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11 things I think about the Eagles following their upset win over the Saints

On Jalen Hurts, Doug Pederson, and more!

New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Time for some very important thoughts following the Philadelphia Eagles’ Week 14 win over the New Orleans Saints.

1 - I think it’s nice to see an enjoyable win!

The 2020 Eagles season has largely been exhausting. It hasn’t been enjoyable or entertaining.

So many losses have come with the added weight of realizing that the overall health of this franchise is not in good shape.

At the very least, Sunday’s win over the Saints offered a reprieve from such depression. The Eagles were actually fun to watch!

Now, it’s more than fair to wonder if winning in the short-term is in the team’s best long-term interests. But even if that’s your stance, there has to be a small part of you in your Eagles fandom that enjoyed seeing a win.

Next stop: playoffs?! (Probably not. But ... maybe?)

2 - I think the Eagles can enjoy potentially preventing the Saints from getting the No. 1 seed

The Saints arguably need a first-round bye more than any other playoff team. Seems important for them to get some extra rest for Drew Brees, who have been dealing with eleventy billion broken ribs. New Orleans might not be able to enjoy that luxury after losing to Philly, though.

Eagles fans should enjoy sticking it to the Saints. They’ve had the Birds’ number in the past and they’ve been pretty obnoxious. To recap:

  • Sean Payton had the Saints’ team buses do laps around Lincoln Financial Field after the Saints’ playoff win in January 2014.
  • Alvin Kamara said the Saints would have “beat the shit out of” the Eagles in the 2018 NFC Championship Game if they didn’t embarrassingly choke against the Minnesota Vikings.
  • Kamara and Mark Ingram mocked the Eagles’ ski masks and referred to the Eagles as “fraudulents.”
  • The Saints played the anthem of the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl season — Meek Mill’s Dreams And Nightmares — in the locker room after beating Philly in the 2019 divisional round.

They’re really just a loath-able team, as I previously wrote for SB Nation:

The team and fans have been so whiny after annually choking in the playoffs. Sean Payton pining for reviewable pass interference and Saints fans throwing a parade to protest Super Bowl LIII because of that one missed call in the 2019 NFC Championship Game was so pathetic. You guys still got the ball first at home in overtime with a Hall of Fame quarterback! No one should feel bad for you.

It’ll be good to know the Eagles helped contribute to the Saints’ ultimately downfall — and perhaps their very last run with Brees — when they inevitably lose in the playoffs again.

3 - I think Jalen Hurts’ first NFL start was encouraging

THE GOOD

  • Showed composure. Never looked like the big moment was too big for him. Played calm and under control.
  • Mostly avoided negative plays. Zero sacks taken! Threw the ball away, didn’t regularly force things.
  • Great mobility. Ran 18 times for 106 yards, including eight first downs. Legitimate rushing threat.
  • Good accuracy. Not completely reflected in his completion percentage but hit receivers in stride to set up YAC.
  • Really impressive back-shoulder touchdown throw to Alshon Jeffery on fourth down. (Hurts has now thrown two NFL touchdowns, both coming on fourth down.

THE BAD

  • Deep ball for Reagor was a little too far out in front despite having ample time to throw.
  • Had a potential pick six dropped. Bad throw.
  • Fumble on the Eagles’ penultimate drive allowed the Saints to make a late push for the win.

OVERALL

There was more good than bad from Hurts. His performance looks even more encouraging when you consider he had success against the Saints’ defense:

Hurts obviously has much to prove before being crowned as one of the NFL’s next greatest quarterbacks. But he played a smart, winning brand of football in his first start. Encouraging performance. Let’s see how he builds on it.

4 - I think we saw that Carson Wentz is a bigger problem than Doug Pederson

I’ve been pretty consistent in my belief that Pederson has taken a disproportionate of blame for the Eagles’ offensive struggles this year. Not to say that he’s blameless. But the point was that Wentz is actually the biggest problem.

Well, Pederson is now 11-3 without Wentz after Sunday’s win.

Those three losses:

1) Meaningless Week 17 game in 2017 when the Eagles rested their starters and Nate Sudfeld played the majority of snaps at quarterback.

2) One score loss in Week 2 in 2018 when Ryan Fitzpatrick threw four touchdowns for a 144.4 passer rating.

3) 2019 divisional round loss to the Saints when Alshon Jeffery dropped a pass that turned into an interception when the Eagles might’ve had a chance to take a lead late in the game.

Pederson WITH Wentz, meanwhile, is only 35-33-1. And 17-22-1 since 2018.

If you look at the Eagles’ record against teams that ultimately finished above .500 since 2018, the Pederson-Wentz combination is 3-12. Under the same conditions, Pederson is 4-1 in that stretch without Wentz.

Wouldn’t it be at least a little weird to so quickly fire the Super Bowl winning head coach who can win without Wentz ... to hire a replacement with the main goal of fixing the broken quarterback?

Bringing it back to the Saints game, it’s not like the offense looked elite or anything without Wentz in there. But it was unquestionably more functional. Might help that the quarterback was running the offense instead of dictating it. (Miss me with the ice cold “Why didn’t Doug use this offense for Carson?!” takes.)

Really, the entire team just seems to have a different energy boost when Wentz isn’t playing. Hard to say exactly what that’s all about but doesn't it feel that way?

