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First and 10: Wentz, Defense Star in Win Over Washington

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskins
LANDOVER, MD – SEPTEMBER 10: Nelson Agholor #13 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates in the ends zone after scoring in the first quarter against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on September 10, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

(973espn.com) – Brilliant play from second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, coupled with a stifling defense which produced a trio of turnovers helped Philadelphia halt a five-game losing streak to Washington by topping the Redskins, 30-17, in the season opener at FedEx Field.

Wentz was brilliant for the most part, extending plays to put incredible stress on the Redskins’ defense while throwing for 307 yards and two touchdowns.

“Obviously a big win for us,” Wentz said. “You know, last year we struggled on the road. [We] couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to come down here, a divisional rival like this. I mean, it was so cool being out there. The Eagles fans showed up in amazing form. Hearing the Eagles chant at the end, I mean they travel so well. That made it a lot of fun to play out there and getting the season started off like this feels really good.”

The Eagles’ impressive front, meanwhile kept constant pressure on Kirk Cousins and Brandon Graham sealed the game with a strip sack late in the fourth quarter that Fletcher Cox returned 20 yards for a touchdown.

The play was somewhat controversial as it appeared Kirk Cousins’ arm was moving forward when the ball came out and both FOX rules analysts — former NFL officiating chiefs Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino — asserted it should be overturned. The NFL’s new officiating czar — Albert Riveron — stuck with the on-field call, which was TD.

Add in a Trey Burton fumble recovery on a punt and the Eagles produced four turnovers in all to win in Landover for the first time since 2013.

“It wasn’t a perfect game but [the defense] played for 60 minutes, and in these games like this, you have to do that,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “Hats off to those guys on defense. They battled. They hung in. [They] kept our offense in good situations when we took the field.
Great job by our defense.”

10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW:

-The Eagles got all of an 18-minute look at what it’s like to have a No. 1 cornerback before Ronald Darby was carted off the field with a dislocated right ankle after getting tangled up with Jordan Reed. The presence of Darby, who was acquired from Buffalo back on Aug. 11 for Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick, created a domino effect on the Eagles’ defense, not the least of which was giving Jim Schwartz more confidence to blitz.

With only three CBs dressed, starters Darby and Jalen Mills, as well as nickel Patrick Robinson and hybrid Jaylen Watkins, who has bounced from corner to safety and back again over the past two years, Schwartz was scrambling to replace Darby, first putting Robinson back on the outside and moving Malcolm Jenkins down to the slot in the nickel with Corey Graham rotating in at safety. Then he moved Watkins to the outside and Robinson back to the slot.

“It’s always tough to lose somebody like that,” Eagles LB Jordan Hicks admitted. “Darby brings a certain element to our defense but the other
guys have to step up. We got just as much confidence with them out there as we do with Darby. Obviously, it’s tough to lose him and when I get to talk to him I’ll see what’s up.”

-Mills had a solid day in trying circumstances showing the trait that serves him best. The second-year player always competes and even though he got beat a few times, he leads the Eagles with nine tackles and picked up his first NFL interception on an overthrow at the goal line.

“Those corners are on an island quite a bit and I thought both of them, Jaylen [Watkins] when he came in and Jalen Mills – what a big play when we needed it,” Pederson said. “A couple drives, the Redskins had our defense on the field for a long time so a turnover at that time was huge. I thought he stepped in and did a nice job.”

-The Eagles also suffered another loss to a key player when left tackle Jason Peters left late in the second quarter with a groin injury. Peters tried to return after halftime but limped off after only one play and second-year man Halapoulivaati Vaitai was forced into the action.

If Peters misses extended time the Eagles would likely move Lane Johnson over from right tackle and let Vaitai fill in there but in the guts of the game, Jeff Stoutland has said he doesn’t want Johnson flipping sides without some reps during the week to get his footwork down.

-The hand-wringing over LeGarrette Blount’s poor preseason proved to be just that as the Eagles’ new RB1 looked just fine with a game plan to take advantage of his skills. Blount wasn’t spectacular by any means but he was serviceable, carrying it 14 times for 46 yards and also caught a TD. Blount has been working hard on his pass catching in practice and while it doesn’t look pretty at times, it paid off on Sunday.

-Speaking of hand-wringing, those who didn’t believe Nelson Agholor’s strong offseason have egg on their face after watching the Eagles’ slot receiver catch six balls for 86 yards, including a career-long 58-yard touchdown. He looks ready to turn the corner.

“Obviously that first touchdown, I am very excited for him and the offense,” Pederson said. “But I think looking forward – his confidence level – I’ve honestly seen it all spring and all summer and it’s right where I expect him to be. It just carried over in the game today. He made some great plays, some good third down plays. He kept us on the field. For him, this is the first step of the type of receiver he can be and will be for us. This is the reason why he was drafted so high.”

-The Eagles improved pass rush got plenty of heat on Kirk Cousins with Grahan getting to Cousins twice. Both Tim Jernigan and Fletcher Cox also got to the quarterback.

“I think we have a hell of a D-line,” Graham said. “Everybody was contributing today and everybody was playing together and that’s why we were able to get sacks today. It’s not just me, it’s the guys that help me balance out the rush and it’s the guys on the back end who took away the first read. We made the plays that we were supposed to and I’m just happy we played together.”

-Sometimes it seems like Hicks has his internal GPS set to the football. The Eagles’ star middle LB recovered a fumble in the first half and now has now has 12 takeaways (seven interceptions, five FRs) in his first 25 career NFL games.

-Wentz and Zach Ertz are primed for a big year. The tight end is obviously the target Wentz trusts the most and two two have developed tremendous chemistry as evidenced by eight receptions in eight targets for 93 yards.

-The debuts of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith weren’t great from a statistical standpoint but you’ve already seen what their presence provides the offense. Wentz gave Jeffery a couple of opportunities at 50/50 balls and Smith was able to run past the Washington defense on two occasions for deep shots. That helps the other stuff.

-The Eagles’ inactive list was dotted with most of their 2017 draft picks, led by running back Donnel Pumphrey and receiver Shelton Gibson, who made the final 53 on projection, not production. Third-round pick Rasul Douglas was also not dressed as was sixth-rounder Elijah Qualls. The only veteran inactives were backup guard Chance Warmack, whose lack of versatility hurts him on game days, fifth defensive end Steven Means and recently acquired cornerback Dexter McDougle, who is still learning the system.

First-round pick Derek Barnett and fourth-round receiver Mack Hollins were the only draft picks dressed although undrafted running back Corey Clement was active as the upback for Wendell Smallwood on kick returns, a role foreshadowed at practice on Wednesday.

Second-round CB Sidney Jones remains on the PUP list and fifth-round safety Nate Gerry is on the practice squad.

-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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