The Eagles are 1-0 after staving off a Lions comeback. Time to hand out some winners, losers, and IDKs.
Undefeated. Watch out, 1972 Dolphins.
The Eagles are 1-0! Jalen Hurts had an encouraging game! The offense scored 31 points! A.J. Brown is awesome! The running game still looks good! The defense forced a pick six and will be better when it gets some time to gel! The Lions are better than their reputation indicates!
The defense stinks! Fire Jonathan Gannon! The Eagles let the friggin Lions back into the game when it should’ve been a blowout! Hurts didn’t look all that different from last year!
Arthur Juan Brown is a grown ass man.
It was an historic day for the Eagles’ new No. 1 WR as he finished with the most receiving yards ever by an Eagle in his debut (per Elias Sports). The previous record holder was Donte’ Stallworth with 141 in Week 1 of the 2006 season.
Brown topped that performance by catching 10 of his 13 (!) targets for 155 yards. He didn’t get in the end zone, which he understandably seemed frustrated about.
Still, it’s clear this dude is an absolute stud. That much was already apparent in training camp but it’s nice to see the Hurts-to-Brown connection instantly translate to the regular season.
Brown won in multiple ways. He beat the Lions’ defense for a deep reception ... and then dragged a defender on his back to pick up extra yardage. He caught passes over the middle to rack up YAC. He regularly ran the out route that Hurts loves throwing to him and figures to be a staple of this offense. He can do it all.
Good luck to teams trying to cover him. They’re going to need it. Brown is a complete receiver who is going to get his much more often than not.
Sanders only logged 13 carries but he led the Eagles in rushing with 96 yards (7.4 average). He also got in the end zone for the first time in 623 days! Good to get off the schneid in that regard.
Sanders’ second effort on 3nd-and-2 from the Eagles’ own 27-yard line was pretty pivotal. If he gets tackled in the backfield there, they’re punting to a Lions team that had scored three touchdowns on their previous four drives. There’s a real chance they lose the game.
Instead, Sanders was able to escape and pick up a 24-yard gain to essentially seal the deal. The Eagles still had to convert a 4th-and-1 with a Hurts sneak to officially clinch the win ... but Sanders’ play was very important.
Good to see Sanders looking good.
The Eagles’ running game was key to their second half success last year and it was key to beating the Lions again on Sunday. The whole operation deserves mention: Hurts’ legs, Jeff Stoutland, the offensive line, the running backs, the tight ends, all of it. The Birds ultimately produced 216 yards (5.5 average) and four touchdowns on the ground.
The Eagles having 4 different rushing TD scorers against the Lions marked the first time that happened since doing it against the Cowboys in 1961.— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) September 11, 2022
Epps flew around the field in coverage and dished out some big hits, including one tackle for loss. He did miss one tackle but he led the team in made tackles with 10 total, eight solo. Pro Football Focus was lower on Epps’ performance, noting that he allowed three receptions for 30 yards and one score for a passer rating of 147.9. To me, it looked like the TD that Epps gave up to Amon-Ra St. Brown was a really good motion design. Can’t fault him too much for that one as much as you have to credit the Lions.
While White was marked down for two missed tackles, he did well in coverage. He sniffed out a swing pass to D’Andre Swift and made an open field tackle for loss. He also tipped a Jared Goff throw to create the James Bradberry pick six.
White made flashy plays in training camp. White made a flashy play in the preseason. White made flashy plays in Week 1. He’s sure looking like a good signing.
It was previously said in this space that Mr. T looked like the Eagles’ most improved player in camp*. He made a really big play in Detroit when he beat Lions third string right guard Logan Stenberg to drill Goff as the quarterback threw. That hit caused a rushed throw, which was off target and tipped by White to create the Bradberry score. Do the Eagles definitely win if they don’t get that score?
*Please note the distinction between ‘most improved ‘and ‘best.’ A.J. Brown was easily the best. Tuipulotu looked a lot better than he did last time at this year, which was a very low bar to clear.
