It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t overly encouraging, but the Eagles are 1-0 and they got there with a road win over a team that might be better than many may have thought coming into the season. The Chiefs got beat at home on Thursday; the Bengals scored 3 points at Cleveland; the Seahawks got thumped by the Rams; the much-hyped Steelers got throttled and the promising Giants season began with a 40-0 home loss in the division. It’s hard to win in this league. The Birds are 1-0.
Here are some random thoughts on the game.
The scripted plays looked great. The first two drives were fantastic and then after that…well, not so fantastic.
The running back rotation was strange in that Gainwell had 18 touches to Swift’s 2 and Boston Scott’s 2. It is also interesting that Rashaad Penny was a healthy scratch. (By the way, am I the only one who didn’t realize that Rashaad Penny is the NFL’s ALL-TIME LEADER in yards per carry…huh?!? It’s not like he’s had fumbling issues – how is this guy not a star? Weird…)
I also found it strange that Dallas Goeddert had just one target. He’s one of the best weapons in the league – got to get him the ball.
And, finally, the decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 at the 44. I didn’t hate it. Honestly! Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not really a “go for it” kind of a guy. I think it’s kind of stupid sometimes, especially when they pass up like a 45-yard field goal only to possibly convert the first down which could, easily, just lead to a…field goal. Ya, take the points, guys. But, the times that I would definitely go for it are (1) a short 4th and goal (because success is not a shot at 7, but a definite 7), (2) a 4th down around midfield (because the risk there is only about 20-30 yards of field possession whereas the reward is probably points, and (3) a 4th down that, if converted, leads to a kneel-down victory. This one was definitely #2 and probably #3, so I was actually okay with it, especially up by 5 (a FG game is a different story). However, I didn’t like the play call at all since this offense is built around optionality (shout out to Hinkie) and a short slant to a 160-pound receiver out of shotgun offers no real options.
In all, the offense under a new coordinator (albeit the same head coach who is probably the most important piece of the offensive braintrust) didn’t look a ton different in scheme (at least to my untrained eyes), which is good, but there were a few potentially key differences from last year’s record-setting season. One was simply execution, and I am totally fine chalking that up to it being Week One for a team that did not play a single snap together in the preseason going up against the greatest defensive mind to ever live with an entire offseason to prepare. So, I’m not worried about the talent on this team showing up most weeks. The other difference is more nuanced and a bit esoteric, so take this as just a novice’s feeling from his couch. Shane Steichen’s superpower was not in his scheme or his energy or any real novel concepts (in fact, his famous “push play” on 4th and short failed spectacularly without an elite O-lnie and a QB who can squat 700 pounds…and it cost him his first game as a head coach yesterday). Steichen’s superpower last year was seeming to have such an incredible sense for the gameflow. He sensed the rhythm of the game and when to call which play at the perfect time to either shift the momentum if they had lost it or step on the gas when they had it. We did not see much of that at all yesterday. Again, I am not going to judge it on one game against the GOAT with a rusty contingent, but it is something to keep an eye on. Because that I did see in much of the Indy-Jax game I watched yesterday with Steichen.
The defense, on the other hand, looked a lot different than last year’s, which might be a good thing considering the last time we saw the Jonathan Gannon Defense here in Philly, they were only stopped the Chiefs from scoring a TD once in the second half of the Super Bowl – and that was when we WANTED them to score a TD because it was the only way we’d get the ball back. The Sean Desai Defense definitely showed more aggression in elaborate blitz schemes (using BG as a standup, blitzing linebacker…bringing pressure from the safety and middle linebacker spots…and, a lot of zero-blitzes) as opposed to Gannon’s version of defense in sitting back and always avoiding the big play. Now, I have been loudly on the record as to thinking blitzing in today’s NFL is vastly overrated, so I am going to wait to call this an upgrade, but I would be lying if I said I don’t enjoy seeing unblocked blitzers way more than I enjoy seeing the opposition complete 5-yard passes whenever they want. But, I do also think that, in general, Gannon’s philosophy of never allowing a big play is a better overall approach in 2023 than the old-school, Jim Johnson style. That said, Gannon took it too far (obviously), so maybe Desai is just reining it back in. That’s my hope.
