The Eagles' opening day win in Washington was impressive for several reasons. I loved the fact that there were some bumps in the road, but the Eagles found a way to overcome their mistakes and still win the game. That may seem like an odd thing to say, but part of being a good team is having the ability to win when there are problems.
With the Eagles up 13-0, Carson Wentz threw a pick-six to Ryan Kerrigan. Suddenly the score was 13-7 and it felt like things were starting to go Washington's way. The ball went right back to Wentz and the offense, but a chop block penalty and sack killed that drive. Donnie Jones got off a short punt of only 37 yards and Washington had the ball, good field position, and momentum. They marched down the field, aided by a terrible no-call for intentional grounding, and some sloppy tackling. Chris Thompson raced into the end zone and the Skins had the lead, 14-13.
This was a key moment in the game. There were two bad possessions by the offense and a bad one for the defense. The crowd at FedEx Field was going nuts and it would have been easy for the Eagles to get down on themselves or to go into panic mode.
Wentz led the Eagles on a 43-yard drive that ate up the final 1:17 of the half and resulted in a 50-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis that put the Eagles back out in front. They got the ball to open the third quarter and added another field goal to build the lead to 19-14. That put a lot of pressure on the Redskins, whose offense struggled all game long. The Eagles got past the mistakes that gave them the deficit and started making plays. That gave them the lead and put them in position to win the game.
The Eagles played well on Sunday, but there are plenty of mistakes to fix. The run game struggled for a variety of reasons. That has to get better ... a lot better. Sturgis missed an extra point. That didn't end up affecting the game, but it could have been huge. Wentz missed some open receivers on go routes. When the quarterback has time to throw and a receiver gets behind the defense, that needs to be a touchdown. Those can be game-changing plays. Nigel Bradham negated a drive-killing sack with a sloppy holding penalty. You can't give the opposing offense chances like that. These aren't talent issues. They are execution issues.
There was adversity in the form of injuries. Ronald Darby, the team's best corner, hurt his ankle and will be out for a while. The Eagles had to adjust on the fly and that's just what they did. Patrick Robinson played more outside and had a strong game. Jaylen Watkins played some corner. Malcolm Jenkins played some in the slot, with Corey Graham taking his spot at safety. The defense didn't miss a beat. Stud left tackle Jason Peters missed the second half with a groin injury. Halapoulivaati Vaitai took his place and did a solid job. Injuries during a game can be devastating because the backups and coaches can't prepare for the situation. In this case, the backups went into the game and did their jobs. They helped the team win.
Vaitai got his first ever start last year against Washington. You could see how much he's improved since then. Vaitai struggled in that game. He played much better this time out and the offense was able to move the ball and score points with him on the field. There was improvement from second-year player Jalen Mills. He led the team with nine tackles. He broke up one pass in the end zone and picked off another at the goal line. Those were impact plays from the young corner. Isaac Seumalo is in his second year and had a good game as the starting left guard.
Tthe second-year player who stood out the most was Wentz. He made some tremendous plays. Wentz showed the special physical skills that made the Eagles give up so much to go and get him in the 2016 draft. The thing that impressed me the most was his play on third down. Wentz was 9-of-11 for 148 yards and two touchdowns. That is incredibly impressive, especially when you compare him to Kirk Cousins, Washington's franchise quarterback. Cousins struggled in a big way and the Redskins just couldn't sustain drives for most of the game. The Eagles converted 8-of-14 third-down attempts. Washington only converted 3-of-11 opportunities.
The Eagles had plenty of established veterans come through in a big way. Zach Ertz caught all eight passes that were thrown his way and did a great job of moving the chains in some key situations. Washington had no answer for him all game long. Nelson Agholor played the best game of his young career, catching six passes, including a 58-yard touchdown that got the Eagles started early. Agholor played with confidence and looked completely different than a year ago.
Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox dominated the game up front. They combined for three sacks, two forced fumbles, and two tackles for loss. Cox put the game away when he scooped up a fumble late and rumbled in for a touchdown. That was a beautiful sight. You have to love it when the big guys get to have some fun.
Malcolm Jenkins had a great game. He isn't all over the stat sheet, but he was all over the field and hit everyone near him. Jenkins punished runners and receivers. He ran over backs who tried to block him when he blitzed. There will never be another Brian Dawkins, but Jenkins is special in his own right.
This wasn't a great showing by the Eagles, but it was good to see them win this kind of game. They made key plays and did enough to win, but the coaches can hound the guys for making the mistakes they did and not putting this game out of reach earlier. Making the win even better is that it ended all the talk of losing road games and the winless streak against Washington. That stuff is in the past. The Eagles are 1-0 and the season is off to a good start.