Eagles Rebound From Slow Start to Top Redskins
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Jay Gruden gave the Eagles some good advice when it comes to DeSean Jackson.
When asked if the speedy receiver has to be targeted to have an impact on a football game, Jackson's former coach joked, "No he doesn't but he has to be targeted if you want him to like you or not. I mean hell, he can get pretty frustrated at times with me."
Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz want the NFL's best deep threat to like them and that meant a team-high 10 targets during a 32-27 season-opening win over Washington on Sunday, resulting in eight receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns of over 50 yards, the 30th and 31st 50-yard home runs of Jackson's storied career.
The big-play ability erased a dismal start for Philadelphia, which fell behind 17-0 and heard the boo-birds before a 51-yard Wentz strike to Jackson late in the second quarter for the Eagles on the scoreboard for the first time in 2019.
"I think the 17-0 woke us up," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "We know we needed to do."
By the time a blown coverage resulted in a 53-yard Jackson score with just over five minutes left in the third quarter Philadelphia was in front for the first time and the talent-deficient Redkins were leaking oil.
Jackson was vocal during halftime, telling his teammates "it's only going to take one play."
When it was all said and done that 17-0 start for Washington turned into a 32-10 finish for the Eagles with seven of the those Redskins' point coming on a garbage-time TD after a time-draining 19-play Philadelphia drive which siphoned nearly nine minutes off the fourth-quarter clock.
Wentz was brilliant after finding his groove, perhaps understandable considering he didn't play in the preseason. Ultimately, he finished 28-of-39 for 313 yards and three TDs with a 121.0 passer rating.
"This is his show," Jackson said of Wentz. "He is driving this car."
Veteran running back Darren Sproles was given the start over both Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard and paced the running game with 47 yards on nine carries. Alson Jeffery, fresh off a re-worked contract Saturday, caught a touchdown and also ran for one on a lateral from Wentz.
Hoard didn't get much action early but finished well, hauling it six times for 44 yards while Sanders only had 25 yards on a team-high 11 caries but he did show off his explosion with a 19-yard run that nearly went for a TD.
"Had to keep calling runs," Pederson said. "The run game was eventually going to take over. We were able to make some more plays in the second half that got us back in the game and eventually win the game."
Defensively, the Eagles were shaky early especially in coverage but settled down in the second half not allowing a Redksins first down until late in the fourth quarter.
Ronald Darby started at left corner opposite Rasul Douglas with Avonte Maddox in the slot. Douglas allowed Ohio State rookie Terry McLaurin run by him for a 69-yard touchdown and McLaurin almost did the same thing to Sidney Jones after he took over for Douglas in the third quarter but Case Keenum overthrew the football.
-Defensive tackle Malik Jackson hurt his left foot in the fourth quarter and was in a walking boot post-game. He is going to have an MRI Monday to find out the extent of the injury. In his first game with the Eagles Jackson started next to Fletcher Cox inside and occasionally played end in pass-rushing situations while Brandon Graham kicked inside.
"Just a little injury," Jackson said. "We'll see what the doctors say."
-Less than off an Achilles' tear Brandon Brooks was in his familiar spot at right guard and said he was supposed to be on about a 30-snap pitch count but ended up playing over 50 before tagging out to Halapoulivaati Vaitai for the big 19-minute drive.
-Brandon Graham wouldn't lean on the lack of preseason work as an excuse for the poor start.
"I'm not going to say that," the veteran defensive end said. "I'm just going to say with any team it takes being together and doing things together. This was our first actual game action with everybody starting out there and I mean yeah we didn't start fast but we finished stronger and I love that."
-In the Doug Pederson era, the Eagles are 21-6 at Lincoln Financial Field, the second-best home mark in the NFL over that span behind only New England (25-4).
-For those who love special teams minutiae, here's how the Eagles lined up in kickoff coverage: L1 - Nate Gerry, L2 - Alex Eliis, L3 - Corey Clement, L4 - Rasul Douglas, L5 - Rodney McLeod, R1 - Rudy Ford, R2 - L.J. Fort, R3 Josh Sweat, R4 Johnathan Cyprien, R5 Andrew Sendejo. The gunners on punt coverage were Ford and Mack Hollins, The personal protector for Cam Johnston was Sendejo.
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WR DeSean Jackson - The biggest home-run hitter in the game hit two tape-measure shots that demoralized the Redskins and lifted the Eagles out of a funk that had the home fans booing early.
RB Darren Sproles - In all the talk of would it be Jordan Howard or Miles Sanders, we forgot the most obvious answer and the back Doug Pederson consistently defaults to in Sproles, who stuffed the stat sheet in an Andre Iguodala-like fashion, carrying it nine times for 47 yards with a nifty two-point conversion run thrown in there. He also caught three passes for another 16 yards and had four punt returns, averaging 11.5 yards per pop.
WR Alshon Jeffery - A day after getting his contract tweaked and new guaranteed money, Jeffery caught a Carson Wentz TD and also was credited for running another in after a quick WR screen was ruled a lateral. The lengthy veteran has a perfect complement for his skills in Jackson.
Running Back by Committee - My take on the Eagles early offensive struggle is to pick a running back. This team didn't win a Super Bowl because of a committee, it won despite a committee. And this is Year 4 of this nonsense in which no back can get a feel for the game because they don't touch it enough.
The Right Cornerbacks - Terry McLaurin is a third-round rookie with nice speed but he looked like Jackson running by Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones. With the former, he should probably expect that but Jones should be able to sun with a player like that.
Andrew Sendejo - The veteran safety already wasn't well-regarded by the Philadelphia fan base because of his poor showing in the 2018 NFC Championship Game here while with Minnesota. That was only amplified when he lost Vernon Davis in coverage early and then blew a tackle, allowing the veteran tight end to rumble for a 48-yard TD. He did settle down from there and had three tackles from the big-nickel package but the damage was done.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen