November 05, 2023
Before the Eagles-Cowboys game Sunday afternoon, I was talking to (PhillyVoice deputy sports editor) Shamus Clancy — and I mentioned that the Eagles are probably the best team in the NFL, simply by default.
It's not because they're dominant, or exceptional, or special, but because the rest of the NFL just is unimpressive.
A 28-23 win against the high-powered Dallas Cowboys in Week 9 might have changed things.
Philly flexed its strengths (stopping the run, controlling the football and moving it with Jalen Hurts), while exploiting several the Cowboys may not have known they had. And as a result, the Eagles are 8-1 and riding high as some much deserved rest is ahead with their bye week.
That means a lot of airtime to fill for local talk radio hosts, and a potentially subdued banter as Eagles fans get their daily fix. Or maybe not — this is Philadelphia after all. Yes, they almost blew the game in disastrous fashion, but they didn't. Here are three headlines we expect to see a whole lot of during the next two weeks:
With their huge win under the national spotlight Sunday, the Eagles are now in full control of the NFC East as well as a first round playoff bye (for the second straight season). Yes, it's pretty early for talk of playoff seeding but the Eagles could not be better positioned as they rest for 14 days prior to a Super Bowl rematch with the Chiefs on Monday, November 20.
The Cowboys are now 2.5 games back in the division and there are no other threats:
The prize of a week off in mid January before hosting playoff games as the 1-seed seems to also be something the Eagles are firmly in command of, though there are a few contenders in the NFC at large like the Lions, whom the Eagles will not play this season. The 49ers will come to town in December in a meeting that could determine NFC seeding and home-field advantage. A look at the NFC as a whole:
Don't be surprised to see the Eagles as Super Bowl betting favorites.
Jalen Hurts was elite last season — and in serious MVP contention until he sustained a minor injury at the end of the season. He's been good, and at points very good in 2023, but hasn't quite held onto the elite accolades from last season.
With the Eagles' loaded roster he really hasn't had to. While he remains among the top five quarterbacks in the NFL, he has looked to be slightly off his game at times this season. And it makes sense as to why. Hurts has nursed a knee injury and has been beaten up pretty badly.
It looked like it might be game over at the end of the first half when he was very slow to get up and limped off the field after taking a hit to his lower body. He stayed in the game and handed the ball off once before trotting gingerly to the locker room before the rest of the Birds did. But he came back fine.
After returning to the field with fans holding their breath, all the resilient quarterback did was lead the Eagles to a go-ahead touchdown drive that saw him scramble a bunch, keep an RPO himself, and throw this dart to the speedy DeVonta Smith:
The Eagles defense is overall, a very solid unit. They are the best against the run in the NFL and that stood tall Sunday. They're also excellent at rushing the passer. And for a 8-win team, they've done what it takes to win football games.
In Week 9, however, they showed once again one of their biggest weaknesses — third down. Heading into their afternoon duel with Dallas Philly ranks as one of the worst teams in football when the pressure is on:
|Third down defense||43%||25th|
|Third downs per game||12.5||25th|
Philadelphia has possessed the ball so much that it also sees the 8th fewest total third downs on defense per game. Which makes sense. But they were atrocious against the Cowboys, bending after two solid downs repeatedly to the tune of 9-for-20 on third and fourth down combined by Dak Prescott and company.
• The first touchdown they allowed interestingly came on the heals of a failure stopping fourth and 1 (an issue they don't usually struggle with), Prescott finding CeeDee Lamb to set up a Jake Ferguson score one play later.
• The next Dallas touchdown came on a drive that saw three third-down conversions, including one on 3rd and 14, and another near the goalline.
• Another relented fourth-town conversion helped put the Cowboys in the lead before the half — but the real damage was done on the play prior as Lamb was able to alleviate a sack of Prescott and set up a short situation on fourth. The drive wound up with a field goal to put the Cowboys up 17-14.
• In the fourth quarter, a third down conversion in the Eagles defensive side of the field helped the Cowboys stay alive while down 11 points, paired with a personal foul against Philly safety Kevin Byard after a subsequent fourth down play (that would have gotten a first down anyway), the Cowboys eventually faltered, finally, on fourth down at the 1-yard line.
• A third and 10 that could have potentially clinched the game went Dallas' way inside three minutes in the final frame — but back to back sacks in the plays following took them off the hook.
This needs to get cleaned up, right? They're 8-1, but they're definitely making it hard to get the defense off the field and it seems like a trend that could wind up biting them hard if it isn't bucked.
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