By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor
The Eagles offense was horrid. The defense started well, but fell apart in the second quarter.
The Eagles missed a field goal and had a touchdown called back for a phantom hold. They entered the tunnel at halftime a lifeless team.
Then there was the injuries. Lane Johnson, Alshon Jeffery, Jalen Mills and Miles Sanders all went down in the middle of the game.
At one point, JJ Arcega-Whiteside even left the game.
The team was forced to rely on three recent promotions from the practice squad.
That’s when the magic happened.
These young players had an interest in proving themselves, but the play calling also changed.
It changed to play to the strength of the offensive line – rolling out and blocking down field – and to play to the speed and elusiveness of Greg Ward and Boston Scott.
Suddenly chunk yardage was coming from these short passes and some down field shots to Zach Ertz and Josh Perkins opened up.
The Eagles and Carson Wentz won on the backs of their young players showing potential and improved play calling as well as a suddenly far more confident and dominant quarterback.
While fans should certainly remain skeptical, there is reason to believe that this momentum could continue moving forward. Perhaps the main question now is health and whether the coaching staff can utilize this game plan going forward.
- Jason Peters struggled mightily, resulting in a few sacks and Lane Johnson leaving the game. Still, he was not replaced by Andre Dillard despite his poor play through the first half.
- With Johnson out, Big V was the right tackle for the majority of the game.
- Alshon Jeffery left early on and, with Greg Ward and JJ Arcega-Whiteside already playing, there was no receiver to take his place. That meant that tight end Josh Perkins, recently promoted from the practice squad, played multiple receiver positions as well as his tight end positions. That didn’t seem to bother him much as the tight end was still an effective target. Remember when Agholor was bad for an entire season because he had to play a couple different wideout spots? Well that looks flat out embarrassing now.
- With KGH out, both TJ Edwards and Duke Riley saw a bit of an increase in their snaps.
- Jalen Mills left with an injury and that brought in Rasul Douglas. Douglas played fairly well until his own injury, which brought Sidney Jones into the game.
It took the Eagles getting down to just a backup offensive lineman, just one healthy receiver from the opening day roster and none of their running backs from the opening day roster, but the Eagles play calling finally changed to play to the strengths of the team. The Eagles finally started a bit of up-tempo play with short passes and screens to Boston Scott and Greg Ward who used a bit of quickness and elusiveness to gain yardage, often times aided by the offensive line’s dominant blocking.
It isn’t really a secret that the Eagles offensive line is perhaps the best in the league in rolling out and blocking downfield and it’s not like the Eagles suddenly had wheel routes and screens open up. I am not convinced that Miles Sanders, Corey Clement, Darren Sproles, Nelson Agholor or even Mack Hollins couldn’t have run these same plays successfully throughout the season. The injuries forced the play calling to change in a way that utilizes the Eagles’ top talents. Why it took the injuries to tailor a game plan to that is anyone’s guess.
Not only that, but it did the same thing for Wentz that the team routinely preached with Foles under center: It gave Wentz a bunch of easy completions and a rhythm. Suddenly, those passes that had been sailing over receivers’ heads were hitting Greg Ward and Josh Perkins in the numbers. Suddenly, receivers could be hit in stride. Suddenly, the whole passing game clicked and the Giants couldn’t scrape by covering only two players on the offense at a time.
The play calling finally helping Carson Wentz and playing to the strength’s of the team’s offensive line is perhaps the biggest reason to be optimistic about this team, especially if Jordan Howard or DeSean Jackson can return to action at some point.
Sell: Ronald Darby
If you want to pinpoint a player who made the game close, it would be Darby. He gave up at least three deep balls, including both of the Giants touchdowns. One was a play that shouldn’t have been a first down had he been even a halfway decent tackler and the other he just stopped running with the defender for some reason. The third deep ball he gave up put the Giants in range for their lone field goal. This season, we have seen what Darby can do when he’s on, but we’ve also seen why he has yet to be considered a top corner with games like tonight.
This game again showcases who the Eagles top corner is. Jalen Mills has bad games as all corners do, but he can bounce back and show some consistency. Darby is not nearly as good at bouncing back and he was victimized for the second straight week.
Buy: Boston Scott
Scott was pretty impressive, with a 28-yard kick return, six catches for 69 yards and 10 carried for 59 yards. He was the team’s leading rusher and their second-most productive receiving threat. 128 yards from scrimmage with an average of eight yards per touch isn’t bad even if he hadn’t gotten a rushing touchdown to add to that.
Scott was absolutely a benefactor of the changed play calls, but he showed how effective he can be and it was an excellent start to his competing to stick on the 53-man roster next season.
