Philadelphia Eagles News

Lawlor: Defense, Special Teams Come Up Clutch While Offense Rounds Into Form

The headline story on Sunday was the return of quarterback Carson Wentz. While that got all of the attention, there was another big story. The Eagles won a tough game and they did so as a team. It was certainly great to see Wentz back in action, but the Eagles don't win that game without key plays by the defense and special teams.

Wentz took the field on the Eagles' opening drive and marched the team right down the field for a touchdown. It was a sight to behold. Wentz made good adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He made quick reads and accurate throws. Wentz didn't look the least bit rusty. He hit rookie Dallas Goedert for a touchdown and life was good, with the Eagles up 7-0.

Could it really be that easy? Of course not.

Wentz was inconsistent after that, showing some signs of rust. He still had some terrific moments and reminded us all of just how special he is. Wentz finished the game 25-of-27 for 255 yards with a touchdown, interception, and a lost fumble.

The biggest takeaway from the game was seeing Wentz play fearlessly. Some players are tentative when they first come back from a major injury. Wentz never hesitated. He moved around in the pocket. He bought time for receivers to get open. Wentz also ran three times for 10 yards, including a play where he had to dive for a first down.

Injury? What injury? Wentz looked like Wentz.

He wasn't flawless. There was a play in the third quarter when Wentz stared down Zach Ertz and forced the ball to him. Colts linebacker Anthony Wheeler jumped the route and picked off the pass, setting Indy up inside the red zone. A couple of series later, Wentz was stripped of the ball and that also set up the Colts inside the red zone.

Turnovers can be a killer, but they are especially tough to deal with when you put the opponent in scoring position. Sunday's game was a great example of how yards and points can be deceiving. The Eagles outgained the Colts in total yards 379 to 209. That is one team dominating another.

The Eagles didn't seal the win until the final play of the game because they were too sloppy. Those turnovers directly led to six points. The Colts' only touchdown drive of the game was heavily aided by a 33-yard pass interference penalty. The Eagles had another chance to stop the drive, but a missed tackle on third down kept it alive.

Indianapolis struggled to move the ball all game long. The Eagles' defense is always tough at Lincoln Financial Field and Sunday was no different. The Colts threw a lot of short passes and defenders flew to the ball, usually tackling very well.

Jordan Hicks led the team with eight solo tackles. Jalen Mills had five solo stops and some of them were very physical tackles in space. Mills generally covered well and broke up a pair of passes, but did get called twice for interference.

Derek Barnett made the play of the game when he exploded by Indy's left tackle Le'Raven Clark and was able to trip up Andrew Luck on the next-to-last drive of the game. Luck pounded the turf in utter frustration. Barnett finished with 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss and had an active overall game. This was easily his best overall performance of the year.

While Jim Schwartz's defense didn't pile up the sacks and takeaways, the unit got the job done. The Colts were one for five in the red zone. Two of those stops came after Wentz turnovers. It is critical to come up with big stops at moments like that.

The Eagles came up with a huge red zone stop on the series where Barnett had his sack. That play came on fourth-and-goal with the Colts inside the 5-yard line. Just like the Falcons game, the defense came up with a great red zone series with the game on the line.

Special teams did its part in the win. Jake Elliott hit a crucial extra point to extend the team's lead from 19-16 to 20-16. That put the Colts in the position where they had to have a touchdown and changed their offensive approach entirely. The Eagles also pinned Indy deep on the final drive of the game with a good punt and solid coverage. The Colts wasted time getting to midfield and only had one chance to throw a Hail Mary into the end zone.

Wentz was the offensive headliner, but he had some help. Wendell Smallwood played his best game in a long time, with 91 total yards and the go-ahead touchdown. Smallwood was physical as a runner, really pushing the pile on multiple inside runs. He caught a 34-yard pass to help the Eagles on another scoring drive.

Corey Clement ran for 56 yards and rookie Josh Adams ran for 30 in his NFL debut. You would never have known the Eagles were missing their top two running backs. Obviously, you have to give a lot of credit to the offensive line for that kind of production. The line was able to get good push against the Colts, especially in the fourth quarter.

Ertz caught five passes for 73 yards and made some key plays. Rookie Dallas Goedert had his breakout game, catching seven passes for 73 yards. He scored his first-ever NFL touchdown and played well. The wide receivers are struggling a bit so it is huge for the tight ends to step up and dominate the way they did.

The Eagles' offense isn't anywhere close to a finished product right now. Wentz just played his first game. Goedert is a rookie. Alshon Jeffery has yet to play. Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles have been banged up. When all the pieces get on the field at the same time and play some snaps, I think you'll see the kind of offensive production we have all expected.

Head coach Doug Pederson talked about the importance of the defense and special teams stepping up while the offense is getting in sync. That's what happened on Sunday and the Eagles got a key win. They are 2-1 and sitting atop the NFC East, where they spent all of last year. There is still a long way to go for this team, but it's hard not to be excited with Wentz back and the rest of the Eagles doing what it takes to win games.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the editor of IgglesBlitz.com.

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