PFF marked Bradberry down for one allowed reception for 13 yards and a 39.6 passer rating. Plus he had the pick six. Although not generated by him, he still did his part by catching the ball and getting it into the end zone for his first career NFL score. His 27-yard return was the second longest he’s ever had, right behind his long of 29 in 2018.
The box score only shows two total tackles, one solo. The Eagles’ first-round pick was clearly a difference maker in run defense when he was actually allowed to play, though.
The #Eagles allowed 2.9 yards per carry when Jordan Davis was on the field. They allowed 10.0 yards per carry when he was off the field.— Shane Haff (@HAFFnHAFF_TPL) September 12, 2022
Gee, maybe don’t play that guy for only 32% of the defensive snaps?!
Successfully fielding the Lions’ surprise onside kick was a big deal. It was a good catch (especially for a cornerback) with Dave Fipp’s special teams coverage unit bearing down on him. McPhearson’s recovery allowed the Eagles to start at the Lions’ 49-yard line. Five plays later, the Birds scored a touchdown to make it 38 to 21.
McPhearson also made a good tackle on punt coverage.
Covey looked comfortable returning punts. He only returned two for 13 total yards, with a long of 11. No one will be mistaking him for Darren Sproles out there but as long as he’s a decent option, that’s an upgrade on his predecessor.
The most underrated play of the game was this fair catch from Britain Covey with Zach Pascal in his lap. Impressive poise from a rookie in his first NFL game. Could have been a disaster. pic.twitter.com/QHYqQsyHj3— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroNBCS) September 12, 2022
The Eagles’ defense could too often be described as “toothless” last year. It was not encouraging, then, to see a similar aesthetic in Detroit.
35 points allowed. The second-highest offensive scoring total of Week 1, only behind the Kansas City Chiefs.
5.8 yards per play. The tenth-highest total of Week 1. For perspective, 5.8 yards per play ranked 28th worst at the end of last season.
Nine converted third downs on 14 tries (plus 1/1 on fourth down).
And it’s hardly like this was a juggernaut the Eagles were facing. Sure, the Lions have some nice offensive pieces and a quality line.
But, c’mon. This is a unit that Sheil Kapadia ranked as the 24th best offense entering the season. Detroit’s center was banged up and they were starting their third string option at right guard. Jared Goff is a below average starting quarterback ... and he didn’t even play all that well in this one, overthrowing multiple open targets. He was also let down in some instances with the Lions dropping four passes by PFF’s charting (seemed like even more).
Detroit had their way with the Eagles’ run defense, logging 28 carries for 181 yards (6.5 average) and three scores. D’Andre Swift logged an absurd 9.6 yards per carry.
We can be fair (or generous?) to Gannon by pointing out that:
- It’s only Week 1. Weird things can happen in Week 1. See: the Packers scoring three points in last year’s opener before Aaron Rodgers ultimately went on to be the back-to-back MVP.
- He has a lot of new defensive starters and it can take time to gel.
- The Lions’ offense might be better than most currently think.
- The defense had a nice stretch where they forced the Lions to three-and-outs before generating a pick six.
That’s all fair.
Ultimately, though, the bottom line is that the defense underachieved. Just like it did last season when it ranked 25th in DVOA.
We’ve been consistent in saying that the bar for Gannon’s unit is high. The talent he’s been given to work with should be able to produce a legitimate good defense. A top quarter of the league kind of defense. Not a mediocre one. And certainly not a bad one.
Simply put, Gannon needs to produce better results. Everyone will be watching to see how (if?) he adjusts moving forward.
For as much as Gannon deserves blame, the players need to execute as well. And it’s hard to say the defensive line lived up to expectation.
After feasting in Detroit last year, the Eagles’ pass rush struggled to ever really get going. They produced just one sack and that came on a bit of a gift play where the ball was snapped low and wide to where Goff had to pick it up off the ground. Outside of that snap, the Eagles generated just four quarterback hits on 41 Lions passing plays. They also failed to do their part to shut down the Lions’ rushing attack.
