Philadelphia Eagles News
This one was a defining game, a total team victory. Challenged by injuries and playing on a short week, the Eagles pulled together and beat Minnesota 34-28 on Thursday Night Football at an electric Lincoln Financial Field. The fans – frenzied by a fabulous pre-game light show, a crazed atmosphere, and incredible anticipation for the 2023 home opener – were treated to a high-energy, high-action game in which the Eagles gutted it out … every bit of the way.
Here are some takeaways from a win that pushed them to 2-0 and into a welcomed long and relaxing weekend …
1. This was running back D’Andre Swift’s night. Playing in front of about 30 of his family and friends for the first time in his home city as an Eagle, Swift put on a show. He had a career game with 28 carries for 175 yards and a touchdown, showing great quickness, moves, vision, everything. He was the total package, leading the Eagles to 259 rushing yards. Swift showed he could be the workhorse, although obviously, the Eagles would like to work with all four of the running backs on the roster. Now you understand – if you didn’t already – why the Eagles were so excited to trade for Swift on Day 3 of the 2023 NFL Draft. He’s a baller.
2. The importance of “chunk” plays cannot be overstated and we saw it on the Eagles’ first offensive drive and then again in the third quarter. Jalen Hurts uncorked a throw down the field and wide receiver DeVonta Smith made a terrific, come-back-to-the-ball catch over safety Theo Jackson for a 54-yard play, helping the Eagles get into scoring position and strike first on a Jake Elliott 24-yard field goal. Give some credit here to Swift, who picked up an up-the-middle blitz from linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. and got just enough body to allow Hurts to make the throw. And then early in the third quarter, Smith ran past cornerback Akayleb Evans and Hurts hit him in stride for a 63-yard touchdown connection and a 27-7 advantage.
3. Really good in-game adjustment from Offensive Coordinator Brian Johnson, who turned to the running game in the second quarter. On the 16-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that put the Eagles ahead 10-7, the Eagles had 13 rushing plays for 63 yards. Running back D’Andre Swift led the way with 8 carries for 38 yards, Boston Scott had 3 consecutive carries and gained 16 yards, and Hurts ran twice for 9 yards, including the 1-yard score. It was a smash-mouth kind of drive that consumed 7 minutes, 55 seconds of clock time and it was an example of the versatility this offense has. When things are not quite clicking in the passing game, the Eagles are able to roll up their sleeves and get dirty and win.
“I feel like we were going to get to it eventually, but we started running the ball and they couldn’t stop it, so we kept running,” said tight end Dallas Goedert, who had 6 receptions for 22 yards. “It opened everything up and it felt good to keep moving the chains.”
4. Let’s just keep repeating this: Two of the most important – the most important? – statistics are turnover ratio and red zone touchdown efficiency and both came into play on Thursday night. Philadelphia took the ball away four times and scored 10 points off the takeaways. The biggest play of all came late in the first half when safety Terrell Edmunds tackled wide receiver Justin Jefferson at the goal line and the football came out of Jefferson’s hands, went over the pylon, and out of the end zone for a touchback with 33 seconds remaining. The Eagles turned that takeaway into a field goal – more on that in a moment – and a 13-7 lead after two quarters. Defensive end Josh Sweat came right back and sacked quarterback Kirk Cousins on the first possession of the second half and forced a fumble that Fletcher Cox recovered and returned to the Minnesota 7-yard line. Two plays later, Hurts burrowed into the end zone and the Eagles led 20-7.
5. OK, about the field goal. Elliott tied his career-best (and a franchise record) with the 61-yard kick – he just crushed the kick – and let’s give some credit to the operation. Arryn Siposs did a terrific job with the hold and the blocking scheme was able to keep the defensive hands occupied enough for the low, driving kick to make it past the line of scrimmage. Elliott, you remember, had a 61-yard field goal in Week 3 to beat the Giants in the 2017 season, a win that ignited a nine-game winning streak in the Super Bowl Championship campaign.
“I’m thinking, ‘There’s a lot of wind in my face now,'” Elliott recalled thinking as he lined up the kick into the South end zone. “The range was definitely not that far going that way. Hit a bit of a stinger, if you will, but it got there. I hit it higher on the ball and sometimes it’s hard to keep those kicks straight but luckily it pushed right through and got there.”
Elliott said the range was “50 yards, maybe. Definitely had a pretty stiff breeze in that direction,” he said. So much for that.
6. Cornerback Avonte Maddox. Wide receiver Quez Watkins. Scott. Linebacker Zach Cunningham. All went out of Thursday night’s game at one point or another. The team was already without linebacker Nakobe Dean, who is on Injured Reserve. Cornerback James Bradberry (concussion), safety Reed Blankenship (ribs), and running back Kenneth Gainwell (ribs) were ruled out prior to kickoff. That’s a serious threat to the depth of a football team, so the Eagles turned to young cornerbacks Josh Jobe and Mario Goodrich, veteran linebacker Nicholas Morrow, veteran safety Edmunds. When Scott went out, Swift carried the load and had his first 100-yard rushing game since Week 1 of last year, when he put up 144 yards on the Eagles. Rashaad Penny came in late in the third quarter and chipped in three carries for 9 yards and one reception for 5 yards. Depth is so huge and the Eagles came up big here, especially with the short week. Very impressive.
7. You don’t hear Smith’s name come up when people talk about the “fastest” wide receivers in the game, but he showed go-the-distance speed with two “go” routes on which he ran past the defensive backs. Smooth, gliding, and just fast. And you know that if the ball is near, Smith is going to make the catch. That, combined with his incredible body control, makes him an elite player in this league. Smith had 4 receptions for 131 yards, averaging 32.8 yards per catch.
8. The numbers, they were just so on point for Hurts. He did throw an interception, but otherwise Hurts took what Minnesota gave him. It took a minute, but Hurts finished with 18 completions on 25 attempts for 193 yards with the touchdown, two rushing scores, and 35 rushing yards. So, so solid.
9. Every roster move matters and not a lot of folks thought about Justin Evans when the Eagles signed him to a one-year contract in the spring. But he’s started two games and on Thursday night recovered a fumble on defense – Avonte Maddox knocked the ball loose from running back Alexander Mattison – and then forced a fumble on a punt return that the Eagles recovered. Evans also had a pass breakup late in the red zone. He has been a quality addition to the defense and, remember, he lost three seasons of his career because of a knee injury. “I’m blessed to be here, I’m loving this and I’m here to take advantage of every chance I get,” said Evans, originally a second-round draft pick by Tampa Bay in 2017. “This is a great city, a great team, and I’m here to help.”
10. Some offensive numbers to admire: The Eagles had possession for 39 minutes, 28 seconds and rang up 430 total net yards, including that eye-popping 259 yards on the ground. They ran a whopping 75 offensive plays and scored three touchdowns in four red zone possessions. And the offense isn’t quite in full sync yet. The best is yet to come.
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