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November 20, 2022

Final observations: Eagles 17, Colts 16

The Eagles' defense carried them for most of the day against the Colts, with Jalen Hurts' crunch-time heroics ultimately putting the Eagles over the top for a 17-16 win. Philadelphia moves to 9-1 following the dramatic victory.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• The fight the defense showed after an absolutely miserable start was something to behold. Had Jonathan Gannon's unit matched the pace of the offense, the Eagles would have suffered one of the more lopsided losses in NFL history. But with contributions from new and old faces alike, they held it down and ensured Jalen Hurts would have a chance to lead Philadelphia to a comeback win. A small chance, perhaps, but a chance all the same.

It felt like the Eagles piled up plays and possessions where the defense took the field and you thought to yourself, "six points for the Colts could put this out of reach." The worst was when they took the field in the second half and immediately gave up a strip sack, Philadelphia's defense forced to defend against a short field after a heroic close to the first half. To their credit, nearly every time they were asked to limit the damage, the defense exceeded expectations, stopping Indy from making any progress or often moving them backward with help from some Colts penalties. A rough start to the game against Jonathan Taylor was aided by Jeff Saturday leaning less on the run game over time, but the Eagles also began to tighten up between the tackles, helping them on their mission to limit the damage.

A moment that had to make Howie Roseman smile — his mid-week additions combined for a sack in the second half, Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh teaming up to bring Matt Ryan after a deflating turnover on downs for the offense:

There was only so long you could ask them to hold on in this game. They had to take the field after a series of short possessions for the offense, and to make matters worse, they were frequently sent out to defend a short field.

It took everybody to make that happen. There was a tackle for a loss by CJ Gardner-Johnson, Gannon empowering one of his safeties to get into the backfield and wreak havoc. Philadelphia's rotation of interior linemen battled and battled for territory, with Milton Williams bringing down Ryan for a huge sack late in the third quarter. Time and time again, they collapsed the pocket around Ryan and forced him to throw the ball before he was ready to make a delivery, the secondary living up to their end of the bargain in coverage.

• Even when the Eagles were sputtering through most of this game, I felt encouraged by Jalen Hurts' performance. A mistake here or there aside, Hurts was one of the only guys who looked dialed in from the opening series onward, and a lot of his good work was undone by mistakes and penalties on his teammates. His options are dwindling each week, this game was played without the services of Dallas Goedert, and he still delivered the ball on time and on target to A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith the vast majority of the time.

There were issues with pocket climbing for sure, and you could argue Hurts should have gone to Brown even more than he tried to on Sunday afternoon. A second half screen play that ended disastrously for Philadelphia appeared to have an opening in another part of the field, Brown running wide open over the middle while everybody else turned their attention to the flat. But keying in on a small pile of mistakes misses why they struggled in this one. Hurts succeeded in spite of being limited by the structure around him, the QB standing out as a bright light in the darkness.

He's also capable of a run reminiscent of a Madden scamper, which is a skill the Eagles desperately needed on an afternoon filled with stagnation. The Eagles had absolutely nothing working at the start of the fourth quarter, Hurts under duress once again with everybody covered downfield. A spinning run through traffic got him out of trouble in the pocket, and Hurts would run for big yardage into Colts territory, putting the Eagles in a position to finally strike.

It didn't take much longer for the Eagles to finally find the end zone and make this a game. Quez Watkins' high-profile mistake a week prior is what basically ended Philadelphia's chance to hold onto an undefeated record, but it was Watkins who scored Philly's first touchdown of the day against the Colts, Hurts tossing a beautiful pass over the middle to put the Eagles in a beautiful position to steal this game down the stretch.

I tend to think this game ended up being a test of people's priors with Hurts. There were plenty of critics out and ready to blast him for the offense underperforming in this game, but to me, that feels like it has to come from someone who either ignored the game or is simply convinced his season is smoke and mirrors. What he showed was consistency in a group that basically had none otherwise, and by persevering through the nonsense, Hurts eventually gave his team a perfect chance to steal this one in crunch time.

• Once the Eagles' offense finally got going, it was important for Gannon's unit to preserve their form from the rest of the day. They'd done the hard work to keep them in the game, and it would have been soul-crushing for that to fall apart right when it looked like the game was there for the taking.

Good news: on the possession immediately following Watkins' score, they turned what looked to be a bruising first-down run for Taylor into a takeaway, handing the ball back to the offense with a chance to take the lead. This went from what looked like a deflating power run into a huge moment and a reminder to never give up on a play.

The Eagles' offense promptly turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, Brown putting the ball on the turf and drawing groans loud enough to knock William Penn off of City Hall with the vibrations. A blown coverage in the secondary moments later looked to be the killing blow for this game, Gannon's unit finally wilting after carrying the team for most of the day.

And yet — even if they got away with a penalty in the process — the Birds buckled down in the red zone, giving Matt Ryan absolutely nothing to work with across three straight stops. Haason Reddick's facemask grab, light as it may have been, snuck under the radar when Reddick brought Ryan down for a sack, giving Hurts and Co. a chance to steal an improbable win.

This group deserved a lot better than the offense gave them across four quarters. It's not even fair to say they bent but didn't break, because they did very little bending for most of the afternoon. Terrific effort after a tough start.

