Signs of growth! Signs of progress! Signs that the Eagles are moving in the right direction!
And the schedule only gets easier from here.
Here's my 10 Instant Observations from the Eagles' second win in three games, 30-13 over the Broncos in Denver, improving them to 4-6 and 4-2 on the road.
1. You just saw a good football team. I don’t want to get carried away here, but you get the sense the Eagles have made their way through hell – ugly blowout losses to the Cowboys, Chiefs, Bucs and Raiders – and come out the other side. This is three weeks in a row they’ve played 60 very hard, very competitive, very respectable minutes of football, and they’ve got two road wins and a last-second loss to show for it. You’re seeing a team that’s growing up, that’s finding itself, that never stopped believing in its coaches, that never stopped believing in itself. They’ve equaled last year’s win total and there’s a bunch of winnable games on the horizon.
2. Unusual game for Jalen Hurts. Was brilliant in the first half and then only threw three passes in the second half, one of them an interception. Which is fine. If you can keep moving the sticks running the ball, why not? Bad decision on the interception but overall he was very good, and his accuracy and ability to put the ball exactly where he wanted to is really encouraging. Hurts finished 16-for-23 (a season-high 70 percent) for 178 yards with two touchdowns and the one INT – his first in four games. We’re all looking for growth, and we got it Sunday on the road against a top-5 defense. And his best throw of the season – the Quez Watkins drop – should have been a 34-yard touchdown. Hurts used the entire field, he spread the ball around, he made plays with his legs, he got the ball in the end zone and he threw with terrific anticipation – he did everything you want your quarterback to do. He just played with tremendous poise and intelligence. This will be a tough one for the Hurts Haters to swallow. He was really good Sunday.
3. But it doesn’t happen if Sirianni doesn’t give him a chance to be really good. The game plan was a perfect mixture of runs and passes early, and then grind it out on the ground late. Perfection. The Eagles kept the Broncos on their heels with a balanced attack in the first half and then just kept running it the rest of the game. Sirianni has really grown as a play caller, and the first half - 20 runs, 20 passes - was his best yet. We were all afraid he'd stop dialing up a heavy dose of running plays, but it's clear now he understands that's what works best for this team.
4. DeVonta Smith didn’t have huge numbers Sunday, but man was he impressive. He was 4-for-66 in the first half and that’s where he finished, but I don’t even care about the numbers because you watch this kid play and it’s impossible not to think … “The Eagles FINALLY got it right.” He’s so smooth and so clutch and you can just see the chemistry between him and Hurts growing every week. That first touchdown was a work of art. Smith is a skinny dude, but he’s aggressive and physical to the ball and it’s great to see that he’s worked through his relatively minor but still concerning problem with drops. Smith is just going to keep getting better.
5. That was some remarkable defense the Eagles played in (and just outside) the red zone. They didn’t tackle particularly well between the 20s Sunday and gave up a few plays, but they made huge tackle after huge tackle on critical snaps when the Broncos got near the end zone. The Broncos had drives to the 3-, 4-, 10- and 10-yard-lines that netted a total of six points. And then another one down to the 23 that turned into an Eagles touchdown on the Darius Slay return. So after the first quarter, the Eagles actually outscored the Broncos 7-6 on five drives when the Broncos were inside the Eagles’ 25-yard-line. Bend-but-don’t-break only works if you’re exceptional in the red zone, and the Eagles sure were Sunday. Jonathan Gannon needed a game like this and he and his players delivered in a big way.
6. This is three straight games the Eagles have rushed for 175 or more yards, and that’s something they had only done eight times in franchise history – only three times since 1950. It took a while for this team to find an offensive identity, but they sure have one now. The Eagles haven’t had a 100-yard rusher during this stretch, and once again, it was a collaborative effort with Jordan Howard (12-for-83), Boston Scott (11-for-81) and Jalen Hurts (11-for-56 before kneel downs) all helping the Eagles pile up 214 rushing yards. I know one thing. Whenever Miles Sanders comes back, Scott and Howard HAVE to remain a big part of this offense.
7. The Lions and Chargers have certifiably bad run defenses, but the Broncos are a top-10 rush defense, and with this performance the Eagles really proved they can run it against anybody. And this has as much to do with the o-line as the backs. The offensive line really imposed its will on the Broncos’ defense, and even in the second half, when the Broncos knew the Eagles were going to keep hammering it on the ground, they couldn’t stop them. The Broncos did everything they could to sell out against the run in the second half, but still the Eagles ran it 20 times for 114 yards – and threw just three times. So they averaged almost six yards a carry against a stacked box. This is officially now an exceptional running team with a coach that appears to understand that. That’s a hell of a combination.
8. It’s no coincidence that the Eagles have turned a bit of a corner defensively the last few weeks since T.J. Edwards has replaced Alex Singleton as the primary middle linebacker. Singleton played fairly well last year but was struggling this year, and the change has given the defense more physicality and a real thumper in the middle. And I’ll tell you what, it’s great to see Davion Taylor out there running around. For a kid who hasn’t played a whole lot at this level, he’s very active and that forced fumble that resulted in the Slay TD was a heck of a play. He got his hand in there in the middle of a lot of traffic on that 4th-and-1 and stripped the ball from Melvin Gordon. Play of the game. The Eagles started the season with Singleton and Eric Wilson getting most of the linebacker snaps. Edwards and Taylor are definitely an upgrade.
9. The Eagles only had one sack, but I thought they did a better job than they have lately getting pressure on the quarterback. Even Fletcher Cox showed up and made a few plays. I’d still like to see them finish some of those hurries and turn them into sacks. But Bridgewater didn’t have a ton of time in the pocket and only completed two passes for more than 15 yards.
10. At this point, I should just cut and paste whatever I wrote last week about Derek Barnett’s lack of discipline. Two more penalties Sunday, including his third personal foul of the season and his fourth offsides. Was the roughing the passer a tough call? It doesn’t matter. Barnett has a reputation now. The officials are watching him, and anything that’s close is going to draw a flag. He’s got to understand that, but it doesn’t seem like he does. Barnett did record a sack, but five years into his career he has more penalty yards (183) than sack yards (173). Everybody wants to bench him but for who? Ryan Kerrigan? There is nobody else. Barnett has to play and he has to play smarter, but there’s no reason to believe he’s capable of doing it.
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