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November 16, 2021

What they're saying: Eagles a playoff team? Hurts the future? Let's overreact after one win!

Eagles NFL
Jalen-Hurts_111621_usat Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.

The Philadelphia Eagles picked up an impressive 30-13 road win over the Broncos on Sunday, a week after narrowly falling to the Chargers at the Linc and two weeks after demolishing the winless Lions. 

It's been a solid three-week stretch for the Eagles, but the sudden change in mood around this team following that win in Denver has been something to behold. Sure, Jalen Hurts played his best half as a pro. Nick Sirianni called his best game as Eagles coach — one that included a second half in which he only asked his QB to throw the ball three times. And even much maligned Jonathan Gannon seemed to figure out things on the defensive side of the ball. But this was only one game. 

Sure, the multi-week sample size since this team has turned into a run-first offensive squad has been promising, but no one was talking playoffs or Hurts being the longterm answer following that Chargers loss. And that's because wins are the ultimate currency in the NFL.

Moral victories are nice, but they're Monopoly money compared to the real thing. And a win over a team you weren't expected to beat? That's just icing on the cake. 

Therefore, it's not surprising that coming off a big win and heading into a home game against the Saints in which the Eagles are favored for just the second time this season — not to mention the easy schedule that lies ahead — that the attitude around the Eagles has shifted dramatically. What was recently a fanbase wondering how many Top 10 picks they could secure to is now more concerned with wild card tiebreakers and how they can catch the teams ahead of them in the standings. 

If the Eagles can stack up another win on Sunday against New Orleans — their third in four weeks — it will be hard not to start thinking playoffs ... if you haven't already. 

In the meantime, let's take a look around the local and national media to see what they're saying about the Birds following that win over the Broncos...

The Sirianni Effect

Jeff McLane | The Philadelphia Inquirer

Over at Inquirer.com, Jeff McLane took a look at a handful of things we learned about this Eagles team during their win at Mile High. And the biggest takeaway for the Birds beat writer was that not only is Nick Sirianni's culture winning over the locker room — something that had been evident throughout the season — but the head coach is now also starting to improve his on-field skills as well. 

That growth from Sirianni — the kind that, for example, allowed him to swallow his pride and completely change his team's offensive scheme just a month and a half into his tenure — has the Eagles suddenly back in the playoff hunt.

Nick Sirianni’s roots are starting to take hold. Sirianni has endured his share of criticism in his first season as coach. Some of it has been justified. But the nitpicking of his messaging to his team all the way down to his choice of clothing has been extreme. You may not like his attempts to build a culture, but what ultimately matters is whether he can get his players and assistants to respond to his methods. And clearly, despite the tough losses, they have. [...]

The Eagles are far from great, but they’re seemingly headed in the right direction. Sirianni has learned from some of his mistakes. He’ll continue to make more. But what is promising is that he has shown improvement as a first-time coach and play-caller. The 4-6 Eagles still have seven games to play, and their next four opponents have a combined 13-23 record. They’re only one fewer win behind the 5-4 Saints and Panthers for the last two playoff seeds.

The race to the postseason is up for grabs at this point, but the Eagles can’t be ruled out. Their remaining schedule is among the easiest, and they have played winning football the last three weeks. The Saints await, as does a first victory at home. The last time Sirianni was at the Linc, a fan threw flowers at him. That kind of behavior is inexcusable, but it also represented the irrationality of some fans. There may be nothing Sirianni can do, short of winning a Super Bowl, to please some, but he has made progress, and that should be noted.  [inquirer.com]

Hurts, Sirianni have Birds thinking playoffs

John Stolnis | Bleeding Green Nation

Sirianni's improvements is closely tied to the development of Jalen Hurts. And the rookie head coach has his second-year QB playing as well as he has since being drafted by the Eagles. And it's no surprise that the success of those two are two of the biggest reasons we can say Eagles and playoffs in the same sentence without drawing laughs.

Over at Bleeding Green Nation, John Stolnis took a look at five reasons why the Birds are suddenly back in the thick of a playoff race with eight weeks left in the season. And while he doesn't yet know if Hurts performance so far is enough to solidify him as the QB going forward, he does think his recent play could be enough to get the Birds to the postseason. 

It’s hard to say for certain that Hurts is this team’s franchise QB, but mid-way through his first full season, we’re seeing improvement. When he’s on, he can win games, and with all those first round picks in the coming draft, there certainly doesn’t appear to be a college quarterback with a higher upside than Hurts.

