10 observations

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

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

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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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Roob's 10 Observations: Crazily underrated Eagles LB, Matthews' future and more

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Roob's 10 Observations: Crazily underrated Eagles LB, Matthews' future and more

Comparing the Eagles' 2004 and 2017 Super Bowl offensive lines, a drastically underrated Eagles linebacker, Jordan Matthews' future and more in the neverending parade of Nick Foles stats!

Somebody must have ordered Roob's 10 Random Eagles Observations! 

1. One of the biggest differences between the 2004 Super Bowl and the 2017 Super Bowl was the performance of the Eagles' offensive line. The Eagles' line in Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville got brutalized. The interior of the line in particular — guards Jermane Mayberry and Artis Hicks and center Hank Fraley — was destroyed by Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel, who hit Donovan McNabb repeatedly, forced him to rush throws, sacked him four times, recorded eight tackles for loss and limited the Eagles to 2.6 yards per rush.

Compare that to the performance of Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks, the interior of the 2017 O-line this time around against the Patriots. The line was monstrous, controlling the line of scrimmage, keeping Foles clean (no sacks on 44 pass attempts) and paving the way for the Eagles to average 6.1 yards per carry. That 2004 O-line was a pretty good one, with three Pro Bowlers (Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan, Mayberry), but they just got destroyed in Jacksonville.

The 2017 group? Their play was superhuman despite losing a Hall of Fame left tackle. Lane Johnson, Brooks and Kelce all showed they're as good as anyone in the game. And Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Wisniewski, two guys that didn't even start the season in the starting lineup, were beasts down the stretch and in the playoffs. It's a group that's smart, physical and athletic and plays so well together. Best of all? They're all back. The team that brought you Ben Tamburello, Mike Schad, Steve Everitt, Ron Solt, Ian Beckles, Max Jean-Gilles, Jeff Dellenbach, Lonnie Palelei and a freaking 26-year-old rookie who wanted to ride around tooting the horn on a firetruck has the best O-line in football, and they're not going away any time soon.

2. I know Doug Pederson said Jay Ajayi will be the Eagles' lead back this year, but I still don't expect him to get more than 200 carries. The Eagles have been clear about their concern with his chronic knee issues, and with the talent they have at running back there's no reason to give Ajayi 20 carries a game. But, man, he can make a huge impact — and stay healthy — with 13 or 14 carries and two or three catches.

3. William Thomas was so underrated. Maybe it's because he was drafted in 1991, as the whole Reggie / Clyde / Seth / Jerome / Wes / Andre defense was unraveling. But Willie T. had 27 interceptions and 37 sacks in his career, and only five others in NFL history had 25 sacks and 25 INTs — including Dawk, Ray Lewis and Rodney Harrison. In fact, Willie T. and Lewis are the only linebackers ever with 25 and 25.  

4. I know everybody disagrees, but I still think Jordan Matthews is pretty good, and I expect him to have a solid season in New England.

5. Another reason to love Doug Pederson: The Eagles' 29 fourth-down attempts last year are the most on record (the NFL began tracking fourth-down attempts in 1991). The Eagles were an insane 20-for-29 on fourth down, including some fairly important ones. It was amazing watching Doug evolve last year into such a fearless play-caller. 

6. Nick Foles' stats on third down in the 2017 postseason are so ridiculous I double-checked them three times because I didn't think they could possibly be correct. But they're correct: 27-for-33 for 400 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 156.8 passer rating. Yep, only two more incomplete passes than touchdowns. This is insanity.

7. The more time goes by, the more astonishing Foles' postseason seems to me. 

8. Only three players in Super Bowl history have caught a touchdown pass on fourth down: Irving Fryar when the Patriots were trailing the Bears 44-3 late in the fourth quarter in 1985, Don Beebe when the Bills were trailing the Redskins by 20 late in the fourth quarter in 1991 and Foles just before halftime of a three-point game. Conclusion: Foles is the only player in NFL history to catch a meaningful fourth-down touchdown pass in a Super Bowl.

9. I have no idea what really happened at NRG Stadium after Super Bowl LI. But I find it extremely difficult to believe that in this day and age when every single thing anybody does is caught on videotape, that not one video camera picked up the incident Michael Bennett is alleged to have been involved in. With all the security at major events these days? There was no video camera? At an entrance to the field? After a Super Bowl? Not buying it.

