Philadelphia Eagles-New York Giants: Jalen Hurts, Eagles have … – The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Eagles did what they had to do and beat the New York Giants, 22-16, to lock down the NFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs. It was another suspect late-season effort, but Jalen Hurts was restricted in his return, and the team at least has an extra week to work out any kinks before the postseason. Win, lose, or draw, here’s what we learned:
Let’s start with Jalen Hurts. The quarterback was rushed back from his right shoulder sprain when backup Gardner Minshew and the Eagles failed in two tries to hammer down the top seed. Hurts was clearly limited based on how coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen held off on designed runs, how aggressive he was in the open field, and how he threw the ball. After the game, Sirianni was quite frank about his quarterback’s condition. “He was hurting bad,” the coach said. If he was hurt that bad, it stands to reason why his coaches would have him drop to throw on 42 plays. But the Eagles couldn’t put away a Giants team that started its third-string quarterback and rested key players and Hurts had to go the distance.
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Before we get to concerns about Hurts’ arm, assuming he’s healthier by the divisional round, the Eagles offense won’t be as restricted. The zone-read runs and run-pass options in which he is a plus-one factor will be back in the game plan. The offense had weeks when defenses took those elements away and they managed to thrive in the drop-back game (see: the Tennessee Titans win just last month). But if opponents are going to sell out to stop the run, or at least take one defender from the back to account for Hurts, it opens up the secondary for receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert. The Eagles have a top-three ranked unit because of their balance, more so than, say, the Chiefs, who want to utilize Patrick Mahomes’ unique passing abilities.
That isn’t to take anything away from Hurts. But he’s still developing and the Eagles don’t want to force the passing game if how a defensive coordinator deploys his numbers says they should lean on the ground game. Lane Johnson will also be back. The right tackle is arguably the most important player on the roster, minus the quarterback, because he can exist on an island in pass protection. Johnson has decided to hold off surgery on his groin and is unlikely to be 100%. The Eagles will also likely be without slot cornerback Avonte Maddox. Take a look at the rest of the playoff teams, though, and you won’t find a roster without key missing players. Comparatively speaking, the Eagles remain one of the healthier squads, and the additional week off will only help heal the bumps and bruises that accumulate with time.
Are the Eagles entering the postseason with momentum? Not quite. But too much can be made of how the season ends vs. the overall picture. This is a good team with a deep roster. The Eagles didn’t win 14 games for the first time in franchise history — with a 17th-game assist — by accident. They didn’t set team records in points (477), touchdowns (59), and sacks (70) because of fill-in-the-blank reasons. The 2017 Eagles limped into the postseason with their backup quarterback and still won the whole dang thing. Yes, streaks are a real thing. You ride them as long as you can. And sometimes teams that just squeak into the postseason run all the way to the championship. Neither top-conference seed made the Super Bowl last year. But the two remaining teams in the final game, by and large, have been teams that were good enough to earn a first-round bye. If told before the season that the Eagles would go 14-3, win the NFC East, and be the No. 1 seed, there wouldn’t be a single complaint.
I don’t want to sugarcoat the Eagles’ final four lackluster performances either. Hurts’ absence in the two losses are obvious qualifiers, but all it takes is one off week to get knocked out of the postseason, and the Eagles aren’t infallible. Again, every playoff team has deficiencies. The ones that make it through the playoff minefield are best at accounting for their shortcomings. But a quick recap of areas of concern — defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s record vs. top-shelf quarterbacks, the leaky run defense, the flattening turnover differential, running back Miles Sanders’ decreasing usage, cornerback Darius Slay’s second-half-of-the-season regression, slot receiver Quez Watkins’ role, the special teams cover units, and Brett Kern’s punting — show the Eagles have plenty to keep Sirianni and Co. up at night.
Gannon will likely interview for several head coaching openings during the bye week. The Texans, who came close to hiring him a year ago, are reportedly set to reach out. He can’t allow that opportunity to become a distraction, although I don’t imagine it will. Gannon wants to entice offenses to run the ball, which partly explains the Eagles’ 21st DVOA ranking in run defense. But if opponents can control the clock, it can decrease the advantages Sirianni has on the other side of the ball. Through the first 13 games, the Eagles led the NFL in turnover differential with a plus-14. In the last four, they’re minus-6.
Sanders suffered a knee injury against the Dallas Cowboys, but he hasn’t been the same since he eclipsed 1,000 yards for the season at the Giants a month ago. No Hurts as a plus-one was likely one reason for the dip in his yards per carry – 5.0 to 4.4 – but he also had two fumbles. Sanders played a season-low 40% of the snaps in his last two games, likely to account for the knee.
