Winners and Losers of Philadelphia Eagles' Week 1 Performance
Key injuries have already begun to pile up after just 60 minutes of regular-season play, prompting unfortunate questions to be asked despite a Week 1 victory. The Eagles can't let the final scoreline distract them from the struggles on both sides of the ball caused the Eagles to sweat out a game that they started out in control of.
A win is a win, and the Eagles are 1-0 after triumphing over a NFC East rival that they had lost five straight games to. As such, there are plenty of positives to discuss as well.
Let's take a comprehensive look at Philly's Week 1 performance, assessing winners and losers moving into a road trip to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Winner: Nelson Agholor
Ever since he put his nightmarish 2016 season behind him, it's been all good news surrounding Eagles receiver Nelson Agholor. But Eagles fans have learned not to overreact to offseason headlines and training-camp performances.
Well, Agholor's performance Sunday is worth reacting to.
The third-year wideout exploded onto the scene, catching six passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. He got the Eagles started with a 58-yard touchdown reception, improvising as Carson Wentz escaped pressure to get open before breaking a tackle and strolling into the end zone.
Head coach Doug Pederson, who scratched a healthy Agholor from the lineup once last season, has seen a transformation from him, per 247Sports' Jeff Kerr:
"Looking forward – his confidence level – I’ve honestly seen it all spring and all summer and it’s right where I expect him to be. It just carried over in the game today. He made some great plays, some good third down plays. He kept us on the field."
With new receiver Alshon Jeffery struggling for much of the game, Agholor became the go-to option on the perimeter. And with Jeffery and Torrey Smith likely to improve with more time in the offense, Agholor's ascension will make the Eagles' passing game even more potent.
Loser: Alshon Jeffery
Exercising patience with the Eagles' new No. 1 wideout is key after Jeffery missed a portion of the preseason, but the big-money receiver disappeared for much of Sunday's game.
Jeffery did draw a tough matchup against Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, but prevailing in these types of matchups is what the Eagles paid him for. Sporting the No. 17 jersey worn by Agholor last season, Jeffery looked like Agholor at times, dropping a few key passes including a deep ball more than 30 yards down the field that slipped through his hands.
The former Chicago Bear did finish with three catches for 38 yards and a two-point conversion in the final minutes, but he was thrown to seven times and the conversion proved pretty meaningless in retrospect.
Having a wide array of weapons is a blessing for Wentz and the offense, as it takes pressure off of Jeffery. But this is a prove-it year for him to secure a long-term contract in Philly, and he'll need to make performances like the one Sunday a rare occurrence if he wants to remain in town through 2018.
Winner: The Defensive Line
Any time a game effectively ends with Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox running into the end zone with the ball, it's apparent that Philly's defensive line made a huge impact. But they took over this game long before the fourth quarter.
The Eagles forced and recovered two fumbles from Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, along with sacking him four times. Cox and Timmy Jernigan won their matchups regularly in the interior, causing the Redskins' duo of running backs to account for 34 yards total while Cousins rushed for 30 yards himself.
Philly bolstered a pass rush that struggled in 2016 over the offseason, but Week 1 left no doubt as to who the bell cow is. Brandon Graham lived in the Redskins backfield, tormenting Cousins all afternoon.
The secondary continues to be a worrying spot for the Eagles, but nothing helps out a sub-par cornerback unit more than a boisterous pass rush. We're just one week into the season, but the Eagles appear to have that both on the inside and outside.
Loser: The Injury Report
If Eagles fans made a short list of players they would least like to see carted off the field in Sunday's opener, newly acquired corner Ronald Darby would undoubtedly be on it.
Unfortunately, Darby went down with what appeared to be a very serious leg injury and had to be carted off with an air cast on his ankle. After fearing the worst, the Eagles got surprisingly good news when NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported his dislocated ankle wouldn't require surgery and he could return in four to six weeks.
It's huge news that Darby could return by mid-season, but the team will still likely have to thrust rookie corner Rasul Douglas into the fold after being scratched in Week 1. Patrick Robinson would be the likely candidate to take Darby's starting spot, but an unproven Douglas will need to be relied on in nickel packages.
The other notable injury doesn't have an in-house replacement. Kicker Caleb Sturgis suffered a strained quad and will miss several weeks, meaning kicker workouts will be forthcoming, per Rapoport.
Left tackle Jason Peters also came out of the game before returning, and he's day-to-day with a groin injury, Pederson told CSN Philly's Dave Zangaro.
