Beating Two Opponents at the Same Time: Ten Takeways from Eagles 28, Panthers (Refs) 23

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“Under fire, when I watch Carson Wentz, I see deer-in-headlights. And I still do. I don’t see the moxy, I don’t see the feel, I don’t see the command for playing that position that I always see in Dak Prescott.”

Words of wisdom from the king troll Skip Bayless, who totally nailed that take this week.

Wentz threw three touchdown passes in the Eagles’ 28-23 Thursday night win, moving the Birds to the top of the NFC with a third road victory in just six games.

But the game ball goes to the defense, which put the second-year quarterback in business with two crucial takeaways in the Carolina half of the field. The offense, which was ineffective at times, capitalized on that pair of Panther mistakes en route to a 12-point fourth quarter lead. After a couple of stalled late drives, Jim Schwartz’s unit again stepped up to the plate, holding twice to seal the road win and eliminate any doubts as to whether this team is a playoff contender.

Thursday Night Football usually sucks, but this game didn’t!

1. Beasting like Bradham

Nigel Bradham was the best player on the field last night.

When football coaches use that old cliche, he’s “flying around,” this is what they’re talking about.

Bradham’s First half:

  • key pass breakup on 3rd and 9
  • blanket coverage on a dropped short yardage pass
  • tackle for loss on Fozzy Whittaker run (knocked him out of the game)
  • big tackle on Cam Newton to keep Carolina out of field goal range

Second half:

  • Monstrous 3rd and goal tackle to force a FG
  • tackle for loss on stuffed run play
  • injured himself putting his body on the line to make another first-down preventing tackle
  • came back into game, batted pass on 3rd and 1 of final Carolina drive

His side-to-side coverage and play recognition was elite last night:

You could say that Bradham was good for a three or ten-point swing, because his first crucial tackle keeps Carolina from attempting a field goal before the half. His second key tackle forces a field goal and kills a Panther drive.

Theoretically, the drives he ended could have resulted in 10 points, but only ended up being three points.

 

2. Keep feeding him, don’t stop

It felt like the Eagles were going to establish the run game early on, when LeGarrette Blount had some success in a few different looks – a draw, an under-center run, and a crack-down tight end block for a big gain.

His chart showed some good plays through the A and B gaps, while in weeks past he actually had more success running off-tackle and behind tight ends and extra linemen:

Blount finished with 14 carries for 67 yards, which is right around his season average. Kenjon Barner had five touches for seven yards and Corey Clement had two yards on two touches.

I thought for sure that Clement would see more of the ball with Wendell Smallwood out, but his touches have gone down every game since he had 10 a few weeks ago.

One problem area was RB pass protection, where Blount and Barner each had trouble with Carolina defenders at some point in the game. Barner’s whiff was the most egregious:

 

3. Big V and the right side

Eagles Twitter was pooping its pants when Halapoulivaati Vaitai missed a block on the game’s first drive, resulting in a Wentz fumble and turnover.

He was filling in for the injured Lane Johnson, who didn’t clear concussion protocol.

Worth noting:

Wentz faced most of his pressure coming from that side of the field, with most blitzes originating from that direction because of the Johnson issue. The Eagles were much better in the second half in that department. Did you hear Julius Peppers’ name called again? Did you hear Vaitai’s name called again? He did a nice job staying focused and limiting the mistakes after that first drive. Wentz was only sacked twice after the turnover.

As far as the left side of the line, no issues:

 

4. Go ahead, try to run the ball

Carolina had 27 rushing yards at the half, 16 of which came on Cam Newton’s touchdown run.

You saw stuff like this all game long, when the entire team was able to push and swarm on third down:

They just get fantastic penetration on every running play, no matter who’s in the game. Vinny Curry has been particularly good in run defense the past few weeks, Tim Jernigan is underrated, Fletcher Cox is Fletcher Cox, and Brandon Graham is having himself a year. Mychal Kendricks quietly had 17 tackles last night, overshadowed only by Bradham’s performance.

The Eagles defense was only allowing 62 rushing yards per game coming into this one. They limited Carolina running backs to 9 yards on the night while Newton was able to get 71 of his own. He was forced to throw it a career-high 52 times last night, because the Eagles took away the Panthers running game and made the opponent one-dimensional for the third week in a row.

Per NFL.com, opponents are only attempting 17.5 runs per game against the Eagles, which is a league-best stat:

 

5. A rotation no more

I didn’t see Chance Warmack in the game. They played Stefan Wisniewski for every snap, which is the right call.

