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8 things we learned from the Eagles’ Week 1 comeback win over Washington

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Big takeaways from Sunday’s game.

Washington Redskins v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Washington Redskins in their 2019 season opener, 32 to 27. Here’s what we learned from this NFL Week 1 game.

1 - Slow starts are still an issue

The 2019 Eagles were looking too much like the 2018 Eagles early on Sunday.

In case you forgot, last year’s team only averaged 2.6 first quarter points per game. That mark was tied with the Jaguars — who were quarterbacked by the combination of Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler — for dead last in the league.

The Eagles managed to under-perform their abysmal 2018 average by scoring exactly zero first quarter points against Washington. And it wasn’t until 4:19 remaining in the second quarter that the Eagles scored at all.

The Eagles obviously deserve credit for coming back from their slow start but they can’t keep expecting to win games in this manner. It’s imperative for them to look sharper out of the gate.

Some of the blame goes on Doug Pederson. There were a number of questionable play-calls early on. Pederson opted to pitch to Darren Sproles on a 3rd-and-1 that got dropped for a 2-yard loss instead of sneaking with Carson Wentz or handing the ball off to the physical bruiser Jordan Howard, who was having success up the gut. Pederson also threw a screen to DeSean Jackson on 3rd-and-10 despite the fact the Eagles weren’t having much success on those plays.

The players also deserve some blame. DeSean Jackson turned a 3nd-and-2 into a 3rd-and-17 with a dumb penalty related to retaliating to a Quinton Dunbar shove. Wentz stared down a fourth down pass attempt that got batted to the ground.

Fast starts should’ve already been a big emphasis for this team after what happened in 2018. The team needs to figure out how to stop coming out so flat.

2 - Carson Wentz is looking like he’s back to his 2017 form and that’s kind of a big deal

There were a number of moments on Sunday where it really felt like we were watching the Wentz we saw in 2017. You know, that one who was easily on track to win NFL MVP.

Part of what made Wentz so special that year was his clutch performance on third down. Against Washington, Wentz completed 11 of his 12 third down attempts for 197 yards and three passing touchdowns (h/t Reuben Frank). That’s crazy efficiency.

Wentz also completed eight of his nine attempts while under pressure for 132 yards, two touchdowns, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating (h/t PFF). There were a number of plays where Wentz was ability to use his mobility to get him out of trouble and fire off a pass to an open target. Or, in the case of Alshon Jeffery’s receiving touchdown, fire off a pass to a really tight window. Just look at this ball placement!

Wentz’s final stats on the day: 28/39 (71.8%), 313 yards (8.0), 3 TD, 0 INT, 121.0 passer rating. Pretty good.

His numbers would’ve looked even better if his 2-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery wasn’t called a lateral instead: 29/40 (72.5%), 315 yards (7.9), 4 TD, 0 INT, 128.7 passer rating.

It’s hard not to feel good about the Eagles’ outlook when Wentz is playing at a high level. He’s the key to this team being a real Super Bowl contender. Off to a good start.

3 - DeSean Jackson’s presence is a game changer

I purposely didn’t mention Jackson in the section above because No. 10 deserves one of his own.

Jackson’s big play ability was just what the doctor ordered to remedy the Eagles’ slow start. And not only once, but twice. Jackson’s first touchdown reception was a 51-yard bomb from Wentz. The next was a 53-yard completion.

The Eagles sorely lacked that kind of explosion in 2018. They team had hoped Mike Wallace could be that guy but he got hurt and never even logged a regular season reception.

With Jackson in the fold, you can never truly count out the Eagles from making a big strike. The Wentz to Jackson connection is going to be troublesome for Philly’s opponents all season long.

It’s not just the big plays that defenses have to worry about, either. Jackson was a reliable target for Wentz all over the field. Jackson caught eight of the 10 passes thrown his way for a total of 154 yards and two scores.

Earlier this offseason, Bleeding Green Nation noted the strong on-field chemistry between Wentz and Jackson. It’s clear that’s carried over into the regular season. That’s great news for the Eagles and terrible news for the teams they’re going to play.

4 - The running back rotation could use some tweaking

Let’s take a look at how the running back touches shook out.