Of course, the defensive line personnel utilization wasn’t optimal ... bringing us back to JG.
In general, complaining about officiating can be tacky. But I’m specifically referring to the refs refusing to throw flags for late hits on Hurts after he goes down to slide. They finally penalized the Lions later on in the game but it took a little too long.
WIDE RECEIVERS NOT NAMED A.J. BROWN
DeVonta Smith saw four targets. He had zero receptions.
Smitty did have one first down catch that was wiped out by a holding penalty. He also drew a pass interference penalty that got erased by an offsetting call. Smith also did drop a pass.
One would think Smith might get more involved if/when teams devote more attention to Brown. He should be able to capitalize. I’m not really worried about his talent but one could wonder about his headspace if Brown continues to get a vast majority of the looks. Something to monitor.
Zach Pascal had a nice route and grab for a first down catch on his sole target. Quez Watkins didn’t even get a look. To no suprrise, Covey didn’t play on offense.
QUEZ WATKINS THE KICK RETURNER
Kick returner isn’t a super important position but it’s still a little weird how the Eagles have handled that spot. Watkins returned eight kicks over the first nine games last year and clearly demonstrated that he wasn’t good at it. He averaged just 17.25 yards per return before the Eagles took him off that duty. Now he’s back doing it and ... he still doesn’t look good! His three returns logged 38 yards, though he did intentionally kneel on the last one that was a squib kick. Watkins had elite straight line speed but he’s not particularly sudden or shifty on returns. It would be nice to look into other kick returner options, though no internal alternatives obvious stand out. Covey was a better punt returner in college than kick returner. Jason Huntley is no longer with the Eagles; he’s instead on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ practice squad.
I DONT KNOWS
I’m sure the reaction to me placing Hurts in the IDKs category (which doesn’t even matter because this is all a made up activity!) will be met with some strong disagreement.
How could you be such a hater, BLG?!
Truth be told, I was torn on placing Hurts in winners or IDKs. I went back and forth on it. Most seem to be more positive on his outing than I am, which made me want to check myself. I asked a Lions fan (Alex Reno) from Pride Of Detroit for his thoughts on Hurts’ performance. His response:
“I think he did a lot of things that hurt us (ha) but he did not convince me at all that he will be any good in big moments or against teams that are better at stopping him from running and making him throw often.”
My deliberation also felt a little more valid after listening to Benjamin Solak and the aforementioned Sheil Kapadia talk about Hurts on their newly launched The Ringer’s Philly Special podcast:
SOLAK: A lot of that pressure that he is escaping is pressure that he himself is inviting. Is pressure that he himself is comfortable with. Because he drops back in the pocket, he kind of sits and looks at one receiver, feels a little bit of pressure — like, on his back shoulder — [where] any other quarterback is going to step up and try to find somebody else. He’s going to drop his eyes and he’s going to run. It’s such a nitpick thing because it doesn’t actually hurt the team because he tucks it, runs it, and picks up positive yardage. But when you look at how the Eagles’ offensive line performed with blitzes and pressures, I think, generally, the line in a vacuum performed really well. I’m not sure Hurts, in conjunction with that line and setting up a pocket and handling pressure, did his end of the bargain. Eagles still scored  points on offense because that’s the formula that’s going to work with Jalen Hurts his whole career.
KAPADIA: Yeah, I was gonna ask you. So, as you’re talking about this, I’m trying to figure out if you’re identifying this as a — how big of a problem is this? Is it a problem? How big of a problem is it knowing who you have playing quarterback? Or is it a matter of that’s fine? I mean, he ran 17 times for 90 yards. It was the second-highest rushing total of his career. He was making plays with his legs. So, when it is an answer … you seem a little distraught about it, but should you be distraught about it knowing who’s playing quarterback?
