McMullen’s Quick Hits: Eagles Dominate Bears, Move to 2-0
(973espn.com) - Asked last week what was the toughest road environment he had faced to date, all Eagles’ rookie quarterback Carson Wentz could come up with was Missoula.
As in Missoula, Montana, the home of the Grizzlies, a Big Sky Conference powerhouse in the FCS.
At last check the entire population of Missoula was just over 69,000, which is only a few thousand more than were in attendance at Soldier Field tonight but just like last week, those expecting Wentz to turn into a shrinking violet on the big stage were sorely mistaken.
Wentz was calm and collected again, throwing for 190 yards and a touchdown to Trey Burton as the Eagles blitzed the Bears 29-14.
It could have been even worse than that for Chicago as Jim Schwartz’s front seven dominated one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, forcing three turnovers, including a fumble and an interception from the enigmatic Jay Cutler.
Meanwhile, drops by Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor left points on the field for Philadelphia.
Wentz’s first drive on the road was nearly as impressive as his inaugural NFL march against Cleveland in Week 1. The strong-armed rookie was 8-of-9 on the Eagles’ first possession and spread the football to five different receivers.
His numbers would have been much better if not for the drops but the only number that really matters is 2-0, one the Eagles hope to improve on when they face their first difficult test of the season on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field.
THE WENTZ WAGON
Wentz is the only rookie quarterback in NFL history to win his first two starts without a turnover and the impressive part of that is the fact that Doug Pederson is not limiting what’s on the rookie’s plate.
The Eagles went no-huddle on their first six plays and later throughout the game it was clear that Wentz was changing protections at the line of scrimmage and adjusting plays, killing from one option to another depending on the defense he saw.
Watching Wentz's pocket presence, command at the line of scrimmage and touch throwing the football, I have no idea why anyone would have rated Jared Goff as a better prospect.
DROP IT LIKE IT’S HOT
Matthews cost the Eagles six points before intermission by dropping a perfectly placed Wentz throw of about 35 yards or so. In the third quarter, Agholor then looked like a volleyball player trying to spike a slightly underthrown ball that would have been a huge gain down the right sideline. Meanwhile, Nelson also dropped a perfectly thrown fade later that could have been six.
Competent NFL receivers make those kinds of catches never mind really good ones and it’s time for the self-inflicted wounds coming from this team’s starting receivers to stop.
CORNERBACKS HOLD UP
The Eagles decided to enter this game with three healthy cornerbacks despite the fact that the talented Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White and Eddie Royal man the receiver position for the Bears.
The thought process behind that is the many of Philadelphia’s safeties have some corner in their backgrounds. That said, Plan A was to start slot corner Ron Brooks on the outside in the base defense and move him back inside in the nickel while rookie seventh-round pick Jalen Mills entered on the outside.
As Mills got more comfortable, they let him handle all the outside duties and, for the most part, the plan held up with the rookie getting beat once by Jeffery down the field, setting up Chicago’s lone offensive TD.
Even those who dislike Cutler admit the enigmatic quarterback has rare arm talent.
That said, when things start going in the wrong direction for the veteran signal caller, he tends to sulk and exhibit the kind of poor body language that can affect his entire team. For that reason, most defensive coordinators game plan to hurry Cutler early in the hopes he checks out mentally.
Schwartz typically doesn’t like to blitz but he sent Malcolm Jenkins screaming off the edge for a sack on the game’s second play. That set the tone as Soldier Field may have well been the Temple of Doom because Schwartz reached into Cutler’s chest and ripped out his heart.
Along with Jenkins, Brandon Graham and Destiny Vaeao also got to Cutler with Vaeao also forcing a fumble on his takedown.
BIG BALLS DOUG
A week after keeping Wentz on the field for a big 4th-and-4 in the third quarter against the Browns, Pederson did it again on the Eagles’ first possession, allowing his rookie QB to try a 4th-and-2 from the Chicago 28.
Wentz calmly hit the big-bodied Dorial Green-Beckham on a slant for the first down and although Philadelphia didn’t punch it in and settled for a 25-yard Caleb Sturgis field goal, the sentiment was obvious … the coach trusts his young signal caller.
TIGHT END TREY
Without Zach Ertz available due to a rib injury, more was needed from special teams ace Trey Burton and the undersized, athletic tight end came through, catching five balls for 49 yards and a 2-yard TD reception on an inventive screen in the third quarter.
The better the running game, the easier it’s going to be for Wentz this season and while Ryan Mathews was hardly spectacular against Cleveland in Week 1, he did put together a solid effort that made it difficult for the Browns to pin their ears back.
Against the Bears on the road, it seemed even more important to establish the run but Pederson went in the other direction and Mathews really didn’t impact the game until the second half two scoring runs.
Overall, Mathews carried it just nine times for 32 yards in a running-back-by-committee approach that also saw Darren Sproles carry it 12 times and rookie Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner getting it twice apiece.
TULLOCH MIXES IN
Even though Jordan Hicks is his best linebacker, Schwartz started to mix in veteran Stephen Tulloch at the Mike spot, which tells you just how much the DC respects veteran linebacker.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen