The Eagles started the Doug Pederson/Carson Wentz Era in the best way possible, beating the Cleveland Browns 29-10 at Lincoln Financial Field. The Jim Schwartz Defense lived up to expectations while Carson Wentz surpassed all of his..but there is much more to this game than that. Here are ten takeaways from the Eagles first game under Doug Pederson.
A vocal leader in Carson Wentz:
The Eagles haven’t just found a leader in Carson Wentz, they’ve found a vocal one. Someone who gets involved in Offensive line huddles, who is the first to congratulate their teammates after a big moment and who showed great control of the Offense, calling numerous audibles and giving off a strong presence both on the field and on the sidelines.
Sam Bradford’s leadership was often called into question, but was reaffirmed after a team talk in the showers and numerous reports where teammates spoke fondly of the former Ram. There is no doubting the leadership of Carson Wentz however..who makes it very clear that he is confident in himself and his teammates around him.
Don’t worry about teething problems:
Carson Wentz may have stunned the NFL with an incredible debut, but there were still teething problems, as to be expected. The main one being that he does have a slight tendency to hold onto the ball for too long, something that almost proved costly at times.
There were still throws that were a little high as there were in preseason and other times where interceptions were scarily close to spoiling a strong debut. But Wentz held tough..and for a rookie who threw just 24 times in preseason and played in seven games last year, it’s to be expected.
Wentz wasn’t drafted to start right away..he was drafted as a project QB who can marinate for a year until he’s ready to take the field. That entire process was sucked into a whirlwind when Sam Bradford was traded, so for Wentz to do as well as he did, not turn the ball over or make any regrettable throws, it’s a huge positive.
Every rookie has teething problems..it’s important to remember that nobody is Brett Favre out of the box. Experience will iron those errors out and for a quarterback facing his first starting NFL Defense, Wentz held is own and then some..a HUGELY encouraging sign.
There were those who thought that with Carson Wentz at the helm, the Offense would be more aggressive with plenty more shots down the field. However, that would eradicate what makes this Offense so effective. Instead, Pederson played his cards close to his chest, ran down the clock when he need to and didn’t take any unnecessary shots.
The result, a 19 point lead at the end of the game and a total of 39 minutes of possession. The Eagles controlled the tempo and controlled the game as a result. The Offense won’t change under Carson Wentz, it will develop, get stronger and become the unit Doug Pederson originally envisioned.
Jordan Matthews emergence:
The former Vanderbilt receiver became Wentz’s favorite target today, receiving for 114 yards and a touchdown on 7 receptions. He may have dropped the first pass, but the Eagles number one receiver bounced back brilliantly with a string of big plays, averaging 16.3 yards per reception. It was a big day for Matthews..and by the looks of things, something we can continue to expect.
The Eagles backfield combined for over 100 yards rushing as they helped provide Wentz with a support cushion during his debut. Surprisingly, the only running back targeted out of the backfield was Darren Sproles, twice. Instead, the balance between Mathews and Barner helped move the chains consistently and as predicted months before Training camp, Kenjon Barner’s role has increased drastically.
The former Oregon Duck averaged 10.5 yards per carry as a “change of pace” back for the Eagles, giving Wentz yet another weapon at his disposal.
Coming off of a season where the ground attack was invisible, seeing an Eagles quarterback not having to rely on his arm 80% of the time was a refreshing change. Seeing the running backs consistently punching through the Browns D-Line was just exciting.
Missing Eric Rowe:
There were a couple of instances where Ron Brooks was exploited by the Browns. The former Bills special teamer was given a larger role after Leodis McKelvin left the game early with a hamstring injury..and the Browns could smell blood.
Brooks was beaten off the line at times, was a step behind his receiver in others but luckily, there was no deep wound to be carved out by an inefficient Browns Offense. Brooks escaped the game with his reputation intact, but against a tougher Offense in Chicago, you have to wonder if McKelvin is sidelined, will the Eagles begin regretting the Eric Rowe trade?
The Eagles run Defense and pass rush were dominant, as expected. Three sacks on RGIII and five tackles for a loss saw the Eagles Defense bring the heat to the Browns. Cleveland did escape with some big rushes throughout the game, but nothing overly damaged the Defense.
The Special teams really helped the Eagles Defense however, some great punts and even better punt coverage really pushed the Defense into some favorable scenarios, but scenarios where they grasped the opportunity with both hands and ran with it. An impressive showing in week one for the ruthless Eagles Defense.
Nigel Bradham has been the most overlooked addition to the Eagles during free agency, but he made his presence known today. Leading the team in tackles and proving to be impressive in coverage, Bradham helped stop the leaking of the dangerous dumps and screens that were flowing all too often in the early stages of the game.
Bradham could be the Eagles best coverage linebacker, something needed for this system to be successful and even though he may not be featured on any highlights this week, Bradham was easily the most underrated yet valuable player on this Eagles Defense, especially in the second half.
Second half resurgence:
The Eagles allowed 118 passing yards in the first half. In the second, 50. The birds came out swinging in the second half and after a tricky opening drive, completely shut down the Browns passing attack..something that looked difficult to do in the early stages.
It’s easy to look at the stats and praise the Defense as a whole, but their second half performance was so much better than what we saw in the opening two quarters..and that was crucial in helping Carson Wentz rally his Offense to a big lead.
A dream debut:
Carson Wentz will be the Eagles receiving all the praise for an impressive debut, but on the Defense, Rodney McLeod was just as impressive. An interception, four tackles and one for a loss topped a game where the Safety was everywhere.
Hard hits, consistent coverage and keeping the secondary together after surrendering some big plays are just some of the qualities McLeod showed in his debut. He may not have stole the show, but he did enough to earn a leading role.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports