After a scare in the first half, the Eagles rallied to defeat the Washington football team 32-27 to start the season 1-0. They would have covered the 10 point spread if it weren’t for a last-second touchdown by the Redskins when the game was already decided.
A lot has been written about DeSean Jackson’s return to Philadelphia and Carson Wentz’s stellar performance, so the topic here will be looking at Doug’s performance in week 1.
The Eagles Won
The whole point of playing the game is to, you know, win, so Pederson gets credit for keeping the team focused after being down 13 at halftime. The word from the locker room is that the halftime speech from him was stern, but focused. He knew exactly what the Eagles needed to do to get back on track and avoid the upset. The Eagles entered the week as the largest favorite, so the first half was a much-needed wake-up call to stop messing around with an inferior opponent.
With that said, the real issue in the first half was not the offense, it was the defense. The Eagles had 5 drives in the first half. They scored a touchdown on one of them, and the other four drives did not score points. Two of them were promising, while the other two he deserves criticism for. A look below at the two promising drives.
- Drive 1: 5 plays, 4 yards, punt. This drive had potential to start, with the Eagles picking up a first down on Djax’s first catch of the year with an 11 yard reception on 2nd and 10. They initially had a short 3rd and 2 set up, but Djax got penalized for unnecessary roughness which brought them back 15 yards. They almost converted the 3rd and 17 on a deep pass to Agholor, but Wentz overshot him by about a yard or two.
- Drive 2: 12 plays, 46 yards, downs. This was a good looking drive that featured 7 passes and 5 rushes. They had a 4th and two at the Washington 29, but they were unable to convert as Wentz’s pass attempt was batted down at the line of scrimmage. I will look at the decision to go for it in further detail below, but overall this was a solid drive that ended with something that a coach cannot control.
This is no surprise to people that have followed Pederson’s career, but he was aggressive on 4th downs and two-point conversions. The Eagles were 1 for 2 on 4th down and converted their lone two-point conversion. In a game where the Eagles won by 5, Pederson’s aggressiveness netted the Eagles 5 points, as shown below.
- The first 4th down attempt came with 10:52 left in the 2nd quarter. The Eagles were driving, but had a 4th down at the Washington 29 yard line down 10-0. Wentz’s attempt was batted down at the line of scrimmage. Even with the attempt being unsuccessful, it was still the right decision to go for it in this situation. Assuming Jake Elliott would have made the field goal, they lost 3 points here. Points gained: 0, points lost: 3
- The second attempt happened in the Eagles first drive to start the 2nd half. They were down 20-7 and had a 4th and inches at their own 34. Deep in their own territory, majority of NFL coaches would punt this away since an unsuccessful attempt immediately puts the opposing team in scoring position. Luckily for the Eagles, they employ the ultra-aggressive Doug Pederson. The Eagles got the first down with a QB sneak and ended up scoring on the drive. There is no way of knowing what would have happened if the Eagles punted this away, but Washington had been moving the ball up and down on the Eagles defense to this point so they likely would have increased their lead. Instead, the Eagles gained momentum and made it a 1 score game. Points gained: 7, points lost: 3.
- Two touchdowns later, the Eagles found themselves up 27-20 with a decision to make. They could kick the extra point to go up 8, or go for two to make it a two-score game while still being ahead by a full touchdown if they did not convert. This decision was less obvious than the previous one, but it was still the right one. Pederson showed trust in his offense to be able to convert, and also trust in his defense to hold if they did not. While the Eagles probably would have won regardless of this decision, it is still good to see Pederson stick to his principles. Points gained: 8, points lost: 3
DeSean Jackson Usage
D-Jax is known as the premier deep-threat in the NFL. It makes sense, as he has the 2nd most 50+ yard touchdowns in NFL history. One underrated aspect of how Pederson used Djax on Sunday is that he had Djax run a lot of quick out-routes to the sideline for an easy completion and first down.
- Looking at the chart from NFL Next Gen Stats, Djax was only targeted deep twice (with both being touchdowns.) The other 8 targets were all within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage, with 4 resulting in easy completions for a first down, as shown below. This is something the Eagles should be able to do 4-6 times a game to keep the chains moving.
