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January 09, 2023

No need to panic over the Eagles' Week 18 offense

The rust was on display.

The Eagles took down the Giants 22-16 to clinch the NFC East and No. 1 seed in the conference, but it wasn't easy. It was ugly! 

The defense held the Giants' glorified practice squad offense to 16 points. That's fine, but certainly not the onslaught may have been envisioned with New York QB Davis Webb making his first career start. 

What captured even more attention, however, was how the Eagles' offense being stuck in the mud. 

They threw up 22 points, yes, but drives stalled out in the red zone, Hurts didn't look like his MVP self and they left TDs out there.

This hasn't been the most seamless lead-in to the postseason for the Birds despite their franchise record 14 wins, but I'm here to throw up the stop sign and proclaim that any panic over what the Birds did or didn't do against the Giants is unnecessary.

Hurts, in his first action in three weeks, had some great throws, some okay throws, some bad ones and a horrific interception. The dude was getting himself back into things.

I'm not fretting Hurts' comeback performance following his shoulder sprain. Nor should any Eagles fan.

A conservative approach lingered all over the Eagles' offensive gameplan. They settled for field goals in situations where they would've normally gone for it on fourth down. There were no calls for Hurts to barrel his way into the end zone inside the 20 like there were all season. Quick throws made up the backbone of Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen's scheme.

That's fine.

The Eagles didn't need to blow the doors completely off the Giants to showcase their bonafides as the NFC's top team. They limited their gameplan to protect their franchise quarterback. The Eagles probably wouldn't say that directly, but it was evident.

Hurts' designed runs and the RPO game? Out of sight and out of mind.

Those QB sneaks that became the NFL's most unstoppable play? Nowhere to be found.

That was the wise thing to do.

They were 1-for-5 when it came to punching in touchdowns in the end zone. You're telling me that if it's a playoff game that Hurts isn't trucking his way into the end zone on that fourth quarter third and goal at the 4? No way. It's nice that Jake Elliott got some reps in, but if this was a postseason environment, he'd have spent much more time chilling on the sideline. 

If someone is arguing that if Hurts couldn't handle the full playbook for health reasons that he shouldn't have played all together, I get it, but I'm not on that wavelength. Hurts' mere presence in this lineup is a gift in the aftermath of Gardner Minshew's clunker against the Saints. The energy at Lincoln Financial Field with Hurts running out of tunnel as the final player announced was a monumental shift from this weird uneasiness that hung over last Sunday's matchup with New Orleans.

Hurts wanted to be out there. He needed to be.

I'm in a lot of Eagles-centric group chats. Those friends are of the "if the Eagles go three-and-out on the first drive of the game, my soul will leave my body" variety. I saw it on Twitter. People were up in arms and anxiety ridden. This isn't to gloat with an aura of superiority. It's to offer some reassurance.

Hurts isn't the only key player dealing with injuries, of course. Right tackle Lane Johnson has missed the last two games. The Saints crushed Minshew in the pocket with Johnson sidelined. Hurts felt pressure against New York and, to me, didn't go all cylinders on potential scrambling and run spots, knowing how likely a win became and how important late-January football is rather than whatever goes on in Week 18.

The team will be healthier in two weeks when the Eagles play their divisional round game at the Linc. Ideally for the Birds, Johnson will be back in the lineup, stone-walling pass-rushers. Sirianni and Steichen will have an evolved gameplan and maximize the talent of both Hurts and the supporting cast.

A reminder: the Eagles limped into the 2017 playoffs, too. In the game the Eagles clinched the NFC's No. 1 seed, they were squeaking out a 13-10 lead over a 6-10 Raiders team before a nonsense end-of-game play from Oakland gave the Birds a backdoor TD and a 19-10 win. Then, in a meaningless Week 17 home game, Nick Foles looked lost in the short action he saw before getting pulled.

The Birds won 14 games this season. The road to the Super Bowl in the NFC runs through South Philadelphia. Enjoy sitting on your coach watching the playoffs next week while these other teams and their fan bases sweat things out. Save that venom in case the Eagles go three-and-out against the Cowboys on January 21.

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