It was an emotional rolelrcoaster, but the Eagles got it done. An 18-12 victory over Atlanta in messy circumstances saw the team combat yet more adversity and once again melt the Ice in the veins of Matt Ryan. But what did we learn about the team?
Shake it off:
It wasn’t pretty, but it was never going to be. The Eagles came limping into this matchup, battling injuries across the board and working on a short offseason. Rust was inevitable and it’s still going to be a factor over the next few weeks. The offense spluttered in the first half while the defense stepped up to carry the load. Pederson did all he could to spruce things up and inject some explosiveness into the game, but from Nick Foles to a depleted wideout group, there’s going to be some rigidity for at least 2-3 more weeks. So long as they can keep moving the chains when it counts however, it can be worked around. If Atlanta can’t find a way around this Football team, there won’t be many that will.
Fletcher Cox for defensive MVP
If he hadn’t had a sack taken away due to a penalty handed to Barnett, Cox would’ve had 2 on the night to go with 4 quarterback hits, but there’s nothing that will take away his defensive impact. The man was an absolute behemoth to deal with all night long, showing absurd amounts of agility, ripping through a rebuilt offensive line and allowing the rest of the front seven to pick up the pieces. Cox said he was coming for an MVP award, it’s hard to dispute that after one week.
KGH means business
It’s hard to overlook that outstanding hustle showed on that 4th & goal stop. Grugier-Hill has really grown into the shoes of a starter. His sideline-to-sidleine speed is exceptional and it showed in the season opener, amassing 4 tackles and 1 TFL. Replacing Kendricks was never going to be easy, but Grugier-Hill looks more than ready to take over that vacated spot.
Keep it simple, stupid
We’re going to have to accept that this offense will not be the same so long as Carson Wentz is sidelined. Pederson did as much as possible to create space and sprinkle in some complexity, but staring down receivers and occasional poor judgement calls will always haunt Foles. Without some of their top perimeter threats either, Foles and Pederson have to go back to basics as they did during last year’s playoff run.
Cornerback depth is key:
Yes, Ronald Darby stole the show with the exception of a couple of whiffs, but an interception from Rasul Douglas will stick out like a sore thumb. He may have only played in two snaps, but how reassuring is it to know that in the event of an injury or even just a case of rotation, the Eagles cornerback room wont see a significant drop off in performance? It’s been years since fans have felt that level of comfort and with Jones and Maddox contributing in the nickel and on special teams, the sky is the limit.
No Wentz, no Bradham, no Jeffery, no Hollins, no Rodgers. This Eagles team was battered and bruised as it came into a matchup with one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL and a severely underrated defense. But the bruised Birds’ had their way. They weren’t just missing depth players, some of those absent are among the best in the league at their position or at the very least most impactful players on the team. The Eagles still found a way to win in yet more adverse conditions and that’s what counts.
Receiver depth is going to be tested
No receptions for Shelton Gibson and just one for DeAndre Carter showcase a desperate desire for the return of Alshon Jeffery. The Eagles rand their offense up the middle and Foles missed two would-be touchdowns to Mike Wallace. Again, some of this will be rust, but the Eagles wideouts simply have to create more and execute more consistently if this team is to sustain this level of play.
Jordan Hicks is as good as he ever was
His running-mates had gone from one of the best linebackers in the league and a resurgent Mychal Kendricks, to two relatively unexperienced former special teams aces. That didn’t stop Hicks turning in a performance that DeMeco Ryans would be proud of. Hicks was a force to be reckoned with all game long and was one of the saving graces in moments of complete panic for this defense. On multiple goal-line stands, Hicks was the glue keeping it all together. Pro Bowl season? Don’t write it off.
Establishing the run
Well, it didn’t happen right away and it certainly didn’t look good until the second half, but the Eagles did a great job of using a diverse backfield to create problems. Ajayi and Clement looked limited, perhaps due to lingering injury, but Ajayi ran more routes than Clement and touched the ball in 55% of running back carries, despite playing less than 40% of the time. Sproles didn’t look as lethal as he once did and the Birds will have to do a better job of setting the tone on the ground next week.