Cleaning out the notebook the day after Sunday’s 32-27 win over Washington. The Eagles now are focused on Atlanta and, yes, they have to be a lot better on Sunday night to beat a Falcons team that is smarting after a rough opener in Minnesota.
That said, things are moving quickly at the NovaCare Complex. I’m cleaning out the Notebook from the opener and looking ahead to Atlanta …
1. The “significant” injury suffered by defensive tackle Malik Jackson is a blow to the interior of the defensive line. We’ll get clarification in a day or two, but the way head coach Doug Pederson spoke on Monday, it sounds like Jackson is going to be out for some time. The Eagles are well equipped at the position with a healthy Tim Jernigan ready to step in next to Fletcher Cox and Hassan Ridgeway a good fit as a third defensive tackle, but depth is always needed here. Let’s hope Jackson can return in 2019. I don’t know the severity of his injury, but he wore a boot and walked on crutches on his way out of Lincoln Financial Field, which means a mobile cart isn’t going to be far behind.
2. Sunday night is an excellent early-season litmus test for the defense playing an explosive Atlanta offense. The Falcons played poorly in their loss to Minnesota and the re-made offensive line took its lumps. The Eagles are going to see a different Atlanta offense as the Falcons open their home schedule. So, what does this defense need? They’ve got to pressure quarterback Matt Ryan and they need to limit the explosive Falcons passing game. Keep an eye on Atlanta’s offensive line this week. First-round draft pick Chris Lindstrom suffered a foot injury – reported to be fractured – against Minnesota after starting at right guard. Losing Lindstrom would be a significant blow to a line that allowed four quarterback sacks and provided no space for the ground game.
3. In the defensive backfield, the Eagles still have some questions. They’ve got a great challenge playing against Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley this week, so the coverage has to be on point, aggressive, and confident. Everyone has to be on the same page in the secondary. Expect Jim Schwartz to give Atlanta some different looks and do what needs to be done to get Ryan out of his comfort zone.
4. How are the Eagles going to use this extremely talented running back group moving forward? Everyone is going to get touches and stay involved in this offense, but it makes sense that rookie Miles Sanders, a “special” talent head coach Doug Pederson told me on Monday in our weekly one-on-one interview at the NovaCare Complex, will see his role expand. He gained 25 yards on 11 carries in his debut and had a scintillating 21-yard touchdown run nullified when J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was penalized for holding. Jordan Howard ran hard and moved the pile and looks like the kind of back who is going to be a positive gainer every time he touches the ball. Darren Sproles had nine carries and three receptions and sparked the offense, but he’s described as a “change-of-pace” back and that’s a lot of carries for that role. I still think Corey Clement deserves some touches, but we’ll see how that develops. This backfield is loaded.
4. I love Carson Wentz’s ability to keep drives alive on third down, but the Eagles need to do a better job on first and second down. Both of his touchdown passes to DeSean Jackson came on third-and-10 plays. The touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery was a third-and-goal play from the 5-yard line after the offense lost 2 yards on first and second down. Wentz was terrific on third down – 12-of-13 for 197 yards, three touchdowns, and a perfect passer rating of 158.3 – but the Eagles can’t rely on him to do that every week.
5. Atlanta had a punt blocked on Sunday in its loss at Minnesota and, yeah, you can bet that Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp is watching that play 2,000 times this week, probing for a weakness. Special teams will be huge on Sunday night. Speaking of which, Cameron Johnston averaged 51.3 yards gross on three punts with a 47.7-yard net average, Jake Elliott was perfect with his kicks, the coverage units were great, and Sproles averaged 11.5 yards on punt returns. A really good start for the special teams.
6. The Eagles were 2 for 3 in the red zone on Sunday, failing to score a touchdown only on the late-game drive that Elliott ended with a 22-yard field goal. For a team that had too many misses in the red zone in 2018, Sunday was a strong start. Having the ability to run and move the ball forward – I would expect Jordan Howard to have more of a role in the future when the Eagles are in the red zone – is something the team didn’t do as well last year. This offense can hurt you both ways in the red zone.
7. And, finally, a big thumbs up for guard Brandon Brooks, who didn’t miss a game after tearing his Achilles tendon in the January playoff loss at New Orleans. Credit goes to everyone involved in his rehabilitation because, let’s face it, there isn’t a nastier injury than the Achilles tendon. Brooks won’t have a pitch count moving forward, so expect to see him on a full-time basis in Atlanta and in the weeks to come.