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September 25, 2022

First half observations: Eagles 24, Commanders 0

The Eagles' defensive line beat up on Carson Wentz in the first half, and the offense rallied after a slow start to push Philadelphia to a 24-0 halftime lead over the Commanders.

Here's what I saw in the first 30 minutes.

The Good

• The pass rush has taken a beating through the first two weeks of the season, and rightfully so, as there is a lot of money tied up in the trenches for a team that hasn't gotten a ton of pressure yet. But whether it was a normal return to form or a bit of extra juice thanks to the Carson Wentz matchup, they came out ready to play in this one, forcing the Commanders off of the field quickly to open the game.

It was a group effort to get it rolling. Jordan Davis came barrelling through the line and tipped a Wentz throw into harm's way early in the opening series, showing the QB a taste of what he'd deal with all half. And it only took a couple of plays later before the Eagles came up with sack No. 1 of the day, Josh Sweat getting to the edge with Fletcher Cox giving Wentz nowhere to step up in the pocket, eventually dropping Wentz to the turf.

Nobody was more fired up for this one, evidently, than Cox. On the first play of Washington's second series, it was Cox bum rushing Wentz yet again, giving everybody his signature army crawl celebration after bringing his former teammate (and current friend) down for a big loss. That was followed by a sack on a third consecutive dropback, this time from Javon Hargrave, pinning the Commanders close to their goalline and putting the Eagles in excellent field position for their second drive of the day.

I can't speak to how liked or disliked Wentz was in Philly beyond what the people who are plugged in could tell you, but it sure seemed like these guys were out to prove a point. They became the first team to put up four sacks in an opening quarter since 2019, and it was the first time the Eagles had managed such a feat since 1991. Pretty good.

(Let's make sure we mention Hasson Reddick in this space, too, because this first half felt like a coming out party for the Temple product for Philly. He got to Wentz multiple times and forced a fumble midway through the second quarter. This is closer to what most expected to see when they inked him to a deal this offseason.)

• With how oblivious Wentz looked in the pocket for most of the first half, it felt like a matter of time before the Eagles would force a fumble out of a QB who has put the ball on the turf a ton over the years. Lo and behold, the strip sack eventually came, Brandon Graham catching Wentz at the perfect time.

Credit, of course, to Javon Hargrave for quickly pouncing on the football and making sure the good work from Graham did not go to waste.

• It was not the offense's fastest start of the year. Washington sent a lot of pressure at Hurts throughout the opening quarter, and they paired that with tight coverage on his weapons, forcing him to try to make some tight-window throws. He was erratic in the early going as a result, missing out on a couple of potential first downs with poorly placed balls to his wideouts.

Here's the good news: Hurts and the offense got rolling on their third possession of the game, kicking things off with a huge third-down throw from Hurts to AJ Brown over the middle extending the drive. What came next stands out as one of the highlights of the season so far — a deep shot down the sideline to DeVonta Smith where only he could come down with the football. There was some debate over whether this was a catch or not — it looked like he double tapped the same foot down on replay — but ultimately the Commanders didn't pull the trigger quick enough on the challenge flag to dispute the ruling:

Credit to Hurts and the offense for rushing up to the line and making sure that was the case. Good situational awareness.

(This half featured a little bit of everything from Smith, who is growing in stature with each passing week. Hurts hit him on a comebacker, that throw you see above, and a crossing route late in the half that Smith turned into 30+ yards when the YAC was accounted for. Hurts seemingly always has somebody open this season, and Smith has been a big part of that.)

Though they didn't cash in for a touchdown on that drive, they had clearly begun to find their footing. Once the defense set them up with great field position on the ensuing possession, the Eagles made short work of the Commanders to find the endzone for their first TD of the day. Good execution on this screen to Dallas Goedert — with Washington sending constant pressure at Hurts, a play designed to absorb the rush felt like just what the game needed, and Goedert did an excellent job to find the gap and explode through once the blockers lined up for him.

At the point of Goedert's score, 10-0 felt like a genuinely insurmountable lead with how good the defense looked. 

• He didn't get a ton of work in the first half, but Miles Sanders continued what I think has been a quietly excellent start to the season. With the Eagles pinned back deep after a muffed punt, Sanders got the ball on first down and burst through the line of scrimmage with purpose, well aware he didn't have time to dance and juke around the goalline. By creating a bit of cushion between the line of scrimmage and the goalline, the Eagles were able to continue building on the offensive success they'd had on the previous two possessions.

One thing I think deserves mentioning in our assessment of Hurts so far this season — the Eagles feel like they're taking a lot more shots downfield and trusting their playmakers to win one-on-one battles. It's easy to chalk that all up to the presence of Brown, who made an excellent catch early in the second quarter on a lob from Hurts down the sideline. But the QB is also playing aggressive, downfield football, taking chances without ever really putting the ball in harm's way.

With Philadelphia marching downfield for what looked to be an easy three points late in the first half, Hurts' willingness to attack downfield showed up once again, and again DeVonta Smith came up with a highlight reel catch. This is the sort of thing the Eagles were hoping for when they paid a premium to get this kid, and he is a big part of why the passing attack looks incredible to start the year.

More of this in the second half and this might turn into a historic beatdown.

• Remember many moons ago when Chip Kelly said, "Big people beat up little people," to sum up the Eagles' philosophy? This is sort of what he was getting at:

Sometimes, you don't need a beautiful throw or anything more than a favorable one-on-one matchup in order to find paydirt. Brown is off to quite a start to his Eagles tenure, and this group is simply rolling right now.

• Philadelphia's half-closing drive was a thing of beauty from Hurts and the offense. Only two timeouts at their disposal and a lot of ground to cover, and they made it look easy. 

It helps to have Smith on the roster. A total of 156 yards on seven catches with a touchdown in a single half! A human highlight reel.

The Bad

• I don't mind some inventiveness on fourth down from the Eagles, but consider me out on any play using Zach Pascal as a runner. If you're going to try something gadgety with one of your receivers there, give me the speed of Quez Watkins or the speed/power combo of AJ Brown. 

Alternatively, you could also just use the big, athletic QB or the running back who played well in the first half. Crazy idea, I know.

The Ugly

• Darius Slay had his best game in an Eagles uniform last week, and since nothing gold can stay, he spent a lot of the first half trying to run off some sort of nagging issue on the sidelines.

• LOL at Ron Rivera being too slow on the draw with the challenge flag. 

• Wildgoose makes the all-time name team, for sure. Thought I was hallucinating when I first saw the back of his jersey.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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