The rotations and personnel choices were interesting. Milton Williams’s usage jumped off the screen yesterday, and I thought he rewarded the trust (more on the individuals in a minute). The safety usage was strange, to me, as Justin Evans not only got the start but played all but 3 snaps at strong safety. I thought we’d see more of Terrell Edmonds, but I guess it’s Evans for now. And, I don’t know what Edmonds would have brought, but the, uh, middle of the field yesterday was kind of a disaster…just sayin’.
So, this wasn’t exactly the best we’ve seen of Mr. Hurts, but some of the things we love the most about him always show up – poise, leadership, heart, accountability. And, I think it’s those things that allow games like this to not slip away (or games where they’re behind to not slip away). He wasn’t his best as a quarterback in this game, but I still think he was a huge part of the W today. That was a good, smart defense, and he did just enough. That fumble was bad, but we’ll let him slide since he only fumbled twice all year while setting records for QB rushing and leading the best offense we have seen here maybe ever.
They have seen better days. Mailata seemed to be an issue in pass protection as there was a ton of pressure from his side. I did think Jurgens held up nicely, though I’m confused as to why he was always looking back at Hurts right up until he was about to snap it. Doesn’t that tip off the line as to the snap count? Why does he have to do that? Isn’t he a natural center who, obviously, can’t be doing that? Or, is he used to looking through his legs at the QB? I have questions…
As I mentioned above, it’s strange about the volume of touches for Gainwell, and he was…fine. But, he’s not a bellcow. We don’t have one – by design! So, if you have designed a rushing offense tailored around multiple change-of-pace, play-the-hot-hand, always-fresh backs, then do that! I would love to see Penny activated on Thursday (maybe even over Scott if they don’t want to use 4 spots) and use the variation of Gainwell, Swift, and Penny. That’s what we were sold, and I want to see it, dammit! That said, there seemed to be some real issues in pass pro, at times, in this game, and that could have been a result of the RB blocking. Maybe they trust Gainwell the most back there to pass protect. I don’t know, I’ll wait for the tape-grinders to tell me.
A.J. Brown is such a beast. This was ho-hum game for the whole offense, but Brown showed his value with several key catches over the middle. And, Smith might be the best #2 receiver in the league and showed it on the TD catch and the amazing toe-tap catch on the sidelines. This group is special. Romo made this point (way too many times, but whatever, that’s him) on the telecast, and I think it’s a good one – this team is so difficult to stop when they’re running the ball, so it forces teams to dedicated resources to it. But, that leaves you with the brutal choice of leaving these two wideouts one-on-one. And, that’s not good. This is a sustainable, repeatable concept that will continue to bear fruit as long as the O-line is in tact, Hurts is healthy, and these two wideouts are on the field. Defensive coordinators are going to have nightmares figuring out how to slow down the multiplicity of the run game while also containing two elite man-beating WRs. And, these other defensive coordinators are not Belichick. Hopefully, he didn’t lay any blueprints, but even so, I feel confident that this offense is going to great again.
One target for Goeddert! That should never happen again. Jack Stoll has turned himself into a borderline-elite blocking tight end and is almost a 6th lineman out there and showed it in this one. Apparently, Craig Calcaterra played in this one, but I didn’t notice him, which isn’t great for a guy known strictly as a “move” tight end.
Dude… No, really…wow! Jalen Carter is an absolute MONSTER! I am notorious in my household for stopping like dozens of times each game and making them watch Fletcher Cox pressures over and over again. Well, there’s a new Fletch in town…and, if you know me, you know that those words are not spoken lightly. This guy is an absolute total game-wrecker. He had 6 hurries and a sack in just 32 snaps! What?!? No rookie DT in the last 5 years has had 6 hurries in a single game…in any game…and, this dude just did it in his FIRST NFL GAME…in just 32 snaps?!? Dude…wow! I didn’t start with this because I thought I’d never get to the rest of the article, and I’m going to stop here. But, please know that I don’t want to.
Anyway, the rest of the D-line showed up again, as usual, and this is where this defense is gonna dominate again this year. Jordan Davis looked a lot better in this game than probably any game all year last year. Josh Sweat has become a real stud. He is so good against the run and has turned into a good pass-rusher, also. Hassan Reddick showed no signs of injury, and my man, Fletch, turned back the clock in that 4th quarter. Also, Milton Williams played a lot of snaps and, I thought, was pretty effective. They lost Hargrave and, at least for now, they seem to have replaced his snaps without a hitch (and that’s saying something).
