After a terrible 2-5 start to the season, many in the sports world counted the Eagles as dead in the water. But after going 7-3 with a fantastic late season rally they find themselves in a Wild Card playoff seeding that should strike terror in the hearts of any opponent that comes up against them. But what was it that propelled their hot streak? Let’s look at some of the things that made them go from what looked like fielding a top seven pick in April to a possible post-season playoff run.
Jalen Hurts IS the Future
No matter what happens in the playoffs one thing is clear – Jalen Hurts has earned the starting job in one of the toughest sports cities in the country. And with his first starting season almost in the rearview, one thing is clear – Jalen Hurts deserves a legitimate shot at being the Eagles’ QB1 of the future. And with a rapidly improving wide receiving core headed up by Devonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, and Greg Ward this offense will be dangerous if the franchise can keep this nucleus on the same page.
With his on-field accomplishments and the future promise he clearly shows, Eagles management would be foolish not to give him full reign. It’s common in the NFL for running quarterbacks not to have their skills figured out by opposing defenses, but that’s where many don’t give Hurts enough credit. He is clearly a pass-first quarterback, only making plays with his legs when necessary or devised. And when he does get on the move it’s downright scary, reminiscent of past Eagles QB greats like Cunningham, McNabb, and Vick.
Best Rushing Game in the NFL
Rookie head coach Nick Sirianni was criticized early in the season for not running the rock enough. That all changed after the Eagles’ abysmal 2-5 start. The versatile, multi-headed rushing attack drastically changed halfway through the season, with the combined talents of Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, Boston Scott, and rookie Kenny Gainwell all contributing. And let’s not forget Hurts’ 784 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs. He is the second most prolific running quarterback in the league, behind only Lamar Jackson. And with the perennially potent offensive line they are straight up clobbering opposing defenses. Even the newcomers like Herbig and Dickerson are contributing, making Eagles fans wonder “Peters, who?”
One of the biggest reasons the Eagles’ ground game is so deadly is because it’s so versatile. Miles Sanders provides the explosiveness and agility along with a receiving threat, Jordan Howard is the bruising beast that just wears a defense down, and Boston Scott is so deadly quick and elusive. Factor in the fact that Jalen Hurts is fast, agile, and strong and you have a magical recipe.
But what was the scheme change that led to such an uplift in rushing offensive production? For starters, they started leaning on the zone-read ideology utilized by multiple NFL teams, and the same strategy that is so prevalent in college. The offensive game plan is so unique to the team that it is difficult for opponents to defend. Versatile and ever-changing, it’s a tough scheme that goes way beyond the game tape.
Let’s not get it twisted. The defense is the real reason the Eagles squeaked into the playoffs. There were several games where the offense was barely sputtering through the first half. The defense kept them alive, allowing for multiple second half rallies (more on that below). They have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, with the combination of Fletcher Cox, Josh Sweat, and Javon Hargrave straight up bullying opposing teams’ offensive lines.
And the secondary issues seem to be fading into the past. Darius Slay is having a career season, with an 85.9 PFF coverage grade. He’s only giving up a 73.9 passer rating when targeted and has a handful of defensive scores. The addition of Anthony Harris and the return of Rodney McCleod from injury last year combined with the continued improvement of Avonte Maddox and Marcus Epps have paid dividends, keeping the struggling 1st-half offense in multiple games.
While we’re talking about the defense, let’s look at probably the most improved element of that – the linebackers. As a team not traditionally known for great backing, this group of upstarts has showed some extreme promise this year. T.J. Edwards had a breakout season, and newcomer Genard Avery made an immediate impact. They might not be the biggest or baddest bunch around, but they get the job done. Their ability to help out on the run and in pass coverage means that they can shift, swap, and swarm their way to wherever the ball ends up. They’re not without weakness, but are the perfect fit for a bulky defensive line and a perfect complement to the speedy secondary.
2nd Half Team
There were plenty of Eagles fans sweating by halftime in a lot of games this year, even against seemingly inferior teams. Some even called for the benching of Hurts in favor of the more pure pocket passer, former starter, and perhaps the most capable backup in the league – Gardner Minshew. But in said games the Eagles came out of halftime with an intensity in all three phases that turned the tide. This is far from new. Even as far back as the Andy Reid era, the team has traditionally been stronger in the second half than the first. You might say it’s a Philly thing. But it doesn’t diminish the team’s ability to analyze, strategize, and execute – no matter who their opponent might happen to be.
This agility should serve them well as they face perhaps their biggest test of the season – Tom Brady and the (albeit somewhat depleted) reigning Super Bowl champions in Tampa this Sunday in the Wild Card round.
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