What does an effective running game mean for Jalen Hurts? We've got the numbers.
Also, an incredible Keith Byars stat, a scary Eagles-Lions matchup and an aspect of DeVonta Smith's game that has to improve.
All this and lots more in this weekend's edition of Roob's 10 random Eagles observations!
1. That first drive in Vegas Sunday showed how efficient this offense – and this quarterback – can be when the coach is committed to the run. The Eagles were balanced and unpredictable and drove easily down the field for a touchdown with Miles Sanders running the ball and Jalen Hurts looking comfortable in the pocket and throwing the ball accurately. It made me wonder what kind of QB Hurts would be if the Eagles ran the ball enough to keep defenses guessing. Something he’s rarely had the chance to do. So I broke down some numbers. I separated the Eagles’ 75 drives this year into drives in which the running backs got at least two carries and drives when they had one or fewer. On the 23 drives with at least two RB carries, Hurts is 53-for-74 (72 percent) for 514 yards with four TDs, no INTs and a 108.7 passer rating. On the 52 drives where the Eagles had one or fewer carries from the backs – the unbalanced drives – he’s 95-for-168 (57 percent) for 1,202 yards with six TDs and four INTs and a 70.6 passer rating. Cause and effect? I have to think to a great extent. You can’t overstate the importance of a balanced offense to a young quarterback still trying to find his way, and these numbers prove that Hurts is significantly more effective when the running backs are involved in the offense.
2. One matchup that scares me Sunday is DeAndre Swift vs. the Eagles’ linebackers. Who’s going to cover him? Swift leads all NFL running backs with 42 catches – nobody else has more than 34 – and that puts him on pace to become the 5th running back in NFL history with 100 catches in a season. But the Philly native and St. Joe’s Prep graduate doesn’t just catch a lot of passes, he’s averaging 9.3 yards per catch, which is a lot for a RB. Swift, coached of course by Duce Staley, is one of only seven players with at least four catches in every game this year. How often does a running back lead a team in receiving yards? Swift does. And tight end T.J. Hockenson is second. The Lions might target both of them a dozen times Sunday. I would.
3. And if I’m Jonathan Gannon, the Lions are the last team on Earth I’d play Cover 2 against. Their WRs have just three catches over 25 yards this year, and Goff is averaging just 9.8 yards per completion – 31st out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks – so the threat of the deep ball is minimal. So get out of the two-deep zone and devote more resources to the middle of the field, where the Lions’ best weapons – Swift and Hockenson – run their routes.
4. I understand Fletcher Cox’s frustration, and I agree that he’s not being used ideally. But he’s still allowed to make a play here or there.
5. Jalen Hurts has either thrown the ball, run the ball or gotten sacked on 322 snaps this year. That’s the most in the NFL. Tom Brady is second at 316 and Pat Mahomes is next at 309. The Eagles have run 421 total plays, which means 75 percent of their offensive snaps have gone through Hurts. He’s being asked to do more than any QB in the NFL. What a disservice it is to a young quarterback to put three-quarters of the offense on his plate.
6. One of the more surprising things about DeVonta Smith’s rookie season so far is his 12.7 yards-per-catch average. That ranks him in the bottom half among all starting receivers (43rd out of 79). We know Smith can run, he can get open and he can track a deep ball, so that figure should be a lot higher. But Smith only has two catches over 20 yards – a 37-yarder against the Chiefs and a 25-yarder against the Bucs. Sirianni has to find ways to get Smith in position to make big plays, and Hurts has to find ways to deliver the football on time and with anticipation to his No. 1 receiver. And Smith needs to cut down on the drops also. Smith has been good this year – he’s on pace for 77 catches for 986 yards - but I feel like there’s a LOT more there.
7. The Lions’ pass defense is so bad that opposing quarterbacks have an NFL-best 114.5 passer rating. That’s 10th-highest in NFL history through seven games. Opposing QBs are passing for 263 yards per game, completing 68 percent of their passes and have thrown 15 TDs and just four interceptions. If Jalen Hurts struggles against this pass defense, it’ll definitely be cause for concern.
8. How about this Keith Byars stat: Byars is the only running back in NFL history with six consecutive seasons with 50 catches and 500 receiving yards. Byars did that from 1988 through 1993, the first five years with the Eagles and one year with the Dolphins. Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk and Lydell Mitchell each did it five years in a row. Mitchell, who played for Penn State and the Colts, played high school football at Salem High in New Jersey, the same school that produced Jonathan Taylor.
9. Derek Barnett has played 498 snaps since his last sack.
10. Over the last five games, the Eagles have scored 13 offensive touchdowns. Seven of those 13 have come in the fourth quarter, five of them with the Eagles trailing by at least two touchdowns (27, 23, 19, 19, 14).
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