This, uh, wasn’t good…again. Total overhaul of the linebacking corps has opened the door to Nacoby Dean and Zach Cunningham. Cunningham was non-descript against the run (not a good thing) and somewhat poor in coverage. Dean made some nice plays against the run, but was exposed in coverage, as well. This could be a recurring issue and harkens back to draft night when Dean kept slipping and no one knew why the “best player” on the nation’s best defense slipped to the 3rd Round. There were absolutely no character concerns (actually the exact opposite) and only weird, seemingly stretching injury concerns. It just so happened that, as productive as the dude was, he’s just not that big and not that fast. And, in yesterday’s game, he looked, well, “not that big and not that fast.” I still believe in him and really want to give him every chance because he’s such a good leader and such a smart, smart player to have in the middle of your defense. But, if he just can’t do it physically, that will be exploited in this league. Also, it might not matter for a little anyway, as he was seen in a walking boot after the game. So, we might be looking at a lot of Christian Elliss (who didn’t look so bad in that 4th quarter, honestly) in the next month or so. Tight ends, RBs out of the backfield, and slot receivers might just kill this team all year…
…because of this group also. Justin Evans started and played pretty much every snap at strong safety. And, I am not studying tape, but it seemed like a large part of the Patriots’ offensive success came in spots where a strong safety might otherwise be. The LBs clearly struggled in coverage, but I think Evans wasn’t much better. He will probably go again on Thursday against Minnesota because it’s such a short week, but if he isn’t any better this week, it might be time for Terrell Edmunds. It also stings a little more after watching CJGJ play so well on Thursday night for the Lions and Jesse Bates (who was a highly-publicized Eagles potential target) ball out for the Falcons yesterday. I know that the resources allocated to the safety position for guys like Gardner-Johnson or Bates is not usually worth it, but Evans just didn’t cut it yesterday. Reed Blankenship was decent on the back-end in coverage and he flies to the ball, but he’s still a little slender and/or a touch slow to be a huge force against the run. But, he wasn’t a problem, and I am fine running him out there every week.
No one can catch “Big Play” Slay, not even Father Time. 32 years old is ancient for a cornerback. Patrick Peterson is 33 and has looked like a total shell of himself for 3-4 years now. Darrell Revis didn’t make a Pro Bowl after the age of 28 and was out of the league at 32. Even the great Deion Sanders, who was First-Team All-Pro SIX times and one of the few CBs to ever win Def POY, RETIRED – after being waived by the Washington Redskins – at the age of 32. (NOTE: I totally forgot that Deion, weirdly, came out of retirement 4 years later, at the age of 37, to play for the Ravens…but, that doesn’t fit this narrative here.) Well, Slay’s first game as a 32-year old corner was pretty awesome. It started with an incredible pick-six (the longest of his career and the longest for an Eagles’ DB since the famous Eric Allen Play). He also got beat on a deep pass in the second half, but showed the closing speed of a 22-year old to get back into the play, break it up, and almost pick it off. He’s great! James Bradberry is the less flashy, but possibly more effective corner at the ripe age of 31 on the other side, and he was great again. The Pats got nothing on the outside. Bradberry left with an injury late, but he should be okay. Isaiah Jobe played well in his stead and held down the fort on that critical late drive. Avonte Maddox looked unsurprisingly good in the slot.
If there is an MVP for this game (other than Jalen Carter, obviously, haha), it would be Jake Elliott. A couple of ENORMOUS field goals, including some long ones – and they were the difference. We have a legit weapon as a kicker.
The rest of the special teams are going to take years off of my life this year. Aaron Siposs is still not good, which sucks. They tried to replace him and decided not to, for some reason. The coverage units were pretty bad again to start this year after a year of trouble on that unit. Sydney Brown made a huge play (and has all the makings of a really good coverage guy), so that might be promising. Isaiah Jobe also made a good play, so maybe they just need some experience with this group…maybe…MAYBE?!? I hope so…
Not to repeat the intro, but I think a win is a win is a win, especially on the road in Week One. There are plenty of things to clean up, and they have a very short week on which to do it. But, this team, this coach, and, particularly, this quarterback have done more than enough to earn our trust and belief that they will figure it out more times than not. This wasn’t a 40-0 road divisional win, but the Cowboys are 1-0 and the Eagles are 1-0. There are no style points, boys – just win, baby!