Miles Sanders — 11 carries, 25 yards (2.3 average) ... 1 reception, 2 yards

Darren Sproles — 9 carries, 47 yards (5.2 average) ... 3 receptions, 16 yards

Jordan Howard — 6 carries, 44 yards (7.3 average) ... 2 receptions, 11 yards

Corey Clement — 0 offensive touches

Sanders’ numbers don’t look great but the film tells a different story. He’s clearly the Eagles’ most elusive back in the open field. His stats would’ve looked better had his touchdown run not been wiped out by a questionable holding penalty.

Sproles finished with good numbers but it felt like the Eagles were over-reliant on him at times. Sproles was tied for the team lead in total touches in the first half. It just doesn’t feel like, given all the weapon the Eagles have, that a 36-year-old Sproles should be leading the way in touches. While Sproles’ final numbers were good, there’s an opportunity cost to be considered. Is there a better way to use those touches?

This isn’t to suggest the Eagles need to phase out Sproles entirely. But they could afford to cut back moving forward.

And speaking of tweaking the rotation, how about some more playing time for Howard? The former Bears running back really made the most of his limited opportunities against Washington. Howard runs hard; he really is the perfect thunder complement to Sanders’ lightning.

Pederson and Duce Staley can do a better job of managing this rotation. Let’s see if they can figure it out. The encouraging thing is they have some quality talent to work with unlike last year when fringe talents Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood ended up being the team’s top two leading rushers.

5 - The pass rush needs to be better

Concerns about the Eagles’ pass rush were looking justified when Case Keenum was getting way too much time to throw early in the game as Washington raced out to a 17-0 lead. The Eagles’ defense ultimately settled in but the pass rush was far from dominant. Philly only finished with one sack on the day and that was from Timmy Jernigan.

Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Malik Jackson, and Josh Sweat all combined for zero quarterback hits. That’s really not good enough.

Derek Barnett had a dumb offside penalty but he was at least generating pressure. The 2017 first-round pick finished with three quarterback hits, which was the most out of any player in this game. Barnett also drew a pair of holding penalties while going up against Donald Penn.

Fletcher Cox logged two hits, Hassan Ridgeway got one, and so did Jernigan. The interior rushers produced more than the edge rushers as whole.

6 - There are issues in the secondary

The play where Andrew Sendejo got beat for a touchdown by Vernon Davis was confusing. It looked like Sendejo had good coverage on Davis before peeling off and then trying to recover for a tackle but terribly failing to do so. It’s especially frustrating to see Sendejo when one considers his presence on the roster is costing the Eagles a 2020 fourth-round compensatory pick. The Eagles shouldn’t be getting such a sloppy showing from a veteran.

Washington rookie wideout Terry McLaurin gave both Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones fits as he roasted both of them. Douglas was victimized on a deep touchdown completion while Jones was lucky to see Keenum just overthrow his open target. McLaurin has legitimate speed so it’s not like he’s a slouch. Still, the Eagles have some things to figure out in the secondary. Pederson said the team plans to continue to rotate Ronald Darby, Avonte Maddox, Douglas, and Jones.

7 - Doug Pederson’s teams continue to show resiliency

I wrote this earlier today:

There should be no questions about Pederson’s leadership ability. There have been low points in each of Pederson’s first three seasons where the team could’ve folded and packed things in. Instead, the players have always responded to adversity by fighting hard for their head coach.

Sunday’s victory over Washington was another example of the Eagles bouncing back.

Of course, today’s adversity was self-inflicted. Still, Pederson and the players deserve credit for fighting back instead of crumbling.

8 - Brandon Brooks is not 100% just yet but he’s showing great progress

The Eagles’ starting right guard left the game early on Sunday but it wasn’t because he got hurt. Rather, Pederson said it was the plan all along to have Brooks on a pitch count. Brooks told reporters he was only supposed to play 30 but he ended up around 55.

It’s already incredible that Brooks was able to play at all considering he’s not even a full eight months removed from his Achilles injury. That he was able to outperform his pitch count is even more impressive and should bode well for his status moving forward. Maybe he’ll be able to handle the full workload against the Falcons next weekend.