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Figuring out why the Eagles' offense keeps sputtering in the first half

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First half vs. the Chiefs: Seven points, 78 yards of offense, 0-for-3 on third down, 20 net passing yards, one turnover.

First half vs. the Bills: Seven points, 99 yards of offense, 0-for-4 on third down, 30 net passing yards, two turnovers.

Slow starts? The last couple weeks, the Eagles have made slow starts an art form.

They've been horrible.

They sputtered and stumbled and staggered to 10-point deficits in both games, only to wake up in the second half and come back and win both games.

Second half vs. the Chiefs: 14 points, 160 yards of offense, 3-for-8 on third down, 104 net passing yards, no turnovers.

Second half vs. the Bills: 30 points, 279 yards of offense, 4-for-7 on third down, 163 net passing yards, no turnovers.

They outscored the Chiefs 14-0 in the second half and outscored the Bills 30-17 in the second half and overtime, and while the Eagles were thrilled to bounce back and win both games – only the third time in franchise history they’ve won back-to-back games after trailing by double digits at halftime – they know if they keep getting off to these sluggish starts it’s going to eventually catch up with them.

“We've just got to find a rhythm,” offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said. “Initially, it's just about the first first down. And I think really you've just got to think really short term of, what can we do to get the first one going? And then we can roll a little bit.

“Obviously the last two weeks for us haven't been great. ... And that's something that we've got to continue to look at, continue to improve upon.”

The Eagles had the 6th-best 1st-half offense going into the Chiefs game at 13.1 points per game. So this is a relatively recent issue.

What’s surprising about the slow starts is that the first few drives are the plays that Nick Sirianni, Johnson and the other offensive coaches script during the week. 

It’s not until the Eagles get into the unscripted plays that the offense has been kicking into gear.

It’s great that the adjustments are working. But it shouldn’t take a half to jumpstart the offense.

“We spend a lot of time on openers and things that we like, but when you mix that with what the defense is doing and trying to figure out what their game plan is as well, it becomes a little bit of a chess match,” Johnson said.

“So for me it will always be about adjustments and how can you find the next answer. So when you script these openers, obviously you want them to be really successful and you want to go down and score. 

"But a lot of times, too, I think one of the key components is what kind of information are you finding for later in the game? And what kind of information are you finding to help you adjust and help you put your players in the best situation possible?"

A few key stats:

• The Eagles are averaging just 4.2 yards per play on first down before halftime in their last two games but 6.3 yards on first down after halftime. 

• They’re average third down before halftime has been 3rd-and-9, and they actually averaged negative yardage on their eight third downs against the Chiefs and Bills – minus-5 yards on eight plays equals about negative 22 inches per third down. After halftime on third down in the same two games, they’re averaging 5.8 yards per play.

• Jalen Hurts these last two games is 9-for-18 for just 79 yards with no TD passes, two INTs and a 22.5 passer rating in the first half, and he’s 23-for-35 for 271 yards with three TD passes, no INTs and a 117.7 passer rating.

After the win over the Bills, Sirianni talked about the first half-second half disparity.

“Really excited for our guys on offense that just put their head down and kept going,” he said. “That’s mental toughness. I already know this team, this Philadelphia Eagles team is physically tough. You get mentally more tough throughout the year when you go through ups and downs.

“Man, that was a down first half, but we have a mentally tough group as well as physically tough group that just stuck with it and kept fighting, and it turned.”

The Eagles did have one nice touchdown drive in each of these last two games. But on their other four 1st-half drives they netted 38 yards on 10 drives. That’s less than four yards per drive. 

Once they get going, they’re fine.

It’s just taking them too long to get going.

“I think just really it comes down to moving the chains and putting yourself in a position to get the first first-down,” Johnson said.

“Sometimes it's just as simple as putting all your focus on, ‘How can we get these 10 yards to get it going?’ Obviously, the more plays we run, the more opportunities our guys have to make plays. And that's something that we just have to be really aware of.”

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