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Eagles observations: Sloppy defense, AJ Brown balls out, and more

Two indisputable facts:

No. 1: The Eagles have a heck of a lot to work on.

No. 2: The Eagles are 1-0.

The Eagles built a 17-point third-quarter lead, then hung on for dear life for a 38-35 win over the Lions in the season opener at Ford Field in Detroit Sunday.

The Eagles didn’t secure this one until Jalen Hurts – barely – gained a yard on 4th-and-1 at the Lions’ 40-yard-line with 66 seconds left.

Yikes.

Here’s our 10 Instant Observations from a scary afternoon in Michigan.

1. Nick Sirianni spoke all summer about how adversity is inevitable, what’s important is how you deal with it. Little did he know the Eagles would deal with it 33 seconds into the season. That’s when D’Andre Swift ran 51 yards on the second play of the game to set up a Lions touchdown. That was the longest run from scrimmage against the Eagles on opening day since Tiki Barber had a 72-yarder for the Giants in 2004. The Lions led 7-0 just 4 ½ minutes into the game, and then the Eagles gave the Lions good field position when they couldn’t convert on 4th-and-5. Do you want adversity? Here you go. And you’ve got to love how the Eagles responded. Over the next 19 minutes the Eagles outgained the Lions 223-22 and outscored them 21-7 to get back into a game that couldn’t have started any worse. Not everything went right for the Eagles after that, but they showed a lot of character and resilience in bouncing back from what was really a disastrous start and holding on in the fourth quarter when the thing was on the brink of getting away from them.

2. I’ve been blown away all summer by AJ Brown, but seeing him make those same plays in his first game in an Eagles uniform only drives home just how insanely talented this kid is. And just how crazy is it that the Eagles got him for a mid-1st-round pick and a 3rd-round pick. That 18-yarder that he snagged about an inch off the ground, that was a work of art. And the 54-yarder before halftime while Will Harris grabbed his jersey di lui? That was a masterpiece. Brown was 6-for-128 by halftime and finished 10-for-155, breaking Donte ‘Stallworth’s club record of 141 for most yards by a receiver in his Eagles debut. I don’t want to get too carried away after one game, but it’s scary how good he is. And he just turned 25. And he’s here until at least 2025. And this was just the beginning.

3. We’ve talked about a lot of things that could go wrong for the Eagles this year, but nobody never thought run defense was one of them. The Eagles were 9th in the NFL against the run last year and that was without Jordan Davis, Brandon Graham, Kyzir White and all the other newcomers. For the Lions to ram it down the Eagles’ throats on the ground is a huge concern. And it wasn’t just Swift’s 51-yarder. The Lions – 19th in the NFL running the ball last year – ran for 181 yards Sunday, and even the slow-footed Goff converted a key third down with a 10-yard scramble on a 3rd-and-7 to set up the Lions’ third TD, and that just can’t happen. The Eagles’ revamped secondary did a terrific job in coverage – Goff was a punchless 21-for-37 for 215 yards – but the run defense was embarrassing. Too many guys out of position, too many guys whiffing on tackles, too many guys not wrapping up. That’s got to be fixed immediately.

4. My biggest concern about the defense was whether it had the manpower to generate consistent pass pressure even after adding Haason Reddick, and while I did think they got OK pressure at times in the first half – there was nothing in the second half when the Lions started to fight back. Jonathan Gannon certainly blitzed more than we saw last year – and that created some early pressure – but the defensive front didn’t have a sack and had just two hurries against a quarterback they sacked six times last year. And against a banged-up Detroit o-line. With the addition of Reddick, Brandon Graham back and Josh Sweat coming off a big second half, you would have hoped this wouldn’t be a problem any longer. But at least in the opener it sure was.

