Before the season began, it was almost expected that the Eagles would win their first two games. Cleveland and Chicago aren’t very good. But before the season, Sam Bradford was supposed to be the one that led Philadelphia to a 2-0 start. Carson Wentz might not have put up the numbers he did against Cleveland in Week 1, but he was every bit as impressive in Monday’s win at Chicago.
The Eagles, shockingly, threw the ball most of the first half. Maybe head coach Doug Pederson saw something in Chicago’s defense that Wentz could exploit. Or, maybe it’s just how Pederson felt he could get Wentz’s confidence, in his first road start, going. Wentz came out firing, leading the Eagles offense to 13-play, nearly seven and a half minute drive. Wentz finished 8-9 on that drive, including a nine-yard completion to Dorial Green-Beckhman on fourth and two from just outside field goal range. Wentz’s only incompletion was intended for Brent Celek in the end zone, but Chicago’s Bryce Callahan tipped away the potential touchdown at the last second.
Things didn’t go Wentz’s way in the second quarter, but he didn’t let that faze him. Jason Kelce committed back-to-back penalties (one negating a first-down toss to Celek), and Jordan Matthews had a crucial drop on a would-be touchdown. Matthews has to catch that ball, but Matthews has a short-term memory when it comes to drop passes. He’s harder on himself than the people that rip him on Twitter. He obviously drops more passes than he’d like, but he’s a guy that Wentz will lean on in any situation.
Wentz, himself, didn’t do anything specifically wrong in that second quarter, but his teammates prevented him from having an even bigger game. And that’s going to happen sometimes. Wentz seems like the type of player who trusts any receiver, even if that receiver drops a couple passes throughout a game. Wentz knows how important it is to get several receivers involved, and that’s exactly what he did beginning the first drive.
Pederson went for it twice on fourth down last night, converting both times. Pederson said, about going for it on fourth down in this piece by Les Bowen, “Sometimes it is a feel thing. It depends on how your team is playing. That’s just a gut feeling you have as a play-caller. The other thing is, when you talk about math, you’re looking at where you are on the field, the actual distance, the line to gain at that time, does a punt vs. a field goal help you in those situations – you’re trying to do a quick little calculation of all that, to make those decisions.” It’s refreshing to hear Pederson’s explanation on going for it in those situations. Early in the game, for instance, Pederson probably felt it was necessary to go for it on fourth and two because of how sharp Wentz looked out of the gate. Late in the game, with the Eagles leading 22-7, Pederson went for it on fourth and goal from the 2. Fortunately the Bears lined up in the neutral zone, because Darren Sproles, according to officials, didn’t score. It was strange that Ryan Mathews wasn’t the ball carrier on the initial fourth and goal. Nonetheless, Pederson went for it again after the Chicago penalty, opting to use Josh Huff as a decoy on a jet sweep action to free up space for Mathews on the outside for an easy touchdown. It’s nice to hear Pederson will use math and feel to make those fourth down decisions, and if the first two games are any indication it looks like Pederson will go for it on fourth down more often than Chip Kelly. According to Sporting Charts, Kelly went for fourth down 41 times in three seasons, converting 54 percent of them.
Nelson Agholor did drop a Wentz ball that would’ve been at least a 43-yard gain early in the second half. Agholor had his man beat, but had to re-position himself to attempt the catch. If Wentz had a little more air on it, Agholor could’ve scored his second touchdown in as many weeks, but he still should’ve made the catch. The Eagles had just forced a Jay Cutler fumble near mid-field, so it was reassuring to see Pederson take a shot down field immediately following a turnover.
The Eagles used reserve guard Matt Tobin in three tight end sets on Monday night, most notably on Wentz’s lone touchdown pass (below).
Trey Burton was inactive in the season opener, but showcased his playmaking ability with Zach Ertz out, grabbing five passes for 49 yards and a score. Moving forward, the Eagles have to love the idea of using Ertz and Burton, along with Celek, no matter where the Eagles have the ball, but especially in goal-to-go situations.
As expected the Eagles begin the season 2-0, but the real test begins Sunday afternoon against cross-state rival Pittsburgh. The defense, specifically the secondary, will be challenged against the Steelers passing attack. Wentz will see blitzes he hasn’t faced yet, too. All in all, it’ll be another chance to see what Wentz can do.