Eagles

Eagles vs. Falcons: 10 observations from another thrilling win over Atlanta

Eagles vs. Falcons: 10 observations from another thrilling win over Atlanta

BOX SCORE

They find a way. That’s the best thing about this Eagles team.

They did it last year, and they did it again Thursday night, muddling through some really horrifyingly ugly football to beat the Falcons in the 2018 NFL opener.

The Super Bowl champs are 1-0.

And who cares how?

Here are my 10 observations off the Eagles’ 18-12 opening-day win over the Falcons at the Linc.

1. I can’t explain Nick Foles. I can’t explain how a guy who can shred a Bill Belichick defense in a Super Bowl can look so out of sorts at home against the Falcons. But the thing about Foles is that when he has to make a play, he makes a play. There’s a reason he hasn’t lost a home game that he’s started and finished since 2013. There’s a reason he’s now 19-5 as the Eagles’ starter since opening day 2013. There’s a reason he’s a Super Bowl MVP. I’ll tell you what, I’d rather have a guy who wins ugly than one who loses pretty. Foles must have some serious internal strength to overcome such a horrific start Thursday night and make enough plays to will the Eagles to this win. Maybe it was the lack of work with the other starters. Maybe it was the Super Bowl hangover. I have no clue. But I know he wins. And really, that’s all I care about.

2. What a tremendous performance by the Eagles’ defense, especially down at the goal line. It had three goal-line stands, which is insane. Two in the first quarter and then the magical one at the end of the game. The Falcons had drives to the 1-, 3- and 5-yard lines and got three points out of it. That’s a ton of pressure to put on a defense, but the unit was brilliant when the game was on the line. Chris Long, Ronald Darby and Fletcher Cox in particular were massive Thursday night. It gave up some plays. It started to wilt late. The last couple minutes were scary. But just like Foles, it always seems to find a way. It found a way again Thursday night.

3. Here’s what I love about Doug Pederson running Philly Special II. It wasn’t to show off or be funny or show up the Falcons. It was to jump-start a stagnant offense, and it worked, leading to the Eagles’ first touchdown of the game. Before Nelson Agholor’s pass to Foles, the Eagles had netted 102 yards on 40 plays. It’s hard to be that bad.

4. I didn’t understand making Darren Sproles the centerpiece of the offense in the first half. I love Sproles, but to me he’s a change-of-pace guy, a situational guy. Not to mention, he’s 35 years old and hadn’t played a game — regular season, postseason, preseason — in 11½ months. The Eagles ran 28 plays in the first half, and nine of them involved Sproles. He was 4 for 5 rushing and was targeted five times in the passing game, catching two short passes for seven yards with a bad drop in there, too. Sproles made a couple plays in the second half as a changeup guy, which is where he’s best. There’s still a role for Sproles, but that was just too much too soon.

5. I didn’t get why Jay Ajayi had only three carries in the first half. Pederson finally got him going in the second half, and once Ajayi started picking up yards, the offense really got into a rhythm. Ajayi finally got going in the second half and really ran strong, finishing 15 for 62 with two touchdowns and a really sweet two-point conversion after the Eagles’ fourth-quarter touchdown. But the numbers don’t really show how well he ran. He ran tough. He moved the chains. He got the offense into a rhythm. I understand limiting Ajayi’s touches, but three in the first half just isn’t enough.

6. We really saw a lot of mistakes from some of the Eagles’ young players. Derek Barnett had two offsides penalties that negated huge third-down sacks by Long and Cox. Tre Sullivan got way too close to a punt, giving the Falcons possession. Dallas Goedert was unable to control a pass that was probably catchable and wound up getting intercepted to set up the Falcons’ only touchdown. Costly mistakes, and those are all promising players who you expect to have good careers, but they’re inexcusable mistakes, especially Barnett simply lining up offsides and Sullivan not getting the heck away from a live football. The Eagles have a ton of young players in the mix, and they’re going to have to grow up fast.

7. Rasul Douglas’ fourth-quarter interception really demonstrates the depth of the Eagles’ cornerback stable. Darby gets nicked and comes out of the game briefly, and Douglas takes his spot and makes a huge interception off Matt Ryan inside the 5-yard line. Darby is 24. Douglas is 23. Jalen Mills is 23. Sidney Jones is 22. They’re going to make mistakes, but this is really an incredible group of young corners.

8. Rough night for Zach Ertz, who never drops passes but had three against the Falcons, two of them on third downs that would have given the Eagles a first down. Ertz caught 5 for 48 but you just expect a guy with his pedigree to drop three passes in a month, much less a game. With Alshon Jeffery out, the Eagles need Ertz to be great.

