The Philadelphia Eagles are now 0-1 in the 2015 NFL regular season schedule after being beaten by the Atlanta Falcons by a final score of 26-24. It was a shaky performance from the Birds in white and midnight green. Here are 10 things we learned from this game. There is a lot to discuss, so let's get right to it.
1) Chip Kelly needs to be more aggressive
The decision to go for the field goal on fourth down late in the game instead of trying to get a first down was so bad. The Eagles were carving up the Falcons defense. There was no reason for the offense to doubt themselves there. Even if the Eagles make that kick, they're only up by one and there's still plenty of time for the Falcons to get some points. Kelly's in his third year now and it's apparent he's just not the aggressive risk taker (AKA "Big Balls Chip") he was at Oregon. That's disappointing.
2) The Eagles need to run the football
The Eagles were supposed to get back to the running game. The team traded away LeSean McCoy and replaced him by signing DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. They also still have Darren Sproles. Yet, the Eagles only ran 16 times for 63 yards. Not good enough. The Eagles can't spend all that money in running backs and then get away from their identity. Even if the Falcons are stacking the box, I thought the whole idea here was to get physical runners who can grind out the tough yards. The Eagles abandoned the run game too early in this one after some early failures.
Speaking of the run game, here's a really weird stat:
REALLY weird thing: DeMarco Murray (No. 29) scored his 29th career rushing TD. Ryan Mathews (No. 24) scored his 24th career rushing TD.— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) September 15, 2015
3) Darren Sproles is still really good
Speaking of running backs: Sproles has been such a valuable player to this Eagles team. It will never cease to amaze me the Eagles got him at the cost of a mere fifth round pick. Sproles finished with five carries for 50 yards and seven receptions for 76 yards against the Falcons. Maybe the Eagles weren't kidding when they said they wanted to get him more involved in the offense.
4) Sam Bradford showed promise but needs to be better
Bradford didn't come out as sharp as the Eagles would have hoped in this one. His passes were off target early on. It was clear there were timing issues with his receivers. He really got things cooking in the second half, however, going 20 for 22 prior to the final drive. Considering this was his first real game since 2013, Bradford did OK relative to expectations. Moving forward, he needs to be better. One big concern was that he didn't really look to go deep too often. That's obviously been an issue with him in the past. To his defense, it was hard to tell if he ever had anyone open deep.
5) Concerns about the offensive line are legitimate
The Eagles didn't seem to feel very confident in their offensive line, especially when it came to run blocking. Kelly even explained part of the reason why the team kicked a field goal late in the game is because they didn't get great push on third down. The big guys up front seemed to mostly hold up well in pass protection, though Jason Peters did get beat cleanly by rookie Vic Beasley at least once.
6) More Kiko Alonso, less DeMeco Ryans
This isn't hard. Alonso is clearly the better player. Ryans is a savvy veteran but that doesn't matter a whole lot when you're missing tackles and looking slow in coverage. The good news here is it seemed like the Eagles got away from Ryans in the second half.
7) Byron Maxwell is not a shutdown cornerback
Byron Maxwell did not play well against the Falcons, but I don't think he's a bad cornerback. Julio Jones is really, really good. He's a tough matchup for any defensive back. With that said, Maxwell also struggled against some of Atlanta's other wide receivers. His struggles are certainly concerning for the Eagles. Maxwell legitimately looked like the real deal in training camp and preseason this summer, so it's hard to believe he's a total fraud at this point. Much like his teammates, he needs to be better moving forward.
8) Malcolm Jenkins needs to learn how to catch a football
Jenkins is a good player and a good guy, so I hate to harp on him ... but he really needs to stop dropping crucial interceptions. He did this a couple times late last year, including one against the Seahawks. These missed opportunities are killer. Jenkins dropped two picks on Monday night. Even if he gets one, that could have been all the difference. Maybe Jenkins could benefit from some extra time on the JUGS machine. Dropped picks aside, Jenkins did make a huge tackle on third down at the end of the game to force a punt.
9) The sky isn't falling
Some people might not want to hear it, but this loss could have been way worse. The fact that the Eagles were able to rebound in the second half could be a positive sign moving forward if the Eagles can build on that success. The Eagles honestly look like a team that could benefit from more practice and more playing time as the season goes on. Philadelphia's roster went through so much change this offseason and it's apparent they weren't all on the same page at times against the Falcons. Bradford really needs to work on his timing and communication with his pass catchers, for example. Remember, it's only Week 1.
10) The pressure is on to beat the Cowboys
It's Dallas week now. The Eagles can't go down to 0-2 in the conference to start the season. They really need to win at home. A win over the Cowboys puts the Eagles back on track and helps eliminate some of the concerns after this Falcons loss. The good news for Philly is that the Cowboys will be without several key players, including: star receiver Dez Bryant, starting guard Ronald Leary, linebacker Rolando McClain, and pass rushers Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy. The Eagles need to take advantage.