The Eagles started their season with a bang, beating the Cleveland Browns 29-10..but while some units flourished in the spotlight, other positions struggled away from it. Here is a complete report card for the team following their impressive win.
Coming into the game, it was tough to predict how it was going to play out. Carson Wentz was to start his first NFL game having played just a fraction of one preseason game and coming off of a limited 2015 campaign at NDSU. However, he showed exactly why he was taken so highly in the draft, completing 22/37 passes for 278 yards and 2 touchdowns.
He managed the game well, took control of the Offense with confidence and read defenses so fluently that he could have been mistaken for a veteran. The audibles called after identifying a blitz, the confidence in his receivers and the touch on his deep ball was a joy to watch.
There were still some flaws..and that was to be expected. Under pressure, Wentz completed less than 50% of his passes and sometimes held on to the ball for too long. But given his limited experience, the fact that this was the first starting NFL Defense he has faced and how he was thrown into the deep end, Wentz did incredibly well and demonstrated all the values that Pederson loves in a quarterback.
Make no mistake, Wentz looked like an NFL quarterback. He made all the throws, managed the clock and ran his Offense like he had been a part of it for years…it was a big day for the Eagles..and an even bigger one for the star of NDSU.
The running game was one of the more interesting aspects of the Offense yesterday. There was a neutral balance as the committee rushed 34 times, but they only averaged a total of 3.9 yards per carry.
What did work well however, was the inclusion of Kenjon Barner. The former Duck looks to be a change of pace back for the Eagles and consistently broke down the Defense, averaging 10.5 yards per carry on his 4 attempts. What was confusing, is that they didn’t ride the hot hand and relied on Mathews punching through the trenches..something that sometimes left Wentz in a tricky spot on third down.
Darren Sproles was even less effective, managing just 2.5 yards per carry. The backfield did what it had to, got the job done and moved the chains, helping the Eagles control the tempo of the game..but it will be interesting to see if the unit become more adventurous or if they balance out the snaps in future games.
The Line wasn’t as productive in the running game as many hoped they would be, but turned away sufficient pressure on Carson Wentz. He may have only been hit six times and sacked twice on his 39 drop backs, but they got pressure to him on 13 different occasions.
There were times when the leaking of 2015 seemed to haunt the unit, but Jason Kelce was one man who seems to have battled the ghosts of last year, looking like a much more solid Center, rekindling the form of 2014.
Unfortunately, Lane Johnson and Jason Peters, two of the most penalized players in the league last year were penalized again. The Offensive line game up over 200 yards worth of penalties last year and the train doesn’t look like it will stop anytime soon.
The unit wasn’t bad, in fact it tamed Ray Horton’s blitz-heavy Defense quite well..but there are still some concerns which could be exploited by the Bears in week 2.
Three first downs including a clutch fourth down conversion saw Zach Ertz become an integral part of Pederson’s Offense. Ertz ended with six catches for 58 yards while Brent Celek caught one pass for 11, featuring more heavily in the blocking side of things.
The TE’s looked strong in their first game under Doug Pederson, the shallow routes, smooth blocking and 90% catch rate helped give Wentz that extra boost in his debut. While it would have been nice to see some three TE sets, the absence of Trey Burton prevented that from happening, removing an element from the position.
With that in mind, the TE’s still looked strong against the Browns and should continue to do so in week two.
The receivers had plenty of questions looming over them heading into this game, questions that seemed even more prominent after Matthews dropped the opening pass of the game. After that however, they were all forgotten.
Jordan Matthews had an explosive game, catching 7 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown while Nelson Agholor also reached the endzone, accounting for 57 yards on 4 passes.
Dorial Green-Beckham was kept quiet, but the Eagles had openly admitted to developing him and ensuring he knows the playbook before giving him an enhanced role.
Surprisingly, Josh Huff didn’t register a single catch..but looked much better in his route running, as did the rest of the unit. Crisp, concise and an ability to gain separation that was unheard of in 2015, the Eagles receivers looked dangerous.
The pass rush was explosive in the second half after being chained down early on. Fletcher Cox notched up two QB hits and a sack while the Defensive ends constantly wreaked havoc from the sides. The main reason why the unit seemed quieter in the opening stages was the sheer amount of bodies Cleveland dedicated to stopping a four man rush..a testament to how intimidating the unit really is.
The Eagles kept RGIII quiet for most of the night and the running game struggled to establish a consistent foundation despite the odd explosion out of the backfield.
The Defensive line had a nice night against the Browns, but there is still room for improvement.
Nigel Bradham led the Eagles in tackles with 5 and proved to easily be the most well rounded linebacker on the roster. Whether it was chasing down receivers, preventing screen looks or even rushing the passer, Bradham was solid throughout.
Jordan Hicks enjoyed a big game too, tipping a pass that was later intercepted and finishing second in tackles with 4. Surprisingly, Mychal Kendricks played in just 19 snaps on Defense…which after his activity in the fourth preseason game is slightly worrying.
Stephen Tulloch also played in 1% of snaps while new addition “KGH” registered a clutch tackle late in the game.
The Browns were kept quiet on the ground for most of the game and that was largely due to the linebacker efficiency, but after coverage concerns in preseason, it was a relief to see that the linebackers were able to contribute in multiple aspects of the game.
Leodis McKelvin was the only positive at the position in my opinion..which makes his early departure that much more worrying. Two tackles and consistent coverage by the 31-year old ensured that the Browns passing attack remained stagnant..for the most part.
Elsewhere, Nolan Carroll had a troubled day. The dime to Terrelle Pryor was through no fault of his own with Carroll showing strong coverage..but at other times he was beaten off the line of scrimmage and often bailed out by Rodney McLeod.
Ron Brooks was the weak link here. Unable to contain the Browns wideouts, Brooks was always behind his receiver in man-coverage it seemed and got a very lucky escape in an overthrown RGIII pass deep in the endzone. The Browns knew that Brooks was the man with the increased reps after McKelvin left with a hamstring injury..and they tried to exploit that as much as possible.
A caught pass in TRIPLE coverage summed up what a lucky escape this cornerback corps had..if they were up against a competent passing attack, the score would not have been so convincing.
Rodney McLeod’s Eagles debut was a dream one.The former Ram ended the day with an interception and four tackles as he contributed all over the field. From snuffing out runs and blitzing to helping save the corners when they needed it most, McLeod’s presence on the Defense was felt heavy and often by the Browns skill players.
Malcolm Jenkins a had a slightly quieter game but made some nice tackles and again was making efforts all over the field.
This was to be expected by such a talented tandem, but there are no complaints here..a solid first game for the duo.
This was easily the strongest unit of the day, some brilliant punts by Donnie Jones followed by even better coverage, pinning the Browns deep inside their own territory time and time again. The return team was more than effective and as a whole, the unit is responsible for setting both the Offense and Defense up in great situations.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports