Eagles-Washington instant analysis: Birds overcome sloppy start to grab pivotal NFC East win
Amid the strangeness of Tuesday Night Football, the Eagles overcame a comedy of unforced errors early to beat the Washington Football Team.
Garrett Gilbert couldn’t channel his inner Joe Webb.
Amid the strangeness of Tuesday Night Football, the Eagles overcame a comedy of unforced errors early to beat the Washington Football Team, 27-17, at Lincoln Financial Field two days after the game was originally supposed to be played.
At least to start the game, Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ offense resembled the mistake-prone bunch that took the Linc on a Tuesday night in 2010 for a surprising loss to the Minnesota Vikings with Webb as the improbable hero. Gilbert, Washington’s quarterback for the night because the team’s top two quarterbacks were out with COVID-19, didn’t pull off those same heroics and the Eagles’ offense woke up in time to secure the win.
Here’s our instant analysis:
Case of the Tuesdays
Whether it was the 16-day layoff between games or the weirdness of an impromptu Tuesday matchup, the Eagles had some blunders that were equal parts fluky and frustrating.
Their first offensive series lasted just three plays after a wide-open Dallas Goedert dropped an accurately thrown pass and unwittingly kicked it to Washington safety Landon Collins for an interception before the ball could hit the ground. Washington took the short field and responded with a touchdown.
The next series, Hurts had a red-zone fumble that wiped away an impressive sideline catch from DeVonta Smith two plays earlier. Sua Opeta, filling in at left guard for Landon Dickerson, was called for a holding penalty on a productive tight-end screen that killed a drive, and Jordan Mailata killed another one with his own third-down holding penalty.
The rust or the Tuesday-night daze eventually wore off for the offense, which reeled off consecutive scoring drives to close out the first half and tie the game, 10-10.
“I think we just settled in,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said after the game. “It was rusty. It was really rusty. You never want to start like that. Give them credit, they did some really good things. They were in the right place on that drop and they got pressure on Jalen. It’s a good defense.”
O-line dominates as run game continues to make hay
The Eagles offensive line continued the trend of dominating whatever defense it’s presented.
Even with Dickerson on the COVID-19 list and watching from home, the Eagles front moved a talented Washington defensive line with relative ease and continued to show why the team’s run game is one of the best in the NFL. Sirianni continued to add some wrinkles into the scheme, even using cornerback Darius Slay as a decoy for a 10-yard Miles Sanders run in the red zone.
Speaking of Sanders, the running back finished with a career-high 131 rushing yards on 18 carries. It seemed like he was pulled at some point in the fourth quarter — the running back has been dealing with an ankle injury for the last two months.
The Eagles ran for 200-plus yards for the fifth time this season and the fourth time in the last five games. Jordan Howard pitched in 69 yards in his first game back from a knee injury and Hurts had 38 of his own to go along with two touchdowns on quarterback sneaks.
Sanders had a handful of opportunistic runs, but it’s safe to say the offensive line is the straw that stirs the drink. Jason Kelce had his weekly highlight, this time keeping pace with Sanders in the open field for a 38-yard run that, much to the veteran center’s chagrin, didn’t go for longer.
“I made the wrong read,” Sanders said of Kelce’s reaction. “I sort of went out of the way, so he was upset. Sorry, Kelce.”
Nate Herbig and Lane Johnson had a handful of space-clearing combo blocks and a few pull blocks that opened things up as well.
Opeta had a handful of bad reps, but otherwise held his own, which is a testament to offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, considering Opeta is the fourth-string guard.
“All I can do is compliment my O-line and coaches,” Sanders said. “They’re doing a heck of a job each and every week. ... It’s just a credit to the O-linemen, they’re making it very easy for the running backs to run behind them.”
Hurts back in action
Hurts returned to the lineup after missing one game in three weeks and got off to a rocky start.
The quarterback can’t be criticized for the interception on his stat sheet — Goedert’s faulty footwork was to blame, but he had a handful of miscues early. His fumble on the Eagles’ second drive was a result of him holding onto the ball too long and not moving well enough in the pocket. It elicited a fiery response from Sirianni when Hurts returned to the sideline.
“Jalen responds to tough coaching,” Sirianni said of the exchange. “He likes tough coaching, and I wasn’t going to back down. I thought he was careless with the football.”
It took a few more drives for Hurts to settle in, but he eventually did. He had a handful of explosive plays, paced the offense with a few well-timed runs, and had a handful of nice throws in the second half. Arguably his best and most important throw came midway through the fourth quarter when he threw to Greg Ward on the move for a 19-yard touchdown.
It was a perfectly placed back-shoulder throw from the young quarterback and it gave the Eagles a two-possession lead in a pivotal part of the game. Hurts finished with an impressive stat line, completing 20 of his 26 passes for 296 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
Goedert makes up for it
It’s hard to fault Goedert for accidentally kicking the ball directly to Collins, but the drop that preceded the volley left plenty of room for criticism. Goedert was running free in the flat and the pass hit him in the hands. It was just a concentration drop at a costly time.
Aside from another concentration drop in the second half, Goedert made up for his early blunder relatively quickly. He snagged a true 50-50 ball for a 45-yard catch that helped set up a field goal in the second quarter and had another explosive play on the first series of the third quarter, this one a 20-yarder to help set up a scoring drive.
Goedert has now surpassed the 100-yard mark in consecutive games and has emerged as the team’s No. 1 receiving target. He finished with 135 yards against Washington, which is a career high for the fourth-year tight end.
“I’m just doing whatever the coaches call,” Goedert said after the game. “They’ve called my number. I’ve been winning on my routes, and Jalen’s been finding me. Just as the season goes, you just get better and better and you get more of a feel for what teams are going to do, how they’re going to defend you, and ways to attack them.”
The Eagles leapfrogged Washington for second place in the NFC East and are alive in the playoff hunt. The Eagles will need Minnesota to lose at least one game in the next three weeks to have a realistic chance at the third and final wild-card spot, but it’s conceivable considering the Vikings’ difficult remaining schedule: Rams this Sunday, then the Packers, and finish with the Bears.
The Eagles will take it, but the postponement sets up a short week ahead with the New York Giants headed here on Sunday. The Giants will be without starting quarterback Daniel Jones, but it will still be a challenge with such a quick turnaround.