Let's get the bad ones out of the way first, since they pretty much slapped you in the face from the first play of the game.
1. Cody Parkey
I've taken some abuse for worrying about Parkey during the preseason. Now I think it's a safe bet that a lot of people will be jumping on the anxiety train.
I get that he is recovering from an injury. In fact, that's precisely what bothers me. He was on the injured list with that same groin injury last December, when he missed two field goals in the 3 point loss to Washington. 9 months later, it's not healed? I think that's a legitimate worry.
2. Disappointing secondary
In retrospect, maybe the praise for E.J. Biggers should have been a tipoff. Seriously? Even hometown paper the Washington Post said this about his last two years playing for the Skins:
"He wasn’t expected to re-sign with the team after a 2014 campaign marked by frequent struggles."
New defensive backs coach Cory Undlin was expected to turn around a unit that had 6 new players, heavily praised for teaching technique better. The ball-hawking emphasis was evident in the two interceptions (one by linebacker Kiko Alonso of course), but the unit as a whole was carved up by the admittedly great combination of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
The fact that ST star Chris Maragos was a surprise member of the nickel package at safety (with Malcolm Jenkins moving up to slot corner) was a sign of disarray. 2nd round pick Eric Rowe was hyped early and then suddenly shifted around in the last pre-season game. He played safety for 3 years in college; putting in a special teamer who rarely plays defensive snaps instead of Rowe is not a good sign for the team's confidence in the rook.
None of this says that Rowe, Biggers or Maragos can't develop into excellent defensive backs and help this unit gel. But the last second juggling shows that it was not ready for game 1.
3. Donnie Jones
The Eagles punting game was not strong either, on a night when they could have really used it. At the risk of incurring the wrath of Jimmy Kempski, I've got to put the blame on Donnie Jones. He was a revelation in 2013 but has gradually declined since.
His five punts averaged 45.2 yards, 19th of 32 punters in this new season. One was a touchback, and only one landed inside the 20. Atlanta's punter/kickoff artist Matt Bosher averaged 57.8 yards a punt -- a whole first down advantage every kick -- with no TBs and three inside the 20.
4. Run blocking
There were problems with pass protection too -- no sacks of Bradford but 8 quarterback hits, many of them hard shots. But the offensive line's problems were most evident in the run game, which is probably why Chip Kelly abandoned it early.
On the first run, the Eagles second play from scrimmage, Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn literally threw new starting RG Andrew Gardner back past DeMarco Murray, who had to pause for him to fly by before running into the line for two yards.
On the second run (after a punt), Gardner whiffed on OLB O'Brien Schofield and stood watching while six Falcons dragged Murray down at the 8 for a 12-yard loss. The holding penalty on Lane Johnson was declined.
After a second quick punt, Darren Sproles ran -- right into DE Adrian Clayborn, who had pushed past Allen Barbre (the other new starting guard). Sproles tried to bounce it outside to the right, but Schofield tossed aside TE Zach Ertz and shared the tackle.
And so it went. Twitter was full of people wondering why Chip Kelly didn't run more. Seriously? Watch the tape again if you're confused. The Eagles had negative net yardage in the run game until the last 40 seconds of the first half.
It wasn't just the new guys either. Jason Peters was alternately brilliant and sub-standard, and Jason Kelce was called for a couple of holding penalties. Only right tackle Lane Johnson looked top notch, which may be why Chip kept run right sweeps in the second half.
5. Dan Quinn
Bad for the Eagles anyway, but very good if you're a Falcons fan. Before he took the head coaching job in Atlanta, Dan Quinn was the coordinator responsible for Seattle's defense during their two recent Super Bowl seasons -- not a bad item to have on your resume. He was an inspired choice, since the Falcons had a solid QB and passing game and the league's worst defense.
This was his first game and the results are already good. Quinn's 4-3 front (mixing two-gap and one-gap responsibilities) seems to fit the Falcons' talent, and his player acquisitions (DE Vic Beasley, CB Jalen Collins, and free agents DE Adrian Claybourn and LB Brooks Reed) fit in well last night. That's good for Quinn, because at this rate the Falcon's won't be drafting as high as #8 again for a while.