We said before the season that if the Eagles were going to surprise, Hurts would have to have a Donovan McNabb-2000 season-like performance. Over the last couple weeks, that’s what we’ve gotten.  [bleedinggreennation.com]

And obviously you can't talk about Hurts trending in the right direction without pointing out that his upswing almost mirrored Sirianni's chance in offensive philosophy. The two are clearly tied together — and it's a very good thing for the Eagles that Sirianni figured out how to get the most out of his QB. 

Few people have been harder on Nick Sirianni than I have, and it was for good reason. His play calling was unimaginative and, even worse, nonsensical. The complete lack of balance made his offense predictable and easy to defend.

Over the last month, that hasn’t been the case and his progression offers hope that perhaps the Eagles’ first year head coach is, indeed, learning on the job. Whereas earlier in the season he handed the ball off to his running backs only two and three times per game, the last four weeks have been the polar opposite. ... 

A coach needs to adapt to his personnel and put his players in a position to succeed. Sirianni has a good run-blocking offensive line and some solid running backs, and not utilizing them was damaging to Jalen Hurts. On Sunday, Hurts attempted just three second half passes because the run game was so effective.

The Eagles aren’t going to do this forever, and Hurts’ ability to throw will be the key to reaching the postseason, but now Sirianni has at least given defensive coordinators something else against which they must plan.  [bleedinggreennation.com]

Prime playoff position?

Tim McManus | ESPN

Like we said, everyone seems to be talking playoffs when it comes to the Eagles. In addition to Sirianni and Hurts (and at least for one week, DC Jonathan Gannon), there are other reasons the Birds are suddenly a postseason contender. 

For starters, as we've alluded to, they have the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL, with games against the Saints and Jets, plus five against the NFC East (including two each against the Giants and Washington). But it's more than just that. The Eagles also hold tiebreakers over two of the teams (the Panthers and Falcons) in front of them in the the wild card race and could add a third to that list on Sunday against the Saints, making this a big game for those hoping the Eagles make the playoffs.

But none of that would matter if not for the improvements we've seen out of the two most important members of the team (the coach and the QB).

Finding their formula: The Eagles have turned to the ground game over the last three weeks, and are a different team because of it. Leaning on their stout offensive front to pave the way, they've racked up an incredible 626 rushing yards on 125 carries in three games for an average of 42 carries for 209 yards per game.

It has taken pressure off the defense and 23-year-old quarterback Jalen Hurts who, by no coincidence, is in the midst of his best stretch as a pro to date.

So long as they stick with that identity, they should, at a minimum, be competitive in every game. That should keep them relevant in the playoff discussion for the rest of the season.  [espn.com]

Hurts looking like a franchise QB

Dave Spadaro | PhiladelphiaEagles.com

On Monday, Sirianni was asked about Hurts' recent play and if it's indicative of him being the franchise QB of the future in Philly. Here's what the head coach had to say...

"Watch the last three games and that's the biggest one right there, right? And so you look at – he started – is it 13 or 14 games? ... And so, to me, it's, like, well, he's still a rookie, right? He's still in his rookie season and – essentially, if you count the amount of games started. And so, all I see is improvement every day from him because, again, it starts with the type of person that Jalen [Hurts] is and how much he loves this sport and how much he loves his teammates and how tough he is. And he doesn't make the same mistake twice.

"I just see his arrow completely pointed up. I think we've all seen the way he's played. ... Again, I just see him making strides in all aspects of his game. My job here and Jalen's job is to not focus on franchise quarterback moving forward. It's about, ‘What can we do today to get us ready for Sunday and what can we do tomorrow to get us ready for Sunday.’ ...

"So, I think that's Jalen's mindset, that's my mindset, is how we're going to keep getting better each week and the rest will take care of itself."

That's a lot of coach speak, but it's also a ringing endorsement of the second-year QB even if he avoided the naming-him-the-franchise-QB trap. So far, we've talked a lot about how Sirianni's switch to the run game has freed up Hurts, so let's take a closer look at the numbers, courtesy of Dave Spadaro of PhiladelphiaEagles.com: 

In the last three weeks, Hurts has played as well as any quarterback in the league and the numbers bear that to be true. He is ...

• First among all NFL QBs with 186 rushing yards
• Second in the NFL with a 102.6 passer rating
• Third with 8.2 yards/passing attempt
• Eighth with 36 total first downs
• Tied for ninth with a 66.7 percent completion percentage

Teams that lay back on Hurts and dare him to win from the pocket are seeing him win from the pocket, as he did in the first half against Denver when Hurts completed 15 of 20 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns, adding 52 rushing yards on five carries. Teams that go after Hurts with the blitz are paying the price, Sirianni said, in a number of ways.

