There aren't all that many other contenders for "best team in the conference" right now, but Philly made sure to put a definitive stamp on that status with a dominating 34-24 win over division rival Washington on Monday night, in a game that wasn't actually as close as the final score.
The Eagles got off to a slow start, but once Carson Wentz and the offense got going, they were just about unstoppable the rest of the way. Philly had just three points when it got the ball with just over six and a half minutes to go in the second quarter, but from that point forward, they scored on five of the next six drives -- four of them touchdown drives of 80 yards or more.
Carson Wentz carved up a defense that was beset by several injuries, finding Zach Ertz (five catches for 89 yards and a score) all over the field and spraying the ball around to secondary targets Nelson Agholor (4-45-1) and Alshon Jeffery (2-37), as well as tertiary options like Mack Hollins (64-yard touchdown) and third-string running back Corey Clement (nine-yard score on a preposterously difficult throw under duress).
After hanging 34 points on Washington, the Eagles now have a top-five scoring offense. After gaining over 350 yards, they have a top-five offense in yards per game as well. They were already in the top five in offensive DVOA coming in, and are sure to remain there when the new rankings drop on Tuesday. They have a diverse running game and an explosive, efficient passing attack.
Having a top-10 offense and a defense that can get after the opposing quarterback (three more sacks tonight to give them 17 on the year, which ranks 10th in the league) is a surefire recipe for contention, and damn if the Eagles don't look every bit like legitimate contenders. They're 6-1 now after this win. That's the best record in the league. (Their only loss is to a Chiefs team that nearly everybody thought was definitively the best team in the league as recently as two weeks ago.) They rank third in the NFL in point differential, too, so it's not like their record is some sort of fluke.
They're just good. We'll be seeing these guys in January, for sure.
Here are a few things to know about Philly's 34-24 win.
All aboard the Wentz Wagon
If the NFL had a Most Improved Player award, it would almost have to go to Carson Wentz. Wentz was the No. 2 pick and got a metric ton of hype after his hot start to last season, but he dropped off dramatically after the first three games of the year and was a clear bottom-third QB after the Eagles returned from their Week 4 bye.
|Comp %||YPA||TD %||INT %||Rating||W-L|
Simply put, he looks like a significantly better player this season. To wit:
Wentz looked improved even before his monster game against Washington on Monday night, but boy was every bit of his skill on display in this one. He threw downfield; he threw into tight windows; he hit his check-downs when there was nothing there; he freelanced outside the pocket; he made plays with his legs in the ground game.
He was remarkably efficient, averaging 10.7 yards per attempt on 25 throws, and also tossing four scores. He's now thrown for 1,852 yards and a team record 17 touchdowns in Philly's first seven games of the season, and he's on pace for only nine picks after being intercepted 14 times a year ago. He's a big reason the Eagles look like the class of the conference.
Emotions running high for Cousins
On Sunday, Kirk Cousins posted on Instagram that his grandmother had passed away, so he played in Monday night's game with a heavy heart.
He wrote in the caption that he will see her again at some point.
"Tonight my Grandma Jean went home to be with the Lord. Her passing was sudden, but because of The Gospel, we will see her again! She left a Spiritual heritage for her children's children (Deut 6:2) Her favorite song was 'In the Garden.' She is now living that hymn more than ever before!"
Losing a family member is always tough, and it's important to have other family there to help you through it. Cousins is lucky enough to have that, and recently, his family grew by one. And there's ... an interesting story about that.
Three weeks ago, Cousins' wife gave birth to their son. During the birth, Cousins:
Oh, I haven't missed a practice since I've been here. That was my first one. Going into a Monday Night Football game against the Chiefs that week, I didn't really want to miss a day. But Colt [McCoy, my backup,] set up his phone in the quarterback meeting room and we got on FaceTime. I was basically there without being there. ... Julie's contractions were coming every four to five minutes, and they lasted about 30 seconds—but outside of that I was able to focus [on football] and Julie was very understanding. She could hear my coaches and [teammates] talking in the background but she said it was fine. When she needed to grab my hand to get through a contraction for 30 seconds, I was there -- and I had my iPad next to me, looking at cut-ups, in between. I think our doula thought that was weird. She wanted me a little more present. But Julie understood.
That's ... one way of going about things.
Legend goes down
The Eagles got some bad news early in the third quarter when star left tackle Jason Peters went down with what looked like a serious right knee injury. Peters got tangled up with a defender while in pass protection, and his knee bent awkwardly backward.
They brought out the cart for him and took him off the field in an air cast. Almost everybody on the Philadelphia roster came out onto the field to dap him up on the way out, seemingly implying a certain level of seriousness of the injury he suffered. (Washington tackle Trent Williams did as well.) The Eagles very quickly announced that he would not return to the game.
