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November 27, 2022

Final observations: Eagles 40, Packers 33

The Eagles struck the Packers early and hung on during a roller-coaster evening, moving to 10-1 following a 40-33 victory over Green Bay on Sunday Night Football.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• It took all of one series for Jalen Hurts to remind everyone how dangerous he is as a runner. Even if he hadn't managed to pick up 52 yards on the ground, the pair of third-down conversions would have been enough to plant seeds of doubt in the Packers for the rest of the night. When this guy gets rolling on the ground early, the Eagles become an even scarier team to try to defend.

Preparing for Hurts to run the ball more didn't seem to do the Packers any good in this game, unfortunately for the visitors. He was up to 100+ yards by the time the first quarter ended, finishing with 126 in the first half and an Eagles single-game record of 158 QB rushing yards when it was all said and done. You simply cannot say enough about the importance of Hurts' running in an up-and-down half for the Eagles — it papered over some shoddy play between the tackles in pass protection, where the Packers were able to penetrate and force Hurts to step up or out of the pocket. Their passing game lacked any sort of a deep threat for the entire first half, in part because there was no time to let deep routes develop.

(Let it be said — you don't have this sort of night on the ground without a terrific effort from the line. That early pass blocking aside, they controlled this game and gave every Eagles runner beautiful chances to eat up yards and clock.)

When they finally held up long enough to let Hurts get a big play off, he threw a beautiful back-shoulder ball to Quez Watkins to send Philadelphia into halftime with a seven-point lead. In spite of mistakes and misfires from his team, Hurts had his guys out in front. And that increasingly looks like the story of the Eagles' season, that even if they don't have it all going, No. 1 might pull something out of the hat to get them over the line.

Remember, while Hurts didn't have his best performance in their loss to the Commanders, it was a Watkins fumble that ultimately killed what should have been the opportunity to take the lead and score. A week ago in Indy, it was Hurts who ultimately waltzed across the goal line for Philadelphia's winning score, the quarterback stringing together clutch plays and smart decisions to overcome what was otherwise a pretty awful effort from the group. This was certainly a better effort than those games on offense, but it was Hurts who had them rolling even as the rest of the group struggled to catch up.

Thanks to the heroics of the quarterback, the Eagles were in a beautiful position to pull away from the Packers in the second half. The Eagles used just about all their weapons to set up their first scoring drive of the second half, riding Miles Sanders and DeVonta Smith all the way into the red zone with some slick hookups and decisive running. A false start from Landon Dickerson briefly set the Eagles back, but their score was inevitable, AJ Brown dusting Rasul Douglas so that Hurts could find him near the goal line.

Perhaps the single-biggest indicator of Hurts' improvement year-over-year is the blind confidence this city has in him to figure things out and battle through adversity. As wins have continued to pile up with Hurts at QB, it becomes harder to dismiss his personal impact on each one of them. A guy who once looked like a run-first, pass-later quarterback has continued to evolve into a do-everything threat, someone who can change what he's offering the team at a moment's notice. He is in control of this offense, making a wide variety of throws to all areas of the field while offering that dynamic rushing threat we saw from the very first time he took the field for Philadelphia.

It has been an impressive year, to say the least. Last year, I doubted the Eagles' ability to win shootouts or any games where they had to play from behind, in part because of a lack of trust in the QB. He has earned trust and then some, putting together a hell of a season.

• It probably shouldn't come as a surprise that we got a good Miles Sanders game alongside a good Hurts game on the ground. Defenses are in a horrible spot if they have to worry about Hurts tucking and running in ever read-option play, and any frozen moment on defense is an opportunity for Sanders to get downhill. He wasted absolutely no time punishing the Packers on the ground, searching for the second level the moment each carry hit his hands on Sunday night.

Sanders entered the second half with two touchdowns to his name already, and he was ready to start the process of killing the game off when he got his touches early in the third quarter. After an iffy start for the offensive line in pass protection, Jason Kelce and the gang started mauling in the third quarter, Sanders a worthy accomplice in their destruction of Green Bay's line. The Penn State product zipped through, around, and over would-be tacklers, moving the Eagles into Packers territory with ease.

He was not the only Eagles running back to get loose, with Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott each showing off burst of their own during limited reps on Sunday night. By the time the game was over, the Eagles had produced their seventh game in franchise history with 300 or more rushing yards, making an absolute mockery of Green Bay on the ground. When you consider both the running backs and dual-threat quarterbacks they've had over the years — this franchise personally employed several standard bearers for the "dual threat" label before Hurts' arrival — Sanders and the rest of this group should be damn proud of the collective effort next to Hurts. 

• You could use a number of different cliches to call this now 10-1 team a great team. They find ways to win, they play through adversity, and so on and so forth. One of the standout features of this team is that every big play on defense feels like a series of players/parts working in unison, rather than star players needing to put the team on their back. It's most clear on interceptions when one pass rusher will put pressure on a QB, the second will close the gap right as the passer is stepping up in the pocket, and the secondary finally gets their chance to shine once the pass is released, breaking on the football for a well-earned takeaway.

