Roob’s Observations: Eagles open 2023 season with ugly win over Patriots originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
OK, everybody can take a deep breath now.
The Eagles did everything they could to keep the Patriots in the game Sunday night in Foxboro. Nearly blew a 16-point lead, gave the ball back with 3 ½ minutes left deep in Eagles territory with a five-point lead, didn’t score a touchdown after the first quarter.
But they found a way.
The Eagles opened the 2023 season with an ugly 25-20 win over the Patriots. It’s a win, but there’s a ton to work on.
Here’s our 10 Observations from Week 1:
1. We’ve said all summer that one of the biggest strengths of this team and Nick Sirianni in particular is their ability to handle adversity, and here we are. To come out of Foxboro with a win Sunday despite playing a legit terrible last 45 minutes says a lot. It never should have gotten to that point. This game never should have even been close. The Eagles shouldn’t have had to scramble to win this in the fourth quarter. But they did, and they found a way and all the standings will show is 1-0 one week into the season. There’s a reason the Eagles have only lost two games in franchise history when they’ve led by at least 16 points at the end of the first quarter – none since opening day 1999. It’s really hard to do. But an offense that looked listless, a defense that struggled, special teams that had its usual ups and downs … made life very difficult. It’s hard to imagine the offense playing much worse, hard to imagine the pass defense playing much worse, hard to imagine more things going wrong in an opener. But one hallmark of this team the last few years has been its ability to shrug off whatever is going wrong and find a way to win. Consider it done. 1-0.
2. This was Brian Johnson’s first game as an NFL play caller and honestly it was a miserable debut. After a long field goal drive to open the game and a touchdown on a short field after a turnover, the Eagles proceeded to net two yards on their next five drives. It was just dreadful offense – boring, conservative – and most of the time it was hard to even understand what the Eagles were trying to do, how they were trying to attack. The offense looked slow and unimaginative, Jalen Hurts was uncomfortable and out of sorts, the running attack seemed predictable, and the lauded offensive line looked average. Hurts didn’t complete a pass longer than nine yards until the third quarter and for the first time in his career as a starter didn’t complete a pass over 15 yards. Where was Dallas Goedert? He was targeted once. Where was D’Andre Swift? He didn’t have any carries until the fourth quarter. Where was the high-powered passing game? It generated just 154 net yards. Johnson was never able to get the offense into any sort of rhythm and take away seven points on Darius Slay’s pick-6 and the offense managed just 18 points, went 4-for-13 on third down, netted 251 yards, averaged under 4.0 yards per rushing attempt and gave up three sacks. Johnson and the offense have the luxury of knowing there’s a ton to fix but still getting the win. But win or not, there’s a ton of work to do.
3. Not second guessing because I was screaming it before the play, but I hated going for it on 4th-and-2 with two minutes left on the Patriots’ 44-yard-line up five. I love being aggressive. I get that. But the offense hasn’t functioned well all day. The Patriots have momentum. The defense just allowed a touchdown. Hurts has been struggling. It was a long two. And Arryn Siposs was even having a solid day. Punt ‘em deep and take your chances. Nope. Hurts locked onto DeVonta Smith, who was blanketed by Christian Gonzalez, and the pass never had a chance. Love being aggressive. Not there. Not then.
4. As for Desai, it was a little disconcerting to see his unit get picked apart by middle-of-the-road quarterback who ranked 26th out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks in passer rating last year. The Eagles escaped with a win, but come on, you can’t let Mac Jones throw for three touchdowns and 316 yards against you. I get that this is no longer the same group that led the NFL in pass defense last year, but they still have a lot of those pieces and they’ve just got to be better. It was good to hear Slay say that after the game. There were definitely some positives. The Eagles forced two turnovers and looked much improved against the run. That was encouraging. But the Patriots really didn’t have any big-time weapons out there, so for them to pile up 382 yards – 210 after halftime – that can’t happen.
5. I don’t know what on Earth was going on with Jalen Hurts – it was probably a combination of a lot of things – he just looked off Sunday. Really off. Out of sorts, tentative. I’m sure some of it was his first game with Johnson, but he just did not look like himself. Not what anybody expected from last year’s MVP runner-up. He made some plays early, made some plays late, but in between he was just not very good. At one point, the Eagles netted two yards of offense on five possessions. They didn’t score a touchdown on their last nine drives. They recorded eight first downs on their first two drives, then nine on their next 10. And that fumble. That just can’t happen. Hated the play call, but Hurts just can’t cough the ball up there.
6. Surprised – shocked, really – that the Eagles weren’t able to generate any pressure on Mac Jones, who had a makeshift offensive line in front of him with three backups. For this defense to work, the front has to generate pressure. That’s how this team was built. I don’t think anybody is expecting 70 sacks like last year, but Jones threw 47 passes before he was sacked the first time late in the fourth quarter. How is that even possible? This d line is the strength of this team and they have to be better.
7. Also a little ominous that the team that barely had any injuries last year lost Nakobe Dean, James Bradberry and Fletcher Cox to injuries along the way. We don’t know yet how serious any of them are, and hopefully they’re both back on the field Thursday night, but it just focuses how unusual last year was from an injury standpoint and how the Eagles can’t afford to start losing people
8. How about Josh Jobe in coverage on the biggest play of the game? With Bradberry out of the game, Jobe was in the game at outside corner on the Patriots’ final drive, and on the pivotal 4th-and-11 – with the Patriots 20 yards from winning the game – Mac Jones went after him. Jobe had a very good training camp, but here’s a guy who had only played 12 career defensive snaps. Twelve. And in a high-leverage situation, with the game on the line, 29 seconds left? Jobe was right there on Kayshon Boutte with terrific coverage, clinching the win. Jobe could very well be a starter one day. He gave us a glimpse Sunday night into what kind of player he may be.
9. Let’s talk about Jake Elliott for a second. He is such a weapon and when the offense is struggling it’s an incredible advantage to be able to get points when you have a 4th and long just inside the opposing 40-yard-line. The Eagles desperately needed points early in the third quarter, and here comes Elliott to attempt a 56-yard field goal. That’s become a layup for Elliott. He nailed it – of course – and is now 5-for-6 in his career from 56 yards or longer and nobody in NFL history who’s attempted at least five kicks from 56 and out has made a higher percentage. Elliott added a 48-yarder in the fourth quarter and finished 4-for-4 and the Eagles needed all those points. He was the extent of the Eagles’ scoring after the first quarter. Not a lot went right for the Eagles after the first quarter Sunday, but you can always count on Elliott. He’s as good as anybody.
10. I really thought the whole point of building a running back room with four capable running backs was to rotate them and keep defenses off balance. With Rashaad Penny inactive, the Eagles were down to Kenny Gainwell, D’Andre Swift and Boston Scott. And Kenny Gainwell 14-for-54 rushing and 4-for-20 receiving, but the other running backs had a combined two carries for six yards and four total touches for 13 yards. That all plays into how predictable the running attack was. Swift needs more touches. Penny needs to find a spot on the game-day roster. The Eagles have backs who are dynamic and versatile and can add a lot of juice to the offense. But not if they don’t get the ball.