Though far from perfect and somewhat Pyrrhic, it’s hard to find much to complain about when you open the season with a 30 to 17 road win over a division rival.
The Eagles beat Washington for the first time since 2014, almost three years to the day that Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” climbed to the top of the Billboard 100 charts. Five losses and 36 months later, Doug Pederson is getting a sideline Gatorade bath while Taylor drops some really weird shit.
Ironically, it was a questionable call that sealed the deal for the Birds, when Brandon Graham’s fourth quarter strip of Kirk Cousins was allowed to stand despite what I thought looked pretty damn close to a throwing motion. Cousins turned the ball over three times as the Skins’ offense generated just 264 yards at home.
1. Establishing momentum, then killing it
I loved the first play deep look for Torrey Smith, followed by a couple of confidence-boosting catches for Nelson Agholor. You saw a lot of that in the Week 1 college and NFL games, with coaches trying to establish rhythm and timing for their quarterbacks and receivers.
After the 58 yard touchdown pass to Agholor, Pederson then made one of his worst calls of the game with that motion/flat pass/bubble screen combination. Theoretically, I understand that you want to keep that momentum going and get the ball in Agholor’s hands again, but it ended up becoming a horrendous turnover after a really poor pass from Carson Wentz.
Also, take a look at Smith’s Odubel Herrera-esque effort in recovering the loose ball:
Not the time to get cute, that's on Doug pic.twitter.com/WfJ5e0O6SB
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) September 10, 2017
For what it’s worth, this is what Pederson said post-game when asked about that play:
“It’s a run, and based on what the defense does, (Wentz) has the ability to throw it. Not talking about where he throws, but what Nelson (Agholor) does with the ball when he gets it.”
Whatever that meant.
In hindsight, Wentz does deserve a lot of blame for that sequence.
2. More blunt than Blount
LeGarrette Blount finished with 14 carries for 46 yards, averaging 3.3 per touch, with his longest run going seven yards.
His biggest contribution was actually in the passing game, with a one-yard touchdown catch to start the second quarter. It was the second TD reception of his ENTIRE career, coming off the heels of a 2016 season where he finished with just seven total catches.
By my count, he only ran for one first down in this game. He was used three other times in short-yardage situations, the most prominent of which was the second scoring series, on the first play inside the red zone from two yards out. The Eagles also opened the second half by running him out of the shotgun for whatever reason, and there was another situation later in the third quarter when the line opened up a huge hole that he couldn’t get through fast enough, turning a 10+ yard gain into a five yard gain.
One of the things I did like about Blount’s usage was that off-tackle/bunch formation look, which essentially gave him a couple of lead blockers without needing a fullback to run between the tackles.
This was the setup used twice in the game, where that cluster of blockers would immediately engage two linebackers and a corner at the second level of attack:
3. 60/40 is what you’re going to get
The Birds threw it 39 times and ran it 24 times for a 62% to 38% pass/run split.
That’s in a ballgame where they controlled the clock for 34:16, compared to Washington’s 25:44.
You might have been clamoring for Pederson to run it more based on that skew, but context doesn’t really seem to matter much in that department. 60/40 is pretty much what you’re going to get, even in a road game where you earn four takeaways and run more total plays (65) than the opponent (61).
It’s in Doug’s DNA, just like it was in Andy Reid’s DNA. For what it’s worth, Andy threw it 35 times and ran it 27 times in the Chiefs’ big win over the Pats on Thursday night.
Only twice last season did Doug Pederson run the ball more than he threw it. The first instance was the 24-19 Week 16 home win that kept the Giants from clinching a playoff berth. Pederson ran it 30 times and threw it 25 times in that game. The second instance was the Falcons win, which featured 38 runs and 36 passes.
Every other game was pass-heavy:
Week 17: win against Dallas backups – 43 pass, 30 rush (61/39 split)
Week 15: Ravens loss – 42 pass, 38 rush (53/47 split)
Week 14: Skins loss – 46 pass, 26 rush (64/36 split)
Week 13: Bengals loss – 60 pass, 19 rush (76/24 split)
Week 12: Packers loss – 36 pass, 18 rush (67/33 split)
Week 11: Seahawks loss – 45 pass, 26 rush (63/37 split)
Week 9: Giants loss – 47 pass, 25 rush (65/35 split)
Week 8: Cowboys overtime loss – 44 pass, 24 rush (65/35 split)
Week 7: Vikings win – 28 pass, 26 rush (52/48 split)
Week 6: Skins loss – 22 pass, 21 rush (51/49 split)
Week 5: Lions loss – 33 pass, 21 rush (61/39 split)
Week 3: Steelers win – 31 pass, 30 rush (51/49 split)
Week 2: Bears win – 34 pass, 32 rush (52/48 split)
Week 1: Browns win – 37 pass, 34 rush (52/48 split)
It’s almost like you can feel him trying to be balanced early in the season.
