5 Biggest Takeaways from Philadelphia Eagles' Week 1 Loss
The Philadelphia Eagles shocked the world in Week 1, but not in the way many expected. The heartbreaking 26-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night was not the look of a trendy Super Bowl favorite, but instead one of a team that underwent a dramatic facelift during the offseason and lacked continuity.
There were plenty of positives to take away from this game. Sam Bradford remained healthy and showed great promise. The defense, despite a few gaffes, actually kept the Eagles in the game. And despite falling behind early and looking dead in the water for the first 30 minutes, the Eagles fought back, erased a 17-point first-half deficit and even owned the lead at one point in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, there were way too many mistakes to clean up to feel good about it, and that's the biggest takeaway here. The Falcons are talented and were well-coached. The Eagles gave them all they could handle in the end. But if Philadelphia is truly going to contend in 2015, first there are a few issues that need to be fixed.
Sam Bradford Had to Knock the Rust off
It had been nearly two years since Sam Bradford played in a meaningful professional football game, and let's be honest, it showed at the onset. Bradford wasn't quite in sync with his receivers in the first half, going into the locker room with a 55.6 completion percentage and 4.3 yard average per pass attempt.
Then he caught fire. The second half looked more akin to what we saw during the preseason, with Bradford completing 84.0 percent of his passes for 8.8 yards per attempt. The difference was night and day, and allowed the Eagles to come roaring back and nearly steal a victory.
The final numbers don't look great—36-for-52 for 336 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Then again, between an unblocked rusher getting in his face on the first and Jordan Matthews' drop on the second, neither turnover was entirely Bradford's fault. And considering the Eagles' new quarterback played just four series leading up to Monday night, it's easy to understand why he wasn't sharp early.
Perhaps if anything, this showed head coach Chip Kelly's decision to ease Bradford into action during the preseason may have been a mistake. At least he saw plenty of action in Week 1 to get back up to speed.
Game Plan Too Conservative
Kelly's handling of Bradford during the preseason isn't the only strategy that might've come back to haunt the Eagles. The game plan in Atlanta on both sides of the ball could probably be described as a little overly conservative, particularly in the first half.
Offensively, the Eagles may not have been attacking the Falcons downfield through the air enough. Other than cornerback Desmond Trufant, Atlanta's secondary is short on premium talent, yet most of the early pass calls were of the designed dink-and-dunk variety. Bradford tested the waters a few times, just missing on some big shots, but rather than continue to attack deep, Kelly seemed to be playing it safe.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles were unable to muster much of a pass rush early on, thanks in large part to Atlanta's max-protect packages up front. This gave Pro Bowl wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White plenty of time to get open—and believe me, they don't need much. Once defensive coordinator Bill Davis started dialing up more blitzes, though, the Falcons had a much harder time moving the football.
Credit Kelly and Davis for making great second-half adjustments, bringing the team back from a 20-3 deficit to nearly winning the game. Then again, had Kelly and Davis been attacking from the get-go, the outcome could've been drastically different.
Offensive Line Played Poorly
Perhaps the biggest concern long term to come out of this loss for the Eagles was the performance of the offensive line. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews combined to carry the ball 11 times for 13 yards, and Mathews was stuffed on a key 3rd-and-1, while Bradford took numerous big hits throughout the contest, including from a free rusher on his first interception.
The thing is, there was no one player to blame. New starting offensive guards Allen Barbre and Andrew Gardner would make for excellent scapegoats, and they were average at best, but the rest of the unit was a mess as well, particularly Pro Bowlers Jason Peters and Jason Kelce.
For as dominant as Peters and Kelce were at times, their mistakes shone brighter. Peters was the one who missed the assignment on Bradford's pick, and the Hall of Fame left tackle nearly got his quarterback killed again when his man went right around him. And while one or two of the calls against the center might've been questionable, pretty sure Kelce just got nailed for holding again as I was typing this sentence.
Credit Atlanta's front seven for making things difficult on the Eagles, but simply put, this offensive line must play better.
Tough Debut for Byron Maxwell
Let's begin this by saying Byron Maxwell deserves a bit of leeway. Simply put, Julio Jones is unstoppable. There may not be a cornerback in the NFL who can cover that guy right now. His worst game in the past three seasons is five catches for 56 yards.
That being said, last night's nine-reception, 141-yard, two-touchdown performance was a bit of a shock to the system, and a good portion of that came at the expense of Maxwell. That includes a 27-yard score over the top and a 44-yard bomb. Roddy White also got the best of the expensive free-agent corner on a few occasions, finishing with four catches for 84 yards.
To be fair, Maxwell isn't entirely to blame. The lack of pass rush on quarterback Matt Ryan made things a lot easier for the Falcons. And the Eagles secondary did seem to improve in the second half, holding Jones to just the one catch and Atlanta to six points on a pair of field goals.
Of course, when a cornerback signs a lucrative $63 million contract during the offseason, expectations are always going to be sky-high. It was only one game, but Maxwell's debut for the Eagles was disappointing to say the least.
Cody Parkey Becoming Worrisome
Kelly constantly defends Cody Parkey, citing the fact that his kicker was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2014. That's all well and good, and true, but Parkey's struggles also extend back to 2014, which is troubling.
Parkey missed the 44-yard field goal that would've given the Eagles a one-point lead with under three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter on Monday night, making him quite possibly the biggest goat in the 26-24 loss. That might be a little harsh given that the kick wouldn't have sealed a victory and that Kelly rushed the unit onto the field with the play clock nearly halfway expired.
However, when you look at Parkey's awful Week 16 performance at Washington last season—misses from 34 and 46 yards in another close loss—and when you take into account his shaky training camp and preseason, the miscues are beginning to pile up. He may or may not be dealing with a groin injury this whole time, but excuses don't make the ball go through the uprights.
People tend to jump on kickers too quickly. Parkey needs to be monitored closely, but he deserves the chance to snap out of his funk. There's no question about it, though, the leash is shortening by the week.