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January 02, 2023

John McMullen: Eagles' competitive advantage falls flat against New Orleans

The Eagles couldn't throw the Saints off the scent before their loss Sunday.

A middling team, the Saints (7-9) were actually eliminated from playoff contention Sunday despite their win over the Eagles, but like every NFL club, New Orleans has plenty of good players. Furthermore, while Philadelphia was losing good ones in recent weeks, the Saints were getting back one of their best in Marcus Lattimore.

And maybe it was apropos that Lattimore, the four-time Pro Bowl cornerback who hasn’t been in the lineup since Week 5, sniffed out a bad Gardner Minshew decision with 5:27 left in the game to seal the Eagles’ fate with a 12-yard pick-six.  

Callers to the local sports-talk stations pushed the panic button on Jonathan Gannon after the previous week’s loss in Dallas despite the world’s worst coordinator rolling out a defense that gives Philadelphia want it wants most: sacks. 

The Eagles set the franchise record for sacks against New Orleans with seven more to reach 68 this season, in shouting distance of the NFL record of 72 by the 1984 Chicago Bears. Of course, Gannon also often admits to the chagrin of the fan base that sacks are not a winning stat, something seemingly stamped by the fact 13 QB takedowns over the past two games have not stopped 13-1 from turning into 13-3. 

Over on social media, where Twitter degrees are substantive and wide-ranging with the average tweeter majoring in politics, with minors in epidemiology, orthopedics and sports science often put that expertise into action by discussing Jalen Hurts’ availability like their views are more credible than actual doctors.

But the best was the organization itself putting together a Thursday dog and pony show to spread disinformation it hoped seeped down to New Orleans for the all-important competitive advantage that was going to give Nick Sirianni and Co. a leg up.

Turns out Dennis Allen wasn’t staying up late at night wondering whether it was going to be Jack Driscoll, Jordan Mailata, or Andre Dillard at right tackle because he knew it wouldn’t be Lane Johnson, and also grasped that if he was prepared for Hurts that means his team would be just fine against a more limited QB. 

On Philadelphia’s first offensive play, Allen sent Kaden Ellis off the right edge resulting in a six-yard sack of Minshew, which brings up to the only real part of this whole equation that is tangible, the players.

It's well known that the Eagles have a history of playing poorly when Johnson is not on the field and when Minshew got got on play No. 1, with Ellis stealing the dude’s mojo like he was Dr. Evil with a time machine, Minshew was left reeling for the entire first half.

Somehow the NFL’s own Big Lebowski piloted an offense that still had A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, Miles Sanders, and four Pro Bowl-level linemen who were healthy into four consecutive three-and-outs before finally securing a first down 29:48 into the game.

The market correction was never made without Hurts to put the team on his back and maybe the signature to it all was failing on a fourth-and-1 sneak with Miles Sanders and Dallas Goedert desperately pushing Minshew forward.

Turns out that without Hurts’ 620-pound deadlift adding to the play Jason Kelce’s 92% analytically-tested QB sneak success rate ticked down to 91%.

Now the whole cycle starts over again for Week 18 with the irony of all ironies being that the Eagles need the game against the New York Giants, who are locked into the No. 6 seed and a likely first-round matchup with a very flawed Minnesota team, have nothing to play for. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has Dallas and San Francisco in a rear-view mirror where objects are truly closer than they appear.

Will he or won’t he when it comes to Hurts? Do you even need him if the Giants take the junior-varsity route? 
Does the offense need a tune-up? 

Are Johnson, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and Avonte Maddox in the mix for the playoffs or is that more disinformation?

Are they the five seed and another Tampa trip to face Tom Brady Dante’s 10th stage of hell?

Start your engines. There’s plenty of time to talk about it. 

John McMullen is a contributor to and covers the Eagles and the NFL for Sports Illustrated and JAKIB Sports. He’s also the co-host of “Birds 365,” a daily streaming show covering the Eagles and the NFL, and the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at
Follow John on Twitter here.