There were more than 5 bad things in this upset loss, of course. The Eagles had trouble setting the edge on sweeps and racked up 11,971 penalties, among other dire problems. But let's talk about happy things!
It took less than two minutes of the second half before the Eagles decisively turned the game around with a sack, followed by an interception and a two-play touchdown drive. Then it was a game.
1. Second half Bradford
In the first two quarters, Sam Bradford was clearly not in sync with his receivers. Ertz and Huff failed to turn around for balls headed their way. Ryan Mathews dropped a perfectly thrown ball, and Miles Austin couldn't hang on to a bullet up the seam that looked a little long but would have been a touchdown.
In the second half, Bradford found his range with a flurry of short passes and screens; on the team's epic 95-yard touchdown drive, he was 11 for 12 despite despite losing 55 yards on penalties (in lost gains and penalty yards combined).
2. Receiver depth
On a rough night, ten different Eagles caught passes Monday, basically every Eagle who could without declaring to the referee. The only exceptions I can think of were TE Trey Burton and ST/WR Seyi Ajirotutu, who left the game in the first quarter with a concussion suffered in punt coverage. Eight of the ten caught for first downs, and seven had receptions of 12 yards or longer. Two of the least heralded receivers, Miles Austin and Riley Cooper, were 2-22 and 3-25, respectively.
This is great news for a coach who can scheme receivers open as well as Chip Kelly can. He has established that any TE, WR or RB he puts on the field is a receiving threat. Defenses better respect that threat, or he will make them pay.
3. Red zone defense and offense
Even in the worst depths of the first half, the Eagles were stout against Atlanta incursions which kept the game within range. On the 3 trips inside the 20, Atlanta ended up with one TD, one FG and one interception. Expand it a little bit and the results are even more impressive: four more drives hit their high-water mark at the 21, 22, 24 and 29, yielding 3 field goals and only one touchdown.
On offense, the Eagles were three of four inside the 20. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews didn't get much yardage, but each ran for a TD (from the 8 and the 1 respectively) and Murray caught a 5 yard pass for the third. This is a great turnaround from 2014, when the Eagles scored touchdowns less than half the time on offense while giving up 58% on D.
There were no official fumbles in this pass-heavy game -- Philadelphia had a strip sack called back by yet another penalty -- but the Eagles two interceptions were game changers and a welcome difference from 2014, when they notched only 12 all year while giving up a league-leading 21.
Yes, Malcolm Jenkins should have caught the two passes that went through his arms (and ditto several last year). But that's a good problem to have. Brent Cohen, who writes the blog EaglesRewind.com (as well as for BGN) raised an excellent point:
That's the thing about his drops. If he's a step slow and dives to slap it away, all the fans are praising him. https://t.co/g31QevudME— EaglesRewind (@EaglesRewind) September 15, 2015
Just to be able to drop an interception, you have to be 90% of the way toward catching it. Jenkins did have interceptions in 3 straight games last year before developing a case of dropsy. With some more time on the JUGS machine, or some sage peer group pressure from Thurmond and Kiko Alonso, he could lead that secondary into ball-hawking dominance.
5. Rust gets worn off quickly.
The Eagles were clearly hurt by the minimal pre-season playing time they gave their starters. Sure, it made tons of sense to go easy on the guys who were over-used in 2014 (DeMarco Murray) or coming back from injuries (pretty much everyone else).
It was a league-wide trend to minimize the snaps for key players and still several got injured. But the Eagles struggled severely in the first half with terrible timing and bad chemistry between the O-line players and between Bradford and various receivers.That should make people who argue for just 1 or 2 preseason games are r
Some of that was the new skill players adjusting to Chip Kelly's system. The stunning debut (and lack of film on) Dan Quinn's schemes added to that confusion. By the second half, though, the reformulated Eagles were operating as expected, and a full game of real play gave the coaching staff a mountain of material to digest and work on.
None of that is a guarantee that the Eagles will win the next 10 games. But if nothing else, it gives them a chance to knock off the depleted Cowboys (Vegas says they're 5 point favorites at home), and means that the remaining games should be a lot more fun to watch than that miserable first half.