THE PASS RUSH
The pocket wasn’t a very comfortable place for Kirk Cousins on Sunday. The Eagles effectively shut down the Redskins’ ground game, holding their running backs to 34 yards on 13 carries.
Washington averaged a puny 2.2 yards on first down, which set up a lot of second- and third-and-longs, which allowed the Eagles’ front four to focus on pressuring Cousins, which they did.
Cousins, who was sacked just 23 times last season, was sacked four times by the Eagles. Two of them resulted in fumbles, including one with a minute-and-a-half left that Fletcher Cox returned for a game-clinching touchdown.
He was pressured repeatedly much of the afternoon as defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz mixed in a healthy dose of blitzes to go with a tenacious rush from his front four.
Jordan Hicks’ A-gap blitz on a third-and-6 play early in the fourth quarter when the Redskins had the ball at the Eagles’ 14-yard line contributed to Jalen Mills’ game-swinging interception in the end zone.
Defensive end Brandon Graham had two sacks, including the big one in the fourth quarter that caused the fumble that Cox returned for a TD. He totally dominated Redskins right tackle Morgan Moses. Vinny Curry also had a solid game.
HOW ‘BOUT THEM THIRD-AND-LONGS?
Doug Pederson and Frank Reich have repeatedly said that one of the keys for the Eagles’ offense this season is cutting down on third-and-longs. Last year, 46 percent of their third-down situations – 103 of 224 — were 8 yards or more. That was the third most in the NFL. Only the 1-15 Browns (113) and the 2-14 49ers (104) had more.
On Sunday, the Eagles still found themselves in way too many third-and-longs. Eight of their 14 third-down situations were 8 yards or more. The difference this time was they were able to convert a bunch of them. Four to be exact, including Carson Wentz’s 58-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor on third-and-12 on the Eagles’ opening drive, a 30-yard Wentz completion to Torrey Smith on a third-and-10 early in the third quarter that kept alive a drive that resulted in the second of Caleb Sturgis’s three field goals, and a 23-yard fourth-quarter catch by Zach Ertz on third-and-10 that helped swing field position at a critical time.
Wentz was 5-for-7 for 122 yards, four first downs and a touchdown on third-and-8 or more against the Redskins. Last season, he had one touchdown pass and 19 first-down throws the entire season on third-and-8-plus.
Wentz’s ability to extend plays is going to be an asset to both him and the Eagles as his career develops. It certainly was evident on Sunday against the Redskins.
The Eagles’ pass-protection was spotty much of the day. But Wentz’s size and mobility helped him buy extra time on several occasions and make big plays.
One of them was his 58-yard touchdown pass to Agholor on the Eagles’ opening drive. He managed to spin away from Redskins linebacker Preston Smith and elude defensive end Jonathan Allen.
Agholor had lined up in the slot and run a post route. When Wentz started to scramble, Agholor started toward the line of scrimmage, then pivoted and broke downfield.
Distracted by Wentz’s scrambling, Redskins linebacker Mason Foster and safety D.J. Swearinger both lost track of Agholor, who was wide-open.
In the fourth quarter, with the Eagles clinging to a two-point lead, Wentz completed a 23-yard pass to tight end Zach Ertz on a third-and-10 after spinning away from Redskins linebacker Zach Brown.
Ertz, covered by safety Deshazor Everett, had run a short out route to the left side. But as Wentz ran toward him with Brown and another Redskins linebacker, Junior Galette, in pursuit, he signaled Ertz to take off downfield. Everett was slow to react and Wentz hit Ertz in stride for a first down.
The drive eventually stalled near midfield, but the play helped the Eagles swing field position and pin the Redskins against their own goal line.
NEXT MAN UP
The Eagles lost their best cornerback, Ronald Darby, late in the first quarter when he dislocated his right ankle. But on this day, at least, they were able to overcome his absence.
Malcolm Jenkins rotated between safety and the slot. Cornerback Patrick Robinson, who was supposed to play mainly inside before Darby got hurt, played both inside and outside. Jaylen Watkins, a safety until two weeks ago, played 15 snaps, most of them on the outside. And Mills played with the kind of consistency that Schwartz wants to see out of him this year.
Mills’ interception in the end zone early in the fourth quarter after the Redskins had driven down to the Philadelphia 14-yard line was a game-changing play. He did a superb job on the Redskins’ 6-5, 235-pound wideout, Terrelle Pryor. Pryor had just six catches for 66 yards.
The Eagles also effectively neutralized the Redskins’ dangerous tight end, Jordan Reed, and slot receiver Jamison Crowder. Reed had just 36 yards on five catches. Crowder had three catches for 14 yards.
ERTZ AND AGHOLOR
Alshon Jeffery had a quiet Eagles debut. He was targeted seven times but had just three catches for 38 yards. Part of that was the nice job Redskins cornerbacks Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland did on Jeffery, and part of it was the still-developing chemistry between Jeffery and Wentz.
On Sunday, at least, the Eagles didn’t need a big day from Jeffery. Wentz leaned on tight end Zach Ertz and slot receiver Nelson Agholor in the passing game. Ertz had eight catches for 93 yards. Agholor had six catches for 86 yards, including the early 58-yard touchdown.
Ertz and Agholor combined for 10 of the Eagles’ 17 passing first downs. Ertz had six, Agholor four.
Four of Agholor’s six receptions came on third down. Three resulted in first downs. Last year, Agholor had six third-down catches the entire season. His six catches and 86 receiving yards Sunday both are career highs.