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September 26, 2019

First half observations: Eagles 21, Packers 20

Eagles
092619-AlshonJeffery-USAToday Dan Powers/USA Today

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) scores a touchdown against Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander (23) in the second quarter at Lambeau Field.

The Eagles did not get off to the start they wanted in Green Bay, and for a moment, it looked like the season was on the verge of going off the rails before it started. But Philadelphia responded big time in all phases to take a lead before halftime, and they're up 21-20 on the Packers with 30 minutes left to play.

Here's what I saw in the first half.

The Good

• Andrew Sendejo was the only man standing between the Packers and a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter, so he avoids being lumped in with the rest of the dumpster fire in the secondary for at least one write up. Good job.

• The Eagles badly needed a spark when they got the ball back down 10-0 in the second quarter, and Miles Sanders was there to provide it. A week after drawing the scorn of the fanbase for fumbling the football, Sanders had an excellent return that put Philly in enemy territory to start the drive.

(The block that sprung him for the extra yards, by the way, came from Sendejo. Great half for him.)

From there, it was relatively straightforward work for the Eagles, and Wentz kept targeting his two biggest targets, Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery. It was the latter who would eventually strike pay dirt after a near miss he couldn't haul in, and it only took a lengthy review from officials to determine it was a touchdown.

Wentz has to be thrilled to have Jeffery back. Now if only they could get DeSean Jackson back in the mix, they might really be on to something.

• After a quiet week one, Zach Ertz has slowly reasserted himself as the guy at the top of the food chain among the skill position guys. With the young wideouts dropping passes of all sorts over the last three weeks, it's Ertz who has been the reliable figure on third down over and over again, helping the Eagles extend drives that otherwise looked dead.

But give a little credit to Carson Wentz for Philadelphia's success on third down, too. He made a terrific extra effort to convert a sneak for a first down late in the first half, and despite facing some serious pressure in the pocket, Wentz was able to buy time with his legs and keep Philadelphia marching down the field.

On a terrific drive late in the first half, that two-man combination eventually gave way to Dallas Goedert, and boy would it be a difference-maker for this team if he finally breaks out.

If the Eagles can get and stay healthy — and that's a big if — they have plenty of weapons on this team. Whether it'll be enough to overcome some of their woes on the other side of the ball is another story.

• You never know what it's going to take to get a young player going, but maybe that kick return from Sanders was the spark he needed to build some confidence and get something rolling as a rusher. He certainly looked more decisive with his decision-making from that moment forward, taking advantage of improved run blocking for the Eagles and helping to establish the run against a team ill-equipped to stop it.

The real star of the show, though, was the offensive line, who opened up hole after hole for both Sanders and Jordan Howard to run through. If they continue to dominate this game up front, the Eagles are going to go on the road and steal one from Green Bay.

• We'll discuss Derek Barnett a bit more below, but it was about damn time one of the Eagles' linemen stepped up and made a play. The defensive front had been poor through the first few games for Philadelphia, and while it was aided by a poor schematic choice from the Packers — why are you sending a tight end to come across the formation and block there? — Barnett made a great individual effort to get to Rodgers and force a critical turnover.

Philly's defensive front has been an issue all season, so it was about damn time they delivered.

The offense went out there and made quick work of the Packers after that play, with Howard waltzing into the endzone to give the Eagles a comfortable lead at the half. Quite a rally from this group after a poor start to the game.

The Bad

• The Eagles opened up massive holes for their running backs on the first two offensive plays of the game, and Howard picked up a big chunk of yards on his first carry. So what was the plan from there? Three straight passes and a punt, of course.

The first quarter was really strange from Doug Pederson on several fronts, honestly. We laud him in this space constantly for playing aggressive, four-down football, which makes it confusing when he chickens out and decides to punt in obvious "go for it" situations. He had an obvious one in front of him early on Thursday — fourth and three, in the opponent's half of the field, and in a game where you're a pretty heavy underdog on the road (and trailing to boot).

You don't want to hand Aaron Rodgers a short field, sure, but you're not really equipped to stop him on any field. Believe in your offense. 

• Philadelphia's defense has given up points on the opening drive for the opponent in every game this season. I don't pretend to be a football genius or anything, but my cheat sheet says that is generally something you want to avoid.

• Not sure if the Eagles have considered this, but in the second half, they should probably consider defending that Davante Adams guy. Rasul Douglas was the only guy who seemed capable of doing anything to stop the Packers through the air, and even though Adams vs. Douglas is a major speed mismatch, Jim Schwartz might have to consider using him to jam Adams and slow the Packers down.

The Ugly

• Derek Barnett's late, dirty hit on Jamaal Williams was just stupid all the way around. He deserved to get punished for it, and it is a shame that Williams suffered what looked like a pretty serious head injury because of it. No place in the game for that, and I was honestly a little surprised Barnett wasn't ejected for it.

(Cue the "It's not flag football!" crowd getting mad. Whatever, it was an awful play.)

Set aside the safety/health issues with the play and it was still a terrible, bonehead mistake that cost the Eagles big time. Instead of Green Bay facing second and 10 while still deep in their own territory, the Packers got a free first down and picked up a chunk of yards on the ensuing play. On second and short, they were empowered to take a shot down the sideline to Davante Adams, and his long reception down the sideline set Green Bay up for their eventual touchdown.

Good, disciplined teams don't make these mistakes, and there have been far too many of them so far this season.

• Sidney Jones was not exactly having a banner night before he left, having been torched down the sideline for Green Bay's biggest play of the first quarter, but they can ill afford to lose depth at a position where their top-end talent isn't all that special. We'll see how serious his hamstring issue is. 

• There were a lot of people who apparently got mad about Joel Embiid tweeting this:

Hate to break it to everybody, but Embiid has been open about being a Packers fan for forever. He's also a fan of Real Madrid, if you need help keeping track of his allegiances despite how clear he makes them with his tweets. 


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