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August 16, 2018

First half observations: Patriots 27, Eagles 7

Eagles NFL
081618-NickFoles-USAToday David Butler II/USA Today

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles throws a pass against the New England Patriots in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium.

Nick Foles made his triumphant return to action against the New England Patriots, and if you weren't tuning in for the first half, it did not exactly go as well as the Super Bowl. Preseason, who would have thought?

Going down 27-7 in the first half is less than ideal, so let's breeze through what little good there was before getting to the rest.

The Good

• Shelton Gibson flashed a bit of the speed he was known for in college during the opening preseason game, and the more he can add on special teams the stronger his case for a roster spot becomes. And he looked good returning kicks early on, using a nice move deep in Eagles territory to create separation and bring his team all the way out toward midfield.

Gibson was one of the only positive notes on the offensive side of the ball, too. On a second quarter drive led by Nate Sudfeld, Gibson torched his man at the line of scrimmage and his QB found him with a softball for an easy six points.

Unfortunately, Gibson got twisted up in a tackle by the sideline midway through the second quarter, and it looked pretty bad on first glance. The good news is he walked off under his own power (and that this came prior to the touchdown he scored), but even the good for the Eagles in the first half came with a dose of gross.

• Ronald Darby came out and looked excellent in the first half on Thursday night, flashing the physical tools he's known for while coming up a little short in the ball skills department.

Frankly, that's a trade-off the Eagles will probably take. Even if he's not coming up with interceptions, Darby can impact the game with pass breakups and tight coverage, as he did several times during Tom Brady's action in the first quarter.

The more he plays well, though, the more Darby will fuel rumors about the Eagles considering trading him while his market value is highest, with a potentially large contract extension coming after this season.

• Nate Sudfeld was considerably better than Nick Foles in the first half, albeit against worse opposition and in some cases soft coverage late in the half.

But still! 

• Jay Ajayi played what I'd say was a borderline excessive amount of time in the first half. He's the No. 1 running back for this team by a decent margin.

So seeing him do something like this late in the half is pretty encouraging.

I'm grasping at straws after that half guys, I don't know what to tell you.

The Bad

• Pretty much everything from the first drive on both sides of the ball. Nick Foles missed badly on his opening throw, Jay Ajayi got stopped for a big loss on second down, and Foles was way high to end the first offensive possession. It didn't get a whole lot better on the other side of the ball.

In Brady's "revenge game" against the team that just beat him in the Super Bowl (41-33, by the way), the veteran quarterback came out looking fairly sharp, and the Patriots dinked and dunked their way into Eagles territory, as they so often do. After an Avante Maddox slip in the end zone, it was 7-0 bad guys early.

As always, important to note how meaningless these games are, but hey, not a great start.

• The vast majority of what Foles did in the first quarter would certainly go into the bad category, vanilla gameplan or not.

Context is key here, because he wasn't getting much help from the guys around him. Receivers dropped some catchable passes and the offensive line (Big V specifically) struggled to keep a clean pocket around him against some Patriots blitzes. The fumble the Patriots took back for a touchdown in the second quarter? A product of poor protection on Foles' blindside.

Even within that framework, however, he did a pretty poor job of putting balls where they needed to be or making the most of any extra time the line did hand him. Is it worth caring about? Certainly not. We saw Foles go gangbusters when it mattered just a few games after looking like he'd never played football before. But it happened all the same.

(Get well soon, Carson Wentz.)

• The Eagles got into the red zone and didn't run the Philly Special? They ran an end of half play on fourth down in the red zone and didn't do it? Absolutely disgraceful.

• Halapoulivaati Vaitai had an excellent stretch of football to close out last season. He looks exactly nothing like the player we saw close out last season, and was beaten like a drum throughout the first half in Foxboro.

• Sometimes you have to let the experts have their say. Take it away, Mr. Kempski:

The sad thing is, the defense may have been worse? Awful penalties were taken, little resistance was offered in either the passing attack or run game, and it sure looked like one team came into this game with a little more juice.

(And rightfully so, because only one of these teams won the Super Bowl last year.)

The Ugly

• I understand the spirit of this new helmet rule, and appreciate it as someone concerned about the long-term ramifications of football on its participants. But hoo boy, is this penalty going to result in a lot of anger from the fans and the players alike. It seems too hard-wired into these players — not necessarily through instruction, but basic human instinct — to drop their upper body as they attempt to make tackles.

Is this really the new standard?

New England didn't really need the penalty yardage to score on their first drive, but the extra distance from Rodney McLeod's penalty sure didn't hurt. Another penalty put the Patriots in field goal range late in the first quarter.

There are two schools of thought here: 1) the rule is absolute garbage and 2) the Eagles need to get a handle on when/why it will be called because they are suffering from it right now. Both can be true at the same time, and I would argue that is definitely the case at the moment.

But while we're here — is this going to be enforced on offense at all? Because runners are going to continue to put their heads down, and we've seen little to no evidence they'll be punished in the same fashion.

• Someone got picked up on a broadcast microphone yelling, "That's fucking bullshit!" That's about as good a summary as you're going to get of what transpired on television.


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