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December 04, 2022

First half observations: Eagles 21, Titans 10

Eagles NFL
Jalen-Hurts-DeVonta-Smith-Celebration-Eagles-Titans-Week-13-NFL-2022.jpg Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Eagles WR DeVonta Smith celebrates his first-quarter touchdown against the Titans with QB Jalen Hurts on December 4, 2022 at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Eagles cruised to a 21-10 halftime lead over the Titans in spite of a boatload of penalties on Sunday, looking poised to move to 11-1 if they play a strong second half.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• The focus of this game coming in was the potential for an AJ Brown revenge game. And when he caught a pass on the second play of Philadelphia's opening drive, you thought to yourself it was going to be a long day for the Titans' pass defense.

And it looks like that'll hold up, but it was DeVonta Smith who tortured the Titans in the opening 30 minutes. Smith hauled in a crucial third-down catch to wipe out some early penalties for the Eagles, picked up another reception shortly afterward, and then he and Hurts came up with a kill shot, Smith running free in the secondary for the opening score of the day:

The unsung hero of the drive — the offensive line, in spite of a pair of early penalties that drew groans and complaints from the crowd. Hurts had a ton of time to sit back in the pocket and look for his weapons, and the QB made that time count. 

• Philadelphia's defensive start was a great example of how important it is to limit damage on early-down runs, leaving your opponent in a spot they don't want to be on third. Linval Joseph's big body clogged up the middle on Tennessee's first play from scrimmage, getting the Titans off to a middling start on their first drive. A big tackle from James Bradberry later, and the Eagles had the Titans where they wanted them, in a clear passing situation.

In stepped the pass rush. Haason Reddick found the edge to cause the initial disturbance in the backfield, and as Ryan Tannehill tried to step up and find space in the pocket, he ran right into Javon Hargrave, who was in the process of bulldozing through the middle of the line before picking up his first sack of the day.

Hargrave is having an excellent season for Philadelphia, and I bet he can hear some cash registers ringing with free agency looming.

• Wait, the Eagles are allowed to make good plays on special teams? That's allowed? Kudos to Christian Elliss, who made an immediate impact with a huge hit after being called up from the practice squad this week.

You know things are going well when Britain Covey is actually making a positive impact in the return game, and if we're going to kill him when he stinks it up, it's only fair to acknowledge he gave them great field position with a nice return early in the second quarter. Progress, baby.

• Collectively, the Eagles did an excellent job in their approach to covering Derrick Henry. They hit him hard, they hit him often, and they hit him before he could get those tree trunk legs churning, nullifying the power advantage he has against most guys if you see him in space.

Without the ability to gash the Birds on the ground, the Titans didn't have a ton of options to hurt the Eagles. One point of concern — the Eagles are going to have to find a way to keep contain on the edges, because Ryan Tannehill hurting them with his legs was basically their only consistent well of success throughout the first half. Philadelphia brought decent pressure more often than not, but if the Titans could simply push the edge rushers up the field a bit, there was acres of space for him to run into around the outside, Jonathan Gannon keeping his guys back in a soft shell.

When the Eagles did stay home, Tannehill had nowhere to go, the Eagles guiding him toward the sideline or another sack. Since the additions of Joseph and Ndamukong Suh were made, Fletcher Cox has looked like a fresher player, and he made a nice play to corral Tannehill and bring him down for a sack in the second quarter.

This feels like a game the Eagles will eventually win fairly easily, because they've been the better team by far and just need to cut down on penalties. If your worst transgression defensively is giving up a few first downs on QB scrambles, you're probably having a good day at the office.

• You had to feel for Brown, who just narrowly missed out on a big touchdown over the top early in the second quarter. You know he wanted to put one on the highlight reel against the Titans, and his big toe was the only thing preventing Brown from another big-time play down the sidelines. With a throw slightly more inside from Hurts, he's got a touchdown to his name and an addition to the growing highlight reel in Philly.

