October 10, 2021
It looked like the Eagles were heading toward a sure 1-4 start as their offense looked positively anemic against the Panthers for the better part of three quarters Sunday, but a grind-it-out, comeback 21-18 win has them 2-3, and feeling good again.
"Really what that felt like was a complete team win," head coach Nick Sirianni said afterwards, on his offense nearly wasting an incredible performance from his defense. "When one unit was down the other unit has to bring it up."
A loss would have answered a lot of questions about this Eagles team, which has looked like one of the worst teams in football over the last few weeks. But their surprising win has now created a lot more uncertainty about this team than we have had in a while.
Here are five of the most intriguing of these questions, and the ones we'll probably be discussing for the next few days, if not longer:
The Eagles defense was absolutely spectacular against Carolina Sunday, almost single-handedly willing the Eagles to victory despite not having a defensive score. Steven Nelson had a clutch interception to ice the game in the fourth after fellow cornerback Darius Slay had two earlier in the game. The special teams unit (not technically the defense but it was the defensive half of that unit) blocked a punt in the fourth to set up Jalen Hurts' second touchdown scamper, to put the Birds ahead for the first time. They also sacked Sam Darnold three times, and held the Panthers offense to just 18 points and 262 total yards from scrimmage.
This came on the heels of allowing 83 points and 851 total yards combined in ugly losses to the Cowboys and Chiefs over the last two weeks. So which defense is the real one?
Perhaps it's simply reflection of the level of their competition. The Falcons, 49ers (who had injury issues on offense) and Panthers may just be lesser teams, and the Cowboys and Chiefs true contenders. Or maybe there was an adjustment period needed in the weeks after the team lost one of its biggest leaders, Brandon Graham, to a season-ending injury.
Whatever the answer is, their defense will be tested pretty ferociously again this coming Thursday against Tom Brady and the defending champion Bucs, a game in which Philly is already a touchdown underdog.
Every time we think, for sure, Hurts is the mobile, elusive, strong-armed quarterback of our dreams, he holds the ball too long, turns it over or misses an open receiver. And just when you finally think you're out on him after, say, throwing the ball out of bounds on a free play, he leads a go-ahead touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.
So what does the future hold for Hurts?
After nine NFL starts, the jury is still out on whether he's going to be the guy under center long term for Philadelphia. But the clock is ticking. The Eagles may never have had a better arsenal of draft picks than they will have in 2022, with as many as three selections in the first 16 picks coming their way and potentially their choice of a first-round signal caller from the college ranks.
But the only thing better than landing a top prospect to play quarterback, would be to use those picks on replenishing the offensive and defensive lines, and perhaps adding a star cornerback or linebacker — with Hurts firmly in place as the inexpensive star QB. Hurts' play over the next few weeks and months will determine all of this, and he's been doing just enough to keep hope alive that he may be the man to run the offense for years to come. But not quite enough for us to make a decision one way or the other.
You can't blame Sirianni for mistakes he made in losses to the Chiefs and 49ers — during which he made coaching mistakes spanning from time management errors, horrible play calls, questionable decisions on fourth down in the red zone, and utilization of his skill players (like Miles Sanders) — without crediting him for finding a way to turn things around after an atrocious first half in Charlotte in Week 5.
Sirianni was able to pull on the right levers to carry his hobbling offense across the finish line, while allowing Jonathan Gannon's defense to go to work keeping them in the game.
Using Hurts as a running threat toward the end of Sunday's victory wound up being perhaps the smartest thing did, and one can't help but feel optimistic that perhaps the rookie coach is starting to find his footing. He also seems to have his finger on the pulse of the locker room.
"I saw their fight and their 'next play' mentality all game," the coach said. "Sometime you win ugly, but it's just a matter of keep fighting, keep going. It was emotional, it was a great win to get... We look forward to being able to repeat that feeling that we had in the locker room."
There is less than a month and three games remaining before the November 2 trade deadline, and it is a crucial one for the Eagles.
You'll no doubt be reading stories by Eagles pundits and our own Jimmy Kempski looking at which players might be moved at the deadline if the Eagles decide to be sellers and we won't get into all of that right now, but does their Week 5 win make them more likely to buy at the deadline?
While it is tempting to surmise that the Eagles could make a playoff run if they can continue to field an offense like the one from the Chiefs game and a defense like the one from the Panthers game, this team is best served by selling off whatever parts it can, from Zach Ertz to even Fletcher Cox. If it is "retooling" anyway — as team owner Jeffrey Lurie called it back in January — the team must take advantage of whatever leverage it can get to acquire more draft picks. Collecting more assets ahead of the draft will not only help them to add incoming rookies, but also to give them cap space to sign free agents, and picks they can trade to bring in younger players from other teams.
Anything short of wins against two of the Buccaneers, Raiders and Lions in the next three weeks and the Eagles need to sell, sell, sell.
The Cowboys are good, and leaps and bounds better than the Eagles. Winning the NFC East would require them to get some help from Dallas by way of injury or regression. Otherwise, their best hope, really, is sneaking in with nine wins or so and that doesn't really do the team any good as they are supposed to be retooling — and higher draft picks will serve them better than a one-and-done postseason trip anyway.
The schedule will line up to give the team some very winnable games as the weather gets cold, with the Giants and Washington on the schedule twice apiece, along with the Lions and Jets, but to think this team is anything other than learning, trying to get better and focus on contending in 2022 is a shortsighted goal to be sure.
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