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January 05, 2023

Tyrone Johnson: Eagles' small setback will lead to big comeback

As they get healthier, Eagles' back-to-back losses will be in rearview mirror with a win on Sunday.

The Eagles have not looked like a juggernaut the last three weeks and now need to win Sunday against the Giants to clinch the division and the first-round bye. 

They struggled against the Bears in victory with Jalen Hurts spraining his shoulder. After that, the Eagles had an understandable loss without Hurts to the Cowboys. They also lost Lane Johnson to a core muscle tear late in that game. Sunday against the Saints was a disaster, as they fell 20-10 in a terrible effort. Gardner Minshew was very poor and quieted people like me who thought he could be a serviceable starter in the right situation. 

As an aside, how ridiculous does Chris Simms look for saying that Hurts isn’t the MVP because the Eagles would be good with Minshew? On Sunday they were very bad in large part because of Minshew and, as a former quarterback, he should be smart enough to know that that position isn’t swappable. I look forward to his apology in February.

In the last couple weeks, Johnathan Gannon’s worst impulses have risen to the surface as well unfortunately. Gannon, as we have seen in the past, is naturally a very passive coach. He assumes that if his defense keeps players in front of them, the opposing quarterbacks will eventually make a mistake. He doesn’t believe that you have to force those mistakes. That of course is poppycock, and it has shown the last two weeks. 

Dak Prescott was perfect against Gannon’s zone defense on Christmas Eve. I could almost tolerate that because Avonte Maddox got hurt in game and Josiah Scott really struggled in relief. On Sunday, Gannon was horrible in the first half. Andy Dalton didn’t have an incompletion until he threw an interception late in the second quarter and completed 81.8 percent of his passes overall. That isn’t tolerable. Gannon adjusted in the second half and the Eagles defense was much better, despite the loss.

So we went over the bad news, but the Eagles are still very much on track to achieve all the lofty standards they will be held to going forward. The most obvious reason is that it looks like Jalen Hurts will be back on Sunday. Hurts is the league MVP and the last two weeks should have shown the world that this is the case. He is dynamic both as a player and a leader. The Eagles were flat last Sunday, they would not have been if Hurts was playing. 

He is also cerebral. Too many times the last few games, Minshew has forced the ball to Quez Watkins in spots that he shouldn’t. Hurts knows that A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert are all far better options across the middle and won’t put Watkins and others in a position to fail. Or more specifically in Watkins’ case, have the ball ripped away from him from physically stronger defenders.

The offensive line wasn’t great on Sunday either, but a lot of those struggles were due to Minshew as well. Jack Driscoll especially was victimized by Minshew’s bad pocket awareness. Jalen Hurts solves that, and Driscoll will only get better the more he has to play. Lane Johnson being able to effectively return is the ultimate hope, but Driscoll with more reps and a mobile quarterback will make the entire line look better. The offense is built to do RPOs, and zone reads. With Hurts out, the defense was able to key on the running backs every time. With him back, they will have to pick their poison once again, and we have seen how lethal it can be. Again, Jalen Hurts is the league MVP, he covers up a lot and makes everyone better. The Eagles are still elite, they just need the right guy under center to reach their full potential.

And then there is Johnathan Gannon. I am going to believe that he has finally learned his lesson. The Eagles have four players with 11 sacks for more. Josh Sweat and his 11 sacks are back at the training facility and should be back for the postseason. Both Robert Quinn and C.J. Gardner-Johnson both have their 21-day practice windows open to return. With Avonte Maddox’s health in question, Gardner-Johnson is an even more vital piece than he was before he lacerated his kidney. Robert Quinn wasn’t productive, but he also wasn’t healthy. Quinn will be another weapon at Gannon’s disposal up front. This defense has the potential to be elite again in the postseason. Everything is going to be just fine as soon as Jalen Hurts takes the field on Sunday.

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