• I struggle to say the Eagles deserved to pull this one out, but if anybody deserved to be the face of the victory, it was Hurts, who spent most of this game trying to bail out the mistakes of the rest of his teammates. Only fitting that he was the guy who had the chance to punch it in for the game-winning score, Hurts waltzing into the endzone for the easiest six points of his life:

That's bordering on letting Hurts score, honestly. But you still have to stike in the opponent's moment of weakness, and Hurts burst through the middle of the line before the Colts ever had a chance to react. 

Calmness under pressure is all you can ask for out of the QB in that spot. The numbers won't tell the story of this game, but Hurts did everything he could to drag this sorry bunch to a W.

• Only right that the defense would have one last chance to shine in the final two minutes, the Colts driving with the intent to win the game on a last second field goal. "No sir," said Brandon Graham, a fitting hero for this one after he was one of a small group of scapegoats in the loss to Washington last week. A sack for Graham to effectively kill the drive was the perfect way to close out a defense-first win. 

The Bad

• Jonathan Gannon is the guy who takes more grief than anybody in Philadelphia's brain trust, and at times that criticism is warranted when passive play and decision-making opens up opportunities that shouldn't be available to the opponent in the first place. But there are other times where he's just the public enemy because he doesn't play a style that vibes with what this fanbase wants, or even what they've grown accustomed to over many years of hard-hitting, hard-charging Eagles defenses. It can muddy who actually deserves blame as a result.

There was nothing muddy about this game. The offense was miserable for most of the day, and there were issues to be blamed on both the players and the coaching staff.

Penalties aren't something you can blame on people standing on the sideline. Jason Kelce airmailing a snap is not something to put on Shane Steichen. Brown fumbling the ball was the fault of Brown and Brown alone, poor ball security at a moment where it looked they were about to march down and take the lead. If you want to say Philadelphia's lack of sharpness recently is connected to a lack of focus from the coaching staff, you'd have to present some evidence that shows direct actions from the coaches leading to this run of sloppy play.

That's not to excuse Steichen and Nick Sirianni for the recent downward trend. You're going to be hard-pressed to explain some of Philadelphia's choices with personnel and scheme on offense. Sitting Brown on the sideline for an entire series late in the first half was beyond bizarre, the lead there to be taken if Philadelphia could have put a decent drive together. Why were the Eagles going to their smaller runners between the tackles on critical third-down plays, rather than doing, I don't know, anything else? Hurts was chewing up yards all game, and taking the ball out of his hands in big spots was a mistake they'd live to regret.

On the strip sack that opened the second half, Miles Sanders was asked to block Yannick Ngakoue, which is an obviously unfavorable situation for the Eagles and a thought that should be abandoned the moment you realize it's a possibility.

I don't put the blame on Sanders for losing a matchup where he was pretty clearly out of his depth. You shouldn't put your running back in that situation, and by extension, you shouldn't leave your quarterback in a position where that block is critical to executing the play you've drawn up.

I'll say this, as it pertains to Philadelphia's sharpness and motivation: I didn't love hearing Brown talk about dropping their first game last week as almost a good thing, something that was echoed by a lot of media members and fans. The logic goes that you're better off not playing with the pressure of remaining undefeated and that the target on your back isn't quite as big if you're just a normal good team vs. an undefeated one. Media attention obviously grows the deeper you get into an unbeaten run. But with how they looked in their first game with a loss in the books, maybe they could have used the extra scrutiny and pressure. A team that has spent most of this year punishing mistakes and playing mistake-free football is now hurting itself left and right.

Regardless of how they feel about where they're at and where they need to go, the last two weeks should have been a wake-up call to the group. They remain in a tremendous position, and it would be a shame to squander it with a second-half collapse. We'll see how they work through their rough patch in the weeks to come.

• I'm all for aggression on fourth down, but why is Jake Elliott not getting a shot to kick a long field goal inside of a dome? He has more than enough leg to bang one in from 57 yards, and the Eagles needed every point they could get in this game. 

• Down 10 points, I am not sure why the Eagles were the team letting the clock run down to end the third quarter. I don't really understand the lack of urgency being shown there. You don't know what's going to happen on this drive, let alone the possessions that are yet to come, so why not try to attack every second you can? It's not like they ran it down after a single sputtering quarter, we were three-quarters deep in a trainwreck performance at that point.

They didn't really pick up the urgency at all from there. I'm genuinely perplexed by how this offense carried itself in the second half of this game. Why in god's name did the Eagles decide to line up for a fake QB sneak at the two-minute warning, doing nothing but burn a timeout in the process? What was that supposed to accomplish? The odds of the defense jumping there are slim to none, and the timeout still had a ton of value in that spot. 

Absolutely miserable playcalling down the stretch of this game. 

• I know there are a lot of people in this fanbase who want to see the Eagles play more power football or simply run the ball, but watching Sanders get stopped short of a first down after three consecutive run plays nearly made my eyes roll out of my head. The Colts have one of the league's best run defenses. Try that approach against somebody else. 

The Ugly

• The offense, man. I thought we already made that clear. 

• Hurts' throw to Sanders that drew a DPI flag was probably several yards short of the intended target. Absolute gift from the Colts to not just take the chance that Sanders might catch it.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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