10 observations from Eagles-Giants

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10 observations from Eagles-Giants

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Just your typical 10 observations featuring Miles Austin, Najee Goode and Riley Cooper.

Huge 27-7 win for the Eagles Monday night over the Giants (see Instant Replay), and the most encouraging thing about it was how the Eagles overcame a bunch of injuries to dominate their biggest challenger in the division.

Sam Bradford? Yeah, we’ll get to him. He was dreadful. But when your quarterback can throw three interceptions and you win by 20 points over a team that had won three straight games, hey, that’s not bad.

So here we go with our first 10 observations about a first-place football team:

1. What a tremendous beastly effort from the Eagles’ defense Monday night against an offense that’s been lighting up everybody. The Giants drove 80 yards for a touchdown on their first drive, then nothing. I give Bill Davis a ton of credit. He was down three inside linebackers by the middle of the second quarter, including DeMeco Ryans, who has been playing so well. He was undermanned, facing a top-five offense, down by a touchdown before half the fans were in their seats. But the Eagles got it together, got tremendous pressure on Eli Manning, played very well against the run, did a terrific job in coverage considering who they were facing, and forced three more turnovers, including Nolan Carroll’s pick-six. This is a physical, aggressive, ballhawking defense that Eagles fans should get behind (see story).

2. I really felt like Bradford was going to light up the NFL’s worst pass defense Monday night. After the way he played the second half against the Saints, I thought he was ready to finally put together a full 60-minute game. But, man, I did not like what I saw. He just seemed to regress dramatically, throwing wildly, putting the ball up for grabs, looking skittish in the pocket. We’re six weeks in now, and he has yet to put together a complete game. He came into the season with the fourth-best interception ratio in NFL history, but three more Monday night gives him nine this year (see story). Last time an Eagles quarterback had more interceptions through six games was Jaws in 1977. Jaws! And they were just bad interceptions. Not great plays by the Giants, just terrible throws by Bradford. It’s not early in the season anymore. We’re two games from the halfway mark, and Bradford has to be better. A lot better.

3. I thought Jordan Matthews was going to take a huge leap forward this year, but so far the opposite has been the case. He just hasn’t been able to build on the promise he showed the second half of last year. He’s been plagued all year by drops and had a bad fumble Monday night. We see flashes from Matthews, but the Eagles need more than flashes from him. They need consistently productive play and it’s just not there right now.

4. Staying with wide receivers, I get that some people can’t stand Riley Cooper. If you hate the guy because of the Kenny Chesney incident, that’s your right. But people who rip the guy as a football player are simply off base. Since opening day 2013, only eight wide receivers have more touchdowns of at least 30 yards. Eight. He came up big again Monday night, with a 32-yard touchdown and then a 43-yard gain to set up a field goal. Followed that up with a big tackle for a one-yard gain on a punt return. What more do you want from a fifth-round pick?

5. Was encouraged to see the Eagles run the ball with some authority against the NFL’s No. 2-ranked run defense. Was especially encouraging to see DeMarco Murray show signs of life. He ran 22 times for 109 yards, and on the big third-quarter TD drive that gave the Eagles a 24-7 lead and really turned the game, he ran five times for 42 yards, moving the chains with three first-down runs. Ryan Mathews, questionable for Monday with a groin injury, also got into the act, with 40 yards on nine carries. Great stuff against the NFL’s No. 2-ranked rush defense.

6. Goode deserves a lot of credit for coming in Monday night after Ryans’ injury and giving the Eagles a good solid half of play at inside linebacker. This is a kid who was on the street until about three weeks ago, out of football the first few weeks of the season. But he’s been here before, he was with the team up through final cuts, he knows the defense and he kept himself in good enough shape that he was able to give the Eagles solid play when Ryans got hurt. I’m not sure how many teams have a fifth inside linebacker as talented as Goode.

7. A quick word about Darren Sproles. My God, what a tough dude. He got absolutely obliterated on that fourth-quarter punt return. Got taken inside for a concussion test, and there he was a minute later, fielding a punt. Little dude but what a tough dude.

8. Too many penalties, but another solid all-around game for the Eagles’ offensive line. The last two weeks, the Eagles have 944 yards of offense. They’ve run the ball — 186 rushing yards last week, 155 against a very good run defense Monday. And they’ve thrown it — over 600 net passing yards the last two weeks. And they’ve protected Bradford, who has been sacked only once the last two weeks. This group has taken a lot of heat and most of it is deserved. But sure seems like they’ve turned the corner.

9. Props to Austin, who was forced into extensive action with injuries to Cooper and Josh Huff on top of Nelson Agholor already being out. Austin had three catches for 60 yards, which is pretty good production from a guy who was the Eagles’ fifth receiver before all these injuries.

10. Remember nine days ago when all these people in the national media came out of the woodwork to announce that Chip Kelly had lost the locker room and players weren’t buying into his system and the whole thing was in jeopardy of falling to pieces? Well guess what? The Eagles have won two straight games after that 1-3 start, winning both in commanding fashion without really playing great in either one. They’re back to .500 and atop the NFC East. Guess what? Kelly is a terrific football coach. And don’t listen to anybody who says he’s lost the locker room. Unless the person who says it has actually, you know, been inside the Eagles’ locker room in the past year.

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

It’s a pattern that keeps repeating itself. And it’s not a winning pattern.

Week after week, the Eagles are digging themselves a first-quarter hole. And week after week, they’re too far behind to catch up.