5. I was curious to see how much Chauncey Gardner-Johnson could contribute just 12 days after the Eagles acquired him, and, wow, he looked like a guy who’s been here all summer. CJGJ made an impact on consecutive Lions 3rd downs in the second quarter, first with blitz pressure and then in coverage on Amon-Ra St. Brown on a third down. Anthony Harris is a class act, but CJGJ made more plays Sunday than Harris made all last year. He’s just around the ball, quick, athletic and active. He did get called for a bogus DPI in the fourth quarter. But what a huge addition less than two weeks before the opener.

6. This was not a statistical masterpiece by Jalen Hurts, but he did put up 31 points, won his second straight road opener, didn’t make any glaring mistakes, was sharp on third down, made lots of plays with his legs and did a nice job recovering after that 0-for-5 start. He finished 18-for-32 for 243 passing yards with 90 rushing yards, so he was 18-for-27 after the 0-for-5 start. Fourteen carries is way too many, but I thought the o-line was shaky early, forcing him to escape the pocket and run more than he wanted. But the offense eventually got into a rhythm, he threw accurately and ran less as the game went on. Hurts didn’t throw any TD passes, but I don’t care. In a loud stadium, on the road, in the 20thstart of his career, he was just fine.

7. I loved the way Shane Steichen used his backs, mixing up Miles Sanders and Kenny Gainwell and getting good production out of both of them and then going to Boston Scott in the third quarter down at the goal line. Gainwell got the first series of the third quarter, and we didn’t see Sanders for a minute, then on his first snap back on the field since the second quarter – rested, fresh legs – he explodes for 24 yards. Three plays later, Gainwell scores. Sanders looked fast, strong and explosive – 13-for-96 and his first touchdown di lui since Week 16 of 2020. And that 24-yarder for a huge first down late in the fourth quarter was massive. And Gainwell added 20 yards on five carries. Including their receptions, the backs combined for 147 scrimmage yards and three TDs on 26 touches. Including Hurts’ TD, this was the first time in 61 years four different Eagles had a rushing touchdown in the same game. On Oct. 22, 1961, in a 43-7 win over the Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl, Clarence Peaks had two and Billy Ray Barnes, Ted Dean and Theron Sapp had one each. Terrific efficiency and production.

8. That James Bradberry pick-6 was such a big play for a couple reasons. It came with the Eagles still scuffling a little bit after a slow start and gave the Eagles a 14-point lead. And it also was the product of two guys playing in their first games as Eagles, two important pieces of Howie Roseman’s roster overhaul. It was Kyzir White who deflected it to Bradberry – and then added a key block for good measure. But it was the kind of play that’s been missing for this team for a while. They’ve been among the worst in the NFL in forcing turnovers the last four years, and to not just get a takeaway at a pivotal point in the game but turn it into seven points, that was encouraging.

9. A lot of really sloppy play by the Eagles – two false starts, one offensive holding and one defensive holding, a neutral zone infraction, two 12 men on the field, two delay of games, a pass interference. They were fortunate to overcome that stuff, but Sirianni and Gannon have to clean that up now because you’re not going to win many games committing 10 penalties.

10. Final word on Sanders: What a tremendous second effort on that 24-yard run on a 3rd-and-2 with 2:21 left that essentially put the game away. Lions linebacker Derrick Barnes had his arms around Sanders and was about to stuff him for a loss, but Sanders showed toughness and grit busting away from Barnes and scooting down the field for one of the biggest plays of the day. Sanders, who missed nearly all of training camp, finished 13-for-96 with a couple catches for nine yards and a 105-yard scrimmage game. And most important… he didn’t get hurt. If Sanders plays like this, that new contract is going to come.

11. OK, bonus observation: Bradberry became the first Eagle with a pick-6 in his first game as an Eagle since Don Looney had a 31-yarder off Packers QB Cecil Isbell on opening day 1940 at the old City Stadium in Green Bay. And he became the first Eagle cornerback with a pick-6 on the road since Dimitri Patterson picked off Donovan McNabb at FedEx Field in that 59-28 game in 2010.

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