The Slow Start
This one goes both ways- as mentioned before Pederson deserves credit for keeping the team focused in the second-half comeback, but he also shoulders the blame for the slow start as well. While it is unknown how much control he has over the defense, which was the main culprit for the slow start, it is still on Pederson to have his team show up ready to play.
- In 2017 the Eagles won by getting out to an early lead and relying on their pass-rush to get after the opposing QB when the opponent becomes pass-heavy. This was an issue, however, in 2018 when the Eagles had the worst first-quarter point total in the NFL. Week 1 felt like 2018 all over again. They had 0 points at the end of the first quarter, and 7 at halftime. This was a game the Eagles probably lose in 2018, without the magic of Djax.
Running Back Usage
Simply put, Sproles was used too much in week 1. He was tied with Miles Sanders for the most touches with 12 (9 rush, 3 catches), which led the team. 3 catches are not bad since Sproles is so lethal in the passing game, but it is the 9 carries that need to be cleaned up. Sanders did lead Sproles in the snap count, with 36 over Sproles’ 23, but watching the game it did not seem like Sanders out-snapped him. Sproles is an excellent player, but his body will not hold up an entire season with this workload. In 2017 he missed 13 games with a torn ACL, and last year he missed 10 games with a mysterious hamstring injury.
- While the overall stats favor Sproles, watching the game it was clear that Sanders showed more explosiveness. Sanders had a nice touchdown run called back by a bogus holding call, and another nice 19-yard run where he looked shot out of a cannon through the line of scrimmage and almost scored.
- It is always unclear, between Duce Staley and Pederson, who has the most responsibility over running back snaps. Back in the bad-old-days, Chip Kelly would place blame on Staley whenever there were complaints over RB snaps, but Pederson leaves more room for interpretation. Per his post-game press conference, the reasoning for an abundance of Sproles touches was “As you know, when we construct games, we have multiple run schemes and they are designed for different guys. The ones that were kind of clicking today were the Darren ones, and so just kept calling his number there.”
- Either way, the hope here is that Pederson understands the need to get Sanders more touches, and modifies this moving forward. It was only Sanders’ first game, so Pederson just wanted to see how the rookie would react in his first live-action, but he showed enough that his workload should only increase as the season goes along.
Third Down Plays
The biggest gripe the fans had with the offense in the first half was poor play calls that Pederson ran on two 3rd downs.
- The first one was the worst of the two. The Redskins had just scored to go up 17-0, so the Eagles really needed to gain some momentum to get back in the game. They had a 3rd and 1 at their own 34 with hopes of sustaining a drive, but instead, Pederson decided to get too cute. With two RBs on the field, he dialed up a pitch to Sproles that had no chance from the beginning, further proving the too much Sproles complaint. In the play, Sproles caught the ball at the 26-yard line, meaning he had 9 yards to go to get a first down. Predictably he fell short, and overall the play lost two yards. The screenshot of the play below illustrates just how far Sproles had to go to get the first down.
- The second one wasn’t as egregious mainly because the Eagles had farther to go to get the first down. They should get a 3rd and 1 the majority of the time, but in this case they had a 3rd and 10 at their own 18 with 1:55 left in the second quarter down 17-7. This was another high leverage situation, where the Eagles could have gotten points to end the half while also getting the ball first after halftime. Instead, Pederson called a screen pass to Djax that only gained 5 yards. The play had potential to start, but Djax hesitated one step too much which killed any chance of getting the first down. In this game, Wentz converted multiple 3rd downs with 10+ yards to go, so it would have been nice to see Pederson let Wentz rip it.
Overall, this was a game the Eagles lose the majority of the time. Aside from the drive during garbage time, the Redskins ran 10 plays for 5 yards in the second half. As Washington has one of the worst offenses in the league, that type of performance (or anything close) is unlikely to happen again this season. With that said, Pederson should be pleased with his offense after reviewing the film. They moved the ball with relative ease throughout the game and exploded for 25 points in the second half.
A couple things cleaned up and the Eagles could have easily put up over 40. With that in mind, I would give Pederson a B for his week 1 performance and shoulder most of the blame to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Featured Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images