9. Impressive NFL debut for Cameron Johnston. The rookie Aussie has a tough act to follow, trying to replace Donnie Jones — who was at the game Thursday night — but he began his career with punts of 56, 65, 58, 38, 50 and 46 yards and finished the night a remarkable average of 52.2 and net average of 50.3.

10. This was an ugly game filled with penalties and mistakes, but I thought the energy and toughness and spirit the Eagles showed after a short offseason was fantastic. It’s really not an easy thing to do, bouncing back after winning a championship and a short offseason and winning football games. It doesn’t matter how the Eagles did it, they did it, beating a potential NFC playoff team in a game with huge playoff implications. Speaks volumes for the job Pederson did this offseason guiding the team through the pratfalls of the Super Bowl hangover. This is a hungry team. This is a motivated team. And this is a talented team. It's not going away any time soon.

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Personnel disasters and more in Roob's random Eagles points

Personnel disasters and more in Roob's random Eagles points

Taking stock of Derek Barnett, the Eagles’ MVP, a long-range prediction and lots more in this weekend’s edition of Roob’s random Eagles points! 

1. When the Eagles needed defensive end depth, they didn’t hesitate to sign Vinny Curry, who had 11½ sacks in his previous four seasons. When they needed a running back, they signed Jay Ajayi off a one-year layoff. When they needed a wide receiver, it was 32-year-old DeSean Jackson and then when they needed another one, it was Jordan Matthews, who had been released three times in the past year.

Maybe this isn’t entirely true, but the impression these moves give is that the Eagles’ scouting department is bringing back guys it’s familiar with — guys the team has already cut ties with at least once — instead of really doing its due diligence to find the most talented and most promising players available at those positions. Need an Eagle? Find an old Eagle!

Jackson got hurt. Curry’s done nothing. Ajayi’s been here only a couple weeks but looks slow. Matthews lasted two weeks. There’ve been several other lesser guys they’ve recycled. I can’t help but wonder if the Eagles’ scouting department is basing way too much on familiarity and not enough on ability.

2. Barnett hasn’t been awful this year. He’s shown some flashes. Plays hard. But 4½ sacks is 4½ sacks. And 12 sacks in 33 NFL games is mediocre production. Barnett’s only 23 so there’s still time for him to figure it out, but he’s in Year 3 now, and I don’t see signs of him becoming a special player. He’s still trailing Mike Mamula’s pace (13½ sacks in his first 33 games). Not good enough.

3. Incredible that Miles Sanders already has the fourth-most scrimmage yards ever by a Penn State player in his rookie year: Saquon Barkley (2,028), Curt Warner (1,774), Franco Harris (1,235), Miles Sanders (879). Pretty good company. 

4. With Jordan Howard out (as well as Corey Clement and Darren Sproles), Doug Pederson can’t be afraid to give Sanders 22 or 23 carries in a game. He’s by far the most productive running back available right now, and the Eagles can’t simply go 69-31 pass-run ratio like they have the last three weeks just to protect Sanders. If the other backs on the roster aren’t good enough to produce, go find better running backs.

5. I’m not sure how this is possible, but Sanders has only six third-down carries all year. He’s averaging 5.8 yards on third down.

6. This is fascinating: The average third down Eagles opponents are facing is a 3rd-and-8, which is the fifth-longest third-down average by any defense this year. That’s really good. But opposing teams are converting 37 percent on third down, which is 13th best. The second figure should be much lower based on the first figure. Why the discrepency? Because the Eagles are allowing opposing teams to convert an incredible 25.5 percent on 3rd-and-10 or longer. That’s fourth worst in the league. 

7. My colleague Dave Zangaro and I were trying to figure out who the Eagles’ 2019 MVP is, and we were kind of stumped. Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson have been really good for the most part. Fletcher Cox has been his usual self after a slow start. Zach Ertz has big numbers again. Jake Elliott and Cameron Johnston have been terrific. Rodney McLeod has been the most consistent guy on defense. Sanders keeps getting better. But do any of them deserve the title of MVP? Nope. The reality is with four games to go? This team doesn’t doesn’t have one.

8. Ertz has 507 career catches. He needs 17 in the last four games for the most ever by a tight end in his first seven seasons. Jason Witten caught 523 from 2003 through 2009.

9. Ajayi is only 26, but he looks like he’s 36. That’s understandable to an extent. He didn’t have OTAs, didn’t have a training camp. Didn’t practice in over a year before Seattle week. He’s going to look rusty. But that raises the question … if you knew Ajayi had missed a year and wasn’t immediately going to be the same guy he used to be and you needed a running back to contribute now, why did you sign him?

