Despite picking up a valuable win, the Philadelphia Eagles still showed plenty of room for improvement in a Week Five performance that was turnover-filled and incomplete.
By Mike Diviney
As Week Five kicked off, fans at Lincoln Financial Field had gone from trepidatious to outright boisterous, hoping either to propel their team over the visiting New Orleans Saints through force of will alone or to bury their memories of the worst home game the Eagles had played there just three weeks earlier.
Early on, the Eagles gave fans little reason to expect a different outcome from their Week Two home matchup. The enigmatic Sam Bradford led two long drives in their first two possessions, only to end each with an interception in the endzone. In a game they had thoroughly dominated, the Eagles trailed by a touchdown at the end of the first quarter.
By halftime, the Eagles had built a 10-7 lead, a paltry sum considering the 300-plus yards of offense they had produced. But as has been the case so far in the early going, the second half saw things start to go the way of Sam Bradford and the Eagles offense. Bradford went 13 of 15 on his way to a 333-yard day with two touchdowns to go with his two endzone interceptions.
When the running game is working, it makes the entire offense run more smoothly, and against a truly inept Saints defense, the Eagles got their ground game going full throttle. Demarco Murray and Ryan Matthews rushed a combined 28 times for 156 yards, fulfilling Chip Kelly’s vision when he signed both this offseason.
On a day when the offense again played only one good half of football, the Eagles managed to put 39 points on the board. Part of that was due to the weakness of the Saints defense, but it is still an impressive total for an offense that has been sporadic thus far. Including the last drive of the first half, the Eagles compiled seven consecutive scoring drives, marred only by a missed PAT from Caleb Sturgis, his second in two weeks. Although Sturgis did convert all four of his field goal attempts, in closer games, any shakiness could prove problematic.
The Eagles defense was dominant in this game. For a 17th straight game, it did not allow an individual 100-yard rusher. They harried and harassed future Hall of Famer Drew Brees all game. Fletcher Cox was a one-man wrecking crew, sacking Brees three times and forcing fumbles twice in the effort (Cox recovered one of those himself; the emerging Jordan Hicks did the honors on the other). In all, the defense recorded four takeaways on the day and stymied the Saints offense for most of the game.
This was a game the Eagles absolutely had to win. That they won it by more than three touchdowns is a good sign. Eagles fans did not need any more drama or close calls in a season that has begun with more difficulty than they had anticipated.
The real question is what does this victory mean? Hopefully, the win shows that the Eagles are improving and the players are jelling as the season progresses. Perhaps Sam Bradford was rusty after having not played meaningful football for almost two years. It affords the Eagles an opportunity to atone for their early-season ineptitude, but does not guarantee anything beyond that. If they build on it, Chip Kelly’s emphasis on culture above all else will possibly start to make sense.
This next stretch of games will go a long way to determining whether the Eagles can stay one step ahead of their opponents each week. The best-case scenario is that they continue to improve, put their early season struggles behind them, and string a few victories together. The worst case is that they poured on the points against a hapless Saints team, but can’t muster the same will against more talented opponents.
An early season showdown with the New York Giants will clear up the picture more significantly. The Eagles must defend their South Philly home in this critical tilt. Had they not taken care of business this past week, it may have already been a moot point; since they did, they now have the opportunity to repeat the feat on the prime-time stage of Monday Night Football.