 Every big defensive play on Sunday night featured a group of players teaming up to get the job done. Fletcher Cox's huge first-half sack of Aaron Rodgers relied on the efforts of Haason Reddick, whose initial speed threw off the Packers and gave Cox a crack at the QB. Josiah Scott's interception was made possible by Darius Slay's tip and the push the Eagles got up front to force that throw in their direction. 

• Missed extra point aside, we have barely had to think about Jake Elliott this season, which is both a reflection of his good work and the team not being in a position to count on kicking in big moments. Both are good for the ball club.

Elliott absolutely smoked the 54-yard kick that ultimately finished this game. He's got leg to spare, as we've all seen over the years, and they will almost certainly need him to come through in a big spot to get where they want to go.

The Bad

• It seems crazy to write this but I swear I felt it during the game — I'm not sure why the Packers continued to ask Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball. That's a reflection of where he's at this year, banged up and not close to his peak, but mostly a reflection of how bad the Eagles were at stopping the run. AJ Dillion made an absolute mockery of the Eagles in the first half of this game, piling up 10 yards per carry across an entire half of football. That is, to put it lightly, not a great look for the boys in the trenches for Philly.

Bless the Packers for continuing to sling it in the second half, as they made my life easier on the recap side and the Eagles' lives easier in their attempts to stop Green Bay. By the time Rodgers finally succumbed to his injuries in the second half, this one was all but over.

• Winning the turnover battle handily was critical to Philadelphia's excellent start to this season. Regressing on that front on offense is part of why they've struggled to maintain that dominant level in recent weeks, with the Birds putting the ball on the turf far more often.

AJ Brown, who has been spectacular during his first season with the Eagles, is one of the main culprits with two fumbles in as many weeks. Any giveaway hurts, but Brown's against the Packers was a particularly devastating play, Green Bay scooping up what looked like a scoring drive and turning it into great field position of their own. The game flipped without a moment's notice, and the Eagles were right back in hold-onto-your-butts territory when it looked like they might be able to pull away from a beleaguered Green Bay team.

Led by Hurts, the Eagles' signature strength to start the year was limiting mistakes across the board. They protected the football, they didn't give up big plays, and they continued to rack up wins against their opponents. They still ended up winning this one comfortably, but cleaning up the turnovers turn a game like this into a laugher.

• Here I was ready to say to Reed Blankenship that he could take a bow. At least one friend of mine texted me during the game in total disbelief that he did not know an Eagles player, though the real Eagles heads remember Blankenship's stellar play in training camp and preseason. Delivering under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football is a different story altogether, and he looked awesome early.

What struck me about Blankenship's performance was how decisive he moved despite being thrown into the mix mid game because of an injury. All the prep work in the world can't always prepare you to actually think and react in the moments that matter, but Blankenship trusted whatever work and studying he did prior to this game. His interception of Rodgers in the first half was all about his read of the route and where Rodgers was going, and his instincts continued to look sharp over more reps, Blankenship breaking on plays quickly.

Unfortunately, you got a taste of why Blankenship is not in the lineup when everybody is healthy. With Jordan Love in at QB for Green Bay, Eagles fans were ready to kick their feet up and enjoy another win. After Christian Watson hauled in a catch around midfield, the football universe watched as Blankenship's poor initial angle and ghastly closing speed left him drawing dead in the Watson chase:

Not ideal.  

The Ugly

• Okay seriously, how many consecutive weeks will we have to talk about the special teams stinking it up? Philadelphia's return game is absolutely dreadful, and their coverage was nearly as bad on Sunday night. You can't be bad at both parts. Correction: you shouldn't be bad at both, yet we seem to be in the part of the multiverse where the Eagles suck at both.

There's gotta be a change, or perhaps multiple changes here soon. The margins are shrinking and will be even smaller against better teams, and the Eagles can't afford to constantly give away yards because their special teams suck. Fix it already.

• If anything is going to slow the Eagles down between now and the playoffs, it's the injury report. You can have as much high-end talent and depth as is possible within the constraints of the salary cap, and it still won't be enough if you continue to lose key guys. The Eagles have largely avoided season-enders for their best players, but a lot of big-time players keep dropping from the lineup, and eventually, they're going to lose too many at the wrong time.

Everyone will have to wait for news on CJ Gardner-Johnson, but he's the latest and currently biggest worry for the Eagles right now. Seeing his slow, painful walk to the sideline after he went down with an injury was only made worse by the fact that they had to sub another backup in on defense, and with due respect to Blankenship for a good effort in this one, he is probably not filling CJGJ's shoes over the long-term.

The Eagles got another late injury scare in this one, with Landon Dickerson limping off to the sideline to be replaced by Andre Dillard. As far as depth pieces go, you could do worse than Dillard, but here's hoping nothing serious for No. 69. Dickerson did return for the final drive.

• The fourth-down sneak they failed to convert was an absolute disaster, but I firmly believe the Eagles got robbed on the previous play, where I thought Hurts' forward progress was enough to move the chains. Brutal stuff either way.

Perhaps they wouldn't have been in that spot if Quez Watkins had done, I don't know, anything on the third-down play. Saying he whiffed on a block would suggest an attempt was made, and I don't know if I can go that far.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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