This is something the Eagles have worked on and have been aware of for the entire season: Scoring points in the first quarter. Only twice – in wins over Indianapolis (seven points) and at the New York Giants (14 points) – has the offense scored in the first quarter this season. The Eagles won both of those games.
It’s not a coincidence.
“We obviously want to score early and we’re focused on that, but we just haven’t been able to get it done,” wide receiver Nelson Agholor said. “The goal is to come out fast. We know we need to do a better job of that.”
There is no better time to get hot early than now as the Eagles eye Monday night’s game against Washington, a must-win situation as the Eagles (5-6) look to keep pace with Dallas (7-5) in the NFC East. Then again, we’ve been saying that all season, right? And the Eagles just, for a variety of reasons, have not been able to get untracked early.
Sunday’s home game against the Giants, though, provided some hints that the Eagles are close, very close. After New York took the opening kickoff down the field and scored a touchdown, the Eagles' offense came on the field looking to keep pace. Corey Clement’s 25-yard kickoff return gave the Eagles good field position at the 29-yard line. Quarterback Carson Wentz had a quick drop and perfect throw to tight end Zach Ertz on the left side that gained 19 yards to the 48. On first down from there, running back Josh Adams bounced outside left and raced to the end zone for an apparent 52-yard touchdown run.
Center Jason Kelce was penalized for holding and the Eagles called three straight passing plays to make up for the lost yardage. Didn’t work. Time to punt.
On the second possession, trailing 9-0 at this point, the Eagles had a good mix of run and pass going and, with the help of a roughing-the-quarterback penalty, moved into New York territory. On a third-and-5 play from the Giants' 46-yard line, Wentz found wide receiver Alshon Jeffery open for an apparent 14-yard gain and a first down. But, wait. Jeffery was penalized, no matter how questionable it might have been, for offensive pass interference, and the first down was nullified and the Eagles lined up for a third-and-15 play. Wentz was sacked on the dropback and the drive was over.
So was the quarter. And for the ninth time in 11 games, the Eagles were blanked in the opening 15 minutes. They are ranked last in the NFL with an average of 1.9 points scored in the first quarter. In the 2017 regular season, the Eagles ranked third in the NFL in first-quarter scoring, averaging 6.6 points per game.
“We’re constantly working on ways to be better there,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “I wish I could give you the answer right now. All we can do is review what we’ve done, put together a great plan, and then go out and execute. I can’t point to one thing as to why we are having trouble putting points on the board early. It’s been a combination of a lot of things.”
The self-inflicted wounds, so evident on Sunday in a game the Eagles trailed 19-3 in the second quarter only to come back and win in the fourth quarter, are the most consistent reasons for the lack of early punch. While the Eagles aren’t catching any defenses by surprise – there haven’t been any busted coverages or wide-open receivers, for example – the Eagles have made just enough mistakes to hurt themselves early.
How can the Eagles turn it around starting on Monday night? They need to stay ahead of the sticks more than anything and not get into third-and-have-to-throw-it-long situations.
“We’re hurting ourselves in a lot of ways,” right guard Brandon Brooks said. “We have to be disciplined and patient and take what defenses are giving us. Washington’s tough on defense. Good front. Very active. We have to win that battle.”
A “chunk” play would help because the Eagles just seem to have to work so hard for their points this season. At the end of the day, though, it’s going to come down to winning the line of scrimmage and building some confidence with an offense that needs a jolt early in this game. The Eagles do not want to fall behind against a Washington defense that can be dominating when it has a chance to tee off in the pass-rushing game.
“It makes a huge difference when we get out to a lead,” Ertz said. “It’s been frustrating. I think we’re close. We’ve hurt ourselves a lot this season early in games. I think it’s only going to take a big play or two to get things going. We are looking for that spark to open up the offense for us.”