Grayson’s Grades: Eagles win over the Patriots
The Philadelphia Eagles opened the season with a roller coaster ride of emotions from the highs of a 16-0 lead in the first quarter to the lows of seeing that turn into a 16-14 lead at halftime. Ultimately the Eagles never trailed and held on to beat the Patriots 25-20.
The offense lacked rhythm while the defense failed to get much pressure on Mac Jones. Jake Elliott accounted for more than half of the team's 25 points and proved to be the unsung hero. Tacking on those points after drives stalled out proved to be a big key to this victory.
Very few starters played at all in the preseason and the rust appeared to be evident. Head Coach Nick Sirianni said afterwards that he plans to re-evaluate his preseason plans and hinted that starters will at least see some preseason snaps next year.
An ugly win is still a win and at the end of week one the Eagles achieved their goal of leaving New England victorious. However, there is a lot to clean up here as the Eagles face a short week with the Minnesota Vikings coming to town Thursday night.
Here is the first edition of Grayson's Grades in this 2023 season:
Jake Elliott - Elliott had to kick in less than ideal conditions and was the unsung hero of the game. He made kicks from 56, 51, 48 and 32 yards out. Elliott even had a flare for the dramatic as a field goal attempt glanced off the upright and still went through. He accounted for 13 of the Eagles 25 points. He is a reliable kicker and tied the longest field goal made by an opponent in Foxboro when he booted the 56-yarder through in the third quarter. The only blemish on the day for Elliott was when he sailed an extra point attempt wide right in the first quarter.
Jalen Carter - The rookie Defensive Tackle had a great first NFL game. According to NextGen Stats he had six pressures on Patriots Quarterback Mac Jones, tying for the most pressures by a rookie defensive tackle in their first game over the past five seasons. Carter appeared to win his battle at the line of scrimmage almost every snap he was in there. Carter was also credited with his first career sack at a key time in the fourth quarter. He finished the day with one tackle, one sack, one tackle for a loss and one quarterback hit. But his impact went far beyond those limited stats. Carter showed he deserves to be on the field even more.
Darius Slay - Slay made a couple of big plays in this game. He scored the first touchdown of the season when he took a tipped pass, picked it off and returned it 70 yards for a score. Later in the game, Slay got a little off track covering a receiver but recovered showing great closing speed and nearly picked off another pass. It fell incomplete, went down as a pass breakup and prevented a big gain. Slay finished the day with three tackles, three passes successfully defended and one interception.
Jordan Davis - Davis vowed to be a more complete player this season and said he worked throughout the summer to be that kind of player. He looked more versatile in the opener and made a key play immediately after Slay's pick-six. Davis reached in and forced Ezekiel Elliott to fumble which was recovered by Eagles Linebacker Zach Cunningham. Davis also shared credit with Josh Sweat for a big sack in the fourth quarter on Mac Jones. He kept driving towards the quarterback and met Sweat there for the sack. Davis ended his day with six tackles, half a sack, one tackle for a loss and one quarterback hit.
AJ Brown - Brown started to heat up in the second half when the Eagles started to go more to the air. He continued to rack up receptions and yardage as the second half progressed helping the Eagles offense to start moving the ball down the field. Brown was targeted ten times catching seven passes for 79 yards.
DeVonta Smith - Smith welcomed his first child into the world on Saturday and caught the only touchdown pass for the Eagles on Sunday. Smith promptly celebrated by rocking the football as if he were rocking a baby. It was a beautiful throw by Hurts into a tight window where only Smith could catch it. Smith showed great concentration to secure the catch as he was diving out of bounds and manage to keep both feet in the end zone. Smith was targeted ten times catching seven passes for 47 yards and that touchdown.
Kenneth Gainwell - Gainwell started taking on a bigger workload in the playoffs last year. That continued as he was the starting running back in this game. He was prominently featured on the opening drive in the rain. Gainwell looked good running through some of the holes the offensive line opened with his longest carry going for 16 yards. He averaged four yards per carry. Gainwell rushed 14 times for 54 yards. He also added four receptions for 20 yards.
Reed Blankenship - Blankenship had a solid training camp and earned a starting safety spot. I was curious to see him build off that success and thought he had a pretty good season opener. Blankenship seemed to read and react to what was going on in front of him pretty well. He showed good closing speed to break up a pair of pass attempts. He also closed on a short pass in the flat quickly and held the Patriots to little or no gain on the play. Blankenship led the Eagles with 12 tackles. He also added a pair of pass breakups.
Sean DeSai - DeSai's defense was inconsistent and at times failed to help the Eagles put the game away. It is hard to knock a defense that forced two turnovers that led to 13 points, but they struggled to find ways to prevent the Patriots from answering scores. Jones and the Pats did a great job of getting the ball out of his hands quickly. Rarely was he holding it long enough for the Eagles pass rush to get to him. They did ultimately pick up two huge sacks late in the game. DeSai certainly has to get more familiar with his personnel and did have to navigate some injuries to players like Nakobe Dean and Fletcher Cox in the second half. However, this defense should not give up 20 points and should not have allowed Mac Jones to pass for more than 300 yards. They gave up 386 total yards and 24 first downs. I expect DeSai have more success as his players get used to him and he gets used to them and their strengths.
Jalen Hurts - Hurts looked like a player who did not take any preseason snaps. He appeared to be rusty at times recognizing what the Patriots were throwing at him. There were two times late in the game on the broadcast where Tony Romo highlighted that Hurts missed a wide open Dallas Goedert. He did not look as crisp or as sharp as he did last season. That being said, it was the opener and it was against Bill Belichick who had all season to throw anything and everything at Hurts and the Eagles. Hurts also appeared to make questionable decisions running the ball. Many times he did the right thing and got down and avoided contact. However, at a key moment in the fourth quarter, Hurts went up the middle and took on contact that led to a fumble and a very bad turnover that could have cost the Eagles the game. Hurts and the offense struggled to find a rhythm and that will undoubtedly get corrected as the season progresses. He completed 22 of 33 passes for 170 yards and one touchdown. Hurts was also sacked three times while rushing nine times for 37 yards.
Brian Johnson - Johnson's first game as offensive coordinator was certainly not all unicorns and rainbows. I liked his opening script. Bill Belichick typically likes to take one player away from an offense. Johnson prominently featured Kenneth Gainwell and it led to a long drive that ended with a field goal and the lead. But the offense got very stale after that and struggled to put together drives when they needed to regain control of the game. This offense lacked the rhythm we were so used to seeing last season. A lot of that was likely due to any lack of preseason snaps for the starters as well as Johnson's attempt to get used to calling the plays. The Eagles were just 4-for-13 on third downs and 0-for-1 on fourth down. Those are two areas they were very good at last year. One other big problem for me was in personnel use. I cannot understand how Dallas Goedert was only targeted once and how D'Andre Swift was only given one carry and two targets as a receiver. I have every expectation that Johnson and this offense will get back to where it was a year ago.
Nick Sirianni - I expected rust in this season opener and appreciate Sirianni's honesty afterwards when he admitted that he needs to re-evaluate his preseason plans regarding using his starters at all. Everything just seemed a little off. The offense lacked rhythm while the defense lacked the ability to stop the Pats and keep them from getting back in the game. He also owned the fact that there were some "operational issues" at times when he did not get the word out fast enough to punt. That led to the Eagles burning a timeout. Sirianni seemed to be bothered after the game with the lack of touches for Dallas Goedert and D'Andre Swift. All of this will not sit well with him in his review of this game and every expectation is that they will get back to a well-oiled machine over the next few games.