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December 15, 2019

First half observations: Redskins 14, Eagles 10

The Eagles have never once made things easy on themselves, and as we all probably should have expected, they face an uphill climb in the second half against the Redskins. Philadelphia trails 14-10 at halftime.

Here's what I saw in the first half.

The Good

• Football players just look more intimidating when they wear dark visors as part of their helmet. That is a certified fact. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that Miles Sanders looks like a more powerful runner during a week where he's rocking the visor.

Nonsense aside, Sanders looked terrific once again in the first half, partially because the Eagles actually gave him a chance to get rolling. It was a more balanced attack to start the game (emphasis on the start) than we have seen from the Eagles most of this season, and Sanders was the tip of the spear. He no longer has spurts where he looks like an uncertain rookie — Sanders is finding holes with power and pace, and he has turned into arguably their most reliable offensive weapon.

It felt fitting that he punched in Philadelphia's first touchdown of the day, capping off a drive where penalties did most of the heavy lifting. Sanders is now the all-time leader in scrimmage yards for an Eagles rookie, and they still have two games left to play after this one. Maybe he should wear the visor more often.

There are a lot of points against the front office on the drafting front, but Sanders appears to have been a great pick, and he should grow in stature next season with a year of experience under his belt.

• Give credit to the big guys up front for some of Sanders' success. The Eagles had some offensive issues in the first half, most notably at wide receiver, but Wentz generally had plenty of room to throw in the pocket and they carved out some sweet running lanes for Sanders. Jason Peters' weekly false start penalty was the only real blemish.

• I'm not usually one to celebrate drives that end in field goals and needing 16 plays to get one is a pretty big bummer, but it's a win anytime you march down the field and score on a drive that starts on your own five. Carson Wentz looked much closer to the guy who closed out the win against the Giants than the guy drowning with his teammates in the first half of that game, with a couple of his incompletions coming on smart throwaways.

They're going to need to punch more of these in, of course.

The Bad

• The Eagles came into the game knowing they had one offensive player to stop on Washington: wide receiver Terry McLaurin. That didn't stop him from running right through the Eagles' secondary at the end of the first quarter, picking up a touchdown that would have taken the Eagles 10 minutes of game time to come up with.

Let me remind everyone that McLaurin was drafted 19 picks after JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who only started to show signs of life as a result of half of Philadelphia's wideout group falling victim to injuries. Arcega-Whiteside had a chance to pull in a touchdown early in the second quarter, and the supposed contested-catch expert let the ball hit him in the chest and drop harmlessly to the turf.

Letting Washington's one guy beat you is bad for the defense, but the wide receiver gap in the first half was a great reminder of Philly's personnel issues. Speed matters, and it sure would be nice to have even one player on the team who is capable of hauling in contested catches.

By the way, if you aren't monitoring other games while the Eagles are on, a friendly reminder that the Eagles could have added this guy to their roster for free:

• This team just can't manage to have both units playing well at the same time. You would think it's against team rules at this point. Philadelphia's offense finally looks like a competent NFL unit, in the shock of all shocks, but the other side of the ball is was a directionless mess in the first half. This Washington team is not exactly The Greatest Show on Turf.

You can pick on an assortment of guys in the secondary, from Jalen Mills to Rasul Douglas to Ronald Darby, because they all did a terrible job in the first 30 minutes of football. In the trenches, Brandon Graham was one of the guys who actually acquitted himself well, and even he fell victim to a pitch fake in the backfield from Dwayne Haskins, which allowed Washington to turn a play that should have been stopped for negative yards into a nice run and first down.

It's too late in the season to think everything is going to coalesce and the Eagles will suddenly show up and play great football in all areas. This is who they are, an inconsistent, maddening mess. Haskins entered the game with the worst completion percentage in the league, and the Eagles made him look like Joe Montana.

• Is there anyone having fun watching this team? I ask that sincerely. It would take an impressive amount of resolve to show up week after week and still have fun with this group. They punch you in the gut over and over again, somehow do enough to hang around, and either win or lose in the most dramatic possible fashion. Nothing comes easy.

At least they're only allowed to do this to Philadelphians once a week, but good grief.

• I would like to see the Eagles go to their tempo more. It's one thing that has consistently worked in their favor this season, and though we saw it in short bursts in the first half, there was definitely room for more.

On the coaching decision front, I liked the idea behind declining the penalty to get to third down and try to get the ball back with some time before half. But after they picked up a first down plus more, and considering how poorly the defense had played for most of the half, I don't think declining the 10-second runoff was a defensible decision. Get to the tunnel and regroup.

The Ugly

• Montae Richardson's hit on Zach Ertz was an absolute joke. Wentz sailed the pass probably 10 yards clear of Ertz and the defenders in the area, and he came through and nailed him anyway. It was late, unnecessary, dirty, the exact sort of play the league has tried to eliminate over the years. 15 yards felt like pretty light punishment.

• Fletcher Cox is a gifted football player, but I don't ever want to see him covering a running back in the flat again so long as I live.

• Washington had a 4th and 4 at the Eagles' 43-yard-line and punted the ball. You're 3-10, you gutless cowards, freaking go for it.

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