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December 23, 2018

First half observations: Texans 16, Eagles 13

Eagles NFL
122318-DarrenSproles2-USAToday Bill Streicher/USA Today

Philadelphia Eagles running back Darren Sproles (43) celebrates his touchdown with California Angels center fielder Mike Trout during the first quarter against the Houston Texans at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Eagles pulled out some fourth-down magic against the Texans in the first half of Sunday's game. But the referees are clearly a bunch of non-believers because their incompetence loomed large in the 16-13 lead the Texans brought with them into halftime.

We'll see if the Eagles are able to beat the Texans and the league office in the second half, but here's what I saw through the first 30 minutes on Sunday.

The Good

• Great job from the Eagles' defense out of the chute for the second straight week. That's now four weeks in a row Philadelphia has held their opponent from scoring on the opening possession, and with the home crowd behind them, it's especially great to get rolling early.

The story was just about the same on the offensive side of the ball, and the Eagles got it done by winning the battle on third down. Outside of a deep shot to Alshon Jeffery that nearly went for a touchdown, Nick Foles attacked the Texans underneath, leaning on Zach Ertz heavily to move the Eagles down the field.

And then it was time for the head coach to be the risk taker we all expect him to be. Doug Pederson never hesitated when fourth down came up in Texans territory, and the coach was rewarded with a Darren Sproles touchdown.

That play was set up by the previous throw, which gave the Eagles a manageable fourth down. Everything about the drive was managed to perfection, and it was hard not to feel like something is really building after seeing the entire team come out strong like that.

• The crowd at the Linc was so fired up on Sunday that they caused the Texans to take a false start penalty deep in the red zone. So credit to the fans for treating this one like a playoff game, too.

• That first quarter is one of the quickest football quarters I can remember. Absolutely flew by. More of those, please.

• Sproles was easily the player of the half for Philadelphia. He turned a short pass into a touchdown on their first drive, burned Clowney on the edge for a nice run, and caught a nice throw down the sideline for a huge gainer midway through the second quarter. He did a little bit of everything, or in other words, he did exactly what he has been doing for his entire career.

There were questions asked of the Eagles when Sproles was on the sideline for most of the year. Why keep around a backup running back who can't get healthy, especially when they needed immediate help in the run game? Sproles showed you why on Sunday. He remains an incredible talent, and he gives the Eagles a dimension they've badly needed.

• Pederson could have easily justified kicking a field goal on their second fourth-down conversion of the day. I love that he didn't settle for three points, and if Dallas Goedert could have kept his footing, the Eagles would have picked up another fourth-down touchdown.

I loved it even more when they went for it a second time, which finally ended with the touchdown they deserved. It went to, who else, Zach Ertz, who just piled up catches underneath for Philly in the first half.

When you play to win and play aggressively, you may not always succeed but you will ultimately be rewarded in the long run. "Big Balls Doug" was back in full force in the first half, and he couldn't have reemerged at a better time.

• I didn't think Nick Foles had an especially great half, missing a bunch of throws that I'd usually expect him to make. That being said, he did do a good job of shrugging those off and getting the job done in big spots. Their success on third and fourth down can be attributed directly to Foles, who was at the center of every big conversion.

I think there's room for more optimism if you're an Eagles fan. The offense put points on the board and ate up clock in the first half with Foles not at his best. If he's a little crisper in the second half, look out.

(One thing to note as well: Foles had a gorgeous throw down the sideline to Nelson Agholor late in the first half that was negated by a penalty. There were flashes, and he just needs to sustain them.)

The Bad

• The pass rush let the Eagles down a bit on Houston's first scoring drive. The silver lining here is that the secondary looked great, playing tight coverage that was simply beaten by some incredible throws from Deshaun Watson. But they need the big boys to come through if they're going to come out with a win on Sunday.

(And in fairness, the defensive front has done a lot of heavy lifting this season, so this is pretty nitpicky.)

• Any offensive line will struggle to ward off JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney for a full 60 minutes. And once the Eagles lost Jason Peters to a quad issue, it didn't take very long for Houston to strike.

Clowney got a matchup with Dallas Goedert on the left side of the line early in the second quarter, and it turns out that's not one that favors the Eagles. He got to Foles in a hurry, and the result of the play was a fumble deep in Eagles territory.

The defense did not exactly do much to erase the mistake, and Watson waltzed in for a touchdown on the very next play. Their only saving grace was a missed extra point after the touchdown.

• Shotgun runs with Josh Adams on third-and-short: not my favorite playcall.

• The Eagles did not defend Watson well as a runner in the first half. Unfortunately, the officials also determined that the Eagles basically can't hit him, so I'm not sure what they're supposed to do about this.

The Ugly

• Jason Peters slammed his helmet to the ground on the sideline early in the first quarter, which is never something you want to see. Big V did an admirable job filling in for him on Philadelphia's first possession, but you would obviously rather have Peters available than not. We'll see if the quad issue knocks him out for the day.

• The non-call on the facemask from Clowney was one of the most ridiculous non-calls I can remember. They never let guys get away with anything on quarterbacks anymore, and you let a player throw Foles to the ground using his facemask? Absolutely ridiculous.

The officials compounded this by calling an absolutely ridiculous penalty on Brandon Graham, who put a good, clean hit on Deshaun Watson that turned into a roughing the passer call. It was an important one, moving the Texans into field-goal range through nothing but incompetence from the refs.

NFL officiating is an absolute disgrace. They're not even bad in a consistent manner, which is the telltale sign of how bad they are at their jobs. They're sifting through a convoluted rule book and doing a bad job at enforcing it on a play-to-play basis. It's every week with this garbage.

If the Eagles miss out on a playoff spot, there's a case to be made that officiating played a big part in them missing out. And that statement alone is inexcusable for a professional sports league. They are one of the storylines of the game basically every week.


RELATED: Horrendous officiating is once again killing the Eagles


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