On Sunday against the Colts, Eagles fans got what they wished for as Carson Wentz returned to the field as the starting quarterback for the first time since tearing his ACL last year. Although Wentz didn’t put up the gaudy numbers Eagles fans are used to seeing, he certainly played well enough to deserve the win and had an overall encouraging performance. Wentz went 25 of 37 passing with 255 yards with a touchdown and an interception. While those numbers may seem rather pedestrian, Wentz’s encouraging performance stems more from his execution of the offense, the confidence he displayed standing in the pocket and making throws, and the mobility he briefly showed off.
— BleedingGreenNation (@BleedingGreen) September 23, 2018
Carson doing Carson things pic.twitter.com/jBALbxnawL
— Tyler Jackson (@TjackRH) September 23, 2018
Wentz’s only interception of the day came when he tried to fit in a ball to Zach Ertz in a tight window. Ertz was running an option route in the middle of the field where he had the option to either run straight up the middle and then turn and sit in an open spot in the zone, or plant his foot and run towards the sideline to turn the route into an out instead of a hitch. Ertz chose to plant and sprint for the sideline but Colts linebacker Anthony Walker read the play perfectly and jumped the route to make the interception. Plays like that happen to even elite quarterbacks at least occasionally in today’s pass-happy NFL, and it was Wentz’s first game back since tearing his ACL.
Carson Wentz makes his first mistake and it leads to an Indy FG. Nice play in the end zone by Mills on Ebron. Besides his pi in the first half, Mills has been good. pic.twitter.com/efChB82S2e
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) September 23, 2018
Wentz was not the only Eagle to show signs of progress Sunday as teammate Dallas Goedert went off for the best performance of his young NFL career as he reeled in all seven of his targets for 73 yards and a TD. Goedert consequently led all Eagles receivers, which was a function of a deliberate game plan by the Eagles. Prior to Sunday, Goedert had played 34 total snaps and was on the field for only 23 percent of offensive plays. Against the Colts, Goedert played 55 of 82 total offensive snaps (67 percent). The only skill players with higher snap counts were Zach Ertz (81) and Nelson Agholor (80).
Side note: Jordan Matthews played 33 snaps and caught two passed for 21 yards in his return game as an Eagle. While we are talking about snap counts, it is worth nothing that the entire offensive line played all 82 offensive snaps and protected Wentz generally well throughout the contest. If the offensive line has that kind of stamina and consistency throughout the season, the sky is the limit on the Eagles potential.
The offense’s performance against the Colts was promising but not stellar. On a rainy day in Philadelphia, it was most likely the defense that put the Eagles on top in this contest. The defense consistently came up with clutch stops (especially in the redzone) that prevented the Colts from breaking the 20-point barrier. The Eagles have been exceptional defending the redzone at home, as they have held their past five home opponents to under 20 points. Thus far into the season, the Eagles D ranks eighth in points allowed (18.3), ninth in yards allowed (314.7), second in third-down conversion rate (27.0), and second in red-zone efficiency (33.3 percent).
After getting torched last week on the opening play by DeSean Jackson, Jalen Mills had a bounce-back performance as he was second on the team in tackles with five solos on the day and he played well in coverage throughout the game. Mills was even responsible for one of the key redzone stops that won the Eagles the game. Midway through the third quarter with the game tied at 10, the Colts tried to take advantage of a perceived mismatch by throwing a fade on third and six to tight end Eric Ebron while he was matched up on the smaller-bodied Mills. However, Mills timed his jump perfectly and was all over Ebron as he swatted the ball way to force a field goal. Mills’ development will continue to be a storyline as Eagles fans continue to weigh his inconsistency and potential.
Fletcher Cox had another impressive performance as he was a consistent disrupting force in the middle of the line throughout the game. Cox has 2.5 sacks so far this season, was fifth on the Eagles in tackles on Sunday, and has done it all while playing 163 of 187 total defensive snaps (87.2 percent). Last year, Cox only played 66.5 percent of the defense’s snaps during the regular season but then played 86 percent during the playoffs.
So Cox is already eclipsing that playoff percentage in the first three weeks of the season. This will either lead to a more polished and more productive Fletcher Cox, or it will lead to Cox getting injured or becoming too fatigued to play as many snaps as he did during last year’s playoffs. Time will tell.
Both of the Eagles wins have come down to the final play, but as long as the defense keeps up its stellar redzone play the Eagles will keep outscoring their opponents when it counts. So far, the Eagles have outscored their three opponents 22-9 in the fourth quarter, and the offense might be getting two of its key players back sooner than you think. During his Monday press conference, Dough Pederson mentioned that both Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles could be available next week when the Eagles take on the Titans. Pederson said, “They’re both day to day right now. We’ll evaluate them again tomorrow when the players are in and see. But I would expect, barring any setbacks, they would both be available”.