“Wis” had a big block on the 4th and 1 QB sneak in the first half, then locked up his man long enough for Wentz to find Zach Ertz on the second touchdown pass:

Vaitai is up there holding his ground, too.

So good call by Doug Pederson to take control of the left guard situation and keep his line together in a difficult road game against a solid defensive front.

 

6. The officiating

Ahem:

  • Eagles: 10 penalties for 126 yards
  • Panthers: 1 penalty for 1 yard

Someone pointed out that this was the same crew that did the Lions game last year, when the Birds were flagged 14 times for 111 yards. Detroit received two flags for 18 yards.

One of the flags in this game was a Jalen Mills pass interference that negated an interception. Derek Barnett was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct for knocking down Newton (he sold it) after play was blown dead for delay of game. Carolina ended up scoring on that drive, on a pick play that of course wasn’t going to be called. There was a phantom holding call on Wisniewski and Blount got whistled for pancaking his defender, which apparently is too rough in our modern snowflake dystopia.

I don’t wanna be a homer, but when the penalty margin is 10 to 1, I think that pretty much speaks for itself.

 

7. Everyone’s favorite former Cowboy

“There’s Rick Lovato, Demi Lovato’s husband,” the ex-Cowboy quipped last night.

People seem to be split on Romo’s color commentary. I don’t think he’s bad at all, especially when you consider some of the guys we’ve had to listen to in weeks past.

When Romo started this gig, he was using his knowledge almost excessively, reading formations and telling us exactly what was going to happen. That was pretty interesting, but some people don’t want spoilers, they just want good analysis. I think he’s doing more of that now.

For example, you saw him explain the Eagles’ unbalanced line a couple of times in this game, where he used the telestrator to identify the concept pre-snap. But last night he stopped short of saying, “this run is definitely going off-tackle here,” or, “this is going to be a pass to the right.” That’s the kind of thing he was doing during his first couple of games. In this game he added unique analysis without spoiling plays.

I also found it intriguing how he described returners catching balls from left footed punters. Is there really a difference in spin and flight of the ball? I’d never heard that before.

The other thing with Romo is that he at least acts like he gives a shit, while you get the sense that some of these guys are just out there collecting paychecks and thinking about their next trip to the golf course.

 

8. Doug’s worst call?

Was it the timeout before the converted 3rd and 7?

I get that he was trying to prevent a delay of game there, but Wentz hit that pass and the play was blown dead.

Beyond that, I think Barner saw a few too many snaps, and there were a couple of times where I felt like they could have run it a little bit more.

 

9. Doug’s best call?

Definitely going for it on 4th and 1 in the red zone. Carson Wentz hasn’t failed on a sneak this season.

Ironically, the one penalty that was actually called on Carolina allowed the Birds to try a short two-point conversion after the second touchdown. They successfully ran it in to increase their lead to 18-10.

Doug’s aggression paid off in this game, but imagine if it didn’t. He’d be getting crucified for the two-point try, which would have meant that the Panthers would have been able to tie it on their final drive with a field goal. It was 28-23 at that point, but would have been 26-23 if the conversion failed. A normal extra point would have made it 27-23.

For what it’s worth, Doug Pederson and Andy Reid are a combined 10-1 this season, and the only loss was when the teams played each other. Doug P is for real. He doesn’t want to hear anymore of your crap.

 

10. Any given Thursday

I don’t like Thursday night football because NFL Sundays are a sacred American right. Monday Night Football has history, but TNF reeks of corporate greed and ratings and whatever.

The “quality” issue is sort of a two-part thing. There aren’t a ton of great teams in the NFL and they certainly aren’t playing each other every week. There’s a lot of fluff weighing down the product in general (Niners, Browns, Giants, etc). There are a lot of bad games on Sundays, too. But the issue with Thursday night is that teams are beat up and tired with no time to game plan or prepare. These guys shouldn’t be out there killing themselves on three-day’s rest. It’s bad for their health and it’s bad for the game. Along those lines, Lane Johnson probably would have cleared concussion protocol if the Birds were playing Sunday instead of Thursday.

Instead of six and seven days between games with a Sunday/Monday schedule, the Eagles now have a 10-day break following a 3-day break. It’s inconsistent and annoying. Enough with Thursday night and enough with London.

Let’s just play the damn ball games on Sundays. Flex the Birds to prime time because they’re the best team in the NFC.

Time’s yours, Skip.

 

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