Sell: Fletcher Cox
Cox is a dominant player and the Giants offensive line isn’t good. What did Fletcher Cox have to show for that match-up? He recorded a single tackle assist and one quarterback hit. That is just not acceptable from someone of Cox’s caliber playing against such a weak team.
Buy: Josh Perkins
Perkins was a good run blocker, but also managed to catch all five of his targets for 37 yards. That’s not super numbers, but as a third tight end playing tight end and receiver, that’s really good. Perkins will likely get to continue to play and fight for a roster spot in 2020. Perkins is probably the only reason that Josh McCown didn’t end up coming in as a 40-year old receiver for the Eagles.
Sell: Rodney McLeod
McLeod has been pretty good this year, enough so that the Eagles should consider bringing him back. That may not be the case anymore.
McLeod allowed a first down in the red zone when he was unable to tackle Saquon Barkley behind the line. He is hardly the first person to have trouble doing that. What is really bad, however is his giving up on the play like he did when Ronald Darby and he stood around and allowed the receiver to cut between them. That is simply inexcusable.
Buy: Sidney Jones
One snap for Jones and he made a pass breakup to prevent a first down, keep the game tied and get the Eagles the ball back. It was actually a very good play on a vital point in the game. If Jones had done this throughout the season, he wouldn’t be the Eagles sixth or seventh option at the position.
Sell: Monday Night Football Announcers
The only thing worse for America than the awful game that they had to suffer through in that first half of action was the announcers. If you are one of those lucky enough to have not listened to the broadcast and don’t have blood clogging your ears already, you can replicate the experience for yourself. All you have to do is read the following paragraph out loud to yourself for four hours in a row nonstop.
The book of Eli is coming to an end. It is historic. He whined enough that he was traded to the Giants and has a 116-116 record. That record is worthy of the Hall of Fame. At this point in the season, though, you are who your record says you are. The NFC East is terrible, so let me remind you what is on the line. If the Eagles win out, they are in. Dallas is 6-7 and, with a win, the Eagles will be tied for the lead in the NFC East. They play each other in a couple of weeks.
Insert some obvious commentary like, “that play didn’t work”, “the receivers need to catch the ball if they want to be good” and “this team can win if they score more points” and you’re golden.
They also said that the weather was “just like the fans here in Philadelphia: windy and rainy” to start the broadcast. I’m not sure about anyone else, but I don’t know that a person can be windy or rainy let alone both.
Buy: Greg Ward Jr.
Ward was not great – he dropped a potential game-tying touchdown reception that was, admittedly, well defended – but he was effective. The official stat sheets show he caught just four of his nine targets, but that includes the well defended pass as well as a play that was really supposed to go to JJ Arcega-Whiteside, but Ward happened to be crossing in front of him and attempted to climb the ladder and ended up tipping the ball. What it does not include is the nine-yard touchdown reception that Ward had called back because Brandon Brooks has arms that, at some point on the play, touched a defender.
The receiver was really impressive at the end of the game when, once again, the play calling played to the strengths of the team. He was also the only wide receiver left standing. His official stats are four receptions for 34 yards, but had the referees not called a phantom penalty he’d have five catches for 43 yards and a touchdown.
- Mike Groh had said that Nelson Agholor was struggling because he had to play a couple different receiver positions after the DeSean Jackson injury. Well, with almost no practice at the wideout spots, Josh Perkins played both tight end and receiver positions and was more productive than Agholor. In games 3-11, before his injury, Agholor was averaging 3.25 catches and 25.5 yards per game. Josh Perkins, playing those same positions and more had 5 catches and 37 yards in this one.
- There were plenty of ways to keep this one out of overtime. The Eagles had a nice touchdown pass to Greg Ward called back because of a hold that never happened and it totally sucked up all the Eagles momentum early in the game. That was a four-point swing because of god-awful officiating. Then Jake Elliott missed his second field goal on the season, so the Eagles left an easy seven points on the field in regulation.
- It’s a bit humorous, in a bit of a messed up way, to think how Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Nelson Agholor pumped out their chests and called themselves the DNA boys after that week one win and now the trio are being out produced by Greg Ward, Josh Perkins and Boston Scott.
- Carson Wentz had a stellar fourth quarter and overtime. He was the quarterback the Eagles and their fans have been waiting to see since he left with an injury in 2017. The key is whether he can carry that performance into the coming weeks or not.
The Eagles head to DC next week. They have seen their young players starting to blossom and play calling that works. They should begin to focus on using their players in that scheme as well as incorporating any players they believe may return to health for their match-up with the Redskins.