Slay was dominant for more than the first half of the season. But he hasn’t locked down as many receivers over the last couple of months. And it’s not as if the Eagles have faced a steady stream of top ball catchers, aside from the Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb. Slay still makes plays on the ball – although he could have had a couple of interceptions on Sunday – but he has gotten beaten in man coverage more than usual. The cornerback doesn’t register as high on the list of defensive concerns, but the receiving tests will be tougher in the playoffs.
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Michael Clay’s special teams came up huge against the Giants. Jake Elliott connected on a career-high 5 of 5 field goal attempts, including two 50-plus-yarders. Christian Elliss snuffed out a fake field goal that resulted in a Zech McPhearson sack. Nakobe Dean pounced on a loose ball after a surprise onside kick to open the second half. Britain Covey returned two punts for a 15-yard average. And Reed Blankenship clinched the outcome when he recovered another onside kick. But the Eagles’ kick cover unit allowed another long return and Kern averaged 33.5 yards net on two punts. If he qualified, the 37-year-old Kern’s 36.6-yard overall net would be second worst in the NFL. His punts often make it seem as if he’s kicking a deflated ball. The Eagles ran out of practice squad promotions and had to sign him to the 53-man roster on Sunday. Is it possible Sirianni makes a change with regular Arryn Siposs still out with an ankle injury? Now would be the time with two weeks until the next game. One issue complicating a move is finding a punter who can also hold on kicks. Covey was an emergency holder when Siposs got hurt at the Giants, but it’s unclear if it’s a job he can do consistently. The Eagles haven’t completely ruled out Siposs for the postseason, but he was still wearing a boot on his left plant leg as of last week.
Wink Martindale blitzed Hurts on a whopping 28 of 42 drops (66.7%). That’s a lot, even for the blitz-happy defensive coordinator. And what did he have to lose with less than a full deck and the Giants playing for virtually nothing? Hurts did fine against the blitz, completing 14 of 24 passes for 182 yards, per Pro Football Focus. He was sacked two times. But when he was under pressure – and some of those came vs. 4-man rushes – he struggled. Hurts completed just 3 of 9 passes for 42 yards and tossed an interception under those circumstances.
Most quarterbacks don’t like to be pressured, but Hurts ranks 18th out of 40 qualifying quarterbacks in PFF’s analytics when it comes to handling pressure. He had his worst day of the season on Sunday likely because he couldn’t, as he often likes to say, “get freaky.” He did almost everything he could to avoid contact and that meant either going to the ground or throwing the ball away. If the shoulder is still an issue in two weeks, that could continue to limit his effectiveness when pressured. But the best way to avoid contact and be productive is to simply complete passes. Hurts has to react quicker and find solutions through the air if the Eagles are to counter whatever pressures their next opponent hopes to dial up.
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And many of them came from general manager Howie Roseman’s offseason acquisitions. Brown set the franchise mark with 1,496 receiving yards, passing Mike Quick’s 1,409 yards set in 1983. The 25-year-old receiver finished just 98 yards short of having as many yards as every receiver combined on his former team, the Titans. Brown finished fourth in the league in receiving yards and his 17.0 average was third.
Outside linebacker Haason Reddick finished tied for second in the NFL in sacks with 16 and tied for first with five forced fumbles. His 16 sacks were the most by an Eagles player since Jason Babin recorded 18 in 2011.
Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson notched six interceptions and finished tied for first even though he missed five games with a lacerated kidney. With Maddox out and Josiah Scott’s struggles as his replacement, Gannon had Gardner-Johnson move to the slot and Blankenship at safety in nickel personnel.
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Cornerback James Bradberry finished third in the NFL in pass breakups with 17.
Not to be forgotten, even though he is often overlooked, is T.J. Edwards. The undrafted linebacker isn’t a new face, of course, but he could be an old one if he leaves via free agency this offseason. Edwards finished tied for seventh in the league in total tackles with 159. Tackles aren’t an official statistic and the Eagles don’t keep track of records in the category. But his total is the most for the franchise since Byron Evans (175) in 1992, according to Pro Football Reference.
Boston Scott rushed nine times for 54 yards and a touchdown and morphed again into Barry Sanders against the Giants. Ten of the running back’s 17 career touchdowns have come vs. New York. … Defensive end Robert Quinn played 18 of 63 snaps in his return following a four-game absence due to a knee injury. In 98 snaps since the Eagles acquired him from the Bears for a fourth-rounder, Quinn has recorded just two tackles and two quarterback hits. … Rookie nose tackle Jordan Davis was on the field for just eight snaps. The Eagles’ top draft pick has played in 18.3% of the snaps since returning from an ankle injury. In seven games before the injury, he averaged 31.3% playing time. The addition of veteran Linval Joseph has been one reason for his reduced time, although Davis lined up over the center more the last two games.


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