Eagles-Bears: What did we learn?
CHICAGO — The Eagles are 2-0 after a 29-14 win over the Bears on Monday night. Among the things we learned: Carson Wentz is the real deal. Last week, he ripped the woeful Browns apart, and the rookie quarterback followed that performance with another impressive showing. It came against a Bears defense that was clearly more talented than Cleveland's.
CHICAGO — The Eagles are 2-0 after a 29-14 win over the Bears on Monday night. Here are 10 things we learned:
1. Carson Wentz is the real deal. Last week, he ripped the woeful Browns apart, so if there was any caution about Wentz after one game, it was understandable. But the rookie quarterback followed that performance with another impressive showing, and it came against a Bears defense that was clearly more talented than Cleveland's. Wentz also did it on the road and under the glare of prime time. His numbers weren't eye-popping – 21-for-34 passing for 190 yards and a touchdown -- but his throws and command of the offense more than passed the eye test. And he could have had better statistics. Jordan Matthews dropped a pass that could have netted a touchdown and Nelson Agholor couldn't hang onto a few balls that could have gone either way. And two penalties negated first-down passes to Brent Celek.
Wentz, once again, made elite-level throws. There was an across-the-body completion to Trey Burton. There was a fourth-down toss to a slanting Dorial Green-Beckham. And there were two throws – perhaps his best of the night – that didn't even pick up yards. The first came when Wentz stood in against a blitz up the middle and hit Celek for 18 yards, but a Jason Kelce holding penalty brought the play back. And the second was a perfectly tossed floater that Matthews couldn't reel in. Wentz took a shot on the former pass. It was one of many. Most came when he held the ball too long or refused to run out of bounds or slide on scrambles. He has to do a better job of protecting himself. He admitted as much after the game. It was the lone knock against Wentz. He has thrown 71 passes and taken more than 140 snaps and has yet to turn the ball over. Wentz is going to be a good quarterback in the NFL. How good? That remains to be seen. He just has to keep himself from getting killed.
2. Doug Pederson is 2 for 2 and defying the doubters. The skepticism about Pederson was warranted. He was an unknown commodity. He had never been a full-time play-caller. He had worked in only one system. He doesn't explain himself very well during news conferences. But Pederson has impressed so far. Maybe the bar was low, but that was never fair and yours truly was a guilty as anyone. Pederson has done a solid job devising game plans to counter defenses and has nurtured Wentz's entry into the NFL. He has drawn up plays that have gotten receivers open. He hasn't had a single game-management mistake. Pederson has been steady and players respond to an even-keeled captain. You can see why they like playing for him during a philadelphiaeagles.com video that had him mic'd during the opener. Pederson is willing to concede when he's out of his realm. He lets Jim Schwartz handle the defense. He lets Dave Fipp handle the special teams. He has partnered with coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo in offensive game-planning. It isn't Doug's way or no way. There are still many unanswered questions about his coaching, but Pederson has gotten off to an impressive start.
3. Jim Schwartz's defense is opportunistic. The game of football is simple when you can win the turnover battle. The Eagles have forced four turnovers in two games without giving away the ball. They were responsible for three takeaways vs. the Bears – all in the second half. Rookie Destiny Vaeao forced a fumble, Nigel Bradham had an interception and Bennie Logan knocked the ball loose for another fumble in the fourth quarter. Schwartz has had an answer for almost every offensive look the Eagles have seen the last two weeks. The Browns were a subpar team, but the Bears had a better quarterback (Jay Cutler) and a star receiver (Alshon Jeffery). And aside from one drive, when Jeffery caught a 49-yard pass, the Eagles surrendered very little. They sacked Cutler three times, forced him into two turnovers, and knocked him out of the game. They were on the field for 50 snaps a week after they played 52 snaps. Credit the offense for sustaining drives and burning the clock, but Schwartz's unit has done a terrific job of getting off the field. Who would have thought that playing fewer snaps would be good for the overall effectiveness of a defense? I wrote more on the defense in my column for the Inquirer.