10. We haven't had a Zach Ertz stat in a while, so here ya go: Ertz is the only player in Eagles history with three straight seasons with 70 or more catches and 800 yards. Only two others have had two straight: Fryar and Matthews.

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Roob’s 10 observations: Agholor, underrated Super Bowler, Shady’s career

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Roob’s 10 observations: Agholor, underrated Super Bowler, Shady’s career

More improvement from Nelson Agholor, an underrated Super Bowl performer, two agonizing yards from a milestone and an incredible accomplishment that LeSean McCoy is closing in on.

It’s all right here in this week’s edition of Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Observations!

1. Doug Pederson has found the perfect balance these past few months of allowing his players to really enjoy being Super Bowl champions while still keeping an eye on 2018, and that’s not an easy thing to do. The Eagles have celebrated when it’s time to celebrate and they’ve worked when it’s time to work, and honestly, I feel like most of the guys on this team would rather be at an OTA practice under the hot June sun than at some banquet re-living Super Bowl LII. Which is the beauty of this team. Zach Ertz put it beautifully when he said this: “There’s always going to be one-hit wonders in this league. Teams that won one Super Bowl or players that made one Pro Bowl and then you didn’t hear from them again. But it’s the great players and the great teams that are able to have that sustained success.” And that right there is the mantra for this football team. Last year was incredible. But it’s in the past. It’s time to move on. It’s time to go to work.

2. Five quarterbacks in NFL history have had a passer rating of 101.9 or higher in their second NFL season [minimum of 200 attempts]. Three of them are Hall of Famers – Otto Graham, Kurt Warner and Dan Marino. The other two are … Carson Wentz and Nick Foles.

3. This is insanity, but there’s no doubt in my mind T.O. can still help a football team. I know, I know. He’s 44. The oldest player in NFL history to catch a pass is Jerry Rice, Owens’ former teammate, who was 42 years, 67 days, when he caught his last three career passes – 3 for 25 yards from Matt Hasselbeck for the Seahawks against the Jets on Dec. 19, 2004. The only other player to catch a pass in his 40s is Brett Favre, who caught a batted pass that he threw (for minus-two yards) against the Rams at 40 years, 1 day, for the Vikings in 2009. I know T.O. hasn’t played since 2010, when he caught 72 passes for 983 yards and nine TDs playing for the Bengals. But T.O. is different than other human beings. He’s a freak of nature. He could play till he’s 50. But considering his history, no team is ever going to take a chance on him. It’s a shame, but that’s the reality.

4. It still blows my mind that the Eagles won the Super Bowl just two years after Chip Kelly was fired. Think about that. Jeff Lurie, Howie Roseman and Pederson overhauled the entire franchise from late 2015 train wreck to 2017 NFL champs in 769 days. 

5. During that span, the Browns have won one game.

6. Kind of lost in all the Super Bowl insanity – Philly Special, Nick Foles’ performance, Brandon Graham’s strip-sack, the 4th-down conversion to Zach Ertz – was LeGarrette Blount’s remarkable performance. Blount’s 6.4 rushing average that day (14 for 90) is highest in NFL postseason history by a back 31 or older. The previous record was Tiki Barber’s 5.3 for the Giants in the 2006 wild-card game that the Eagles won at the Linc. Blount destroyed that record. And it came after a stretch in which Blount had averaged just 3.7 yards per carry in his previous eight games. Blount wasn’t here long but what a tremendous impact he made both as an unfailingly unselfish leader and as a battering-ram running back.

7. Hard to believe DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are the only Eagles draft picks with a 1,000-yard receiving season since Fred Barnett, who was drafted 28 years ago. I expect Nelson Agholor to do it this season.

8. I’m still sad Brent Celek is sitting there with 4,998 career receiving yards. 

9. Wondering what the heck the Redskins are thinking is a way of life around the NFL, but it still blows my mind that they believe they have a better chance of winning with a 34-year-old Alex Smith and than with a 29-year-old Kirk Cousins. 

10. LeSean McCoy has averaged 101 yards from scrimmage per game in his brilliant nine-year NFL career, and he now has 13,470 net yards from scrimmage – eighth-most in NFL history by a player before his 30th birthday (behind seven Hall of Famers). Every back in NFL history who’s gained 16,000 yards from scrimmage — and there are 10 of them — is in the Hall of Fame. At his current pace, Shady would get to 16,000 in Week 9 of the 2020 season. I’m sure as heck not betting against him. 

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