"What you see in the evolution of Jalen is that he's handling it in different ways and in different areas," Sirianni said on Monday in our exclusive one-on-one interview. "What you saw early on (in the season) is that he handled the blitz running it. Against Denver and the last couple of weeks, yes, he still had the run aspect of it to be able to get out of trouble, but also now he's sliding in the pocket, moving in the pocket, and delivering the ball downfield. Sometimes, handling the blitz is, like what happened a couple of times (Sunday), 'Oh, you're blitzing off this edge, I'm going to get out of this play and I'm going to go to this play.' What you're seeing as he evolves is that he's handling the blitz with his legs, his arm, and his mind. That's huge.

"That's where he's continuing to make strides and he did a really nice job of that (in Denver) and we look forward to him continuing to do a good job with that."

For the season, Hurts leads NFL quarterbacks in rushing touchdowns (5), is second with 547 rushing yards, is second with a 113.9 red zone rating, is seventh in total offense (2,594) and 106 plays of 10-plus yards, and is tied for seventh with 35 plays of 20-plus yards. His 18 offensive touchdowns rank tied for 11th among league signal-callers.  [philadelphiaeagles.com]

Hurts the next Lamar Jackson?

Sheil Kapadia | The Athletic

A lot of Hurts' success hasn't just been due to the threat of the Eagles running backs carrying the ball, but Hurts running the ball as well. He's become an expert at picking up third downs on the ground, and even though against the Broncos he showed more of a willingness to stick in the pocket until the play fully broke down, he's been a threat to run every time he dropped back into the pocket this season. And that's opened things up big time. 

As Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic highlighted this week, Hurts has actually been more efficient than Lamar Jackson at running the ball this season:

PLAYERRUSHESYARDSYPCSUCCESS
RATE
Lamar Jackson1026426.351.7%
Jalen Hurts865556.559.6%


That's incredibly impressive considering Jackson is a former MVP and is already one of the best rushing QBs in NFL history. And while Sheil isn't sure this amount of running from a QB can be sustained longterm, it's certainly been the key to the Eagles' recent success. And for that, Sirianni deserves credit... 

Their styles are completely different. Jackson is more elusive, and Hurts is more physical. But the numbers are similar (although Hurts has played one more game). Both players have 20 runs of 10-plus yards. Jackson has five carries of 20-plus; Hurts has four.

Hurts has the highest rushing success rate among the 40 players with at least 75 carries. We can extend the sample to include last season. Among the 77 players with at least 100 rushes over the past two seasons, Hurts ranks second in success rate behind only Josh Allen. He’s averaging a whopping 6.3 YPC during that stretch.

As a team this year, the Eagles have run for 1,443 yards (second), and they lead the NFL in success rate.

This might not be a long-term blueprint that leads to sustained success, but in terms of finding what works best for the current personnel, Nick Sirianni deserves credit for moving to this formula.  [theathletic.com]

Miles Sanders the odd man out?

Reuben Frank | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Finally, we've talked a lot about the running game but haven't talked much about the players aside from the QB. Perhaps the biggest surprise in Sirianni's philosophical switch is that it almost perfectly coincided with starting running back Miles Sanders going down. In his absence, Boston Scott and Jordan Howard have combined to lead the Eagles backfield with Kenneth Gainwell still pitching in in a similar role to the one he had before Sanders' injury.

With Sanders possibly returning sooner rather than later, how will Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen handle the running back room. Who will be the odd man out? And is there a chance that it's actually Sanders?

In the three weeks since Nick Sirianni shifted to a run-first scheme featuring Howard and Scott -- the three games the Eagles have played without Sanders -- the Eagles are No. 2 in the NFL in scoring, No. 4 in total yards, No. 2 in first downs and No. 1 on 3rd-down.

This has become a methodical, grind-it-out, move-the-chains offense that doesn't produce big plays but eats clock, converts third downs and wears down opposing defenses.

And Howard and Scott are the ideal backs to fit that style of play.

I'm not saying don't play Sanders. I'm not saying bench him.

But the Eagles have a good thing going right now and it doesn't make sense to change. 

I like Sanders, but you can't ignore the fact that this offense has been more effective without him. There are a lot of other factors. The O-line has played better, Sirianni's play-calling has improved dramatically and Jalen Hurts has been more efficient. But Scott and Howard have just been consistently productive in a way that Sanders hasn't been.  [nbcsports.com]

Point taken, but Sanders was incredibly efficient when he did get the ball before being injured. And while Howard and Scott might fit more what the Eagles are doing, a big play every now and then might be necessary. As we learned in the final years of the Doug Pederson Era, slow, methodical, march-down-the-field football is great, as long as you can sustain it. But it leaves more room for error, and more opportunities for the opposing defense to stop you.

Still, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And right now, it's far from broken.

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