime special teams coach. That would be embarrassing.

*touches earpiece* Oh wait, I'm sorry, you're telling me the Giants are coached by a former special teams coach? Yikes!

• Somebody put me in touch with the Fox graphics department, I just have a few questions.

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