SOLAK: Right. Because it’s fine now. This is the exact thing that made the Bucs not care about the Eagles’ passing game [in the playoffs]. You don’t have to cover guys for more than two seconds. Once Hurts gets outside of the pocket, he very rarely, rarely pushes the ball down field. He’s either going to throw it to who’s immediately open to the half of the field that he rolled to … or he’s going to run it himself. And he should. He’s trained himself to do this. He’s learned to do this over time because it generally turns 1st-and-10s into 2nd-and-6s. And turns 2nd-and-6s into 3rd-and-1s. And it turns 3rd-and-13s into first downs. It’s great! But it makes you one dimensional. Hurts had multiple high value scrambles on the Eagles’ first drive. Would anyone way they felt good about the offense at large on the first drive? No. Because it’s escape patch stuff. It’s raising the floor of the offense. Is it raising the ceiling of the offense? No. The ceiling of the offense is ‘I can get to a backside dig. I can get to a backside go route. I can get to a third read in a progression, find a hole in coverage, get the ball to a playmaker who’s already down the field so he catches the ball at 7 yards of depth and he goes. One of the ways that you can tell Hurts doesn’t get through his progressions is his aDOT. His average depth of target. How far he threw the ball downfield. This game was 4.4 yards. That’s extremely low. Because when you go to backside routes in a progression, they’re usually in the intermediate area of the field. He didn’t throw many throws to that area. I have his chart right here. He had two passing attempts that went more than 15 yards down the field. Two completions. One was the A.J. Brown deep go ball, the other one was about 15 yards of depth to the left sideline, that was the A.J. Brown Cover 2 hole shot, the one you brought up, the turkey hole. Other than that, so, two first read looks to A.J. Brown, he did not throw the ball more than 15 yards down the field. So, this is all quick game, RPO, scripted stuff. If we get him into a progression, he’s going to tuck and run. Because he’s not going to feel comfortable in the pocket. It’s fine … until you run into a playoff defense that’s able to expose the fact that you lack that dimension in your offense.” […] “I think I tricked myself into believing that Jalen was going to be better as a passer. I just let the hype get into my DNA, I let it infiltrate the bunker and poison my thought. I was just watching him on the first drive being like, this is the same stuff, and that’s frustrating. At the same time, Jalen’s learning what it’s like to have A.J. Brown, Nick Sirianni is learning what it’s like to have A.J. Brown […] there’s plenty of reason to believe it’s going to get better. But you look at the Jalen Hurts passing chart and it’s just like … [heavy sigh] … this is why they lost to Tampa. This why they got beat around the yard by Tampa. They need to find a way not to be this offense by Week 18.”
Ultimately, I’m just not being honest with you, the gentle reader, if I’m saying I feel significantly better about Hurts’ outlook because of that game. And it’s hard not to think about the bigger picture when it comes to evaluating a key player making their case to be the franchise quarterback for years to come.
Solely in the scope of this Week 1 game? Hurts can certainly be classified as a winner. He made hugely important plays with his legs to escape pressure and move the chains and sustain scoring drives. He also made some nice throws, such as his 55-yard completion to Brown. Or his quick throw in a tight window to Brown on a slant that went for a chunk gain.
He also made some throws he’d probably like to have back. Such as underthrowing Brown along the left sideline. Or missing Kenneth Gainwell in the flat for what could’ve been a touchdown instead of settling for three points at the end of first half.
Hurts finished the game with a -9.4% completion percentage above expectation (see below for definition). The only quarterbacks who finished worse in that category? Goff, Dak Prescott, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance.
The probability of a pass completion, based on numerous factors such as receiver separation from the nearest defender, where the receiver is on the field, the separation the passer had at time of throw from the nearest pass rusher, and more.
Expected Completion Percentage (xCOMP):
Using a passer’s Completion Probability on every play, determine what a passer’s completion percentage is expected to be.
Completion Percentage Above Expectation (+/-):
A passer’s actual completion percentage compared to their Expected Completion Percentage.
As I often said throughout training camp, I don’t think there was evidence of Hurts taking a night and day leap as a passer. And that’s a concern.
