After an uneven start to the season, the Eagles and their stuttering offence came up against one of the dominant defensive units in Green Bay Thursday night.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s D led the league in takeaways, buoyed by a young secondary which the Packers have invested a host of early draft picks in.
However, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson didn’t give Kevin King, Jaire Alexander and co the opportunity to get their hands on the ball. Philly dialled up a run-based game plan, gashing the Packers frequently on inside runs.
Run game sparks offence
Both running backs looked much more dynamic than they have so far this season, with Sanders averaging 6.5 yds per carry. Saquon Barkley’s former backup was much more incisive with his running than we saw in games such as against Atlanta, frequently gaining positive yardage rather than being stacked up at the line of scrimmage as he was by the Falcons front.
In addition, it was Sanders’ long kickoff return at the start of the second quarter that helped give the Eagles excellent starting field position. That culminated in an Alshon Jeffrey touchdown and was followed by Eagles scores on their enduring two possessions.
Howard even demonstrated his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield on a 20-yard touchdown when he was able to make it into the end zone virtually untouched. The former Bears back was given much more opportunities in this game than he has in prior weeks and produced his most effective performance in an Eagles jersey.
The reliance on the run game was reminiscent of the offence run by Philly on its Super Bowl run, and was joined by that familiar feature of a heavy dose of Zach Ertz in the passing game.
Still questions on offence
Whilst the run game was the shot in the arm the Eagles offence needed, the passing game still lacks explosiveness. That’s a strange sentence to write given the presence of Carson Wentz under centre.
Wentz was most successful when targeting the aforementioned Ertz or utilising the middle of the field. Pass attempts outside the numbers though were plagued by either drops by his wideouts or inaccurate ball placement which prevented Alshon Jeffrey and others from getting their hands on the ball.
SB Nation’s James Brady detailed these problems prior to the game, and they continued against the Packers. Given the playmaking ability we’re used to seeing Wentz display under centre, Pederson and his staff must be focused on getting the passing game running smoothly again.
Defence holds up its end
On defence, the D line stymied Green Bay’s run game, holding lead back Aaron Jones to just 21 yards on 13 carries. That helped rob Green Bay of the balance it desires on offence, though of course it out the ball in the hands of All World QB Aaron Rodgers.
Philly flushed Rodgers out of the pocket frequently, though the Green Bay QB demonstrated how dangerous he is improvising or running for first downs.
The exclamation point on the defensive performance was the goal line stand with 9 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur didn’t even attempt to run the ball, with the Eagles preventing any attempt to pass the ball into the end zone.
On the following Packers drive to the end zone, Nigel Bradham picked off Rodgers to seal the game.
Once again though, the Eagles’ weakness on defence is the secondary. Davante Adams was able to put up 180 yards receiving with little bother. It must be noted that Adams is one of the premier pass catchers in the league but frequently he was able to make plays on the ball with little competition. Improving the play from the defensive backs will be necessary moving forward.
All in all this was an impressive, and necessary, win for Philadelphia. But it certainly didn’t put an end to some of the concerns Eagles fans will have had at the start of the season.