Game ball of the Eagles: Darius Slay lives up to his namesake “Big Play”.

FOXBORO, MA During training camp, PhillyVoice handed out a “game ball” to an Eagles offensive and defensive player after each practice. That carries over into the regular season. Here’s more on how DeVonta Smith, Darius Slay and, in a new form, Jake Elliott contributed to the Eagles’ 25-20 victory over the Patriots…

Offensive play ball: WR DeVonta Smith

DeVonta Smith’s elite attribute is his footwork, which translates into great route running where he always seems to be in the perfect position for his quarterback. This was evident in Jalen Hurts’ touchdown catch in the first quarter:

On a day when the Eagles’ passing attack was far from its 2022 peak, Smith was instrumental in the win, totaling 47 yards on seven catches. He came out of his breaks with ease as his trademark comeback path looked as good as ever.

Before the season, the over/under in catches for Smith was 80.5. He had 95 last season. He’s already at 119 pace.

Defensive play ball: CB Darius Slay

After a lukewarm 2020 season in which basically everything went wrong for the Birds, Darius Slay began to move on from his “Big Play Slay” namesake in 2021, making the Pro Bowl squad and scoring two defensive return touchdowns , each of which led to victories for the Eagles.

The Eagles’ first forced turnover of 2023 was a pick-6 by Slay. After a Mac Jones throw deflected off New England receiver Kendrick Bourne’s hands, Slay returned the baby 70 yards to the house, giving the Eagles a 10-0 lead.

Slay loves to joke at practice that he should get reps at receiver, and he even did so briefly during the “Tuesday Night Football” affair in 2021.

It changed the nature of the game. It gave the Eagles breathing room when the offense struggled. That built-in advantage and tremendous reinforcement from the Eagles’ defense carried them through this dry spell full of three-and-out shots.

An underrated piece from Slay on Sunday…

Midway through the second quarter, Jones looked to Bourne on the right sideline after a seemingly effortless touchdown. Slay showed remarkable recovery time as he caught up with the receiver. Jones threw it a little, but Slay got his hands on the ball and disrupted what could have been a huge gain.

If Week 1 is any indication of how this season will go for the Eagles, they will be vulnerable to throws over the middle because of shaky linebacker and safety play. Against this background, it is even more important for Slay to fend off the opponent’s best passing targets.

Special teams play: K Jake Elliott

I didn’t give out a special teams game ball during training camp, but I’m making a point to add one for Jake Elliott after this performance. The Eagles’ offense was sluggish and he missed an extra point attempt in the rainy portion of the game, but he made it. Elliott had a four-for-four performance on field goals of 32, 56, 48 and 51 yards. He deserves his flowers.

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