Hurts’ mobility is admittedly a nice tool in the toolbox. Nick Sirianni talked about as much after the game:
Nick Sirianni on the value of Jalen Hurts’ mobility:— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) September 11, 2022
“His legs were huge. What an unbelievable thing to be able to have as a coach.
Oh, we called that, it didn’t work?
He made it right.”
But you can’t really have your quarterback run this much this often. Hurts took a lot of contact (some of it illegal but still takes a toll all the same) on Sunday:
A closer look at Jalen Hurts' bruising, but successful, afternoon in Detroit:— Tim McManus (@Tim_McManus) September 12, 2022
-- He faced 15 blitzes, 2nd most in Week 1 behind Patrick Mahomes (21).
-- He absorbed 20 QB contacts, most in the league.
-- Hurts was hit on 35% of his dropbacks. League average was 21%.
Will Hurts last over the course of a 17-game season at this rate? He’s pretty tough and durable ... but probably not. And it isn’t just about the prospect of missing games. Hurts’ effectiveness is drawn into question if there’s a repeat of late last year when his mobility was cleared hampered by a lingering ankle injury that he played through.
And so I’d still like to see a lot more from Hurts as a passer before buying in as much as others. The good news is there’s plenty of season left to get a better read on his development. Week 1 wasn’t a bad start for him by any means. I just don’t think it was a needle mover. Hence, I don’t know.
For a more rosier (some might say “accurate”?) review of Hurts’ performance, you can check out this good breakdown from QB expert (and BGN Radio alumuns) Mark Schofield for SB Nation.
CJGJ missed three tackles in his Eagles debut. PFF graded him out as the Eagles’ worst defender.
Seems a bit harsh to me. He seemed pretty active in coverage. Especially if we’re to consider his learning curve. He only recently joined the defense and transitioned to safety. CJGJ nearly had a pick when jumping a route near Epps at one point.
CJGJ snap counts by position (per PFF): 33 free safety, 27 box safety, 7 slot. He had previously only played 80 career snaps at free safety, so he’s clearly still adjusting.
I feel more optimistic about him than not. He just has some catching up to do.
TRAINING CAMP STRATEGY
Let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with the Eagles’ training camp approach. There’s evidence to suggest it helps keep the team healthy, which is really important.
That being said, I’m not going to act like the strategy doesn’t have downside. There are pros and cons to most things in life.
I think it’s fair to wonder if the Eagles might be more fine tuned with a tougher camp. Tackling was certainly an issue in Detroit; they missed 15 total by PFF’s charting. The Eagles were THE worst tackling team by PFF’s grading.
The Lions, who ran a tougher camp under Dan Campbell, missed 10 tackles. They were the 19th best tackling team by PFF’s grading.
Of course, the Lions were also more banged up than Philly in Week 1.
When it comes to the penalty front, the Eagles were flagged a bit less often than they were to start last season. Still more than their opponent in each case, though being on the road for each game is a factor to consider.
2021 Week 1 penalties: 14 for 89 yards (2 more than Falcons)
2022 Week 1 penalties: 10 for 61 yards (3 more than Lions)
Another important thing to remember is that penalties are generally way up early in the season. BGN’s Dave Mangels recently covered this in an article:
Last season Week 1 had the most penalties of any week of the season with 257. Week 2 saw the second most, with 251. The least? Week 18 with 152, and Week 17 was the fourth least. 2020 was similar, Week 2 was the most penalized, Week 3 was the third most, and Week 17 was the least.
So if it seems like the refs suck this month, you’re right, it’s what they do in September.
Of the Eagles’ issues, a softer camp should not be of the utmost concern. They have bigger fishy to fry. It’s fair to acknowledge the potential downside that exists, though.
I don’t expect the Eagles to fire Gannon this season. And even if it did get to that point, I think it would be Dennard Wilson taking over as the interim DC.
After the 2022 season, though? It’s kinda hard to ignore how Fangio attended a lot of Eagles training camp practices this summer. The calls for the proven veteran to replace JG will only grow if the defense continues to struggle.