October 20, 2022
The Eagles season started with manageable expectations coming off a 9-8 season. Winning the NFC East at 11-6 and being more competitive in the playoffs than last year felt comfortable. There were still a lot of questions marks on both sides of the ball.
Would Jalen Hurts take the next step? Could Miles Sanders be the consistent back we thought he could be? Would Jonathan Gannon show why so many football people raved about his initial hire? Was Nick Sirianni the real deal or did the horrible QB play they encountered last year make him seem better than he was? Would Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox have anything left in the tank? Would the new linebacking core be up to the task?
They have empathically answered all those questions in the first six weeks of the season.
Now the Eagles are the only undefeated team at 6-0 and they have beaten both the 5-1 Vikings and 4-2 Cowboys. Unless you are really sold on the Giants, and I am not, the Eagles may have already played the toughest two teams on their schedule. Suddenly, the original expectations would be downright disappointing.
To finish 11-6 the Eagles would have to be 5-6 down the stretch. With the way they have played so far, that would be disastrous. The NFC isn’t good and games like the Steelers, Packers and Titans look much easier now than they did in August.
We would feel about the Eagles the same we feel about the Phillies right now, nice they got the split, but being up 4-0 with Nola on the mound, we should be up 2-0 (We all agree on this right? The split is nice, but 2-0 was there to be had). Now anything less than securing the bye and getting to the conference championship game would be terrible. A Super Bowl appearance should be this team’s realistic goal. Added pressure is a good thing, but it is there.
The individual expectations have been raised as well. Jalen Hurts has been great so far this year. We can’t judge him as a “young third year guy." He is not satisfied at 6-0 despite the fact he would be my NFL MVP if the season ended today. If he isn’t satisfied, he is telling us he and the team can still get better. He has excelled in every area except against the blitz. He is now 25th in completion percentage against the blitz, while being fourth in the NFL in completion percentage when he is not being blitzed (via ESPN Stats & Info). The league is aware of this, and I have no doubt that other teams will begin to blitz him more. He also does great things with his legs, but he has raised the bar to the point where it is expected that he will handle those better.
The trade deadline is a couple weeks away and special teams have been poor all season. This shows you how good they have been on offense and defense, that this stands out. They have had trouble at one point or another with the punt return team (Covey has not been good so far), punt team, field goal team (blocked kick), and the only reason the Cowboys got back in the game was because of poor kickoff coverage up 20-0. Imagine this team on the cusp of the Super Bowl, dominant on both sides of the ball and the season being derailed because of a kickoff return.
If the problem is personnel, then Howie has the duty to get better special teams’ players here. There are good players on bad teams who could help in that area. If the problem is special teams coach Michael Clay, then Sirianni has the duty to take those duties from him and give them to somebody who can improve that unit.
Come October 30, we are no longer looking at the Eagles as a team that should compete with anyone. We are looking at a team that must be better than almost anyone. While 17-0 is too tall of an ask, 13-4 or 14-3 is not. It is time to completely flush previous expectations like Hurts likes to say. We should raise them up several notches because this is an opportunity that does not come along every year. We could be making another trip to Arizona in February and at this point anything less should make us feel empty.
Tyrone Johnson is the host of "The Best Show Ever?" on 97.5 The Fanatic, airing Monday through Friday from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
You can follow him on Twitter: @TyJohnsonNews