By: Joe Staszak
For about the first 20 minutes of football Sunday the Eagles looked like they had their threes and fours going up against the Washington Redskins’ ones. Third down conversions, poor tackling, and getting beat deep were all part of a 17-0 Redskins run to kick off the 2019-2020 season. A slow start, again. Where have we seen this before? All told the Eagles have put up a whopping 41 points in the first quarter over the last 17 regular season games. That’s an average of about 2.4 points in the opening quarter. That’s less than a field goal if you’re keeping score at home. You can point to a lot of things for the slow start last year. The Eagles turned the ball over 5 times in the first quarter in 2018, tied for most in the NFL. Turnovers are game changers and those miscues included 3 interceptions and a lost fumble for the franchise quarterback. In his defense he was coming off a major knee injury and in my opinion, came back way too soon last year. So what was yesterday’s excuse?
The game had a waft of the 2014 season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. I can still see undrafted rookie Allen Hurns blowing past Malcolm Jenkins for two touchdowns and 101 yards in the first quarter alone. In that game the Birds had to climb their way back from a 17-0 halftime deficit. They scored 34 unanswered points to win that game going away 34-17. They scored 25 unanswered points in the 2nd half of Sunday’s game to also win going away 32-27 (the Redskins scored a garbage touchdown with :06 seconds left).
But in the world of good NFL teams the Eagles would have most likely lost the game. It is extremely rare and enormously difficult to come back from a 17 point deficit to win a game at this level.
Aside from the slow start another problem I saw yesterday was that the Birds applied little to no pressure on Case Keenum who threw for a career high 380 yards and three touchdowns. This is the NFL. These players are elite. You give anyone one of these quarterbacks time to throw and even the Raiders’ Nate Peterman could pick you apart.
How’s Jadavian Clowney looking right about now? He had more sacks on Sunday than the Eagles entire defensive end depth chart did yesterday. He now has more sacks by himself than all of the defensive ends on this team combined over the last two seasons. Nothing like gambling on your unproven and mediocre young guys (see Howie Roseman).
Having said all of that I’m not all that concerned. It was opening day and sometimes it takes teams a while to get going. However the Redskins came out sharp and seemingly very well prepared. They looked dialed in from the opening kick-off. The Eagles on the other hand looked like they hadn’t played in seven months. And say what you want about Case Keenum, he led the Minnesota Vikings to a 13-3 record just two years ago, He looked like that quarterback on Sunday as he made his “case” to be the starting quarterback for Washington going forward. He’s not a stiff.
To their credit the Birds got their act together in the 2nd half and looked like the team that we have collectively heaped with high expectations. They outgained Washington in a 27 minute stretch 304 yards to 30 and 25 points to nil.
But of course the big story of the day was the return of a DeSean Jackson to his Philadelphia roots. The little man caught 8 balls for 154 yards and two touchdowns. His value to this team is self-evident and enormous. Of course it takes two to hook-up because on the other end of those two Jackson bombs was Carson Wentz (can you believe it took me 489 words to mention his name)? Wentz was nothing short of brilliant in the 2nd half on Sunday leading the Birds to four straight scoring drives. He finished the day with 3 TD passes, no picks, 313 yards and a quarterback rating of 121.0. Again, brilliant.
The Birds lived on the edge Sunday but with the specter of the Patriots, Vikings, Packers, Bears and Dallas twice looming on the horizon; they had better be more prepared and come out with a purpose. They need to play with a chip for the full 60 minutes. Sunday’s performance certainly won’t fly versus the aforementioned teams.
Yesterday’s first half felt eerily similar to last year’s underwhelming first 13 games, leaving the Birds with a 6-7 record before Wentz was shut down due to a back injury. The good news is that the 2nd half felt a lot like the 2017 season when Wentz was 11-2 and on his way to an MVP award.
It was a sketchy win but a win nonetheless. Remember, there are no bad wins in the National Football League. It was indeed a bipolar effort. But I’m going to give the Birds a pass and chalk up yesterday’s start to rust (and please stop saying that the slow start was because of an inactive pre-season. I think my head might explode if I hear that one more time). A few meaningless series’ in a couple of exhibition games is about as helpful as a sloth on Xanax.
The Birds showed how dominant they can be when they are in sync. That’s why I have them winning the Super Bowl this year. A healthy Carson Wentz and a legitimate running game makes a big difference between winning and losing. So overall I think we can feel good about yesterday’s win. But just know this, if the slow start trend continues we’re all going to get a good look at what the miserable end of a 9-7 non-playoff season feels like.