Published by: Bear Acuda
Last Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles walked off the field at Lincoln Financial Field in a state of shock, having been dismantled by their top competitor challenging the defense of their NFC crown, the San Francisco 49ers (10-3). Questions surrounded the organization asking how a one-loss team (10-1 before last Sunday), at the very top of the NFL, could’ve been routed so badly on their home turf, in front of their home crowd. Many fans chalked it up to a “mulligan”; just a fluke of a game where everything went wrong for the home team and everything went right for the away team.
So, even after a disastrous loss, hopes were high in Philly in anticipation of the needed “rebound game”. It would give the Eagles a chance to re-establish their dominance over the league, and show the NFL world that last week was merely a fluke. Who better to do it to than their hated rival, the Dallas Cowboys (10-3)? I
It was a gift from the football Gods: they’d get the opportunity to play a primetime game in front of a national audience on Sunday Night Football (SNF), on the rival turf of a divisional opponent, with that rival win away from replacing them atop the NFC East. Winners love these types of games: strangle the life out of the one vying for your crown in front of the whole court; step on their throats and watch them weeze their way to the finish line, all in front of a national audience If any game could’ve helped Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni straighten the ship, it would be this SNF game.
Unfortunately for the Birds, the Cowboys had something different in mind; the Eagles would fail to seize the moment. And after a wire-to-wire win by the home team, where the away team was bludgeoned for four quarters, the Eagles and their fans were once again left with more questions than answers.
A week ago, it was an embarrassing 42-19 defeat at the Link against the 49ers. This weekend, it would be a 33-13 loss to the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium that saw the Eagles removed from their NFC East throne. This marks a concerning trend of the Eagles being unable to secure wins over the Cowboys: for the 12th consecutive season, the Eagles will be unable to sweep the Cowboys. Even more fretful, the Eagles have lost the last six games played in “Jerry World”, with four of those being blowouts of +20 points.
Surprisingly, despite all these setbacks, the Eagles still have all their goals in front of them, albeit, they will need some help. They still have a viable path to clinch the NFC East title and secure at least the second seed in the NFC by defeating teams that currently hold losing records.
Here are 5 takeaways from last nights game, and what is needed moving forward:
- 1. The Eagles’ defense has been underperforming, allowing points in ten consecutive drives across two games. This is a drastic shift from last season, and even their earlier season form, where they were once ranked sixth in defense closing Week 7. Since then, they’ve been the second-worst defense in the NFL, averaging around 369 yards of offense given up per game which has led to over 30 points allowed per game.
- 2. The offense has also taken a step back, specifically QB1 Jalen Hurts. After failing to score an offensive touchdown against Dallas and only managing 19 against the 49ers, the offense puts the “skid” in “skidmark” . This is surprising considering the offensive talent the team possesses; they have the best offensive line in football, they are littered with All-Pros like A.J Brown, Jason Kelce, and Lane Johnson. They have not seen to fill the void left in the running game by the departure of their Pro-Bowl running back Miles Sanders (RB1 for the Carolina Panthers). Even the average fan knows, when the defense is outscoring the offense, there are some serious problems on the offensive side of the ball.
- 3. Quarterback Jalen Hurts’ increasing turnover problem is a concern. Hurts protected the ball much better early in the season, but now seems to have butter-fingers. Normally, turnovers from the quarterback position come from interceptions, but when you have a dynamic rusher like Hurts, the flip-side of that is there is an elevated risk of fumbles. In his first three seasons, Hurts fumbled the ball only six times on 2,316 snaps. In 13 games this season, Hurts has lost five on 386 snaps (that’s one every 176 times he runs a play). This can’t hold up. Last night, he failed to protect the ball while looking to slide after an amazing run. The run had them in scoring position, and in a 7-0 ballgame on the road, maintaining (or quelling) momentum is like having a 12th man on the field. Hurts was unable to shake his turnover and continued his bad play, missing deep ball after deep ball (specifically a touchdown pass to Devonte Smith late in the second half). The Eagles go as Hurts goes. A bad Hurts = stats in the loss column.
- 4. Despite the recent losses, the Eagles still have the opportunity to win their division and secure a high seed by winning their remaining games. Heading into their match with Dallas, they were the #1 overall seed. What does that mean? Well, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is what it means, or should I say, what it meant. After last nights debacle, they dropped to the #5 seed. The Cowboys have a much tougher schedule of the remaining four games. They play the Bills (7-6), the Dolphins (9-3), the Lions (9-4), and a garbage Redskins team (4-9, bottom of the NFC East). In comparison, the Eagles play a couple of birds in the Cardinals (3-10) & the Seahawks (6-7) and the Giants (4-9) twice.
- 5. Reset button. Head coach Nick Sirianni faces a significant challenge in keeping the team motivated and confident after these consecutive heavy losses. For bad coaches, losses like these can linger. It will be important for Sirianni and his staff to put together a good game plan and get a strong week of practice out of his players. No major changes need to happen. They still have studs at every level of the defense, and can get pressure on the quarterback with only rushing four, but the defense needs to play more sound and take more pride in their rush defense. Gap integrity is crucial, and while the highly-praised defensive tackles are constantly recognized for their ability to pressure the quarterback and blow-up run plays, sometimes, they need to play less “hero ball” and more “team concept” when attacking the rush offense. This means less trying to get in the backfield right away and more eating up blockers, so they can free up the inside linebackers to make clean plays, attacking down-hill.
- The offense just needs to get back to the basics: run Jalen Hurts more on option choices that take him outside the boundary instead of only the “counter QB draw” they’ve been running, albeit successfully. They also need to run the ball more consistently to take pressure off Hurts so he doesn’t have to be Superman every play. Last night, Hurts looked like Year 8 Cam Newton instead of his normal Year 3. Having tight end Dallas Goedert back should massively help the struggling offense. They also need to get A.J. Brown involved early & often with short comeback & drag routes before they take their predictable deep shots. He’s basically a tight end with track star speed. So, design plays where he is in-line as the outside tight end in heavy formations or bunched with Goedert & Stoll. Let him body up some of these smaller DBs and then find him on seam routes for easy reads/completions for Hurts (who, by now, all defensive coordinators in the NFL know he likes to throw outside the boundaries). And Sirianni must use more motion in his offense, specifically with Devonte Smith. Smith is a firecracker who excelled at Alabama due to the creative ways Steve Sarkesian drew up passing plays using Smith as the motion man. He is like a jitterbug, and with a running start, should be able to beat most defensive backs to whatever spot Jalen needs him to get to.
The Eagles are still the cream in the coffee cup of both the NFC East and the NFL. They have an extra day of preparation this week because of their primetime game on MNF in Seattle against the Seahawks next monday. Decompress, wipe the slate clean, and take care of business for that day. Because if you don’t take care of today’s business today, you can’t take care of tomorrow’s business. Seems simple, so keep it that way, Coach.
What do you think:
Are the Eagles still the top team in the NFL?
For me, right now, I’d have to say no. But I could be convinced. Let me hear your arguments for why or why not in the section below, or follow us on: