The Philadelphia Eagles are now 1-0 on the 2018 NFL regular season schedule after defeating the Atlanta Falcons by a final score of 18 to 12 (recap here). It sure wasn’t pretty, but the Eagles ultimately came up with a big win. Here’s a look at what we learned.
1 - This team still has fight
I really admire this team’s fight. It really felt like a number of people (some Eagles fans included) were counting them out once again. No Carson Wentz, no Alshon Jeffery, no Mack Hollins, no Timmy Jernigan, no Chris Maragos. Super Bowl hangover. How can the Eagles possibly beat a Falcons team that is super motivated to avenge last year’s playoff loss?
By fighting. That’s how.
Even when things wrong (like Tre Sullivan’s awful turnover), the Eagles didn’t falter. The Falcons took them down to the wire for the second year in a row but this team held strong once again.
I know this point might come off as very sports cliche but I really think there’s something to be said about the character of this team. It’s a new season, yes, but there’s clearly been some carry over from a 2017 team that won the Super Bowl.
2 - It doesn’t feel like 2017 is completely over
Holy déjà vu, Batman!
I don’t know about you but I can’t help but almost feel like the 2017 season never ended and there was just a big game between games from February to September.
Last night’s game was so nostalgic. You had the Philly Special (which was actually the Philly Philly). You had the game ending with Julio Jones out of bounds along the sideline in the end zone.
The entire magnitude of the evening felt so much bigger than a mere Week 1 game. Watching this one live at the Linc felt like the Eagles won a playoff battle.
I guess that’s the atmosphere the NFL intends to create by featuring this game on the Thursday night before the first full Sunday of the regular season. It worked.
This was really the perfect bridge from watching the Eagles win the Super Bowl to watching them begin a quest to repeat as world champs.
3 - Nick Foles needs to be better
Let’s start with the stats: 19/34 (55.9%), 117 yards (3.3 average), 0 TD, 1 INT, 50.7 passer rating. Oh, and one reception for 15 yards.
Overalll, it just wasn’t a great night for the reigning Super Bowl MVP.
“BUT THE ONLY NUMBER THAT MATTERS IS 1-0!” you may retort.
Yes, obviously Foles played well enough to where the Eagles could win with him. But let’s not confuse that to say they won because of him.
I’m not saying Foles was all bad. He did make some good throws over the course of the game. And he can actually catch, unlike Tom Brady, so that was great to see.
Still, you want to see him play better than he did. Especially considering this guy has a $13.6 million cap number (second highest on the team) and was kept around at the expense of the Eagles turning down at least a high second-round draft pick.
You can try to explain away his interception as a tipped ball, but you can’t ignore the fact he had a sure pick dropped by Falcons corner Robert Alford. That was just a terrible ball because his target was wide open and he simply threw it way too late. Foles had a few other near-picks.
It’s entirely possible Foles bounces back moving forward. We all know he’s a boom or bust player. It is a little disappointing to see that he’s been on the downside lately when you factor in the preseason games as well.
Knowing that Carson Wentz reportedly might be out until October, it’d be nice to see better production from Foles.
4 - The Eagles’ defense is legit
One of the most positive takeaways from the Eagles’ preseason is that their defense looked pretty good. Jim Schwartz’s unit didn’t fail to impress once again on Thursday evening.
The Eagles held the Falcons’ offense to a mere 12 points, and six of those came after Foles was intercepted to set up Atlanta’s offense just 27 yards away from the end zone.
Philadelphia was able to hold the Falcons to just 4-of-16 on third and fourth down conversions. The Falcons successfully converted just one of their five trips to the red zone.
With the Eagles’ offense unable to find a rhythm for a large portion of the night, the defense really stepped up and made this game winnable. The Eagles might have to continue to ride with this formula if the offense doesn’t pick up soon. The good news is that it seems like it could be sustainable ... in the short-term, at least.
Lost in all the preseason QB talk: The #Eagles defense is for real. Philly has allowed no more than 12 points in five of its last six (including playoffs) and an average of 16.1 per game dating back to Nov. 19, 2017.— Cody Benjamin (@CodyJBenjamin) September 7, 2018
5 - Philadelphia continues to boast the NFL’s best home field advantage
“CAN YOU BELIEVE EAGLES FANS BOOED THEIR TEAM IN THE FIRST GAME AFTER THE SUPER BOWL?!?!?!”
Philly detractors naturally love to run with angles that try to make the fans look bad. But here’s a thought: if the fans are so bad, then why do the Eagles have the BEST HOME RECORD IN THE NFL since the start of the 2016 season?
The Eagles’ home record in the Doug Pederson era increased to 16-3 on Thursday evening. They’re just so good at home, and I’m willing to say that’s not just a coincidence!
The energy at the Linc last night was unreal. Fans were absolutely pumped for this one ... even though the start time was delayed to a severe thunderstorm that passed through.
For often being painted as having “the worst fans,” the Eagles sure do manage to win a lot of games in front of those fans. Makes you think.
6 - Doug Pederson’s balls keep getting bigger
Big Balls Doug strikes again.
Just when you may have started to wonder if Pederson was really missing the likes of Frank Reich and John DeFilippo, Pederson reminded us why he’s one of the best coaches in the NFL and broke out the dang play the Patriots tried to run against the Eagles in the Super Bowl.