Eagles fans shouldn't have to worry about losing their veteran tackle for an extended period of time, but the same can't be said of their No. 1 cornerback and kicker. Needless to say, the empty injury report that the Eagles boasted heading into the season is now a thing of the past.
Winner: LeGarrette Blount
New Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount had to listen to plenty of noise throughout the preseason, with pundits talking up his competition in the Eagles backfield and doubting whether he'd be the primary back.
While Week 1 didn't offer a tell-all conclusion, it did give a clear indication that Blount is the No. 1 guy in a by-committee backfield. Blount carried the ball 14 times for 46 yards, 10 carries more than any other Eagles rusher.
Of course, Blount didn't produce a strong yards average by any means and didn't break off any big runs. But he influenced the game in a big way, chipping away at the Redskins defense to open things up for Wentz and even catching a one-yard touchdown pass in his debut.
The fact that the Eagles chose not to rely much on any other ball-carrier throughout a tight game shows exactly where they stand with the backfield. Until someone like Wendell Smallwood or Corey Clement has a breakthrough game, Blount will be getting by far the biggest share of the carries.
Losers: Offensive Penalties and Turnovers
The Eagles may have been plus-two in the turnover differential, but the giveaways by Wentz and the offense turned what could have been a smooth victory into a bumpy 60-minute ride.
Wentz's interception to Redskins defender Ryan Kerrigan may have been tipped, but he still made an ill-advised throw that came with the Eagles in control and up 13-0. Kerrigan returned it to the house, which got Washington back in the game.
That was preceded by an Eagles fumble, which Wentz will also get the blame for. He threw a pass to the flat backwards and too high for Agholor, and the Redskins pounced.
Added onto those untimely turnovers were eight penalties for 76 yards that the Eagles committed, five of which came from the offense. All too often, Eagles drives were thwarted by penalties.
Wentz gashed the Redskins defense enough to make up for those plays, and his own defense made more than enough plays to sway the turnover differential. But that won't happen every week, and Wentz will need to be more careful with the ball in Week 2 against a ball-hawking Chiefs defense.
Winner: Carson Wentz and His Weapons
Now that we've appropriately covered the bad from Wentz's Week 1 performance, let's give him proper credit and focus on the good. Because there was plenty of that.
The second-year quarterback could hardly be stopped through the air, completing 26 of 39 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns. Showing serious development from a strong rookie year, Wentz didn't thwart under pressure. Actually, he stepped up his game when the Redskins blitzed, per ESPN's Tim McManus:
"Wentz was blitzed on a career high 47 percent of his dropbacks, per ESPN Stats & Info. Unfazed, he went 11-of-18 for 119 yards and a TD," McManus said.
The Eagles gunslinger completed passes to eight different targets, and connected with four of them for 20-plus-yard gains. Tight end Zach Ertz became more than just a security blanket, with eight catches for 93 yards to lead all receivers.
Depsite Jeffery's underwhelming Eagles debut, Wentz has a wealth of weaponry to work with. And we didn't even get to see standout rookie Mack Hollins, who was active but didn't get pass thrown his way.
Just as critical as Wentz's development from year one to two is the increase in overall ability of the weapons he has, and that came to fruition in Week 1.
Loser: Eagles' 2017 Draft Class
With plenty of rookies taking center stage across the NFL during the opening weekend, a severe lack of an impact from the Eagles' 2017 draft class proved to be one of the biggest disappointments in the team's opening victory.
First-round pick Derek Barnett got the only realistic opportunity among the rookies to stand out, but only got onto the field in select pass-rushing packages and failed to notch a quarterback hurry. He made two tackles, but will need to do more to get more chances in a competitive depth chart at defensive end.
Barnett became the only Eagles rookie to get much of a chance. Rasul Douglas, Shelton Gibson and Donnel Pumphrey all were marked inactive before kickoff. The Eagles could have used Douglas after Darby left the game, but after failing to make the active roster, it's becoming apparent that the Eagles don't think he's ready.
Wideout Mack Hollins and undrafted running back Corey Clement did make their debuts, but neither made any impact outside of special teams. Second-round cornerback Sidney Jones is obviously out of the picture for the long term as he recovers from Achilles surgery.
Shortly following the draft, it appeared that the Eagles landed plenty of players who would be ready to make instant impacts in the team. It's a long season, and more will be expected of them in the future. But Week 1 would seem to indicate that those expectations shouldn't be high.