I’m not ready to officially write off Wentz’s Eagles career just yet. And apparently neither are the Eagles given the reports that they plan on keeping him (although they should be saying as much if they actually wanted to trade him). Not to mention Pederson’s subdued postgame press conference where he was reluctant to heap praise on Hurts and instead focus on how it was a team win. I can totally understand not wanting to crown a rookie too early and risk having early success go to his head.

But I don’t think that’s what was happening here. I think this was about coddling Wentz and not trying to hurt his feelings. Maybe in part because of the organizational power he’s said to possess.

To Wentz’s credit, Hurts said he the veteran quarterback gave him some good tips during the game. I also saw Wentz make an effort to high-five Hurts while the rookie was running to the end zone to pray before the game. One can only hope Wentz continues to be supportive and this experience ultimately humbles him.

5 - I think Jim Schwartz’s defense is doing their part

The Eagles have allowed 21.75 offensive points per game in their last four tilts. For perspective, that figure would check in around 12th in the entire season rankings. It’s not an elite defense by any means but it is a solid one. One that the Eagles can win with if they have a functioning offense.

The defensive line was obviously critical to the Eagles’ success with five sacks and 12 quarterback hits on Taysom Hill. Josh Sweat and Javon Hargrave each had two sacks. Sweat’s forced fumble came allowed for a potential 10- or 14-point swing in the fourth quarter.

Schwartz’s unit was facing a backup quarterback, sure. But the Saints were previously 8-0 without Drew Brees in the past two years. And the Eagles had to deal with injuries of their own after losing Darius Slay, Rodney McLeod, and Avonte Maddox. The Eagles were seriously playing a guy you’ve never even heard of — Kevon Seymour — at outside cornerback.

Duke Riley, who notched an interception, was quick to praise the Eagles’ defensive coordinator in his postgame press conference without even being prompted to do so.

The defense deserves some respect.

6 - I think things could get ugly in the Eagles’ secondary

McLeod is out for the year. Maddox and Slay might miss some time. Not great for the Eagles’ short-term outlook as they try to make a playoff push!

The silver lining here is that the Eagles might be able to get a gauge on some young players like K’Von Wallace, Marcus Epps, Grayland Arnold, and Michael Jacquet. They could really afford for at least one long-term secondary piece to emerge. It’s quite possible that none of these guys are solutions, though, and the secondary is about to get burned a bit down the stretch.

7 - Miles Sanders’ home run ability is kind of important

Sanders finished with 14 carries — his fifth most attempts in a game this season — for 115 yards and two touchdowns. The bulk of his production came on his 82-yard run where he hit the hole and was gone after stiff-arming old friend Malcolm Jenkins en route to the end zone. His explosive ability should encourage Pederson to try to get him going early on each week. Sanders is up to a very efficient 5.6 yards per carry and he might only continue to benefit from the presence of Hurts’ mobility.

Also wanted to note here that Sanders’ 21 receiving yards were actually his third highest total this season. It’s pretty disappointing that that’s the case but I wonder if Hurts and Sanders will be able to get that connection going better than Wentz and Sanders could this year.

8 - I think the Jake Elliott contract sure looks bad

There were some positives (in results > process fashion) for Howie Roseman in this game with Hurts playing well, Hargrave coming alive, and Sweat looking like a long-term piece.

But it’s hard to not to reminded of how poorly the Eagles have been managed when you look at Elliott’s contract. Elliott missed a friggin 22-yard chip shot on Sunday to give him a missed kick in seven of the Eagles’ 13 games this season.

The Eagles should really be bringing in competition for Elliott but they can’t because they’re so financially tied to him. Cutting Elliott after this season causes the Eagles to LOSE $2.3 million in cap space. The Eagles are already in a bad spot where they need to clear money, not lose more!

Roseman’s rush to pay out the third most valuable kicker contract to Elliott is just another mistake for the Eagles general manager. The Eagles could’ve just let Elliott play the 2020 season on a restricted free agent tender and then extended him (or not) after the season.

9 - I think it’s dumb that Travis Fulgham is barely even playing and not even getting a single target

Fulgham’s first five games: 44 targets, 29 receptions, 435 receiving yards (led the NFL in this span), 4 TD.

Fulgham’s last five games: 16 targets, 4 receptions, 32 yards, 0 TD.

I mean, what the heck. I know Fulgham has had issues with drops, among other things, but there’s still no good reason for Alshon Jeffery to be nearly tripling his playing time like he did on Sunday evening.

I will die on this hill if I must.

10 - I think Jalen Reagor needs to be the full-time punt returner

I know Reagor’s had some issues fielding the ball cleanly. But he’s a weapon there! And the Eagles stated they drafted him with the intent of helping out as a punt returner! Let him do it!

Reagor has a 73-yard touchdown on one of his only THREE returns this year.

Greg Ward has 116 yards on 17 total returns. Ward’s 6.8 average ranks 11th out of 13 qualified returners (minimum 1.25 attempts per game).

Ward’s just not a threat back there. And it’s not like he’s at least making good fair catch decisions. His decision to not field one Saints punt almost pinned the Eagles around their 1-yard line. Ward was fortunate that the Saints punt coverage guy wasn’t able to keep it out of the end zone. Ward passed on fielding another Saints punt that should’ve been caught at the 20-yard line but instead was downed at the 4-yard line.

How’s Reagor going to get better if he doesn’t get opportunities?

11 - I think the Eagles are going to win at least another game or two

I don’t think the Eagles are going to win out to make the playoffs, which they’ll probably need to do. I think they’ll win another game or two that’ll further ruin their draft position. And leave the Eagles in an interesting spot when it comes to deciding what to do about Wentz.