10. Crazy prediction: If the Eagles find a way to beat the Cowboys and if they win the NFC East and if they host a wild-card weekend game, they’re not losing that game.

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Eagles-Giants NFL Week 14 predictions 2019

Eagles-Giants NFL Week 14 predictions 2019

The Eagles (5-7) host the Giants (2-10) at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday night. 

To the predictions: 

Reuben Frank (5-7) 
I’m really reluctant to pick the Eagles to beat anybody right now. I have no reason to have faith in this coach, these players, this staff. But then I look at the Giants and they’re way worse than the Dolphins. I don’t think it helps the Eagles that Eli Manning is back, even though he’s been brutal for years against the Eagles. But he's got a better chance to come into the Linc and win a game than a 22-year-old kid who has two career wins.

What Monday night will show all of us is whether the Eagles have mailed it in or if they still have a shred of fight in them. We know the Cowboys have mailed it in. Somebody has to win the NFC East, unless commisioner Roger Goodell just decides to vacate it and add another wild-card team. Probably won’t happen, although if I were the commish I would.

So against my better judgment I’ll pick the Eagles. But at this point, nothing would surprise me.

Eagles 27, Giants 26

Dave Zangaro (6-6) 
Let’s start by making this clear: The Eagles could lose any remaining game on their schedule. I just don’t think they’re gonna lose this one. The Giants are a mess and even with Manning, I’m not expecting that to change. And then there’s the fact that the Eagles have owned Manning and the Giants over the last few years. In fact, the Eagles are 9-1 against the Giants in the last five years. They’ve even won the last five games between the two teams. But four of those five wins have been close games, so I’m not about to predict a blowout. Still, I expect the Eagles to be tied with the Cowboys atop the NFC East on Tuesday morning. 

Eagles 24, Giants 20 

Derrick Gunn (5-7) 
Shocked is the best way to describe what happened to the Eagles down in Miami. The offense came to life, moved the ball effectively and put up 31 points. Then there’s the defense that we had applauded for holding four previous opponents to 17 points or fewer having a complete meltdown and giving up 37 points to one of the worst offenses in the league. If losing wasn’t bad enough, players and the head coach Doug Pederson said in unison “they wanted it more than we did.” So here they stand two games below sea level and fighting for their playoff lives.

The Giants are just as bad as the Dolphins on both sides of the ball. The Eagles’ defense was planning on getting an up-close-and-personal look at Daniel Jones, but he’s injured which means Manning has been dusted off and called into active duty. But wait there’s more: both TE Evan Engram and WR Golden Tate are expected to be healthy enough to return as well. If that happens, Tate, Engram, Sterling Shepard and Saquon Barkley would all be on the field together for the first time this season.

The Birds have owned Manning in recent years (Manning 1-9 in last 10 meetings with Eagles). This matchup makes me nervous. Manning could want to make a strong showing for a future employer. Will the Giants rally around their former leader? Which Eagles defense will show up? Despite the records, it’s a division battle, but at least the Birds have this one at home. 

Eagles 28, Giants 21

Ray Didinger (4-8) 
It was interesting that the point spread went up when it was announced that Manning would be starting for the Giants on Monday. Has it reached the point where bettors think a rookie, Jones, gives the Giants a better chance to win than a two-time Super Bowl MVP? Wow. 

Anyway, the Eagles were favored by eight but it went up to nine when the Giants announced Manning would start. I think the Giants saw Jones throw three picks Sunday against Green Bay (that's 21 turnovers for him this season) and decided the kid needed to sit for a week or so just to clear his head. Eight straight losses can wreck a young quarterback's confidence. They probably wanted to give Manning a chance at a curtain call anyway.

With Manning at quarterback, there will be a lot of dump offs to Barkley. He caught 91 of them last season when Manning was checking it down all the time. This year with Jones taking over Barkley has just 38 receptions. It is a dramatic difference. So Barkley will get a big work load, rushing and receiving, but it won't spell the difference. Big day for Carson Wentz against a woeful Giants defense.

Eagles 28, Giants 14

Andrew Kulp (6-6) 
I said it last week (while wrongly picking the Eagles), but it's not a given they will win this or any other game for the remainder of the season. That's just the reality of the situation.

That being said, while I might've been tempted to pick the Giants with Jones under center, picking the Giants led by Manning is a different story. Don't get me wrong, I can totally imagine a scenario in which Manning torches the dynamic duo of Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby — I just don't find it incredibly likely.

Manning stinks against the Eagles, stinks at Lincoln Financial Field, and really stinks against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in primetime. I'll take my chances on the Birds here.

Eagles 34, Giants 15

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