EAGLES

Eagles overreactions: How Hurts was sneaky great in win

EAGLES

The Eagles put their fans through the ringer on Sunday, but they pulled out a tight 20-16 win over the Washington Football Team for win No. 9 of the season to stay in pole position in the race for an NFC Wild Card spot.

There were some things to like, plenty of things to worry about, and a lot to debate from the win.

Let's overreact to a sloppy and strange game:

1. Jalen Hurts had a very good afternoon

Jalen Hurts didn't put up video game numbers through the air on Sunday against Washington, but if you watched every single throw it was clear that the second-year QB played a particularly sharp game.

Hurts put a lot of balls in exactly the right spots, was more on time than he's been in recent weeks with his decisions - like the one that cost him a possible TD in the red zone last week on the much-discussed Dallas Goedert end zone "miss" - and looked extremely in control of the offense all game long.

Even as the offense sputtered in the first quarter, the failures weren't Hurts' fault. Questionable play-calling (the Jalen Reagor end-around must die) and an overreliance on Jordan Howard, who was clearly not fully healthy Sunday, cost the Eagles their first drive of the game despite Hurts going 2-for-2 for 35 yards and running for 13 more on his own.

And as has been the case frequently over the past few weeks, Hurts has shown serious growth in a place I needed to see growth this year: keeping his eyes down the field as he extends plays with his legs.

 

This tremendous third-and-long play is basically the distillation of what you hope Hurts can be on a regular basis as an NFL quarterback:

That is just fantastic. Combining the escapability that makes him so slippery in the pocket with a newfound patience, rather than just pulling the ball down and running for a few yards, is going to be so valuable if he can make plays like this one with consistency.

Elsewhere Hurts was dynamic on the ground once again, even though he seemed more 90% healthy than 100%. He was healthy enough to plant his ankles, and he rattled off a 22-yard run early on that forced Washington's defense to constantly worry about his wheels the rest of the day.

It was no "Joe Burrow throws for 500+ yards" showing, but Sunday was a great outing for Hurts.

2. Jonathan Gannon still needs to be better

Last week I used this space to laud some great recent individual performances from the Eagles' young defenders, guys like Josh Sweat and Marcus Epps.

On Sunday that trend continued - Sweat had a monster game featuring 1.5 sacks; Avonte Maddox continued to look like an elite slot CB - but the defensive coaching left plenty to be desired, and the unit in general took a noticeable step back Sunday from recent weeks.

And that falls on Jonathan Gannon.

Gannon refused to call any kind of blitz in the initial two frames, was way too passive on Washington's final drive of the first half (which resulted in three undeserved points), and generally sat back against a totally mediocre quarterback in Taylor Heinicke, allowing the WFT QB to play the way elite QBs did against the Eagles' defense earlier this season.

That buzzed-about improvement Gannon's unit made in the past few weeks, leading to inexplicable rumors of Gannon getting head coach interview looks? Totally smoke and mirrors.

It wasn't an improvement. It was playing fine defense against a historically bad stretch of opposing QBs. Look at these names in the last five games, during the Birds allowed just 260 yards and 17.4 points per game:

  • Jake Fromm
  • Mike Glennon
  • Garrett Gilbert
  • Zach Wilson
  • Daniel Jones
  • Trevor Siemian

It's not a coincidence.

This defense has good individual players who make good individual plays, but as a unit Gannon is simply not maximizing the potential. He doesn't scheme anything interesting up for the front seven, and his secondary's "sit back and get crushed underneath" play style is miserable against increasingly accurate starting QBs around the league.

The second half was a marked improvement as Gannon realized that occasional blitzing can, in fact, work against a mediocre quarterback like Heinicke (what an idea!) but praising him for that adjustment without getting on him for the awful start would be a mistake.

The overall defensive approach needs adjustments before next season if Gannon returns. And the Eagles need to add more defensive playmakers in the draft with those three first-round draft picks.

3. Jalen Reagor simply doesn't make plays

I touched on it earlier when I denounced the futility of Nick Sirianni's repeated end-around calls designed to get Reagor, who looks insanely slow lately, in space.

 

But man, Jalen Reagor just doesn't make big plays, huh?

Another week, another late-game chance for the second-year wideout to do something positive and win over the fanbase, another week that he simply doesn't come up big.

Jalen Hurts put a wild desperation throw out in front of Reagor on third down late in the fourth quarter, up by one point and with a chance to extend the possession as the Eagles looked to put the clamps down on Washington with a touchdown drive:

Was it a perfect throw? No, absolutely not. Reagor had to go down to make the catch. But considering the oncoming pass rush, and the angle Hurts had to take just to get the ball out, it was a pretty impressive effort. There was a clear window between Reagor's defender and the ground to haul it in. He did not. 

And could you also ask for pass interference? I guess, yeah. The referees weren't afraid to swallow their whistles in favor of WFT on Sunday.

Ultimately, I'm going to put this one on Reagor because he's simply had too many chances to show his worth. Every single week is maddening with him.