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Big Picture, Eagles Can Make Some Noise

Posted Sep 18, 2017

We look ahead, because that’s what you do in the NFL. Heal for a few hours after a loss, address areas to correct, and then look to the next opponent. The Giants come to town on Sunday as the Eagles open their Lincoln Financial Field schedule, and there are significant things to build upon here ...

We look ahead, because that’s what you do in the NFL. Heal for a few hours after a loss, address areas to correct, and then look to the next opponent. The Giants come to town on Sunday as the Eagles open their Lincoln Financial Field schedule, and there are significant things to build upon here.

Let’s make sure to provide the big-picture view: Two games in, two very tough road games in, the Eagles are in an OK spot at 1-1 with a win in the division (and the conference) and a loss to an AFC team. As you look down the line at tiebreakers and those sorts of things, this 1-1 is a good 1-1.

But the Eagles aren’t in the business of moral victories and they don’t want to hear about "impressive" losses. They are here to win.

“We went toe-to-toe with an outstanding team here,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said after the 27-20 loss in Kansas City, “and so we know we are right there. But we have to find ways to win these kinds of games. We have to make that tackle, or not have that turnover, or make a big play on special teams. We have work to do here. We know that. But we also know that we’re right there.”

Right where, exactly? Let’s break down all three phases of the team …

THE OFFENSE

Quarterback Carson Wentz has played at a very high level and he’s got a good connection with a much-improved group of wide receivers. Also, tight end Zach Ertz is off to the kind of start everyone hoped to see: He’s got 13 receptions for 190 yards in two games and is controlling the middle of the field. 

Where the Eagles have not been as good as they know they can be is in the ground game. It’s a combination of a lot of things in that phase of the offense and head coach Doug Pederson and the entire coaching staff and the players all say the same thing: “We have to fix it right away.”

So, how?

The blocking needs to be more consistent, number one. That includes everyone – the offensive linemen, the tight ends, the wide receivers. If the Eagles want to develop the mindset of running the football, they have to do it and stick to it. And the backs have to be better.

It’s going to take a village to get the running game going.

The Eagles played some small ball in Kansas City early, trying to eat the clock and keep Kansas City’s potent offense off the field. The offense drove 63 yards in 11 plays on the first possession, eating up 6:54 off the clock. Then the Eagles came back and drove 26 yards on eight plays, taking another 5:09 off the clock.

The net from those drives was a field goal. Three points.

On the opening drive Sunday, Pederson called four running plays. One of them was nullified by a holding penalty, which put the offense in passing mode. Those four plays (including a 1-yard run by LeGarrette Blount called back because of the penalty) gained 22 yards. That’s good.

On the next drive, Pederson called three running plays (of the eight on the drive) and those three plays lost 3 yards.

The rest of the half runs gained -2 yards, 2 yards, 6 yards, and then 11 yards. The Eagles ran the ball five times in the second half until the Chiefs took a 27-13 lead, and then the Eagles were in hurry-up mode.

Blount carried 14 times in Washington and zero times in Kansas City. Wendell Smallwood has seven carries for 8 yards in two games. Darren Sproles is great, but he isn’t best suited for 10-12 carries a game. Corey Clement may be working his way into a bigger role, but he’s not there yet.

Once the Eagles get the running game going, and there is every confidence among the coaches and players that they will, the offense will be much more efficient and effective and Wentz – who was sacked six times on Sunday – won’t be subject to the hits he’s taken through two games.

And two more things: The screen game needs to be fixed and the Eagles were 2-of-5 in the red zone on Sunday, and are now 3-of-6 in touchdown efficiency in two games.

New York’s defense awaits on Sunday. The Giants are among the league’s best on that side of the ball. This won’t be easy.

THE DEFENSE

There are so many good things happening on this side of the ball. The Eagles are physical and aggressive, and they’ve shown good depth. The front seven is going to be tough to beat in any week. The pass rush is really good and the run defense, save for a 53-yard Kareem Hunt touchdown run, has been outstanding.

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A couple of missed opportunities, notably a Vinny Curry near-sack of Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith late on Sunday, have hurt the defense. That was really costly, and so Curry has to learn and take a better angle and finish the play.

The Eagles have some injury question marks with safety Rodney McLeod and cornerback Jaylen Watkins nursing hamstring injuries. Corey Graham is a solid veteran, but he does not cover as much ground as McLeod, whose absence would be felt. Of course, Ronald Darby remains out with his ankle injury.

But for the most part, the defense is playing with purpose and passion. It is leading the way early this season.

THE SPECIAL TEAMS

There are some moving pieces here to consider. Rick Lovato is still relatively new as a long snapper. Jake Elliott just kicked in his first NFL game on Sunday. Some of the coverage players are new.

That said, the coverage teams have generally been fine, particularly in the punt game. Tyreek Hill was contained on Sunday, a big plus for the punt coverage group.  Akeem Hunt broke a tackle and gained 40 yards on a kickoff return, a blemish the Eagles never want to have happen again.

Smallwood averaged a strong 27.5 yards on two kickoff returns against the Chiefs. Sproles had a punt return of 10 yards, but made a rare mistake and coughed up the football. We’re not going to see that again this season. The return teams are still waiting for the big play.

Elliott missed a chip-shot 30-yard field goal that was costly, but the snap wasn’t perfect and, well, it was a miss and there are no excuses. But he kicked off very well and showed great leg strength and he also made a pair of field goals.

THE BOTTOM LINE

This team plays hard and with fight. Wentz is a standout. The defense is good and the special teams unit, even with the changes, takes over games.

Playing twice away from home hasn’t been easy, but the Eagles are in position at 1-1 to make some noise in the NFC East. They have some areas to clean up, which is the focus for the football team today and during the week ahead in practice.

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