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January 05, 2022

Eytan Shander: Why the Eagles should play their starters against Dallas

The Birds don't really have anything to play for in terms of playoff seeding, but they can't afford to simply sit everyone vs. the Cowboys

Opinion Eagles
Jalen_Hurts_Eagles_Giants_1226211_Kate_Frese117.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Start ‘em. All of 'em.

This isn’t a preseason game. It’s also not a scenario where the Philadelphia Eagles have secured anything more than a chance to play in the postseason. If the idea here is to win a game in the playoffs – which I’m fairly confident is the strategy the Eagles will implement – then the starters need to play at least the first half. No, especially the first half.

The only counter to starting guys for a playoff-bound team at the end of the season is to rest your players and keep guys healthy – like teams have some control over when a guy is going to get hurt. The style of offense the Eagles play is a physical run-first assault on defenses. The very nature of how they play offense leaves them open for a guy to go down at any point.

But Nick Sirianni can’t control anyone’s health just like Bill Belichick can’t control it. Health is simply a risk everyone takes into account every time they step on the field. What’s more important than the team’s small sense of control over their health is how consistent of an offense they are, mainly at the start of games.

You may continue to push how important it is to maximize bodies on the field against whoever they play in the first round, but I’m way more concerned about slow starts. Pending the outcome of the Saints game, the Eagles still haven’t defeated a team with a winning record. While that may not be the best barometer for bringing back Jalen Hurts or Sirianni, it’s the best indication of what needs to change – or improve before the start of the second season.

The Eagles escaped the slow start of the regular season to put together an impressive win streak – ultimately resulting in making the playoffs. But even in many of those wins, they still couldn’t remove the stench of the same awful starts that will ultimately and directly result in them exiting the playoffs. No matter the opponent, the drama ahead of each game or the amount of bodies missing on the other side, the Eagles found ways to look unprepared.

This is why you start everyone who is healthy. This is why you prepare like it’s the playoffs, taking on a Cowboys team that still needs to win this game. That’s the key difference between the preseason and this situation. The Eagles are getting a tough opponent who can use a win, so there’s still a true test for Philadelphia. I have no problem sitting your 1’s if Dallas is going light, but they aren’t.

The Eagles can get a lot out of game planning, scripting, then executing a set of plays to start the game. Dallas has a solid defense and can provide a serious test against Hurts and the rest of the offense.

The concerns about the Eagles starting slow against bad teams being a major undoing in the playoffs are valid. The only way to remove those concerns — and the best way to charge into the playoffs – is to get a good half of football. Specifically, the first half. This is the only chance to give the Eagles a true shot at hanging with a team in the first round – or upsetting them outright.

The Eagles won’t stand a chance in the playoffs if they come out slow and sluggish. They won’t be taking on any third-string quarterback or defense decimated by COVID. There’s also the ability to take a team by surprise, or simply come out strong and steal a quarter – even a half. There’s zero shot of doing any of that without a proper plan that’s well executed, something the Eagles have struggled with no matter how bad the competition.

Maybe the Birds don’t have a shot, and you are just happy they made it. Maybe, you don’t care if they get blown out or lose by a point because at least they made the playoffs. There are also people who – somehow, in their own mind – will use their inevitable exit as means to justify something ridiculous next year.

Not me.

I’m in the business of rooting for my team to win every game, even if I pick (read: bet) against them ahead of time. I want the Eagles to succeed in this year’s postseason, not bow out after looking lost in the first half. A comeback won’t do anything more than infuriate you, as you will go right back to the first half woes.

This is exactly what I would like to prevent, what I would hope the team will prevent by sending out the starters. Let’s start with something the team can control – a proper plan executed in the first half.


Browns (+3) vs. Bengals

Baker Mayfield is out and the Bengals can still technically win the top seed in the AFC – granted they need TEN and KC to lose. The line was already short before the Mayfield news as the books are pretty sure the Bengals will rest their starters. The Browns will throw out any remaining effort to try and salvage a miserable season, one full of disappointment. However, there is little drop – if any – from Mayfield to Case Keenum. The Browns offense doesn’t change at all and might even be more efficient. The Bengals will try and get out of a road game without losing any depth, allowing the Browns to steal a victory.

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Follow Eytan on Twitter: @shandershow

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