They trailed the Lions 14-0 in the first quarter. They trailed the Redskins 14-0 a minute into the second quarter. They fell behind the Cowboys 10-3 early in the second. The Giants jumped up on them 14-0 just six minutes in. And on Sunday, the Bengals led 10-0 before the first quarter was over.

If football games began at the start of the second quarter? This would be a different season. The Eagles would be 7-4-1.

The Eagles has actually outscored their opponents in the second, third and fourth quarters.

But the first quarter has been fatal.

The Eagles have been outscored by 32 points in the first quarter – 65 to 33. That’s their fourth-worst first-quarter scoring margin in the last 25 years, behind only three other nightmarish seasons – 1998 (minus-52), 2005 (minus-51) and 2012 (minus-75).

It’s also fourth-worst of any NFL team this year, ahead of only the Jets (minus-36), Broncos (minus-37) and Dolphins (minus-56).

Some teams – like the Broncos and Dolphins – have enough firepower to fight from behind.

The Eagles don’t.

They’re 4-0 when leading after the first quarter, 1-1 when tied after the first quarter and 0-6 when trailing after the first quarter.

At 0-6, they share the second-worst record in the NFL when trailing after 15 minutes with the Jaguars and 49ers. The Browns are 0-8 when trailing after the first quarter.

Last time the Eagles didn’t win a game all year when trailing after the first quarter was 1998. Before that 1977.

“It’s tough, especially in this league, to dig yourself a hole,” Carson Wentz said. “Whether the defense is struggling or the offense giving them points with turnovers and different things, it’s been a variation of a lot of those things. 

“It’s tough to dig yourself a hole against anybody, especially against good teams. So we’ve got to avoid that and we’ve got to come out swinging a little better early in games.”

The last time the Eagles won after trailing following the first quarter was the Dallas game last year, when they trailed 7-0 and won 33-27 in overtime.

What does it say about a team when it’s allowed twice as many points as it’s scored in the first quarter?

It sure seems like the Eagles several times this year simply haven’t been ready to play.

“The start to games, it's a mindset,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It's truly a mindset. It's one of those things where as a team you want to come out and you want to kind of make the first punch, so to speak, or swing first. 

“We did it against Green Bay. We went down and scored, we matched touchdown for touchdown there. And we've done it throughout the course of the season. We've got to be a little more consistent offensively, too. That can also help. And then defensively it's just a matter of working to get off the field.

“It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the game if you can do that early in a football game.”

The Eagles have scored just three first-quarter touchdowns all year (only the Broncos have fewer) and haven’t scored more than seven points in any of their 12 first quarters.

They’ve allowed nine first-quarter touchdowns, and only one team has allowed more – the Dolphins with 10.

Wentz has completed 67 percent of his first-quarter passes but with just one TD pass and four interceptions.

Incredibly, the Eagles have only five plays all year of more than 20 yards in the first quarter – just one in the last four games. Only the Saints, Jaguars and Broncos have fewer.

Why are the Eagles so bad early in games?

“There is no other answer than to execute one play at a time,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “There's no magic formula. I think we've had good energy at practice. I like the way we practice. I feel like we are putting together good plans.

“We're showing flashes of being a good football team. We need to be more consistent. We need to make more big plays. It's hard to sustain 14-play drives. We've missed a few plays here and there. We just all – coaches, players together – need to make it work one play at a time.”

The only teams to outscore the Eagles in the second half are the Cowboys (13-10), Seahawks (10-8) and Packers (13-3).

When a team has outscored its opponents by 61 points in the second, third and fourth quarters combined and it’s 5-7, the focus has to be on the first quarter.

That means preparation. That means being mentally and physically ready. 

“Yeah, I do look at all of that, and that's part of my job is the (pregame) schedule and all,” Pederson said. “But these guys are in a great frame of mind on game day. They're loose; they're energetic; they're ready to go. They're focused. 

“You see it in pregame. It's been unfortunate, but it's something we've got to focus in on a little bit more … and try to strike first.”

The Eagles will try to end their three-game losing streak at 1 p.m. Sunday when they face the Redskins at the Linc.

The Redskins, 6-5-1 but with a two-game losing streak, beat the Eagles 27-20 in Landover, Md., in October.

“I think it just comes down to being focus and locking in,” Wentz said. “You’ve seen us. There’ve been games where we’ve come out and we’re rolling right away.

"We just have to find a way to maintain that and be consistent with that. The goal is to come out swinging right away.”

Eagles Injury Update: Jordan Matthews back at practice again

Eagles Injury Update: Jordan Matthews back at practice again

Jordan Matthews, the Eagles' best receiver, was back at practice again on Thursday. 

Matthews was a full participant on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday, which is a very good sign for the Eagles. Last week, he returned on Thursday, but then had to sit out Friday and missed Sunday's game. 

It was the first game Matthews had ever missed in his career. Even with the missed game, Matthews still leads the Eagles in receptions (57), receiving yards (686) and receiving touchdowns (3). 

Fellow receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (abdomen) was on the practice field early but left as the Eagles began to stretch. He did not practice for the second straight day. 

Without Green-Beckham and with Matthews hobbled, the Eagles are light at receiver, with just Nelson Agholor, Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner. Head coach Doug Pederson said the Eagles want to keep Turner involved in the game plan even with the return of Matthews. 

Ryan Mathews (knee) was on the practice field again on Thursday, while Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) is still out. It looks like Vaitai will miss his third straight game this weekend.