That “Philly Philly” play was a huge turning point last night. The Eagles went on to score their first touchdown on that drive and the energy in the building really picked up after everyone was being lulled to sleep by a series of failed offensive drives.
The offense clearly still has a lot of work to do. But under Pederson’s guidance, they were ultimately able to do enough to win the game.
The fact remains it’s not difficult to feel good about this team’s outlook with Doug at the helm.
7 - The Eagles are still very strong in the trenches
As we all know, the Eagles rode strong play in the trenches to their first ever Super Bowl win back in February. It was good, then, to see that the offensive line and defensive line units picked up from where they left off.
The Eagles’ o-line only played four quarterback hits and two sacks. They also opened some real nice holes at times in the run game, especially late in fourth. Seeing Jason Peters out there pushing Vic Beasley around was great.
Defensively, the Eagles generated a total of four sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hits, and one forced fumble. Fletcher Cox continues to look absolutely dominant. Chris Long was a big factor coming off the bench as well.
Football is won and lost in the trenches, as the saying goes. And that’s an area where the Eagles are certainly still strong.
8 - Jay Ajayi deserves more playing time
It was odd that it took until 13:33 remaining in the second quarter for Ajayi to log his first carry of the game. The Eagles’ early running attempts with Darren Sproles and Corey Clement just weren’t proving fruitful.
On Friday, Pederson explained that he simply wanted to ease Ajayi into the game since the running back has been dealing with a foot issue. Well, the strategy ultimately worked because Ajayi finished the night with 15 carries for 62 yards (4.1 average) and two touchdowns. He also had a successful two-point conversion try.
It’s easy to love the way Ajayi runs. He’s so great at generating yardage on his own by fighting through contact. Hopefully the Eagles continue to lean on him more heavily, especially if the passing game is struggling to get going.
One critique I have when it comes to the Jay Train is that it seems like there were a few runs where he was almost hitting the hole too hard and stumbling forward instead of being able to stay on his feet. It seemed like there were more yards available to him at times. Still, a good night from the Jay Train. Again, hoping to see more of him.
9 - Alshon Jeffery’s absence is not insignificant
Jeffery alone had four receptions for 61 yards against the Falcons earlier this year. In his absence this time around, all Eagles receivers managed to combine for nine receptions for 43 yards. Not great!
Now, I’m not suggesting that the current group of Eagles receivers are hopeless. I think Agholor was impressive despite his meager stat line. He made some real tough contested grabs. It’s just that he didn’t have much opportunity for YAC given the way the Falcons play their Cover 3 defense. Not to mention the speedy defenders employed by Atlanta.
I also think we’re bound to see more out of Mike Wallace, which isn’t saying much since he didn’t log a catch last night. But he was getting open deep. Foles simply underthrew Wallace one time, which resulted in a Falcons pass breakup, and then Wallace arguably got interfered with on another deep shot.
With all that said, the Eagles’ receiving corps is unquestionably better when Jeffery is playing. in addition to the plays he can make, he figures to take defensive attention away from the Eagles’ other skill players.
10 - Jordan Hicks is BACK
In case anyone forgot, Jordan Hicks reminded everyone that he’s a beast on Thursday evening.
The 26-year-old is an absolute stat-stuffer. He finished the game by leading the team in tackles with seven. Hicks also had two quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and one pass defensed.
One of Hicks’ sacks came when Schwartz sent him on a blitz and he just absolutely trucked the crap out of Devonta Freeman. That was awesome.
It’s great to have him No. 58 back on this Eagles defense.
Honorable mention goes to Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nathan Gerry for stepping up with Nigel Bradham missing this game. When asked about the good things that stood out from the game on re-watch, Doug Pederson gave both of those players unsolicited shoutouts.
Maybe the Eagles’ linebacker depth isn’t so bad as some people have thought it to be.
11 - Ronald Darby is a No. 1 cornerback
Darby had a very strong offseason. His efforts have clearly carried over into the regular season. The 24-year-old corner was very active in coverage last night. He finished with three passes defensed in total.
Darby did get beat by Julio Jones at times, sure, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Jones is arguably the best receiver in the game for a reason. He’s going to get his. Darby managed to limit the damage, though, and most importantly he kept Jones out of the end zone. Literally. He shoved Jones out of bounds as the receiver was trying to make a touchdown catch on the final play of the game. Clutch.
12 - Cameron Johnston just might be pretty good
Johnston earned the Eagles’ punter job by having a good preseason. He continued his impressive punting performance on Thursday night by booting the ball six times for 313 yards. That’s a strong 52.2 average. His longest punt went for 65.
After losing Donnie Jones to retirement, it’s nice to see the Eagles have found a viable replacement. Johnston’s ability to flip the field came in handy last night.
13 - The Eagles may have really helped themselves down the road
I know it’s only Week 1 but I can’t but feel like this was a really important win for the Eagles. The NFC figures to be super competitive this year and now Philadelphia has a key tie-breaker over another potential playoff team. That could really end up coming in handy when it comes to seeding.
Another reason why this win was important is because the Eagles have a real nice chance to start the season 3-0 now. The Buccaneers and Colts aren’t very good teams. It’d be real nice to bank some wins while Wentz continues to miss time.