The lone opening-quarter touchdown the Eagles scored in the first half of this season happened against the Giants as Riley Cooper hauled in a Sam Bradford pass and completed a 32-yard scoring play. It ended a drive kept alive on a Giants roughing-the-passer penalty and it gave the Eagles enough of a lift to generate some momentum on the way to a 27-7 Back-In-Black win at Lincoln Financial Field.
For the most part, though, the first quarter has been a big zero for the Eagles, who have been outscored 40-10 in the collective eight opening periods this season. What gives? Is there a pattern? What can the Eagles do to start faster and grab and lead and dictate to teams instead of playing catch-up so much of the time?
These are questions that are asked every day at the NovaCare Complex. And with a Miami Dolphins team that has lost two straight games in ugly fashion coming to town on Sunday, a fast start for the Eagles would be very much welcomed to feed into the energy and the atmosphere at Lincoln Financial Field as the second half of the regular season begins.
"We always want to start fast. That's the intention," center Jason Kelce said. "We've just made too many mistakes. I don't think you can point to one thing. It's just that we haven't played good, consistent football early in most of our games."
The Eagles have done just about everything to find that early rhythm. They've come out throwing the football and it hasn't worked. They've tried to establish the running game, with little success. In their most productive offensive game of the season, when New Orleans came to South Philadelphia, the Eagles had two first-quarter drives -- 6 plays and 18 yards, failing to convert a fourth-and-7 play in Saints territory, and then a 9-play, 68-yard drive that ended on a Bradford pass into the end zone intended for Cooper that was intercepted.
If there is a consistent culprit, it's a lack of production on first down in the first quarter of games. The Eagles have grun 47 first-down plays in the first quarter of the eight games, gaining 229 total yards, an average of 4.87 yards per play. If that sounds like a solid average, consider that one of those gains was the 32-yard touchdown from Bradford to Cooper along with a 27-yard run by Ryan Mathews against New York and a 30-yard gain by DeMarco Murray at Washington. Toss out those three plays and the Eagles have gained 140 yards on 44 plays, an average of 3.18 yards per first down.
Bradford has also thrown two interceptions on first-down throws in the first quarter, and the Eagles have converted 10 of 26 third downs, three coming as a result of defensive penalties.
Jumble the numbers up any way you'd like and it comes out the same: The Eagles need to do a whole lot better at the start of games.
"It's obviously something we're aware of and that we're working on," tight end Zach Ertz said. "Our goal is always to start fast and finish strong."
Head coach Chip Kelly has talked about the slow starts since the opener in Atlanta. There isn't much new to offer on the lack of early scoring. It's a breakdown here, a mental mistake there, a lapse in technique or a penalty. He has called the errors "correctable" and as the Eagles start the second half of the season, they hope to get off to a flying start against Miami.
"It makes a difference when you're playing with a lead," tackle Lane Johnson said. "We're working on playing a complete game. We haven't done that yet. I think we all believe that it's going to come. We're going to get it going."
Said wide receiver Jordan Matthews: "We're going to put it all together. We just have to do our jobs and carry out what the coaches want us to do. The plays are there. We have to make it happen. It's on us."
In only one game, at New York, have the Eagles scored first. In the seven other games they've had to play from behind, at times clawing back from double-digit deficits. That's not the way a playoff team wants to live. It's too exhausting and taxing to live on the edge.
The goal this week, then, is the same as it has been: Come out fast and grab a lead and build on that momentum. It's an important step to take for an offense that has improved in so many ways from the start of the season until now.