By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor
The Eagles came out on Sunday and stunned the Saints.
While it was great to see the Birds topple the top team in the NFC, that win was bittersweet.
It was bittersweet because it is exactly what fans have wanted to see from the team all year, but it came after the team all but flushed their season down the drain and benched Carson Wentz.
Make no mistake, Jalen Hurts played better than Wentz has so far this season, but everything seemingly was done in this game just to screw with the former No. 2 overall pick.
Once Hurts was sent out there, the playcalling became more aggressive and less predictable. Once Hurts was out there, Peters was benched and the ideal offensive line of Mailata and Herbig was finally in play and successfully protecting. Once Hurts was in there, the Eagles stuck to a run game. Once Hurts was out there, Miles Sanders wasn’t dropping every ball thrown his way. Once Hurts was out there, Alshon Jeffery decided to contribute not only by getting open once, but by blocking downfield. Once Hursts was in, rookie wideout Jalen Reagor has plays called for him that play to his strengths instead of running those plays for Greg Ward. Once Hurts was in, the defense got it’s first interception in the last seven games. Once Hurts was out there, the defense held the top team in the NFC to just 93 yards in the first half.
Not only that, but Hurts benefited from multiple “roughing the passer” calls that were so ticky tack that Wentz has been roughed 10 or more times a game by their definition.
All of that is not to say Hurts wasn’t good; he very obviously was. All of that is to say that the coaching staff of the Eagles put Huts in a position for him to succeeded, something they REFUSED to do for 13 straight weeks.
All I’m saying is if you’ve got a head coach that could change all of that in a single week and didn’t for 75% of a season and watched his franchise QB get hammered because of it, you don’t have a head coach deserving of the position.
With the win, Hurts moves the Eagles just one and a half games out of the division lead and pushes them from pick 5 to pick 9 in the draft.
On the flip side, Jim Sdcwartz’s secondary was bailed out by the fact that Drew Brees was back as the unit was barebones and the team benefitted from two Saints missed field goals that ultimately could have decided the game.
- With TJ Edwards out, the Eagles relied on Duke Riley in this game and he did not disappoint.
- Avonte Maddox left the game with injury and Kevon Seymour, who was promoted in the move that sent Jason Peters to IR, took over in the secondary with Michael Jacquet out for the game.
- Later on, Jalen Mills had to move into the corner position as Daruius Slay found himself injured and out of the game.
- At safety, the Eagles played Marcus Epps and K’Von Wallace extensively as Mills had to move to corner and McLeod was ruled out with his own knee injury.
- Malik Jackson also left the game with injury as did Derek Barnett. Barnett returned and Josh Sweat was promptly sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Buy: Jalen Hurts
Hurts absolutely had a ton of things going in his favor, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a good quarterback – he showed that he had that talent all on his own. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Hurts in this game was his ability and decision making to run the ball. He finished with 18 carries for 106 yards, making him just the second rookie QB to have more than 100 yards in his debut (Lamar Jackson was the first). He also took care of the ball in the air, going 17/30 for 167 yards and a touchdown. Those are clearly not the numbers of a potent passing game, but Hurts did very well to make sure not to give up an interception to the league’s top defense.
Hurts could improve on his quickness running plays to cut down on penalties and missed some throws, but had a very nice game overall.
Three other notes that should made Hurts look better: He completed a pass to Ertz that the officials inexplicably reviewed video proof of and subsequently called not a catch. He completed a big pass to Jalen Reagor, who did not dive for the ball and allowed it to fall incomplete (unfortunately, fans have seen both Reagor and Hightower do this numerous times this season). Finally, he suffered a fumble on one of the dumbest play calls that could be made as Doug Pederson called a QB run to try and run out the clock.
Sell: Jake Elliott
He’s bad. There isn’t much more to say. He missed another field goal in this game and as soon as the Eagles get to a point that they can save money by cutting him, the dude will be gone and no fan will blink an eye.
Buy: Duke Riley
Riley has not been good in his time this season and there is a reason he was behind TJ Edwards, but that did not matter on Sunday. Riley really stepped up against the Saints, notching six tackles (five solo) to go along with a defensed pass and an interception. Additionally, it should be mentioned that Riley, along with Jalen Mills, was among the only players to actually seek to recover the ball on the Saints’ onside kick. Those two prevented the Eagles from looking like the Falcons and probably losing the game.
Sell: Jalen Reagor
Reagor showed what he has been showing, but he also had a huge gain in this one that Hurts placed for him and he did not dive for it. Instead, he reached an arm out and barely touched it. All that touch served to do was show that it was a catchable ball and Reagor simply didn’t get it. That is not the type of effort you want to see from your first round pick. Otherwise, Reagor had a very solid game.
Buy: Nate Herbig
Herbig was a huge upgrade for the team and it simply cannot be overstated how major that was. Unlike Wentz, Hurts felt very little true pressure all game. While some of that can certainly be attributed to the development of Jordan Mailata, guard has been the Eagles weak spot all season long and Herbig was very obviously their best player at the position mid-season. He was consistent and effective the entire game and even managed to pave the way for Miles Sanders to role over him for a touchdown. The only question is why he was ever benched in the first place.
Sell: John Hightower
John Hightower was a healthy scratch in this game. Once Wentz’s “top” available target who played every snap, the rookie has a passer rating when targeted worse than throwing the ball away and found himself inactive as the team wanted JJAW and Quez Watkins available instead. His career would not seem to be looking up at this point.
- As outlined above, Doug Pederson made many changes that he should have been making all season in this game. This is the third time he’s completely change the offense for a new QB to succeed, but for some reason, he winds up with the most boring and poorly-called game plans when he has the same QB for more than a handful of games. There is no explanation for that.
- The past week has seen social media crucifying Howie Roseman as the bad guy. Consider looking at this game and realizing the talent that was very obviously brought in by Roseman (Mailata, Driscoll, Herbig, Reagor, Fulgham, Hargrave, Wallace, Riley, Singleton, Sanders, etc.) that has simply been sitting on the practice squad wasting away or not used in the proper manner. Roseman deserves blame, absolutely, but he put together a team with far more talent than fans get to see every week and that comes down to who the coach puts on the field and the plays he calls.
- I like that the Eagles are beating the top NFC team tonight – I don’t like dropping from pick 5 to 9 and possibly even worse assuming they beat anyone else. This team does not have the swagger of the 2017 team that would indicate they belong anywhere near the playoffs and for a team that will need to rebuild, save money and get younger starting in 2021, the difference between those picks is immense. Heck, the Eagles could trade pick 5 for pick 9 and additional first and second round picks. That’s a major loss.
- On a positive note, the offensive line appears to be coming a long way with Mailata, Herbig and Jack Driscoll. Those three have made it clear they are legitimate NFL linemen. With Brooks and Johnson back next year, that position group should only need a bit of added depth; and that is only if the Eagles think Prince Tega Wanogho, Brett Toth and Luke Juriga are not quality depth pieces that can be developed upon.
- The defensive line may lose Malik Jackson, Vinny Curry and Hassan Ridgeway in an attempt to save cap space, but the Eagles have to be happy with the development of Sweat and Hargrave within their system. If the team can get two of Curry, Barnett or Ridgeway to sign a deal with minimal cap implications in 2021, the team actually has a decent core to build out even then.
The Eagles will take on the Cardinals next week in Arizona, their final game against a non-NFC East team in the regular season.