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January 04, 2023

Giants at Eagles: Five players to watch

Keep an eye on these Eagles players against the Giants this weekend.

Eagles NFL
120423JalenHurts Chris Pedota/USA TODAY NETWORK

Jalen Hurts

Normally each week, we detail five matchups to watch between the Philadelphia Eagles and their upcoming opponent as a way of highlighting each teams' strengths and weaknesses. 

The Birds' Week 18 matchup will likely be against backups, as the Giants are already locked into the 6 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Giants could play their starters for a series or two to keep them sharp for the playoffs, but the risk of playing them for four quarters far outweighs the reward. 

And so, it doesn't make much sense to highlight matchups. The Eagles just need to go out and beat backups. Instead, we'll highlight five Eagles players who could use a good performance heading into the playoffs.

1) QB Jalen Hurts

Hurts is very likely to return to the lineup Week 18 after missing two games with a sprained shoulder. There was previously a sentiment among some national folks that Hurts' elite-level play was a product of the players around him, and not necessarily because Hurts was performing at a high level himself.

It's kinda funny that Simms' theory was tested almost immediately thereafter, as Hurts injured his shoulder a few days later. The Eagles then lost two games that they probably would have won with Hurts, with backup Gardner Minshew playing poorly against the Saints Week 17. It's almost as if the hot take gods were watching Simms and were like, "Oh, the Eagles would still be mashing everyone with Minshew? Alright, cool, let's find out."

The question for Hurts going forward is how well he'll be able to throw the football when he returns. One of his biggest improvements from 2021 to 2022 has been his accuracy, so it will be interesting to see how that might be affected, as well as his velocity. I'll also be curious to see how much Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen are willing to call designed runs for Hurts against the Giants. My guess? Not many.

2) WR Quez Watkins

In the Eagles' win over the Bears, a bad Watkins route led to an interception of Hurts. 

In the Eagles' loss to the Cowboys, a bad Watkins slant route led to an interception of Minshew. 

To begin, Watkins has to run better routes. That's clear. However, I'm curious to see if he has already lost Hurts' trust, or if Hurts will continue to throw Watkins' way if that's where the ball should go based on the defensive look. You don't want to be playing 10 on 11 football in January, but you also don't want to keep going to a receiver who is causing turnovers because isn't where he needs to be. Watkins has some work to do to regain the Eagles' quarterbacks' trust.

3) LB Kyzir White

Dak Prescott and Andy Dalton successfully attacked White in the passing game the last couple of weeks. Cowboys and Saints tight ends were efficient in each of the Eagles' losses, as they combined for 11 catches on 14 targets for 154 yards. Those numbers would look even worse if not for a a dropped pass by a wide open Juwan Johnson last Sunday.

There are some good tight ends that will be playing in the playoffs, like George Kittle, T.J. Hockenson, Dalton Schultz, etc., and White could use a good performance to get back on track. Or perhaps more importantly, Jonathan Gannon needs to find a way to protect White from being exposed that way that he has the last two weeks.

4) OTs Jack Driscoll / Andre Dillard / Jordan Mailata

Prior to their Week 17 matchup against the Saints, the Eagles had to decide how they were going to replace Lane Johnson at RT. Their two options:

  1. Simply insert Jack Driscoll in at RT.
  2. Play Andre Dillard at LT, and move Jordan Mailata to RT.

They chose option No. 1, which in my opinion was the right choice. As it turned out, Driscoll was up and down against the Saints, but his play wasn't as bad as the three sacks that Cameron Jordan had might indicate. As in, they weren't all on Driscoll.

Would it make sense for the Eagles to get a look at Dillard at LT and Mailata at RT Week 18, to see which Johnson replacement version works best?

Johnson is expected to play in the playoffs, but he has an injury that has a high probability of re-aggravation, so the Eagles need to be prepared with the best contingency plan possible should he be lost during the playoffs. If he were to go down in-game in the playoffs, the easy answer is to have Driscoll fill right back in. However, if Johnson were to be ruled out for a game prior to its start, it might be beneficial to have seen the Dillard/Mailata option. Of course, it would also make sense to get Driscoll as much playing time as possible heading into the playoffs.

Either way, that RT spot is worth watching.

5) LB Haason Reddick

In the NFL Defensive Player of the Year discussion, it feels a lot like Nick Bosa is the heavy favorite, with Micah Parsons trailing behind him. But what about Reddick? His stats are right there with either player:

DPOY candidates Tackles Sacks FF-FR QB hits 
Nick Bosa, 49ers 48 17.5 2-0 47 
Micah Parsons Cowboys 63 13.0 3-3 26 
Haason Reddick, Eagles 48 16.0 5-3 23 

Bosa does have an abnormal number of QB hits, so I would lean toward him. Still, Reddick has a chance to close out this season strongly and put himself in "prime Reggie White" territory in terms of single-season sacks:

Year Player Sacks 
1987 Reggie White 21 
1992 Clyde Simmons 19 
1986 Reggie White 18 
1988 Reggie White 18 
2011 Jason Babin 18 
1984 Greg Brown 16 
2022 Haason Reddick 16 
1989 Clyde Simmons 15.5 
1991 Reggie White 15 
2000 Hugh Douglas 15 

• Side note 1: That stretch from 1986-1988 in which Reggie White had 57 sacks is insane. 

• Side note 2: The 1987 season was strike-shortened. White had 21 sacks in 12 games. If that were a normal season, White would very likely hold the NFL's single-season sack record, not Michael Strahan.

• Side note 3: It'd be nice to see Jason Babin's selfish, garbage 2011 season get moved down a peg on that list.

And, of course, the team as a whole has 68 sacks this season, four shy of the NFL's single-season record of 72, set by the Bears in 1984.

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