Good morning, everyone. Well, preseason game No. 3 is in the books. This one — a 26-15 Eagles loss to the Baltimore Ravens — ended early. The game was terminated with 11 minutes, 54 seconds left in the fourth quarter due to lightning in the area. The only people who were disappointed about that were the guys still trying to make the team who would’ve played in those final 11-plus minutes.
The game was notable in that many of the starters who didn’t play in the first two games — including left tackle Jason Peters; center Jason Kelce; wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, and Alshon Jeffery; and safety Rodney McLeod — played the first quarter against the Ravens. Quarterback Carson Wentz, however, was again a healthy scratch.
The Eagles are off Friday and will resume practice on Saturday. They finish the preseason next Thursday in the Meadowlands against the Jets, then open the regular season at the Linc on Sept. 8 against the Washington Redskins.
And if you’re looking for more Eagles, we’ve got you covered: Join our coverage team in an exclusive conversation on Sept. 10 at The Inquirer with live Week 1 analysis, expert season predictions, and more. We’ll bring the Wawa hoagies, you bring your burning Birds questions. Tickets: inquirer.com/minds.
— Paul Domowitch (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Earlier this week, Eagles coach Doug Pederson talked about the importance of his offense starting faster this year than it did last season, when it finished dead last in the NFL in first-quarter scoring (2.6 points per game) just a year after finishing third (6.6).
“We scored 41 points in all of the first quarters last year, and that’s not good enough,” Pederson said. "That’s something that we continue to talk about and address on a daily basis.”
On Thursday night, Pederson played many of his starters for the first time in the preseason, with the notable exception of quarterback Carson Wentz. With struggling Cody Kessler behind center, the first quarter looked an awful lot like the first quarter of so many games last season. The Birds gained just 45 yards on 14 plays and had two first downs. The farthest they advanced the football on three first-quarter possessions was their own 47-yard line.
Last year, the Eagles’ offense averaged nearly a touchdown less per game than they did during their magical 2017 Super Bowl season. They finished seventh in scoring in ’17, averaging 28.6 points per game, but plummeted to 18th last year at 22.9. Their inability to repeat the fast starts of 2017 was the offense’s biggest problem. It averaged just 4.4 yards per play in the first quarter last year compared to 5.7 in 2017.
Pederson blamed most of the Eagles’ slow starts last season on drive-killing penalties and turnovers.
“That was really the culprit in a lot of games,” he said. “We would make a drive and get into the red area and we would have a penalty, maybe a sack or a turnover, and we weren’t capitalizing.”
The numbers, though, don’t really bear that out. The Eagles actually committed fewer first-quarter penalties last season (13) than they did during their Super Bowl run (17). Same with turnovers. They committed six in the first quarter last year as opposed to seven the year before. And they only gave up one more first-quarter sack last year (12) than in ’17 (11).
“I remember talking about that a lot last year,” Wentz said. “It was one of those things [where] nothing specific ever jumps out. There were little things here and there. Timing here and there. Or expecting one thing and the defense presented another look.
“We as players just take ownership of that and say we have to start faster. We have to execute earlier. And I think we’ll do that this year.”
Two years ago, before tearing his ACL in December, Wentz owned the first quarter. He had a league-best 118.3 first-quarter passer rating, threw 10 TDs and just two interceptions, and averaged 8.7 yards per attempt in the first quarter as the Eagles put up 106 points. Last year, coming off the knee injury, he finished 29th in first-quarter passing (77.6), threw just three touchdown passes, and averaged only 6.5 yards per attempt.
Wentz was much better in the other three quarters. He had a 119.2 passer rating in the second quarter, 103.0 in the third, and 100.9 in the fourth and overtime. But the first-quarter struggles put a crimp in the Eagles’ plan to force teams to abandon the run early and allow their defensive line to tee off on the quarterback.
I’m not putting all of the Eagles’ first-quarter inadequacies last year on Wentz and the passing game. The Eagles’ ground game also couldn’t get out of bed early. Their first-quarter rushing average fell from 4.46 yards per carry in 2017 to 3.72 last year.
One overlooked reason for the Eagles’ first-quarter scoring struggles last year was the fact that they had a longer field to traverse. In 2017, their average drive start in the first quarter was the 32.4-yard line. Last year, it was the 26.5.
Thanks for the question, J.R. I’m not sure you can blame Howie for the injuries. Bradham still hasn’t been ruled out for Week 1, though he admittedly didn’t seem optimistic this week when I talked to him. Grugier-Hill should be back at some point early in the season. And unless you know something that I don’t, Brown’s good to go. He played in Thursday night’s preseason loss to Baltimore. But the bottom line is that the Eagles just don’t put a high premium on linebackers in Jim Schwartz’s defense. They signed L.J. Fort, who is an excellent cover linebacker and should help them in one- and two-linebacker sub-packages, which they’re probably going to play about 70 percent of the time. I understand your concern about the linebacker depth. But frankly, better to be thin there than up front or on the back end.