Capital F: Eagles Flunk Opener Vs. Washington
Wow, did that really, truly, just happen? Maybe it should've been viewed as somewhat of a mirage on Sunday after the first 25 minutes or so, as the banged-up, depleted Eagles and their patchwork offensive line featuring two linemen making their NFL debut still managed to build a 24-7 lead, mostly through the air against a Washington team that boasted a new name but still the same old leaky secondary the Eagles had been accustomed to dissecting in season openers. So it's understandable that the Eagles' offense would struggle to maintain its pace as Washington Football Team defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio made some adjustments to capitalize on the other type of greenness up front for the Doug Pederson's team. But to watch 17-point lead slowly dissolve into a fourth-quarter tie, then a Washington touchdown lead, and then a 10-point advantage with just under four minutes to play? Who could've seen that coming? The Eagles lost on Sunday, and Pederson for the first time in his head-coaching career is 0-1. He had previously won all four season openers as Eagles head coach. Sure, injuries were an obstacle the Eagles were confronting from the start of the game and all throughout, but this Washington team – with a new head coach and defensive coordinator, a new scheme and not much preparation time to piece everything together – out-coached and outclassed the Eagles over the final 30 minutes, winning 27-17 to beat the defending NFC East champs for the first time since the 2016 season and breaking a six-game losing streak to Pederson.
It won't get any easier for the Eagles, who come home Sunday to face a Los Angeles Rams team that has much more firepower than Washington, which scored 20 of its 27 in the game's final 25 minutes. Let's go with the observations: 1. Washington's defensive front came as advertised, right from the start. Carson Wentz, who had rookie fourth-rounder Jack Driscoll protecting his good side instead of injured Pro Bowler Lane Johnson, was under constant duress. Even on the drive in which he tossed his second touchdown of the game, Wentz was dropped three times. Washington racked up eight sacks, with Eagles nemesis Ryan Kerrignan picking up two and No. 2 overall pick Chase Young notching 1.5. Wentz avoided some of the damage by hitting Jalen Reagor deep early and finding his tight ends for touchdowns, but Wentz also hung onto the ball too often at times and took some bad sacks that could've been averted. This was the game where Wentz needed to show maturation in the short, quick passing game but didn't. 2. The Eagles were fairly dominant up front defensively, too. They didn't register eight sacks but did have 2 1/2 and held the Washington ground game to an average of 2.2 yards per carry for the game, but unlike Washington's defensive pressure, the Eagles didn't hit home nearly as much and were caught off guard a few times by Haskins' limited mobility. For as bad as Washington's offensive line is/was, the Eagles should have hit Haskins more than they did. 3. Going into the game, Wentz hadn't thrown an interception since Dec. 1 of last season, a loss against Miami. He didn't throw a single pick in the final four games and has only thrown two or more picks in a game three times since his rookie season. Sure, he took hits, but Wentz also sailed throws and took a bad third-down sack that really stung when Jake Elliott missed the ensuing field goal.
4. Going with rookie Jack Driscoll at right tackle over Jordan Mailata might have given the impression that the Eagles lack confidence in Mailata, or that Mailata didn't perform well in camp. But I'm told the reason was less about Mailata's camp performance and more about Driscoll's. Driscoll simply had a better camp and picked up on the scheme very quickly. We've talked on Inside the Birds a lot about Jeff Stoutland's liking for Driscoll, a smart, athletic kid who played against elite competition at Auburn. We know Mailata's story. The native Australian never even played football until the Eagles drafted him in 2018 after watching his rugby tape. Mailata missed both of his first two seasons with a back injury. His gap was wider to bridge than Driscoll's. 5. This wasn't a game for the "offensive balance" preachers. Even with two starters on the right side of the offensive line making their NFL debuts, one being a rookie fourth-rounder, the Eagles came out passing, and passed some more. They set up the deep pass with the short pass to take the 17-0 lead. And if Wentz had hit Jalen Reagor on that deep post right before halftime, the Eagles could've taken a 24-7 lead in the break – and perhaps the outcome is different. I'll have to watch the tape, but it didn't look like running lanes were wide open for the Eagles, and Boston Scott leaving shortly with an injury didn't help. Corey Clement was OK but without Miles Sanders, the Eagles just didn't have a dynamic enough weapon in the backfield to move the chains. 6. Why would the Eagles be cautious with Sanders [hamstring] but more carefree with Reagor, who suffered a minor tear in his labrum two weeks ago during a scrimmage? My hunch is the Eagles felt they needed to save Sanders one more week for the Rams, who are more likely to put up points easier than Washington could. The Eagles needed Reagor's vertical ability against a questionable Washington secondary more than they needed Sanders in the run game. Next Sunday, against the Rams, they'll need a polished runner as they try to move the chains away from Aaron Donald. 7. It's just one game, and the Eagles needed manpower at other areas because of injuries, but it's disappointing that the Eagles couldn't find a way to get their second-round pick on the field in any capacity as an offensive weapon. Jalen Hurts wasn't even active. He's not the backup for Year 1, which means he's probably not going to play quarterback for one of his four contract years, but it would have been nice to see him be a changeup weapon that the Eagles badly needed in the second half. Hopefully, it won't be too long. Also, as we've said plenty on ITB, Davion Taylor didn't sniff the field on defense. You wonder how long it'll be before the Eagles can get some production from a second- and third-round pick.
8. Looks like we're also waiting to see the offensive wrinkles and concepts expected to be implemented because of the presence of senior offensive assistant Rich Scangarello. There wasn't much jet motion, misdirection or other Kyle Shanahan-like concepts designed to get guys open in space. That's probably because of all the injuries that forced backups into starting positions for Week 1. Pederson kept the plan simple for the most part, which he had no other choice but doing. 9. Silver lining: Good to see rookie John Hightower get into the game. Granted, he had a major drop on his first attempt, and Carson Wentz threw his second pick of the game going for Hightower in the third quarter, but it's a good sign that Wentz was targeting the rookie fifth-rounder, who impressed coaches and teammates all camp.
10. Who would have thought Washington could win without another monster effort from Terry McLaurin, who caught five passes for 61 yards, with a long of 21 yards? Washington converted just 2 of 9 third downs for the game, as the Washington offense was clearly helped by Wentz's two picks that flipped the field and scoring touchdowns on three of four red-zone opportunities. In some ways, this Washington win is still hard to conceive – Washington had fewer first downs, total yards and a lower yard-per-gain average. But turnovers are the great equalizer. The Eagles had three, Washington had none. Washington didn't so much win the game as the Eagles lost it.