November 17, 2019
The Eagles are barely holding onto a halftime lead over the New England Patriots, but they will take whatever they can get. 10-9 is the score with 30 minutes to go, and for the time being, it's the defense keeping their hopes alive.
Here's what I saw in the first half.
• Look, as I have definitely been writing all season, it was just a matter of the Eagles putting Boston Scott, their best offensive player, on the field. No idea why it took so long for the coaching staff to figure this out.
In all seriousness, great job by the Eagles to come out playing aggressively on the opening series, and I liked their mixes of personnel coming out of the bye week. We saw some "22" personnel with Scott and Miles Sanders taking their spots in the backfield, something that they've had success with using Sanders and Jordan Howard in weeks prior. The deep ball to Scott that drew a pass interference penalty showed no fear of the Patriots' defense, which is how you have to play against them to win.
• When Philadelphia's offense has been at its best this season, they have incorporated a ton of pre-snap motion into the offense, drawing eyes to specific players even if the ball doesn't end up there. It's how they've gotten use out of Nelson Agholor's speed on run plays, and it has been a boon for them when they run play-action.
Sunday's first half against New England was probably the best implementation of it all season, and maybe that's a product of having the bye week to reset and refresh, but they were able to catch the Patriots off guard with a couple of nice play designs. The best individual play of the half belonged to Dallas Goedert, who sold the play-action read great before collecting the screen from Wentz and following some killer blocking down the field. And that started with Nelson Agholor drawing New England's focus into the backfield:
Eagles continue to use the tight end screen effectively. A look at the design on the Goedert gainer via NextGen. pic.twitter.com/NJIbfTZ8eC— Tim McManus (@Tim_McManus) November 17, 2019
We even saw a play to open the second quarter where the Eagles ran Jason Kelce (!!!) out wide before the snap, only to throw the ball back to the other side of the field on a screen to Sanders. They're still going to have to hit on some more advanced plays and reads (and put points on the board, for that matter) but moving the ball and keeping the Patriots off of the field is a great start.
• The difference between Sanders in the opening stretch of the season and Miles Sanders now is night and day. He certainly hasn't cut out the jukes and hesitation moves altogether, but he has figured out when and where to incorporate them. He is hitting holes hard and exploding through cuts, which is getting the Eagles the important early yards they need in order to set up the rest of the offense. They don't need Sanders to break off big plays all the time, they
It's a lot easier to preach patience than it is to actually practice it, especially in an environment where you only get 16 games before your season is potentially over. Sanders was tough to watch to start the year but has really come on to give the Eagles a multi-purpose threat out of the backfield.
• Their lives were made easier because the offense kept Tom Brady cold on the sideline, but even before the time of possession battle started to impact the game, Philadelphia's defensive front looked up to the standard people expected them to live up to before the season started. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham looked as spry as they've been all season, and when the Eagles can make quarterbacks feel the pressure in the pocket, their problems over the top fade from view.
• Credit where it's due to Philadelphia's secondary, too, as they've never been the most popular unit in town. The Patriots tried all sorts of tricks to generate holes in the defense down the field, including a gadget play on a sideways throw to Brady, and every time they needed to, the Eagles' corners answered the bell. By taking away a lot of the underneath stuff, the Eagles forced Brady to try to beat them over the top, and while he would have been game for that at another point in his career, put an aging QB outside in the cold and you can see the age of his arm shine through.
But set aside the pass breakups from Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby on shots down the field and reflect on one moment with me. With New England deep in Eagles territory early in the second quarter, the Eagles forced Brady to throw the ball out of bounds and accept a field goal exclusively with tight coverage. How often have you been able to say the Eagles accomplished that in recent memory?
I'll even live with a few more Mills finger wags if plays like those continue.
• A killer penalty from Jason Peters on the first series that took away a second-and-short and ended with the Eagles stalling out in New England territory. The big man followed that up with another penalty on Philadelphia's second drive, wiping out what would have been a rare catch (and third-down conversion) for J.J. Arcega Whiteside. He has to be better.
• Wentz has been let down by his wideouts a ton this year, but he missed Mack Hollins badly on a throw down the sideline in the first quarter that could have gone for a big conversion. It's not often Hollins runs a great route or even gets open, and the onus is on Wentz to hit on those plays when they are there.
And the fumble Wentz coughed up toward the end of the first half falls on his shoulders, too. Was the protection great for him on that play? Certainly not. But he had options to get rid of the ball and was far too slow to commit, whether because he thought he could escape or because he didn't see anyone shake free.
And I think this is sort of the rub with Wentz — no one can sit here and say he has been bad this season, at least no one who should be taken seriously. But the Eagles have needed him to be elite, and he has merely been good, which is an important distinction at the league's most important position. And he wasn't even that in the first 30 minutes of Sunday's game.
For Philly to really go on a run that matters, these are mistakes he has to clean up. The Eagles are heading into halftime leading, but Wentz has to be much better for them to have a chance.
• In case it wasn't clear that my Boston Scott claim above was tongue-in-cheek, boy did he get bailed out of a potentially huge mistake when he fumbled a kickoff return, only to watch it land harmlessly out of bounds.
Are the football gods smiling down on the Eagles now, for some reason? That's the kind of bounce they simply did not get early this season, and in a game as tightly contested as this one, they could use every break they can get.
• That camo sleeve on Wentz's arm. Good god man, save that for when you're shooting geese, that thing looks like the world's worst tattoo sleeve.
• It was completely "legal" for Brady to spike the ball directly into the ground because he had a running back under his feet, but the Philadelphia crowd gave that second-quarter "throw" the exact reception it deserved with a hearty round of boos.
• Okay, onto the seriously ugly stuff — this is never something you want to see:
Lane Johnson carted off the field... with a towel over his head...— Derrick Gunn (@RealDGunnNBCS) November 17, 2019
Word on the scene is that it's a potential head injury/concussion, and while that sounds better than being carted off for some sort of lower-body issue, if Johson couldn't walk back to the locker room under his own power, that's not necessarily good news. Hopefully, it was just a precautionary measure to stick him on the cart because they certainly can't afford to lose him for an extended period of time, but they did rule him out before halftime had even arrived. Stay tuned.
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