By Kevin McGuire
The Philadelphia Eagles opened the 2017 season on a positive note, but haven’t we been here before? Or was a 30-17 victory on the road against Washington different from the start the Eagles had a year ago? On Sunday afternoon, with a new season kicking off, there were signs that this year just might be different. But overreacting to one game would be unwise, especially when some of the same issues that have plagued the team over the past year and in the preseason continued to linger throughout the opener.
With the first game of the new season in the books, it is time to hand out some evaluations.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz may not have had a great game, but he managed to pass for 307 yards and a pair of touchdowns while displaying some good ability to keep a play alive at times. His ability to avoid being brought down on an early 3rd and 12 play to complete a pass down field to Nelson Agholor for a 58-yard touchdown was reminiscent of Donovan McNabb on a Monday night in Dallas finding Freddie Mitchell for a big gain. Wentz may have been moving around a little too much for his own good though, which made it a little more difficult for his offensive line to protect him at times. The line also lost Jason Peters to a groin injury in the third quarter and Halapoulivaati Vaitai had to step in. The line played OK, but could still improve.
Alshon Jeffery didn’t quite take on the role of being the top receiver the Eagles were expecting, but it was just one game. Torrey Smith had an unforgettable moment when a screen pass from Wentz to Agholor fell to the ground and Smith was seen walking off the field rather than pursuing the live ball, which was recovered by Washington. And LeGarrette Blount ran the ball 11 times for just 37 yards, but he did catch a touchdown pass. The lesson in Week 1 is the offense still needs to come together, although tight end Zach Ertz had a solid outing.
Defense was the key to the Eagles’ success on Sunday. The defensive line was all over Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins from the start of the day and forced two fumbles by him. The last fumble was picked up and returned for a touchdown by Fletcher Cox to essentially clinch the victory late in the fourth quarter. Jalen Mills recorded his first career interception at a key moment with the Eagles holding on to a 19-17 lead and the Redskins inside the red zone. The Eagles held Washington to just 64 rushing yards and managed to sack Cousins four times, with Brandon Graham recording two.
Jordan Hicks got off to a solid start to the season with seven tackles, which was only bested by Mills’ nine tackles.
Special Teams: A
Caleb Sturgis may have missed one of his two extra point attempts, but Sturgis knocked down all three field goals he was asked to convert, including one from 50 yards and another from 42 yards. His 37-yard kick late in the fourth quarter gave the Eagles a critical five-point lead, which forced Washington to have to run a two-minute drill to score a touchdown. The defense took care of that with a fumble recovery for a touchdown, but Sturgis did his job to put Washington in a difficult position.
Punter Donnie Jones also continued to prove valuable to the Eagles special team efforts after a solid 2016 season. Jones pinned the Redskins at their one-yard line in the fourth quarter with the Eagles holding onto a two-point lead, and he averaged 42.5 yards per punt on four punts. Special teams coverage was executed well by the Eagles as well with Jamison Crowder only managing three yards on two punt returns for Washington.
Opening the year with a 30-17 victory in a division rival’s stadium is always a call for high remarks for the coaching staff, and Doug Pederson is deserving of credit for getting the team off on the right foot. But there were some questionable decisions made and the lack of a running game falls on the coach coming out of the preseason. The newest acquisitions to the offense have not quite gelled with Wentz yet, but maybe that was a product of playing a division rival. And once again there were some questionable plays called from the sideline. Was that just trying out a couple things in the opener to see if anything would work? Time will tell. Jim Schwartz deserves praise for having the defense locked in from the start and doing its job to fluster Cousins and Washington.
Up Next: The Eagles hit the road one more time before getting to play a home game this season when they head to Kansas City next week. Former Eagles head coach Andy Reid and the Chiefs stunned the New England Patriots in the Thursday night NFL season opener and should pose a serious threat to the Eagles next week after getting a few extra days to prepare. This will be Pederson’s first time coaching head-to-head against his former boss in Kansas City. Can the student one-up the teacher?