Hurts, Doesn’t It?
Wentz Battered, Hurts Masterful In Birds Blowout Of Washington
The Philadelphia Eagles reminded Carson Wentz of how lethal their defensive line can be, sacking their former starting quarterback nine times and harassing him countless other times to confound Washington’s high-scoring offense.
The defensive pressure – a staple of the Wentz-lead 2017 Eagles team that won the franchise’s first Super Bowl, but with Nick Foles as the Super Bowl starter – helped a slow-starting Eagles offense eventually warm up and set the Eagles on course for a 24-8 win over the Commanders in an NFC East showdown, spoiling Wentz’s hopes of beating his former team in the first match between Wentz and the franchise that drafted him second overall in 2016.
Brandon Graham, coming back from missing almost all of last year from an Achilles rupture that needed surgery, led the Eagles’ defense with 2 1/2 sacks. Five other Eagles notched at least one sack.
Jalen Hurts continued to make use all his weapons, tossing first-half touchdowns to Dallas Goedert, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, and the Eagles stayed unbeaten after the season’s first three weeks with another reunion game on deck. They’ve held double-digit leads in each of their three games so far and won their past two games by 33 combined points.
The (3-0) Eagles will welcome former coach Doug Pederson, who along with Wentz and Nick Foles helped guide the Eagles to their first and only Super Bowl, to the Linc next Sunday as the Jacksonville Jaguars come to South Philly.
Pederson was fired by the Eagles after a four-win 2020 season and spent 2021 out of the NFL until being hired this past offseason to turn around the Jags after the failed Urban Meyer experiment.
On with the observations:
1. Games are won in the trenches, and you could tell the Eagles were on their way to victory right away, as the Eagles’ defensive line overwhelmed an inferior Washington offensive line. Finally, the interior tandem of Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox showed up. They both collapsed the pocket often and came away with sacks as the Eagles piled up sacks early. This is what Jonathan Gannon needed, as Gannon was able to be selective with his calls, blitzing at times and showing blitz other times but dropping into coverage. That’ll be key going forward.
2. Skeptics might point out that Washington played with a backup center, but the Lions were on a third-string guard in the opener and didn’t allow nearly as much pressure as the Commanders did. Minnesota’s offensive linemen, while improved, also did a good job against four-man pressure on Monday night. This was the first time the Eagles’ defensive line consistently hit home. They’ll need to keep that up, especially against opponents that have better offensive lines.
3. Make it 3-for-3 for Jalen Hurts, who had faced two defenses on the opposite ends in the spectrum over the first two weeks. The Lions came after him. The Vikings tried to confuse him with coverage. The Commanders met in the middle, at times throwing blitzes and man coverage at Hurts, other times showing blitz and dropping back. Hurts started slowly, but the offense’s complexion changed with tempo in the second quarter that got him in rhythm and tired out the Washington defense. This could be argued as Hurts’ best overall showing because he wasn’t asked to run away from pressure and wasn’t asked to just pick apart a zone. His decision-making and ball distribution continues to be majorly improved. He’s showing week in and week out that he can command a high-powered offense that leans more on the pass than run.
4. A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith are back-breakers because of their ability to win against man coverage and in contested-catch situations, something the Eagles haven’t had at that position like this in … decades?. Brown’s play strength is tremendous, as seen on his 9-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter that he caught around the 3-yard-line but powered through contact en route to the end zone. Smith was ridiculously impactful in contested-catch situations, constantly going up to get the ball at its highest point. Kudos also goes to Hurts for having the trust to heave the ball up to him and expect him to make the catch, which we first saw last year against the Broncos.
5. For the second straight game, the Eagles out-coached the other team, not just out-executing their opponent. Commanders coach Ron Rivera should’ve immediately challenged Smith’s 45-yard catch in the first quarter, which wouldn’t have been ruled a reception if the referees had reviewed the play, but Rivera was way too late getting the flag on the field. Rivera also failed to call timeout right before halftime on fourth down when the Eagles hurried to the line of scrimmage instead of kicking a field goal. Hurts caught the Washington defense off balance and found Smith for a 2-yard touchdown.
6. Something to watch going forward: the Eagles weren’t as stout agains the run as they could’ve been, for the second time in three games. Washington came in with one of the NFL’s worst run offenses but still churned out 87 yards and averaged 4 yards per carry, surprisingly. Runs up the middle, in particular, gave the Eagles some trouble until the Commanders got behind so much they couldn’t rely on the run.
7. Britain Covey is out of elevations from the practice squad, as the Eagles called him up for the third time in three weeks to return punts (wonder if he had entry issues into the stadium). Covey didn’t exactly shine on punt returns and the Eagles were fortunate to overcome Covey’s muffed punt. Covey, a little guy, also took some big hits. If the Eagles want Covey to return punts going forward, they’ll have to sign him to the active roster as teams are only allowed to elevate a player three times from the practice squad. The Eagles have an open roster. They might want to check out the landscape before committing to Covey.
8. Scary situation for the Eagles, as Dallas Goedert exited with an injury, leaving the team with just Jack Stoll and Grant Calcaterra as their tight ends. They opted against elevating Noah Togiai from the practice squad, anticipating more 11 personnel against Washington. Goedert re-entered the game but Calcaterra did a nice job catching a wide-open crosser for his first NFL reception and turning it into a 40-yard gain,
9. Didn’t love the fourth-down jet sweep to Zach Pascal in the second quarter, not because it didn’t work. I thought it was a good decision to keep the offense on the field, and I can understand forgoing the sneak there because it was more than a yard, but would have rather seen the ball go to either a natural ball-carrier or, if it’s gotta be a jet sweep, someone like Brown, who has more explosion the edge.
10. Aside from some shakiness against the run, this Eagles defense – especially the secondary and linebackers – continues to impress. Several of Wentz’s passes were contested and none of Washington’s receivers hurt the Eagles outside of Terry McLaurin’s 45-yard catch. The Eagles became the first team this season to hold Washington without a touchdown in the red zone as the Commanders saw their 5-for-5 streak end when the Eagles sniffed out the shovel to tight end Logan Thomas on 4th-and-goal on the second play in the fourth quarter.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.