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1 - Obviously the big question right now is how different does the offense with Jalen Hurts look?
Actually functional! And that’s certainly an upgrade from the broken state it was in before Carson Wentz got benched.
Hurts’ mobility obviously offers a different dynamic. The rookie was able to move the chains with his legs eight times against the Saints.
Hurts generally showed good accuracy as a passer, which allowed the Eagles to have their best YAC total of the season.
Most importantly, though, Hurts did a great job of avoiding negative plays. Whereas Wentz has been the NFL’s most sacked quarterback, Hurts did a good job of running out of pressure or just throwing the ball away. He did have a near pick-six that was dropped and he fumbled late in the game but he mostly played a smart, winning brand of football.
Of course, it’ll be interesting to see if Hurts can sustain success with the Cardinals now having film on him in the Eagles’ offense. The feeling here is that there will be more pressure on him to move the team with his arm and not just rely on his running ability. Teams are going to challenge him to beat them with his arm.
The Eagles hardly have some juggernaut offense with Hurts at the helm. But there’s at least some hope for it whereas there was none with Wentz.
2 - Outside of Hurts taking over for Wentz, the biggest story on offense has been the cavalcade of injuries the Eagles have dealt with. Which injury has been the hardest to overcome and which injury allowed someone unexpected to step up?
Offensive line injuries have been an issue for the Eagles dating back to when Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in June. It’s been pretty crazy, really. The Eagles are about to use their 13th different starting OL combination in 14 games!
Despite this constant churning, the offensive line hasn’t been a total disaster. They’ve actually performed pretty well relative to expectation. Still, it’s hard to have anything resembling an elite blocking unit with so much disruption. So, that discord has certainly contributed to some of the team’s offensive issues this year. One player who’s really stepped up in the midst of these changes is third-year player Jordan Mailata. The 2018 seventh-round pick had never even played a single snap of American football when the Eagles drafted him. They’ve done a great job of developing him into a real NFL player. He’s been a quality starter at left tackle and might even be able to overtake 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard as the long-term answer there.
3 - The Eagles defensive line is still terrifying and now Josh Sweat is emerging as well, I don’t have a question, can you just talk a little about how good that group is?
The Eagles don’t have that one dominant star pass rusher as much as they have a strong rotation. They have five different players with at least 4.5 sacks: Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett, and Javon Hargrave.
Graham hasn’t had a sack since Week 8 so he’s cooled off a little bit. But he’s always strong against the run and he’s probably due for a few more sacks down the stretch. More of a power rusher than a speed guy.
Cox should be well-known as a five-time Pro Bowler. I don’t think he’s quite the same player he was at his peak but he’s still disruptive.
Sweat was having a cold stretch with just one sack and four quarterback hits in his last eight games prior to Week 14. But then he really came alive against the Saints and made some big plays while going up against a top tackle in Terron Armstead. He’s not a full-time starter; the Eagles count on him to bring a lot of energy in limited playing time.
Barnett has six quarterback hits in his last two games despite playing through injury. The 2017 first-round pick is playing for a long-term contract.
Hargrave was looking like a free agent bust earlier in the season but he’s been better lately. Seems like he’s finally getting healthier after previously dealing with multiple injuries. Hargrave can bring some interior pass rush juice.
Malik Jackson and Vinny Curry are veterans who also can contribute.
Overall, it’s a strong defensive line. Their strength there certainly helped them beat the Saints.
4 - Doug Pederson isn’t in any kind of trouble yet, is he?
Ah, but he seemingly is. There’s a report out there that he’s on the hot seat.
I don’t think it’s totally undeserved. The Eagles clearly haven’t come close to being an elite offense and Pederson shares some of the blame for that.
But I think it’s hard to be a great schemer and play-caller when your quarterback is looking broken and awful. And given the amount of influence that Wentz has over the offense, I think Pederson has taken a disproportionate amount of blame for the Eagles’ struggles. I’d say that Wentz and general manager Howie Roseman deserve more blame for the team’s failures this year.
It’s sad, then, to think that the Eagles will potentially scapegoat their only Super Bowl winning head coach in franchise history. On the other hand, I kind of hope he’s able to leave and go to an organization that doesn’t disrespect him.
Perhaps Pederson can prevent the Eagles from firing him by finishing the season out strong with Hurts at quarterback. I just think the Eagles might be set on trying to fix Wentz. Kind of funny, though, since Pederson is 11-2 without Wentz at quarterback.
5 - Scouring the Eagles schedule, there’s been no real consistency to their highs and lows. Do you feel like you can make a prediction for this week, or are you taking things one game at a time?
The Eagles are still a bad football team despite beating the Saints. I probably shouldn’t lose sight out that and take them to win. But, screw it, I think Hurts makes the offense more functional and I think Jim Schwartz can find a way to have the defense be respectable despite their multiple secondary injuries. It’s hard to totally discount the Eagles from making a December run when we’ve seen it happen the past two years. I don’t think the Eagles are playoff bound since I think Washington will find a way to clinch the NFC East. But I do think Philly can win one or two more games down the stretch, including this week.