October 29, 2023   7 MIN READ

Broom For Improvement

Defensive Woes Revealed For Birds In Sweep Win Over Commanders


LANDOVER, Md. – The lots bordering FedEx Field came alive early Sunday morning, with many of early-risers scattered throughout donning various iterations of green, as Eagles fans flocked here in anticipation of a series sweep over the Washington Commanders.

But in a game in which the Eagles’ pass rush was widely expected to feast on a patchwork Commanders offensive line, Washington quarterback Sam Howell near-flawlessly executed a well-crafted game plan predicated on timing and rapid-fire processing, allowing the Commanders to hang around.

It wouldn’t be enough to upend the Eagles, though, who completed the series sweep with the 38-31 win.

The Commanders – who once led 14-3 – took a 17-10 lead into the break on the heels of a 61-yard Joey Slye field goal.

Nick Sirianni

GETTY IMAGES: Eagles HC Nick Sirianni watches his team rally despite getting torched on defense in a 38-31 win over the Commanders.

But the Philadelphia offense woke up in the second half, rolling up 28 points, including touchdown catches by wide receivers A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Julio Jones.

Brown finished with eight receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns on eight targets, becoming the first player in NFL history with at least 125 receiving yards in six straight games, while Smith added 99 yards on seven catches.

Hurts completed 29-of-36 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns, while Howell went 34-of-45 for 320 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

Let’s go ahead with the observations.

* Veteran S Kevin Byard, acquired last week in a trade with Tennessee, predictably started alongside Reed Blankenship, forming the Middle Tennessee State safety tandem. Rookie Sydney Brown got the starting nod at nickel corner.

* The Commanders did little to conceal their game plan on the opening offensive possession, which featured a series of quick hitters and up-tempo to keep a fast-flowing Eagles defense at bay.

* Brown stopped Commanders RB Brian Robinson early for a 1-yard loss. There was also an early sighting from DT Marlon Tuipulotu, who lined up at nose tackle on the play.

*Undrafted rookie CB Eli Ricks, who last week logged 13 reps in the slot, saw snaps both inside and outside on the opening defensive series. He was called was called for defensive pass interference on a 3rd-and-2, but three plays later dropped WR Curtis Samuel for a 1-yard loss to force a 4th-and-6.

* Conservative opening drive from the Eagles, who mustered only seven yards on three plays. The third-down pass to tight end Dallas Goedert was a bit behind, but credit Commanders defensive back Percy Butler for driving on the ball and deflecting the pass.

* Poor tackling angles from multiple Eagles on Brian Robinson’s 29-yard run that put the Commanders at the Philadelphia 26-yard-line. The Commanders broke a scoreless first quarter on the ensuing play, with Howell uncorking a deep heave to WR Terry McLaurin for a 26-yard touchdown. McLaurin did a great job high-pointing the ball over cornerback James Bradberry.

* Eagles continued to rotate its linebackers among Nakobe Dean, Zach Cunningham and Nicholas Morrow.

* Hurts had RB D’Andre Swift down the right sideline on a 2nd-and-7 for what likely would have been a touchdown but sailed the pass just out of Swift’s reach. He responded with a seven-yard scramble to extend the drive.

* The late first-quarter 3rd-and-10 featured WR Julio Jones for the first time, and Swift split out wide. The screen went to Swift for just 2 yards, but DeVonta Smith whiffed on the block.

* Pressure up front bailed out the Eagles out on the ensuing possession. Howell hastily heaved a deep shot down the right sideline to WR Byron Pringle, who had multiple steps on CB Darius Slay, but Howell didn’t have time to stand and deliver an accurate strike. A blitz by Dean impacted the outcome. DT Jalen Carter was credited with the hit on Howell.

* There appeared to be some backend miscommunication on the Eagles’ third defensive series. TE Logan Thomas picked up 16 yards on a 3rd-and-4, advancing to the 25, and WR Jahan Dotson reeled in a wide-open 21-yard touchdown with Brown trailing. With so many moving parts, gaffes are inevitable, but it’s worth monitoring whether the team opts to address the secondary ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline.

* A promising nine play, 72-yard drive sputtered in the red zone, this time with RB Kenny Gainwell coughing up the football on the heels of a 2-yard loss. S Kam Curl forced the fumble and DT Phidarian Mathis recovered.

*The middle of the field proved vulnerable for Eagles DC Sean Desai’s defense, as the second and third level each took turns providing leaks in coverage. Eight different Commanders receivers caught a pass in the first half.

* It’s fair to say running back is a position at which the Eagles could look to upgrade ahead of the trade deadline. The ground game has largely gone cold after the fast start, and Swift and Gainwell combined for three carries for -1 yards at the break.

* Just an absolute circus catch from WR A.J. Brown on the Eagles’ first touchdown of the afternoon. Brown entered the break with 88 yards on six catches. He yielded six targets.

* The Eagles were handed a gift on the opening offensive possession coming out of the break, when Commanders cornerback Benjamin St. Juste was called for defensive pass interference on a deep pass down the left sideline to Brown, a 31-yard penalty that gave them possession at the 1. Hurts fumbled on the ensuing play – a quarterback sneak – returning possession to the Commanders at the 1.

* Dotson has such a knack for finding the soft spots in zone. The second-year wideout served as Howell’s security blanket throughout the afternoon. Very aggressive attacking the catch-point as well.

*Big third-quarter punt return from Britain Covey, who burst for a 25-yard run back to the Philadelphia 49. Last week, Covey told me that based on how he had it mapped out, if he were to rip off a big return against the Commanders, it would come right up the middle. Sure enough, it did.

* Strange to see such a feared Eagles pass rush held out of the sack column through three quarters. Credit Commanders OC Eric Bienemy and Howell for conjuring and executing a game plan predicated on timing to confound and neutralize the defense.

* Washington’s 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive to reclaim the lead, 24-17, featured a bevy of rapid-fire passes, timely scrambles, culminating in a 7-yard touchdown to Thomas, who beat S Reed Blankenship on the play.

* Encouraging rebound from the Eagles’ offense on the following series, responding with a 7-play, 75-yard drive, culminating in a 38-yard DeVonta Smith touchdown catch to knot the game at 24. The drive featured a balanced run-pass ratio. Good measuring stick answer from OC Brian Johnson.

* Blankenship came up with a timely interception – his second of the season – at the Washington 32,  returning possession to the offense at the 15. Two plays later, Julio Jones reeled in his first touchdown as an Eagle, an 8-yarder from Hurts to reclaim the lead, 31-24. The sequence epitomized what good teams do in critical moments.

* Continue to come away impressed with LB Zach Cunningham’s ability to consistently fill gaps and play the run. Adds a different dynamic to the second level.

* The Eagles and Commanders combined for 15-of-25 on third down. There were also 47 first downs and 846 scrimmage yards in this offensive affair. The Eagles, who failed to commit a penalty a week ago, totaled three for 14 yards Sunday.

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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