An extended absence for Peters would obviously be bad news for Philly. First of all, he's still an excellent left tackle. (He's made the Pro Bowl in each of his last nine healthy seasons.) Second, we all saw how much Carson Wentz's performance dropped off last season when he didn't have Lane Johnson along his offensive line. Wentz looks like a better player this year (he was even excellent in the game Johnson missed earlier this season), but anything disrupting the rhythm of what looks like one of the best teams in football is not ideal.
While it should be expected that Johnson will eventually move to left tackle -- possibly as soon as next week -- the Eagles did not slide him over mid-game, instead inserting swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai at the position. At least one former tackle thinks that was a good move -- for now.
Btw...I love the Eagles didn't move Lane to LT in the middle of the game. Easier to insert a swing tackle and protect him. Good coaching— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) October 24, 2017
The plan has always been for Johnson to move to left tackle eventually, whenever Peters hung up his spikes. It now seems like the timeline might be moved up a bit.
Rough night for Swearinger
We've heard all throughout the season how D.J. Swearinger is an emotional leader for the Washington defense, having been named a defensive captain despite the fact that this is his first season with the team. He'd played fairly well through the early part of the year, but Monday was not a good night for him.
Here he is getting burned on a 64-yard Mack Hollins touchdown:
And here he is getting tosses aside like a rag doll by Zach Ertz on a four-yard score in the final minute of the first half:
That's two touchdowns in about three minutes on a guy that had only been beaten for one score all season coming into the game, according to Pro Football Focus. Again, not a great night.
The Eagles and the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad drive
As mentioned earlier, Philadelphia could not possibly have gotten off to a worse start in this game. After giving up a field goal to Washington on its opening drive, the Eagles put together what had to be one of the worst drives any NFL team has had (or will have) this year.
The drive started, as many do, on the 25-yard line after a touchback. Things looked like they were getting off to a pretty good start as Carson Wentz completed a seven-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery ... but Jeffery was flagged for offensive pass interference.
That created first-and-20. Wendell Smallwood ran for a short gain on the ensuing play ... but Zach Ertz was called for an illegal block above the waist.
All of a sudden it was first-and-26 from the 9-yard line. Wentz was under pressure almost immediately after the snap, but he escaped to the outside and actually ran for a yard on the play. However ... Lane Johnson was called for holding, so the gain was called back.
The Eagles wound up facing first-and-30 from the 5-yard line. Before they could even get a play off, the Eagles were whistled for 12 men on the field. That set them up with first-and-33 from the 2-yard line. After a 2-yard run by LeGarrette Blount, Wentz chucked the ball deep down the field for one of the easiest interceptions any player will have all season.
Sure, it essentially amounted to an arm punt, but it was second down! There was still another play to gain some yards. So yeah, this drive was not great. And neither was the first quarter. By the end of the period, the Eagles had 29 yards of total offense and 31 yards worth of penalties. Obviously, they wound up bouncing back pretty nicely.
When Terrelle Pryor signed with Washington this offseason, it sure seemed like he was going to immediately step in as a top target in the passing game. After all, the team had lost Pierre Garcon to the 49ers and DeSean Jackson to the Buccaneers, and needed a No. 1 wideout to work alongside tight end Jordan Reed and slot man Jamison Crowder, and Pryor was coming of a 1,000-yard season playing with Browns quarterbacks.
Things have not gone as expected. Pryor had just 16 catches for 209 yards and a touchdowns in five games heading into this one, catching more than three passes just once and not breaking 75 yards in any game. Then, in the first half on Monday, he played just one snap.
Washington halftime WR snap count:— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) October 24, 2017
Josh Doctson 29
Jamison Crowder 26
Ryan Grant 14
Terrelle Pryor 1
Brian Quick 0
Out of 30
It sure seems like Pryor was straight up benched. He got back on the field in the fourth quarter and dropped the first pass Kirk Cousins threw his way. (He did catch a pass on the next play, though, so good for him.) Washington only gave him a one-year deal for $6 million, but if he's not going to be a useful part of the offense, it sure seems like that money could have been better spent elsewhere.
Jake and Ake
David Akers was a really, really good kicker for the Eagles for a long time. He was in Philly for 12 seasons, from 1999 through 2010, making 82.4 percent of his kicks. Only Matt Stover made more field goals during that time than Akers' 294. His 1,323 total points were also second in the NFL behind only Ryan Longwell.
One thing Akers didn't do much of, though, was kick deep field goals. In 12 seasons in Philly, he made only 15 field goals of 50 yards or more. He also never made more than two in a season. After a 50-yarder in the first quarter on Monday night, rookie Eagles kicker Jake Elliott now has four 50-plus yard field goals in just six games.
Jake Elliott has four 50-yard FG in six games. David Akers, about to go into the Eagles Hall of Fame, never made more than two in a season.— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) October 24, 2017
The first-place Eagles play host to the lowly 49ers next week at 1 p.m. ET, while Washington hosts the division-rival Cowboys in a late afternoon game with a 4:25 p.m. ET start.