So what did the Eagles do after replay ruled against them? They went right back to Brown on the very next play, and for a moment, it looked like a penalty could wipe out another 41-yard touchdown for Brown. This time, luck was on Philadelphia's side, the flag thrown for illegal contact as Brown ran right through Kristian Fulton and waltzed into the endzone for perhaps the easiest score of his life.

In the words of the great Rasheed Wallace, the ball don't lie. Brown got his deep shot TD, and the Birds were back in the lead.

• I liked the overall approach from the Eagles on offense in the first half. Tennessee has a tough run defense but is susceptible to being picked on through the air, and the Eagles did exactly that, looking for deep shots early and often to capitalize on their opponent's weakness.

You don't need to overcomplicate things. Take the path of least resistance and reap the benefits. Set aside the penalties that held them back, and there are very few complaints to make about the offense so far. Jalen Hurts is showing no mercy attacking the Titans with deep shots, and though he has had moments where he could be cleaner on said throws, it feels like a game where he could really pile on some points in a hurry in the second half.

Hurts was able to put a cherry on top of the half in the final minute, coasting for a touchdown after a pass interference call put the Eagles close to the goal line.

All things considered, a double-digit lead in spite of all the penalties ain't too shabby.

The Bad

• Plenty of good work from Hurts in the first half, but he just straight-up botched a throw to end their second series of the day. Smith was open, protection was good, and he just put one into the turf. 

• A shame James Bradberry wasn't rewarded for his great read on a Titans screen, easily could have taken it for a pick-six. As it is, still a great read in coverage. 

The Ugly

• Using a timeout on the first series on a third-and-shot play is just brutal. The Eagles made matters worse with a false start penalty on Jason Kelce for the ensuing play, their second such penalty on three plays. Would have been better off just taking a delay of game and saving the timeout.

False starts plagued the Eagles in the first half, which is a strange thing for a home team to struggle with. It's one thing when you're in a hostile environment and struggle to hear the snap count, but there's really no excuse to be as sloppy as they were with penalties in the opening quarter.

The defense had blunders of their own in the opening half, the biggest being Josh Sweat's offsides penalty that wiped out a stop and gave the Titans new life at a time when they had absolutely nothing going for them. Given a second chance to put together a scoring drive, Tannehill came up with a pair of big runs for the Titans, a reflection of both his mobility but also Philadelphia's poor containment of the quarterback. They would break through moments later, Tannehill hooking up with Treylon Burks for the tying score before the first quarter had ended.

Six total penalties for 40 yards lost in the opening period. And they did not suddenly figure it out when the second quarter began. Jeff Stoutland's group is one of the strengths of this team (this year but also in general), but their pre-snap focus was absolutely brutal to start this game. As Greg Olson alluded to on the broadcast, I have no doubt there are people who are going to attempt to draw a connection between the Christmas songs album and their inability to follow the snap count in this game. Hate it already.

This group needs to use halftime to refocus and cut down the BS. Simply not good enough so far, because they could easily be in cruise control and heading toward a comfortable victory. It's a game with everything left to play for instead.

(To be fair to the Eagles, this crew seems whistle-happy and not especially good on top of that. There were some questionable calls sprinkled in between the inexcusable mistakes, and you don't begrudge them for those. Even still, have to clean it up.)

• Best wishes to Burks, who got absolutely crushed by Marcus Epps to haul in his touchdown over the middle. Can't believe he hung onto that ball while taking a huge blow to the head, and Epps picked up a deserved penalty for that one.

• Mike Vrabel successfully overturned an Eagles reception on the first play of the second quarter, but it felt like the worst possible use of a challenge I can imagine. Why are you fighting for four yards on a play that wasn't going to lead to a turnover if you were successful? 

• If the Eagles got called for the first roughing the passer penalty Hurts drew in the second quarter, the fanbase might burn down NFL HQ. At least the second one was legit.

• This game is taking FOREVER. Gonna be 3 pm by the time the second half starts.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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