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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More on the Eagles

Ominous injury news for Alshon Jeffery

Ominous injury news for Alshon Jeffery

Updated: 4:20 p.m.

The Eagles’ wide receiving corps, already in shambles, is now without Alshon Jeffery, who reportedly suffered a season-ending injury in the win over the Giants Monday night.

The oft-injured Jeffery was carted off the field after suffering a non-contact injury in the ankle or Achilles area early in the second quarter.

Head coach Doug Pederson declined to specify exactly what the injury is at his day-after presser, but he did say it’s “more significant” than a week-to-week injury. At this point in the season, it's no surprise that this is a season-ending injury for the 29-year-old Jeffery.

Pederson said he was waiting for more test results later Monday before saying anything more definitive, but it didn't sound good.

He did allow that, “We have to do a course of action, a plan, with him here pretty soon probably,” which presumably means placing Jeffery on Injured Reserve and figuring out how to replace him.

Jeffery's season ends after he played just 10 games. He finished with 43 catches for 490 yards and 4 touchdowns. 

Complicating matters is the continued absence of Nelson Agholor, the Eagles’ other starting wide receiver. He missed the Giants game with a knee injury he suffered in the Dolphins game a week ago, and Pederson said there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready to play against the Redskins.

“That one’s still up in the air,” he said. “We’ve just got to continue to work through his injury and where he’s at and continue to have conversations with him and see where he is prior to this week.”

With Jeffery out and Agholor’s status unknown, the Eagles have just two healthy wide receivers — J.J. Arcega Whiteside and Greg Ward, who have 19 combined career catches. Tight end Josh Perkins, who can also play in the slot, has 13 career receptions.

Things got so bad Sunday the Eagles were preparing backup quarterback Josh McCown to play wide receiver when Arega-Whiteside left the game. McCown played some receiver with the Lions in 2006. He’s now 40.

Most likely, the Eagles will add one and perhaps two wide receivers this week. Marken Michel, Marcus Green and Robert Davis are on the practice squad, and Jordan Matthews is always on Howie Roseman’s speed dial.

This late in the season it's difficult to bring in somebody from outside who hasn't been in this offense either in training camp or during the season.

“We definitely have a couple guys on practice squad if we have to make a move,” Pederson said. “Obviously, we could look outside the building if we need to. But we’re going to work through that today and try to get something in place here pretty quick. We’re back on the field (Tuesday).”

Jeffery has been in and out of the lineup with injuries for much of the last two years. The one-time Bears Pro Bowler had only 43 catches for 490 yards and four TDs in 10 games this year.

Pederson said right tackle Lane Johnson is week-to-week with a sprained ankle. Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who finished the game Monday night at right tackle, will start against the Redskins Sunday. Pederson didn’t have a timetable on Johnson’s possible return.

The rest of the injury news was a little more positive.

Rookies Arcega-Whiteside and Miles Sanders, who both missed snaps Monday night, are “fine,” according to Pederson.

Cornerback Jalen Mills, who hurt his elbow, “should be OK,” Pederson said: “The only thing you’ll see probably is a brace on his elbow. Other than that he’s good.”

More on the Eagles

Carson Wentz reveals his baby’s gender in classic Carson Wentz style

Carson Wentz reveals his baby’s gender in classic Carson Wentz style

Did we expect anything less from Carson Wentz?

If you haven’t been following our beloved quarterback’s personal life, Carson Wentz and his wife Madison announced on Thanksgiving morning that they are expecting their first child. 

On Tuesday, Wentz posted an Instagram video from their gender reveal party, where the couple found out the sex of their baby in the most Wentz way possible — by throwing a football full of colored powder into the air and skeet shooting it down to reveal the colored powder.

The football doesn’t lie. It’s a girl! 

Baby Girl Wentz is due this spring and we can’t wait. Let’s begin the name guessing now.