EAGLES

Eagles overreactions: Big backup game has future lessons

EAGLES

The Eagles lost a game they weren't trying to win on Saturday night, falling to the Cowboys at home and finishing the 2021-22 regular season with a 9-8 record. Nick Sirianni chose to put his backups on the field against the division rivals, so the outcome wasn't really important, but that doesn't mean we can't learn from what we watched.

Here are three spicy overreactions to a weird game before we start looking ahead to the postseason:

1. The Eagles' offense is bigger than one running back

I've been pretty vocal in my belief that the Eagles should not bring back Miles Sanders after his rookie contract expires, and we've had plenty of evidence this season that they can make any running back with even mild talent look good in Nick Sirianni's modified offensive system - you know, the one he's been running since he remembered running the ball is good.

And Saturday night was yet another reminder that the Birds can run the ball with or without Sanders.

Jason Huntley got his first extended look of the season on Saturday vs. Dallas's starters, and was surprisingly effective with volume. He ran 13 times for 51 yards, consistently bringing burst on inside runs and when he bounced it outside.

Kenny Gainwell also ran roughshod over Dallas's defense, carrying the ball 12 times for 78 yards, and looked every bit the draft night steal we all thought he was.

Overall the Eagles ran 33 times for 149 yards and a touchdown, and despite playing an all-backup offensive line without their uber-mobile QB they were tremendous on the ground once again.

 

This is just who the Eagles' offense is now: an unstoppable running machine.

And it's why investing serious financial resources in a single running back is a terrible idea, unless he's a truly game-changing back like a Derrick Henry or a Nick Chubb or a Dalvin Cook. Sanders is fine, but he is certainly not a game-changer.

I hope this run-first offense continues, because it's clearly working. And I hope the Eagles are smart enough to realize they have a ton of varied talent at the RB position on the roster.

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2. Gardner Minshew needs to stay an Eagle next year

The ESPN broadcast mused Saturday night as the game was starting that Gardner Minshew would probably be traded this offseason.

Minshew wasn't fantastic on Saturday vs. Dallas - he finished 19 of 33 for 186 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception that wasn't his fault - but he played well enough, and avoided mistakes well enough, to keep the Eagles in a game against a Cowboys team that was actively trying to win. And without a shanked punt at the end of the first half, this is an even closer game.

I'd like to put an official plea in to Howie Roseman: don't listen to ESPN's booth. Bring Minshew back next year.

Why?

Think of all the times you've watched backup quarterbacks go into games and absolutely fall flat on their respective faces, lobbing interceptions all over the field or holding on to the ball forever and taking enormous, drive-killing sacks. It's so frustrating to know watch a team with enough talent to stay competitive get crushed by bad QB play.

Minshew isn't a revelation at the position, but he will always give the Eagles a chance to stick in a game long enough to possibly steal it if Hurts - or whoever the starter is next year - is out with an injury. He doesn't make bad decisions, he avoids turnovers, and he can make the smart and easy throws that keep drives alive. If the Eagles next year are going to be operating a run-heavy offense (and they should be), Minshew can lead a run-heavy offense and keep the Birds alive in basically any game.

Oh, and in case you forgot, he's making less than $1 million next season.

He's exactly the kind of guy the Eagles should be thrilled to have on their roster.

READ: Eagles’ Tyree Jackson suffers knee injury vs. Cowboys

 

3. The Cowboys don't strike me as real contenders

Jerry Jones and the Cowboys' decision-makers made it clear before Saturday's game that they wanted their starters to see significant action because they wanted to win and vie for the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

And then they were barely better than the Eagles' second- and third-string players. It was 30-20 late in the third quarter.

Yikes!

The Dallas offense largely looked like it was in charge, which is what you'd expect from an explosive unit that set a franchise record for points scored in a season. But the cracks were there. 

Dak Prescott, even against backup defenders, straight-up missed throws he shouldn't miss. There was no reason he couldn't have gone without an incomplete pass on Saturday; the Eagles' backup secondary was leaving his targets absolutely wide open.

Ezekiel Elliott still looks like he's lost a step, and I wouldn't be worried about keeping him under wraps in the playoffs.

And the Dallas defense? Don't get me started. What a questionable showing, giving up 17 first-half points to a team of backups.

The narrative this season has been a tale of Dan Quinn fixing their unit, but outside of Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs' interceptions (which will regress to the mean and expose his fundamentally flawed coverage) it feels like the Cowboys' D is ripe for a letdown game against a legitimate team. They're allowing the ninth-most rushing yards per attempt in the NFL, they rank 20th in the league in pass yards per attempt against, and their Top 10 scoring defense ranking is a bit skewed thanks to their strength of schedule.

I like Prescott's game and I like the Cowboys' weapons at wide receiver and tight end, and obviously Parsons is special, but as a team Dallas doesn't say contender to me.