By Kevin McGuire
The new look Philadelphia Eagles got off to a slow start Monday night, and it cost them. The Eagles buried themselves in a 20-3 halftime deficit and nearly came back to steal a win in Atlanta, but it was the Falcons that celebrated a 26-24 win in the season opener. The Eagles left a few things to work on as a result as the debuts of Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray got off to a bumpy start in Philadelphia.
The Eagles offense was nowhere to be found in the first half, but it started to break through in the second. It really was a tale of two halves for the Eagles offense. The debut of running back DeMarco Murray netted just nine rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground, and the team put together just 63 rushing yards. A good chunk of the blame goes to the poor play up front by the offensive line. Amazingly, the offensive line did not give up a sack, but new starting quarterback Sam Bradford was hit a few more times than you would like to see, especially against a defense that was not supposed to be much of a threat to the Eagles offense. The Eagles took too long to get the offense moving to its liking. Bradford passed for 336 yards and a touchdown, but he was intercepted twice, including the fatal blow in the final 90 seconds to allow Atlanta to ice the game. His first interception came at a bad time as well, just before the half. Atlanta scored one play later to turn a 13-3 lead into a 20-3 advantage going to halftime.
Wide receiver Jordan Matthews was a positive for the Eagles with a 102-yard night, catching 10 of the 13 passes thrown his way. However, Matthews let one slip right through his hands late in the game that was ultimately intercepted to put the game away in favor of Atlanta.
The Eagles offense may be lethal, but it cannot wait to get started again. The Eagles will put points on the board, and they can do so in a hurry. It is a matter of how consistently it can be done.
The Eagles defense forced two turnovers and got to Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan once for a loss of eight yards. The Eagles also held Atlanta to just one red zone score despite the Falcons entering the red zone three times. New Eagles linebacker Kiko Alonso came up with a spectacular one-handed interception in the end zone early on in the game, and the defense forced Atlanta to just four third-down conversions on 14 opportunities. Those stats sound good enough to give the Eagles a good chance to win the game.
One touchdown scored late in the first half by Atlanta was a bit of a back breaker, but the defense made plays in the second half to give the Eagles a chance to win the game. An early interception after halftime led to an Eagles touchdown and the defense managed to keep Atlanta out of the end zone the rest of the night, forcing the Falcons to settle for field goals to stay just ahead of Philadelphia.
One thing that was learned though is the Eagles secondary will struggle to cover big wide receivers. Atlanta’s Julio Jones caught nine passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns, showing Philadelphia’s weak spot with Byron Maxwell in one-on-one coverage. Malcolm Jenkins also had his hands on two potential interceptions that managed to hit the ground before he was able to secure it.
Special Teams: C+
Eagles kicker Cody Parkey will take the brunt of this one for missing a late 44-yard field goal. As dependable as Parkey was in his rookie season in 2014, he followed up a shaky preseason by missing one of his two field goal attempts, and it was a crucial one. Parkey was three-for-three from the new NFL extra point mark, but none of that will be remembered since he missed the potential game-winning field goal. Of course, whether he should have been kicking from that far back will remain a hot topic, as Chip Kelly chose to kick a long field goal rather than try to pick up one more yard on fourth down.
Special teams returns was nothing special either. Darren Sproles has a history of making big special teams plays, but he returned three punts for a total of 25 yards. His final punt return saw Sproles try to return a ball inside his own 10-yard line that may have bounced into the end zone if he had let it go. Instead, the Eagles started from their own 14-yard line instead of their 20-yard line. In a game of inches, sometimes it is wise to let the ball go over your head.
Two major complaints fans should take from the season opener for the Eagles is the slow start and the decision to kick a long field goal late in the game. Both fall on the headset of Chip Kelly. Credit Atlanta for being ready to hit the ground running, because the Eagles certainly did not seem to be that prepared. The Eagles never got Murray involved running the football early on, the offensive line was shaky as ever and the offense put just three point son the scoreboard in the first half.
Kelly and the staff do get some credit for having the team ready to mount a comeback, and the Eagles eventually did claim a short lead in the fourth quarter after clawing all the way back. But a decision to kick a long 44-yard field goal with a kicker that clearly struggled in the preseason instead of attempting to pick up one more yard against a tired Atlanta defense is worthy of debate. The Eagles offense had been moving well late in the game, so the odds of picking up the first down may have been better than Parkey’s chances from that distance.
The season opener showed some highs and lows for the Eagles. There is room for improvement. The Eagles dug a big hole, failed to get the running game going and turned the football over and missed a field goal. And they still only lost by two. As last season showed, the Eagles cannot afford to let close games slip through their fingers. They opened the year doing just that, and now have a short week to prepare for the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon. Philadelphia will need to tighten up and start faster. If they don’t, they will be staring at a 0-2 record to start the season.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.