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October 21, 2018

First half observations: Eagles 10, Panthers 0

It wasn't the flying start Eagles fans may have been hoping for to start the game, but the Eagles came out looking like the much better team after a few extra days of prep time. The defense strangled Carolina for the first 30 minutes of action, and the home team enters halftime with a 10-0 lead.

Philadelphia is still in search of a kill shot — which is not that far out of reach, quite frankly — but otherwise you can't ask for much more than what they offered in the first half.

Here's what I saw in some of the best team football we've seen from this group all year.

The Good

• Do we need to call him Big Balls Doug when Pederson opts to go for a fourth and one around midfield? Perhaps not, but Pederson stayed true to his mantra and kept the Eagles moving on the team's second drive of the game.

After a more reasonable call at midfield, Pederson got a little riskier on fourth and five but went for it again, presumably factoring in the windy conditions when deciding not to punt or attempt a long field goal. Carson Wentz and Alshon Jeffery rewarded him with another first-down conversion near the sideline.

Jake Elliott's kick ended up going wide right when the wind got hold of the ball, so the drive ultimately ended up fruitless. But the offense was able to settle into more of a rhythm, and they'll most likely need to convert another fourth down or two today with the way this wind is going to impact special teams.

• Zach Ertz ultimately got thrown to the ground when he came back at Eric Reid for taking a cheap shot at Carson Wentz, but good on him for sticking up for his QB after a bogus play. Only thing wrong with the play was the offsetting penalties the teams were awarded.

• Hard to believe now that the Eagles acquired Michael Bennett for such a cheap cost in the offseason. The former Seahawks player has been one of the most consistent performers on an up-and-down defensive line this year, and if not for a few unfortunate (read: BS) penalties he'd have even more sacks to add to his total.

I still can't get over his on-field look — the guy looks like he's equipped for a two-hand touch game with the size of those pads — but you can't argue with the results. Newton's escapability ranks at or near the top of the league, but Bennett gave him no chance to get away on this first quarter sack:

• I don't know if the return of Alshon Jeffery was dramatic enough to say he has "transformed" the offense, but he has been a major difference maker in his second season with the Eagles.

Jeffery caught a Wentz throw that was a little high to convert an early fourth-and-five play, and on Philadelphia's third possession of the game, he did the heavy lifting to put the Eagles in the end zone. After juking around Reid on the outside to bring the Eagles inside the 10-yard line, Jeffery got one-on-one coverage on second down and made quick work of it, with Wentz finding him for an easy score from there.

The growing chemistry between Wentz and Jeffery has been one of the best stories of an up-and-down start to the season for Philadelphia. You see it plenty on the intended play designs, but as we saw against the Giants on Thursday Night Football, they're even finding a way to connect on broken plays and ad-libs. After struggling to get on the same page early last season, this duo looks dominant together.

As it turns out, having a legitimate No. 1 receiver on the field makes life easier for everybody. Who would have thought?

• The Panthers did their best to make life easy for the Birds on defense in the first half, trying to set up a bunch of throws down the field instead of going back to the Christian McCaffery well. That being said, the defense still had an excellent half by any measure, keeping Newton uncomfortable and never allowing Carolina to get rolling.

Through the first three drives of the game for Carolina, the Panthers came up with just five yards passing and 29 total yards. That's remarkable work from every member of the unit.

• Philadelphia's offensive line was a mixed bag running the football — a bit of a surprise given how good they've looked there this season — but they were outstanding in pass protection, buying Wentz all sorts of time to stand in the pocket and sling the football in the first half.

There are no sexy highlights to show on that front, but strong offensive performances almost always start with keeping your quarterback's jersey clean.

The Bad

• The wind was a factor, but that first kick from Elliott was pretty rough looking even with the nature factor. But don't take my word for it, just ask Doug Pederson what his thoughts were during the kick:

Questions like, "Do the Eagles have a kicking problem?" popped up on Twitter after the miss, and while I think that's a little overzealous, they certainly don't have the same reliability there that they benefitted from last season. Outside of the league's all-time best kickers, the position is rife with inconsistency from year to year, so who knows how this all shakes out.

On the flip side: Elliott came through with a nice make from further out when Philadelphia's drive stalled midway through the second, rewarding his coach's confidence after the initial miss. I'd say he'll probably be fine — especially because Graham Gano's botched attempt in the second quarter looked almost identical when kicked toward the same goalposts.

• The Eagles' first touchdown celebration — where they imitated a free-kick routine, complete with Carson Wentz playing goalie in the background — was almost perfectly executed.

But come on, Alshon, you have to at least make contact with the ball!

A dark mark on an otherwise excellent routine.

• Wendell Smallwood picked up what would have been a monster gain with clock ticking down in the first half, only to be wiped out by a Brandon Brooks holding penalty. Bummer.

The Ugly

• With a hole at safety, some wondered why the Eagles didn't make a stronger effort to go out and talk with free agent safety Eric Reid, who eventually ended up with this very Carolina team. It didn't take too long to figure out why:

The bad blood between Reid and Malcolm Jenkins (stemming from their views on the Players Coalition) is real. And Reid continued the theatrics once the actual game started, taking a late hit on Wentz well after he'd handed the ball off and prompting an angry response from tight end Zach Ertz.

You want to be fired up and keep it within the rules of the game? Cool. The Wentz hit was a clown move and the fact that Ertz was punished with an offsetting penalty is a joke.

• The Panthers took two straight false start penalties to knock them out of field goal range while they were in the process of kicking the field goal. I know the Eagles have taken some bad penalties this year, but hoo boy was that a doozy.

• Halapoulivaati Vaitai had to spell Jason Peters near the end of the first half, and with the veteran lineman nursing a bicep issue, that's something to keep an eye on during and after halftime. Reports from the stadium say he was standing on the sideline, so perhaps just buying him a little extra rest.

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