Good morning. A familiar feeling is back in Philadelphia on the morning after an Eagles victory. The Eagles opened the season with an 18-12 win over the Atlanta Falcons that offered a few flashbacks to their Super Bowl run. Doug Pederson will have a noon news conference Friday, and then the Eagles will be off this weekend before beginning preparations for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week.
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— Zach Berman
Sitting by his locker earlier this week, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said Thursday's game would begin to reveal the personality of this team. Last year's Super Bowl team proved to be resilient and tough-minded, but it was not a given that this year's group would have that same identity.
One game isn't conclusive, but it is revealing. And what the Eagles showed in Thursday's 18-12 win over the Atlanta Falcons was what they displayed throughout last season: They just find a way.
"I think it's good to see the poise," Jenkins said. "That comes from the leadership. That comes from the fact that a lot of us have been there."
The Eagles won an ugly game against a good team. They made the necessary plays in the fourth quarter, they overcame mistakes, and when the pressure was on, they delivered. The way they played wasn't nearly as impressive as the way they competed. Even when mistakes accumulated or when they put themselves in bad situations (turnovers and penalties were a problem), they found a way to respond. The difference between those teams playing late into January and those that finish the season in Week 17 can often be that characteristic.
"The biggest thing, again, no panic on the sideline," coach Doug Pederson said. "Resiliency. Toughness. Hanging with each other through all the ups and downs, ebbs and flows of the game, mistakes and penalties, turnover. Just the guys hanging together. There was no panic tonight."
My biggest takeaway from the way they played was how tough this defense appears to be. Jim Schwartz always talks about how scoring defense is what he cares about, and that's not just lip service. The Eagles might give up yards, but they don't give up many points – especially at home. In the last six games at Lincoln Financial Field (including the playoffs), the Eagles have allowed an average of seven points.
The story of the game was the red-zone defense. The Falcons made five trips inside the red zone and had only one touchdown and one field goal to show for it. The Eagles stopped them on downs twice and had an interception. That's the way to compensate for what was a sluggish offense.
"It's probably the game, the deciding factor," Pederson said. "They got down there and bowed their neck and made several big stops for us. That's what it takes, I think, early in the season like this until your offense really kind of gets on track and gets going a little bit."
It was not a good night overall for the offense. Nick Foles must play better, and if you're keeping track of the high-variance nature of his career, he had a quarterback rating of 50.7. But Foles also made a few clutch plays, including his third-down catch on "Philly Philly." The wide receivers need Alshon Jeffery back because of the attention he requires and play-making ability he offers on the outside. Pederson waited too long to get Jay Ajayi involved (three carries in the first half, 12 in the second half). But the Eagles talk often about situational football, and I give the offense credit for those areas. They were 2 for 3 in the red zone and 8 for 16 on third downs. Those are encouraging numbers, and if the Eagles remain efficient on third down and in the red zone, the result will look good even if there's sluggishness.
That goes back to the team's resilience. After an ugly first half, they were down only three points. After two costly second-half turnovers, they still took a late lead. And when the Falcons had a chance to win in the final minute, the Eagles wouldn't let them. The front page of the Daily News on Friday morning read "DEJA-WHEW!" and the front of The Inquirer sports section read "FAMILIAR FINISH." Those are telling headlines for a game that offered reminders of last year's team. Considering that group has a Super Bowl banner hanging in Lincoln Financial Field, there's no greater compliment.
Alshon Jeffery's statistics didn't resemble those of an elite No. 1 wide receiver last season, but his presence did. Defenses must play the Eagles differently when Jeffery is on the field. This is not a season-ending injury, and when they get him back, it will help the entire wide-receiver corps. There should be no concern about Nelson Agholor, and he'll keep getting better this season. Mike Wallace is very good for a team's third receiver. But they need Jeffery for everyone to fit in the right spots. With Mack Hollins on IR, DeAndre Carter, Shelton Gibson, and Markus Wheaton move up the depth chart. The Eagles had a top three of Agholor-Wallace-Carter on Thursday. That's not imposing. They can work out a free agent if they want the depth, but the best addition will be Jeffery.
It depends on what you consider a big year. I think Jay Ajayi will have a productive season and will be the best running back on the team. He runs hard, and the Eagles need to feed him. But I don't think he'll challenge for the rushing title. Ajayi had 15 carries for 62 yards Thursday. He'll probably get somewhere between 15 and 20 carries per game, although he's capable of handling more. He'll likely gain 60-90 yards per game, with an outlier or two in both directions.
If he stays close to healthy, he can top 1,000 yards. Let's say he plays 14 games this season. He'll need to average 71.4 yards per game to get to 1,000. That's certainly possible. And if he plays 15 or 16 games, he has more margin for error. So I think he'll have a productive season. Touchdowns matter, too. He already has two.