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October 28, 2018

First half observations: Eagles 10, Jaguars 6

The Eagles outgained and mostly outplayed their opponent through 30 minutes of football on Sunday morning, but they came out of the half with less to show for it than perhaps they should have. Philadelphia heads into halftime with a 10-6 lead, and it could have been more if not for a pair of turnovers from quarterback Carson Wentz.

An up-and-down half in what a lot of people feel is a must-win game for the Eagles to keep their season chugging along. Here's what I saw in the first half.  

The Good

• Carson Wentz makes some throws from time-to-time that leave you scratching your head in a good way. It didn't look like there was any way he could get enough mustard on the ball on this third-down play, and yet:

On the flip side of that play, however, was the very next play from scrimmage. Wentz's desire to extend plays and keep his eyes down the field came back to hurt him, and a protection breakdown led to a (sort of questionable) fumble that gave the ball back to the Jaguars.

Perhaps at some point Wentz will find a happy medium between Brett Favre/Tony Romo style magic late in plays and fumbling the ball, and he needs to do a much better job of recognizing when to just eat a play. For now, it's still pretty entertaining, at least, to see him come up with monster plays out of nowhere.

• Malcolm Jenkins made headlines by openly mocking Blake Bortles' ability as he made the case for Colin Kaepernick in the lead-up to the game. Philadelphia's defense has been all over the place this year, so some were concerned it would come back to haunt the Eagles.

Jenkins did his part to make sure that didn't happen. To close the first quarter, Jenkins came on a blitz that rattled Bortles and eventually resulted in a sack for defensive end Chris Long. If you can believe it, it was only the fifth sack the Eagles have come up with on third down all season.

Getting more of those would probably be good — and Jenkins helped do just that with another play in the backfield late in the first quarter, forcing Jacksonville into a third-and-long play.

• Jenkins was the guy who came up with the fumble recovery, but it was rookie Avonte Maddox who made the hit to breathe new life into the Eagles toward the end of the half. He continues to play out of position at safety for most of his snaps, and it hasn't mattered a whole lot. The kid is a football player, and he is making it work despite the arrangement.

Maddox popped off the screen a ton during the preseason, and it's really no wonder the coaching staff trusted him to make this (probably temporary) switch. He came up with another big tackle on third down earlier in the half and continues to look more comfortable each week.

• Nelson Agholor has been pretty quiet since Alshon Jeffery returned to action, but with Jalen Ramsey shadowing Philadelphia's No. 1 target, there was a need for somebody to step up and make plays that isn't named Zach Ertz. It was Agholor who stepped up in that capacity on Sunday, with the Eagles getting him involved in a variety of ways in the first half.

The Eagles used play-action to set up a deep throw on a post from Agholor, threw him the ball after lining him up in the backfield, and even handed the ball off to Agholor directly for a nice first-down run in the second quarter.

There's a lack of speed across the skill positions right now, so utilizing Agholor's early and often is pretty necessary.

• A lot of the touchdown credit to close out the half goes to Carson Wentz for making a money throw on the move, but don't sell Dallas Goedert short for his work after the catch. You saw exactly why the Eagles coveted him in the draft in a one-play sequence — size and the ability to separate down the field, and enough shiftiness to turn a long gain into a touchdown.

The Bad

• As much as I am a fan of the Wentz highlight production as mentioned up top, the fumbling needs to stop (or at least be cut down, anyway). It is a legitimate problem that derails drives and hands the other team momentum on a semi-regular basis, and his low interception numbers aren't as impactful if he's still turning the ball over.

Thirty fumbles in 2.5 seasons of football are far too much. Maybe it doesn't get focused on a ton in the regular season, but best believe it will loom large when Wentz makes his first playoff start.

• Speaking of interceptions, Wentz had a total howler late in the first quarter against Jacksonville. With the Eagles marching into Jaguars territory, Wentz threw a pass that never had any chance to be completed to Josh Perkins in the back of the end zone, and Jalen Ramsey had no trouble punishing him for the mistake.

It was Wentz's first interception since his season debut, and it was a costly one. The risk was not worth the reward on the play, and for a big chunk of the first half Wentz was his own worst enemy. And this team is in major trouble if they're not winning the quarterback battle with the Jaguars by a wide margin.

It makes matters worse that the throw was forced into double coverage with Wendell Smallwood getting open, as he did on a pivotal play late in last week's loss to Carolina. It's not as though Wentz was forcing the ball in to one of his top targets on this play, either, so not looking for Smallwood down the sideline is a bit more questionable this time.

Some of the blame certainly falls on the offensive line for not buying him more time to make decisions, but heavy is the head that wears the crown. It's expected that the franchise QB will make lemonade from any lemons. The Eagles were a much better team in the first half, and should have been able to build a decent-sized lead if Wentz just protected the football.

• Philadelphia's passive coverage on Jacksonville's third and 22 late in the first half was responsible for the Jags getting a shot at a field goal. I understand you don't want to give up a backbreaking first down, but conceding so much space in front of them allowed their opponent to move back into field-goal range.

It would be cool if their defense had enough secondary talent to trust them to do anything other than play prevent on long third downs. Maybe they do, but Jim Schwartz shows little trust in them to do so between the 20's. In a half where the Eagles were so clearly rewarded for their aggression on defense — blitzes produced a couple big sacks — you would think the defensive coordinator might apply that philosophy more liberally. Nope. 

The Ugly

• I'm sure it was wonderful for some of you, but I'm a natural night owl and basically on an NBA sleep schedule. This 9:30 a.m. start time can kick rocks.

• It only took one play from scrimmage for Jason Kelce to come up limping and grabbing his crotch on the way to the sideline. Not an ideal start. (He did come back on the same series, thankfully, but it was still an ugly sight.)

An even worse sight: Lane Johnson going down on the field, and eventually having to be taken to the locker room on a cart. Philadelphia's offensive line finally looked to be getting on the right track last week, and it certainly doesn't need to deal with major health woes as they try to establish consistency in front of Carson Wentz.

And hey, why not add another name to the list? After Johnson was diagnosed with a knee issue and labeled questionable to return, fellow starter Jason Peters hit the sideline to be evaluated for a head injury. They weren't exactly blowing the Jags away at the line of scrimmage anyway, but having to use backups against this Jaguars front is not ideal.

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