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October 31, 2021

Final observations: Eagles 44, Lions 6

The Eagles missed a rare opportunity for a shutout, but ultimately rolled to a dominant 44-6 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday, righting the ship after their miserable performance a week prior.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• Breaking news — running the football is good for your football team. I'm not sure why it took eight weeks for the Eagles to figure this out, and I'm not sure why it started after their No. 1 running back went down due to injury, but it's about damn time this team committed to the ground game, and everybody on the field benefitted from it.

That certainly includes Jalen Hurts, who had a more manageable workload than he has had in most games this season. Play action fakes were credible enough to create moments of hesitation for Detroit, moments that opened windows for Hurts to throw into. Intermediate throws were more common, with the Eagles getting away from their usual plethora of screens and short passes to attack the Lions further down the field. This looked more like a credible NFL offense than it has for most of this season, and it starts with the on-paper game plan.

Honestly, the big takeaway other than "Run the damn ball, Nick!" might be that Jordan Howard needs to dress for this team every week. Although he only split time with Boston Scott on Sunday, he offered a dimension that the Eagles simply haven't had this season, bullying Lions players between the tackles and picking up tough extra yards almost every time they gave him the football. One of the reasons you commit to the run is the physical impact it leaves on the opponent as the game wears on, and having a battering ram like Howard softened things up for the rest of the group, with the Eagles picking up steam the deeper they got into the game.

Their opening score of the second half featured a few nice throws from the quarterback, sure, but it was built around the big dudes in the trenches and north-south rushing. Boston Scott ended up finishing the drive with a score, and even the smaller running back proved capable of yards after contact, the Lions wilting after a long and relentless drive.

The strength of this Eagles team is in the trenches, even with some important pieces missing on both sides of the ball. You can highlight that group by leaning on the run game more, and this was a good showcase of how things might look if Nick Sirianni makes an earnest attempt to establish the run.

• The other big change in philosophy for the Eagles on Sunday came on defense, where Jonathan Gannon said enough was enough and adapted their approach to the game. Rather than letting their opponent set the tone of the game by sitting back in vanilla defense, Gannon listened to the criticism and came out more aggressive, and the Eagles reaped the rewards.

Detroit did not seem to know what had hit them when the Eagles decided to go off-brand and send blitzes at their offensive line. The Eagles might have played more single-high on Sunday than they had the rest of the season up to this point, and the extra attention blitzers drew allowed guys like Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett, and even Milton Williams to get into the backfield, making Jared Goff's life miserable all afternoon long.

Even when they weren't mixing up their coverages or doing something "new" for this group, the Eagles simply beat up Detroit on Sunday. Philadelphia's defensive line was back to looking like a big strength for the team, and once the offense had forced the Lions to try to throw on every play to climb out of the big hole they dug for themselves, it was open season on Goff. I certainly don't feel bad for Detroit's QB, who will make more this year than most people make in several lifetimes, but it just got ugly out there for him, with Eagles linemen hanging all over him throughout the second half. This is going to be a long season for him. 

• I just want to make sure we get this in print — the Eagles ran the ball 40+ times for over 200 yards on the ground and did most of that damage when this game was still in contested territory. They won because they ran the ball. It was not a secondary feature or a yardage count they reached in garbage time. 

• Not that he was high up on the list of concerns, but always nice to see the kicker have a perfect day at the office. Good job, Jake Elliott.

• Jalen Hurts did not have a whole lot of work to do as a passer in this one, and he left a bunch of plays on the table by abandoning the pocket before there was any real pressure on him. But the work Hurts did with his legs on Sunday is part of the reason you want to get a good, long look at him this year. He has some special gifts as a runner, and if you combine that with a guy who can make enough throws to move the chains, there's a higher ceiling to hit here.

One thing that impresses me about Hurts is his ability to pick up big chunks of yards on the ground without it ever feeling like he's taking big hits or exposing himself to much danger. His combination of power and speed definitely helps, but Hurts has a better sense of when and how to avoid big tackles than a lot of quarterbacks who routinely run the ball. He sheds tacklers with ease, blows past the slower players, and tends to get out of bounds or hit the ground before anybody can line up a big hit on him.

It's a joy to watch him in the open field. If we can eventually say the same about watching him operate in the pocket, they'll be onto something.

(Thankfully, we got to see Gardner Minshew play on Sunday without a quarterback controversy attached, as the Eagles pulled Hurts early in the fourth quarter along with a bunch of other starters.)

• As if the Eagles were not beating up on the Lions bad enough, the defense even decided to get involved with the scoring on Sunday. With the Lions already down 31-0 late in the third quarter, Avonte Maddox punched a ball out for a Darius Slay scoop and score, officially taking this one into laughingstock territory.

Broadly speaking, this looked like a group with something to prove. In a lot of games like this, you'll see the frontrunner take their foot off of the gas at some point in the second half, unconcerned about the threat of a comeback once the other team has basically laid down. The Eagles played softer coverage once the game was out of reach, but whether in pursuit of a shutout or as a display of their pent-up frustration, they still played physical and kept coming at the Lions even when this one went off of the rails. Let's hope they can channel the same energy against better teams in the weeks to come.

The Bad

• Is Nick Sirianni's flower blooming? Should we expect a full garden by the end of the year? Questions to be answered at a later date, I suppose.

• A shame that the Eagles couldn't preserve the shutout, but so it goes. Small complaint during an otherwise great day for the Birds.

• The Lions have exactly one playoff win in the Super Bowl era, which is an absolutely insane stat but makes total sense when you think about how many hapless teams they have had over the years. This group looks like they could be up there (or perhaps down there) with any one of them.

The Ugly

• Everything about this Detroit Lions team and performance was ugly. I don't think you could point to a single thing they did well on either side of the ball. That's certainly a credit to the Eagles for delivering a comprehensive ass kicking, but man, I struggle to think of many worse performances I've watched in my life in any sport. 

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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