It wasn’t perfect, but the Eagles got a much needed win over the defending NFC champions Sunday night.
With practice squad players all over the field, Doug Pederson had his team ready to play. While I wasn’t very happy with him electing to play for the tie last week, it’s already paying dividends just one week later. With the win, the Eagles sit alone at the top of the NFC East.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, but this game was a great step in the right direction.
Let’s get into some takeaways.
Carson Wentz puts forth his best performance of the year
After an early interception, it felt like it may be another long game for the Eagles franchise QB. But Wentz bounced back and rallied his offense, making a handful of clutch throws down the stretch to snag the victory.
His accuracy issues were still there, but he cleaned up the turnovers after the early pick and most importantly, he was the best player on the Birds offense Sunday night. That’s what this team needs out of Wentz. He played smart and never got too rattled behind the battered offensive line he was playing behind.
The running game never got going either, which usually hinders everything this offense wants to do. But it didn’t phase Wentz and he put forth his best performance of the season.
He’ll need to build off this performance and continue to improve with a tough matchup against the Steelers coming this week.
The highest paid defensive line in football showed up
I had my concerns about this defensive line through the first three games, but after their second straight dominant performance, it looks like the highest paid defensive line unit in the league has finally figured it out.
They finished the game with five sacks and 15 hits on the quarterback. The interior rotation of Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson and Javon Hargrave was hitting on all cylinders. Derek Barnett recorded half a sack, putting his season total at 2.5 in three games played. Josh Sweat continued to be a factor off the edge, and Genard Avery flashed for the first time since Howie Roseman traded for him last season.
Truthfully, this is the only elite unit on this team right now. When they show up, the Eagles defense usually has a solid outing.
Turnovers! The Eagles defense created turnovers!
Before Sunday night, Jim Schwartz’s unit hadn’t recorded a takeaway since week 17 of last season. They forced three against the Niners, two interceptions and one fumble recovery off a Cre’Von Leblanc sack.
There will be some who point to the fact that they were facing a backup quarterback in Nick Mullens, but the whole narrative heading into this matchup was that Mullens is essentially a second starter for San Fran. There were some who even suggested he could start over Jimmy G.
Overall, this defense has played pretty well so far this season, they just needed to start forcing some turnovers to help out their struggling offense. They did that against the Niners, and they’ll need to continue doing it throughout the rest of the season.
Props to this battered offensive line
Playing the majority of the game with four backups along the offensive line, it could’ve turned into a really ugly day for this offense. But they were able to keep Wentz upright for most of the night, only giving up three sacks.
The Niners are down their best pass rusher in Nick Bosa, but they still have several ballers along their defensive front. The line had some trouble opening up running lanes for the Eagles rushing attack, but Wentz was able to get some rhythm, so that didn’t really matter at the end of the day.
You got to give a ton of credit to offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland this year. He’s had a different starting group each week, and he’s had them ready to play every time. After the week 1 debacle, this offensive line has played well regardless of who’s starting. He’s one of the best position coaches in the business and he’s continuing to prove it in 2020.
Linebackers are the Achilles’ heel of this defense
We all knew this linebacking group was going to struggle this season. Kyle Shanahan exploited them all night, with the majority of his passing plays designed to target tight end George Kittle or one of his running backs out of the backfield. Kittle and the Niners halfbacks combined for 23 receptions, while the wideouts only brought in eight catches.
Opposing offenses will continue to target this group all season.
Alex Singleton, another practice squad body, had a breakout performance with a pick six and a handful of tackles. It may be time to start throwing some of the young guys out there, like Shaun Bradley or Davion Taylor. Nate Gerry and Duke Riley just aren’t cutting it, in pass coverage or against the run.
Schwartz needs to figure out which group of LBs gives his defense the best chance to succeed and roll with them for the rest of the season.
We need to stop questioning how good of a coach Doug Pederson is
I’ve done this throughout the past few seasons and earlier this season, but we ought to stop questioning Doug Pederson’s ability as a head coach. Despite nearly half of his team sidelined with injuries, Pederson just led a group of practice squad players and backups to a victory over the defending NFC champs.
He has an uncanny ability to rally his guys when the rest of the world counts them out. This game reminded me a lot of last year’s Thursday night game against the 3-0 Packers. No one expected an Eagles victory, but Pederson had the perfect game plan and put his guys in a position to execute it effectively.
The two point conversion after the opening score was the type of aggressive decision making that we love to see, and it ended up playing a huge role in this contest. A week after the fanbase was questioning Pederson’s decision to forfeit the win and play for a tie, he proved to us, and more importantly his team, that he’s still the same aggressive Doug Pederson.
This locker room always shows up for their head coach when the chips are down, and Doug always coaches at his best when his back’s against the wall. He embodies the Philly underdog mentality, and it played out again Sunday night.
Like I said earlier, there’s still a lot of work to be done. But this was an essential step and I know Doug will continue to build off this victory.