4. How the new guys make the returning guys better
By halftime, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith were targeted four times combined for one catch and 14 total yards.
Agholor had four grabs for 83 yards and a touchdown on six total targets.
Go figure, right?
The flip side of the slow start for Wentz’s new weapons was that it opened up the field for Agholor and Zach Ertz, who really took advantage of having Jeffery and Smith drawing attention elsewhere. The positive is that Jeffery did finish with seven targets, while Smith would have easily crested 75 yards if Wentz had hit him in stride over-the-top on two occasions where he got by Josh Norman.
The final stats:
I thought Zach Ertz had an underrated performance. He snagged all eight passes that were thrown in his direction.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles lined him up 15 times at tight end, 14 times in the slot, and 10 times as a wide out. That’s excellent versatility for a guy who should be entering the prime of his career.
Joe Giglio over at 94 WIP dropped a great Ertz statistic.
First 62 career games:
Zach Ertz: 255 catches, 2,933 yards
Tony Gonzalez: 256 catches, 2,955 yards
Jason Witten: 248 catches, 2,776 yards
— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) September 10, 2017
5. Winning despite…
In this game the Eagles…
- missed an extra point
- turned it over twice
- whiffed on the easiest sack of all-time
- suffered injuries to their best cornerback, their left tackle, and kicker
…and still won against a division rival on the road.
For Philly fans, the overcoming of that sort of misfortune is a rarity.
6. I don’t need to see replays of a guy dislocating his ankle
We knew it was bad when we first saw Ronald Darby go down on that shitty field.
I don’t need to see it ten times in a row.
The Eagles only dressed three corners for this game, but Jaylen Watkins (CB/S hybrid) and Patrick Robinson did a really nice job of stepping up when Darby went out injured. We’ll get an update on his injury status on Monday.
7. A lack of control in the hand
This was the play that sealed the game for the Birds:
Fletchhhhhhhh (Pt. 2)
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) September 10, 2017
Anyway, is the arm coming forward? Is the ball already out before contact is made? It’s really hard to tell, but I thought for sure they would overrule the call on the field (fumble and touchdown).
According to the Washington Post, this was the explanation the officials gave:
“Referee Brad Allen said he called a fumble because of “lack of control in the hand.” He said he saw an empty hand as Cousins’s arm went forward, and there was not enough evidence to overturn the call following video review.”
Makes sense to me.
Kirk Cousins said this after the game –
“I don’t have a whole lot to say just because I haven’t seen it yet – except for on the Jumbotron. We’d like to think that we had a chance there to get the ball back, but I always expect when the play is allowed to be reviewed and they can go over it again that they’re going to make the right call and you saw their decision. Tough one, but there are so many other plays in the game that lead to that moment that I really think are more important and more telling of why it didn’t go our way at the end.”
That last part is the real story here. The three turnovers prior to that really killed the Skins, especially that red zone interception when Cousins had eight guys gunning for him.
He was under pressure on 19-of-47 drop backs and sacked four times.
8. Doug’s worst call?
There are a few candidates. The Agholor run/pass/bubble screen/whatever was one of them. There was another bubble type of play where Wentz threw another flat pass behind the line of scrimmage on a third and ten.
Pederson also burned a timeout just before the two-minute warning, only to kick a field goal anyway (which was probably the right call ultimately).
It’s easy to rip Doug (and then pile on), but let’s at least give the guy some credit for coaching his team to a 13-point road win over a division rival. It’s a big victory on the heels of a loser ex-GM criticizing you for no apparent reason, followed by a speculative story about how the defensive coordinator wants to be the head coach.
Doug Pederson just got a Gatorade bath. Wonder if that was a message.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) September 10, 2017
9. Doug’s best call?
I liked the Blount touchdown pass, which had a busy shift going on before the snap, then continued with a target for the least likely candidate on the field:
Carson Wentz finds LeGarrette Blount for the short TD, Eagles lead 14-0.
Carson Wentz today: 8/10, 102 yards, 2 TDs. pic.twitter.com/NsayBobnoU
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 10, 2017
I also thought his best decisions weren’t necessarily play calls, but the confidence he showed in Caleb Sturgis and the defense to get the job done in a couple of different scenarios.
10 . Most awkward moment of game…
Was it the goofy Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino cut-in?
Or was it Terry Bradshaw doing the FOX robot voice?
Pereira and Blandino in the most awkward family photo ever. pic.twitter.com/dtSFe8ia9z
— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) September 10, 2017
“It’s a little bit of a different look for me. I’m used to being in the command center in New York, but this is just as exciting and just as fun.”