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January 21, 2018

First half observations: Eagles 24, Vikings 7

Thirty minutes stand between the Eagles and their first Super Bowl appearance since 2005. If they can repeat their performance from the first half, there is no doubt they will get there, with a strong performance that has them leading 24-7 at halftime.

We've seen things go south quickly in Philadelphia before, so let's all be sure not to take this for granted. 

The Good

• The man who has done nothing but make big plays all year saved one for the biggest game of the season. But Patrick Robinson's ridiculous pick-six to tie the game at 7-7 wouldn't have been possible if not for Chris Long, who bothered Case Keenum and forced the errant throw in the first place.

This sort of play epitomizes the team the Eagles have been all season because it took the effort of all 11 guys to make this happen. Even poor Ronald Darby, who got absolutely obliterated trying to throw a block to clinch the touchdown, made a difference just by sacrificing his body.

At its best, that's what football is all about, and that's what this Eagles team is all about. This group lays it on the line for one another, and it's how they've overcome adversity and injuries all year. (And oh, by the way, all three guys named here were offseason pickups by Howie Roseman. The guy is pretty good at his job.)

• He had to survive several early miscues from his supporting cast, but Nick Foles came out and looked even better than he did in the second half against Atlanta. There was no tentativeness or folding in the pocket, but plenty of Foles manipulating the Vikings with subtle movements and fakes.

This Foles is a completely different player, and when he plays like this it's easy to see why so many fans in the Philadelphia area believe in him. I would go so far as to say that was some of the best football we've seen from Foles since Chip Kelly first came to town, and Foles was a national sensation for his performance under a rookie head coach. He bought time against a really good Minnesota defense with pump fakes and using his eyes, and it really paid off on his rope to Alshon Jeffery to end the half.

Consistency tends to be his major problem, but the Eagles only need him to string together three games in order for Foles to live on in Eagles and NFL lore forever. So far, so pretty damn good.

• When we were having discussions about the Eagles being built for January football midway through the season, LeGarrette Blount's second-quarter touchdown run is exactly what most of us were envisioning. The Vikings never had a chance to stop him.

When Blount embraced his teammates in the back of the end zone, "Party Up" by DMX was echoing around Lincoln Financial Field. If there was ever an appropriate time to play the fire and fury that is the X man, it was after that run, with Blount shrugging off Vikings tacklers like pee-wee players.

• Keenum has done an excellent job since taking over the starting gig in Minnesota, but the one constant issue has been how he deals with pressure in the pocket. Jim Schwartz doesn't tend to blitz a whole lot, preferring to get pressure from his big boys up front, but he adjusted his game plan accordingly for the opponent.

It helps to have capable and intelligent leaders pulling things together on the back end. On a third-and-two early in the second quarter, Malcolm Jenkins went flying around the line of scrimmage to adjust a play, making sure his teammates knew what was up. The safety took off on a blitz on the snap, and Keenum folded, tossing a panicked throw into the ground in the process.

The first series aside, Philadelphia's coaching staff and players alike came prepared for this opponent.

• The reaction to Derek Barnett's selection last year was fairly mixed around Philadelphia. No one doubted the kid's talent, but defensive line was a relatively small concern compared to some of the holes the Eagles had on both sides of the ball.

It sure looks like a pretty great selection now. Barnett really came on in the second half of the season, and he forced a massive turnover with time running down in the first half.

He didn't break Reggie White's sack record at Tennessee by accident, and it has been a joy watching him figure things out at this level and make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. The play was even sweeter knowing the Eagles selected him with the first-round pick they got from Minnesota for quarterback Sam Bradford. Quite a turn of events.

• Doug Pederson had this team ready to rock, and what's more than that, he still pressed the tempo when Philly got the ball back with 40-ish seconds left in the half and a two-score lead. He stuck to his philosophy and played to win instead of playing scared, and that's exactly what winners do.

The guy is a damn good coach, and I think that should be abundantly clear to everyone at this point.

The Bad

• If you expected anything to hold up against a very good Minnesota team, it was the run defense. But the Vikings came out and absolutely gashed the Eagles on the first series, setting the tone for the game and shifting expectations for how the NFC Championship would unfold.

The Vikings picked up 27 yards on the ground on that first possession, tacking on an extra 11 on a swing pass to running back Latavius Murray, and the Eagles did a poor job of ending plays when they did get to the ballcarrier. It was about as poor a series as the defense could have played, and it sucked the air right out of a boisterous Lincoln Financial Field.

• Torrey Smith couldn't have picked a worse time to have his drop problem come back than this week, so of course, he put one on the turf on Philadelphia's first series.

This wasn't the perfect ball from Nick Foles, who would've liked to lead Smith more toward the middle of the field if he could have that one back. But it was good enough, and the veteran wideout just couldn't find a way to bring it in.

Philadelphia's first offensive possession was well-designed, with Pederson drawing up some good stuff for his guys to go out and execute. They got guys in motion, took a shot down the field and had players open on every passing play. But for one reason or another, they came up small.

The Ugly

• Taking a penalty for senselessly hitting a punt returner running away from the ball is really silly stuff, and the Eagles were lucky not to get punished for the mistake.

• Maybe don't do this next time, Minnesota fans. Or tempt fate as much as you want, it's your funeral.