4. The Eagles offensive line looked shaky. I can't say with any certainty that the five-man crew was bad without watching the coaches' film. Last week, I made the mistake of burying the linemen before a re-watch showed that they weren't that bad, after all. But the Eagles, at the least, couldn't get much going on the ground in the first half and it seemed to be because the line was getting pushed back. Kelce had a difficult time containing nose tackle Eddie Goldman. The Bear is big and athletic. Kelce has had issues with those types before, but he seems to be struggling more now than ever. He appeared to have a better handle in the second half, as he did last week against the Browns. Left tackle Jason Peters seemed to have issues, as well. He took a holding penalty early. Left guard Allen Barbre was beaten once and Wentz took a sack as a result. Right guard Brandon Brooks wasn't moving the pile as much as you would have liked. And right tackle Lane Johnson, who has probably been the most consistent up front, is now facing a 10-game suspension. I reported this morning that the league finally handed down its discipline. Johnson has appealed, though, and will have a hearing on Oct. 4.
5. The cornerbacks survived, but the tests get tougher. Jeffery toasted rookie corner Jalen Mills on a double move, and drew a pass interference penalty from Nolan Carroll in the end zone, but the corners kept the receiver in check otherwise. Mills tackled well. He's got plenty to learn in coverage. But he held his own filling in for injured Leodis McKelvin (hamstring). He might have to start one more game, and it could get dicey. The Steelers' Antonio Brown is a route-running nightmare for most corners. Ben Roethlisberger is sure to attack Mills if he plays. But he'll attack McKelvin, Carroll and slot corner Ron Brooks, too. Cornerback isn't a strength for Schwartz's D.
6. Pederson is going with a four-headed monster at running back, but it hasn't been pretty. Ryan Mathews had only two carries in the first half as Pederson leaned on Darren Sproles. He broke off a 30-yard carry in the second half and scored two touchdowns – the first worthy of applause after Mathews bounced off defenders, maintained his balance and plunged across the goal line. But there wasn't much room to run. Eagles running backs – Mathews, Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner – rushed 26 times for 90 yards (3.5 avg.). The numbers weren't horrible, but they don't tell the full story. It's hard to pin much blame on the group. The o-line, as mentioned, isn't creating space. But would Mathews have more success with more carries so he can get into a rhythm?
7. The Eagles wide receivers didn't do Wentz many favors. We've already discussed Matthews' drop, but after last season's problems and the opener when he couldn't hang onto two passes, it needs to be repeated: He has to be better. Matthews knows it. He's so close to being a great receiver, but drops are obviously holding him back. Matthews finished with six catches for 71 yards. Agholor had a couple of tough grabs, including a high one over the middle, but he also made awkward attempts at two 50-50 balls. Agholor beat his corner in the third quarter, and Wentz underthrew him a tad, but the ball still hit him in his hands before a Bears corner knocked it away. I can't kill him for that. There was also a fade in the end zone that wasn't perfectly placed, but it still hit him in the mitts and he couldn't wrestle for the catch. Good receivers make those plays. Green-Beckham is still finding his way (two catches for 18 yards) but he also played 33 of 72 snaps. He needs to start having more production. Josh Huff has only one catch this season – but it went for a negative yard on Monday night.
8. Trey Burton is the best No. 3 tight end in the NFL. What a luxury. The Eagles were without Zach Ertz (displaced rib) – and will probably be without him for another game – but Burton did his best to compensate for the loss. He played 31 snaps and had five catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. He's good at finding holes down the seam. He's about as sure-handed as Eagles receivers get. And he can block, too. Wait till the Eagles have all three tight ends, as Pederson noted.
9. Schwartz's defensive rotations worked – for the most part. I'm not sure if subbing Stephen Tulloch for Jordan Hicks in the second quarter paid off. The Bears drove down the field and scored on that drive, after all. But the case could be made that Hicks was fresh in the second half – when he recovered a fumble and made a tackle – because of the brief rest. I was bit surprised that Schwartz just didn't move Hicks over to weak-side for Mychal Kendricks, but Kendricks is already hardly playing. He was on the field for just 20 snaps (38 percent). The defensive line rotation was more effective. Connor Barwin (41 snaps), Brandon Graham (37) and Vinny Curry (24) took the majority of snaps at defensive end, but Marcus Smith (12) and Steven Means (7) saw the field, too. Neither really made much of an impact, but their playing kept the first three from playing too much. Schwartz utilized a three-end set that had Curry rush from the inside in the second half. It seemed to pay off as the Eagles received two sacks and two forced fumbles from their front four.
10. And some leftovers: Caleb Sturgis smoked a 53-yard field goal into the wind before the half. He was also good from 25 and 29 yards before the break. But he did miss an extra point. Sturgis was suffering from cramps, according to Pederson. He was able to soldier through and kicked a late PAT. … The Eagles remain relatively healthy. Burton left with cramps, but he said he was fine after the game. Backup safety Jaylen Watkins left with a hamstring injury.