Won For The History Books
Eagles Down Texans, Reach 8-0 For First Time In Team History
Anyone expecting to see a decisive Eagles first-round knockout of the 14-point underdog Houston Texans on “Thursday Night Football” likely underestimated the danger posed by a team with nothing to lose.
While the Eagles held on to become the first team in franchise history to start the season 8-0, winning 29-17, the two teams traded blows throughout.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts led the Eagles to scoring drives of 91 and 79 yards in the first half, while Texans quarterback Davis Mills capped a pair of 75-yard drives with touchdown passes of 2 and 13 yards to tight end Teagan Quitoriano and wide receiver Chris Moore, respectively.
The second half saw the undefeated Eagles ultimately pull away, with Hurts connecting with wide receiver A.J. Brown and tight end Dallas Goedert for touchdowns. The defensive onslaught contributed to the shift, with safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson collecting his fifth interception of the season and James Bradberry producing his third. Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave registered seven tackles and three sacks in his most productive game of the season.
Hurts completed 21-of-27 pass attempts for 243 yards and two touchdowns, recording a 128.9 quarterback rating. Goedert led all pass catchers with eight receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown on nine targets.
Mills threw for two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions, compiling a 72.9 quarterback rating, while rookie running back Dameon Pierce racked up 139 yards on 27 carries. A fast-flowing Texans defense gave the high-flying Eagles offense fits for much of the night and bore down on Hurts, notching three sacks – two credited to edge rusher Jerry Hughes – and a forced fumble.
Let’s get on with the observations.
1.) The Eagles won the coin toss and opted to defer to the second half. The Texans wasted little time testing the middle of an Eagles defense missing hulking defensive tackle Jordan Davis, with running back Dameon Pierce’s first two carries going for 11 and 5 yards, respectively. Second-year defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu entered at the nose in a five-man front. The drive featured an uncharacteristic explosive play against Jonathan Gannon’s defense when wide receiver Phillip Dorsett got behind James Bradberry for a 34-yard reception. The scoring drive covered 9 plays, 75 yards, culminating in a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Teagan Quitoriano.
2.) The Eagles answered the bell and found the end zone on its first offensive possession. Jalen Hurts facilitated the ball to six different receivers – the seldom-used Quez Watkins picked up 25 yards on a pair of receptions – and running back Miles Sanders capped the 18-play, 91-yard scoring drive with a two-yard touchdown plunge to even the score, his sixth, tying a career-high (2020). Texas’ head coach Lovie Smith unveiled an aggressive, attack-style defense that got after Hurts, who demonstrated tremendous poise on the drive.
3.) The second possession started off promising – three plays for 45 yards – before ultimately stalling at the Texans’ 27-yard line when cornerback Steven Nelson bore down on Hurts to force a fumble that was recovered by teammate Jaleel Johnson. Hurts never appeared ready for the snap and the Eagles lost their first fumble of the season as a result. The Texans are unable to capitalize on the momentum, however, with defensive tackle Javon Hargrave bringing down quarterback Davis Mills on 3rd-and-9 to force a punt.
4.) The remarkable knack for engineering lengthy drives continued for a red-hot Eagles offense, which marched 79 yards on 10 plays on its third possession, culminating in a Kenny Gainwell touchdown run up the middle from 4 yards out. The Eagles picked up 56 of the 79 yards on the ground, dominating the line of scrimmage. Good to see.
5.) The Eagles’ defense revealed the tackling and vulnerable between-tackles run defense blemishes – simultaneously — that have sporadically surfaced throughout the season. The Texans were essentially able to bleed the remaining four minutes of the first half with a heavy dose of running back Dameon Pierce, who bulldozed his way through the heart of the Eagles’ defense for 54 of the 75 yards the drive covered. On Pierce’s 36-yard run that jumpstarted the drive, Eagles defenders bounced off of him like bowling pins. Poor tackling is beyond the ability of coaching, so until the unit fortifies that area, the shortcoming will persist.
6.) Eagles left tackle Jordan Mailata struggled to contend with the bend and savvy of veteran edge rusher Jerry Hughes, who led the Texans in sacks coming into the game and collected three tackles and a pair of sacks – within three plays – in this one. Adjustments should’ve been made after the two-sack opening drive to provide Mailata with help. The Eagles momentarily reverted back to its second-half lull, coming up empty on its opening second-half possession.
7.) C.J. Gardner-Johnson came up with a timely third-quarter interception to set the Eagles’ offense up in prime field position at the Texans’ 17-yard line following a 25-yard run back. Hurts parlayed Gardner-Johnson’s heroics into a 17-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver A.J. Brown two plays later. With his fifth interception of the season – a career-high – Gardner-Johnson now leads the league in that department. The playmaking safety is producing turnovers at a remarkable rate.
8.) Big 3rd-and-9 hold from the Eagles defense on the Texans’ 12-yard line in what felt like a game-altering play. Linebacker Kyzir White tracked pass-receiving running back Rex Burkhead out of the backfield, forcing an incompletion in the left corner of the end zone. Ka’imi Fairbairn converted a 30-yard field goal, but Gannon’s defense exemplified the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy. The perimeter speed has unlocked the defense’s full potential, and White has played a key role in that.
9.) With Davis shelved at least four weeks, Hargrave was dominant amid increased usage. The veteran interior mauler rose to the occasion and proved to be a disruptive force in the middle of the Eagles’ defense, notching seven tackles and three sacks against an overmatched Texans offensive line.
10.) Against the Steelers, the Eagles were tagged with eight penalties (60 yards). Four days later, the infraction woes were rectified, as the Eagles cut that number in half, committing four (31 yards).
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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