Life moves pretty fast in the NFL.
This week, the Tampa Bay Bucs were flattened by an awful Washington Football Team and the decrepit Dolphins somehow upended the Baltimore Ravens. Last week, the Jaguars took down the Bills, the Broncos destroyed the Cowboys, and the Giants tripped up the Raiders.
Upsets happen in the NFL, but generally speaking, they are one-week occurrences. On Sunday, the 3-6 Eagles went into Denver, a place they had not won since 1989, and dominated the 5-4 Broncos, 30-13. While not a major upset, it was a surprise, given the way in which they controlled all three facts of the game: offense, defense and special teams. And yet, three weeks prior, the Eagles were slapped around by the Raiders in a 33-22 loss that didn’t even begin to tell the story of how thoroughly dominated they were.
At 2-5, the Eagles were steaming for a top-five pick in next year’s NFL Draft, but after destroying the Lions, narrowly losing to the Chargers and handling the Broncos, the Birds are 4-6 and suddenly well within striking distance of the 7th NFC playoff spot.
Here are five reasons why an Eagles playoff berth is increasingly likely today.
Jalen Hurts Is Getting Better
Hurts’ first half against the Broncos was the best of his career. He went 15-for-20 for 228 total yards and a 134.6 QB rating, looked poised in the pocket and made some tough, accurate throws.
Jalen Hurts. Three throws.— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) November 15, 2021
*Sprinting out and throwing the Sail route
*Resisting the urge to bail and sliding in the pocket
*Throwing the 5 route with pressure in your face pic.twitter.com/dLkVyVYPuo
On the season, Hurts has thrown for 2159 passing yards and added 547 yards on the ground. Not many guys have done that.
Only 7 QBs in #NFL history have 2000 pass yards and 500 rush yards after the first 10 games of a season— Jeff Kerr (@JeffKerrCBS) November 15, 2021
Lamar Jackson (2019, 2021)
Randall Cunningham (1990)
Michael Vick (2011)
Robert Griffin III (2012)
Russell Wilson (2014)
Kyler Murray (2020)
Jalen Hurts (2021)#Eagles pic.twitter.com/XqOSv2KNKG
Jalen Hurts has posted a 90+ Total QBR in back-to-back games, the first QB this season to do so; no QB has posted a 90+ QBR in 3 straight since Lamar Jackson in 2019.— Tim McManus (@Tim_McManus) November 14, 2021
Hurts (494) and Jackson (639) are the 2 QBS leading their teams in rushing.
It’s hard to say for certain that Hurts is this team’s franchise QB, but mid-way through his first full season, we’re seeing improvement. When he’s on, he can win games, and with all those first round picks in the coming draft, there certainly doesn’t appear to be a college quarterback with a higher upside than Hurts.
We said before the season that if the Eagles were going to surprise, Hurts would have to have a Donovan McNabb-2000 season-like performance. Over the last couple weeks, that’s what we’ve gotten.
DeVonta Smith, Superstar
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is showcasing the game-breaking ability the Eagles hoped he’d display when they moved up in last year’s draft to take him No. 10 overall.
He was electric in the Birds’ loss to San Diego two weeks ago when he hauled in five passes for 116 yards and a score and followed that up with four more catches for 66 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, including this outstanding grab on a 50-50 ball over Denver’s outstanding rookie CB Patrick Surtain II.
That’s a ridiculous mix of body control and hands that no Eagles wideout has had since Alshon Jeffery in 2017, so it’s pretty clear targeting Smith is a good idea.
Jalen Hurts when targeting DeVonta Smith the last 2 weeks:— Victor Williams (@ThePhillyPod) November 15, 2021
• 182 yards
• 3 TDs
• 0 INTs
• 156.2 passer rating
Smith is now at 42 catches for 603 yards on the season, and has already passed last year’s team leader in receiving yards, Travis Fulgham, who had 539. He’s projected to catch 71 passes for 1,025 yards and is making a late push for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Nick Sirianni Is Evolving
Few people have been harder on Nick Sirianni than I have, and it was for good reason. His play calling was unimaginative and, even worse, nonsensical. The complete lack of balance made his offense predictable and easy to defend.
Over the last month, that hasn’t been the case and his progression offers hope that perhaps the Eagles’ first year head coach is, indeed, learning on the job. Whereas earlier in the season he handed the ball off to his running backs only two and three times per game, the last four weeks have been the polar opposite.
Eagles called running plays:— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) November 15, 2021
First 6 games: 17.8 per game
Last 4 games: 35.8 per game
Running the ball has worked.
Their team-wide rushing totals the last four weeks are 135, 236, 176 and 214, all without Miles Sanders on the field. Boston Scott and Jordan Howard have been outstanding the last few weeks, with both averaging 5.1 yards per attempt this year. Sanders’ 4.8 isn’t too shabby, either, and even Kenny Gainwell’s 3.6 yards per attempt is fine for a rookie.
A coach needs to adapt to his personnel and put his players in a position to succeed. Sirianni has a good run-blocking offensive line and some solid running backs, and not utilizing them was damaging to Jalen Hurts. On Sunday, Hurts attempted just three second half passes because the run game was so effective.
The Eagles aren’t going to do this forever, and Hurts’ ability to throw will be the key to reaching the postseason, but now Sirianni has at least given defensive coordinators something else against which they must plan.
Oh, and one last coaching note, kudos to Jonathan Gannon as well. He dialed up some additional blitzes and played more press coverage on Sunday and Teddy Bridgewater didn’t know what to do with it. Darius Slay had another big play (defensive TDs are the best), and even the special teams (K’Von Wallace blocked field goal!) got into the act. Another recent high draft pick, Davion Taylor, forced a couple fumbles and is starting to make some noise at linebacker, too.
Disappointing NFC Contenders
Let’s not kid ourselves, the Eagles aren’t going into Green Bay, Arizona or Dallas and beating the Packers, Cardinals or Cowboys in the playoffs. In fact, the NFC’s top five teams (Bucs and Rams included) are all juggernauts. All can go to the Super Bowl.
However, with seven playoff teams and three wild cards in the NFC, the door is open for some mediocre teams, like the Eagles, to sneak in. At 4-6, the Eagles are currently No. 11 in the conference, one game behind the 5-5 Carolina Panthers, who hold the No. 7 seed, and a half-game behind the Vikings, Falcons and 49ers (all 5-6).
The lackluster play of two supposed NFC West powers, the 49ers and Seahawks, has been surprising and has opened the door for the Birds. And while San Francisco’s victory over the Rams on Monday Night Football likely saved their season, a door has been opened for the Eagles to sneak through.
The Schedule & QBs
The Eagles have seven games left and this is who they are against:
- vs. Saints
- @ Giants
- @ Jets
- vs. WFT
- vs. Giants
- @ WFT
- vs. Cowboys
Eagles have 3rd easiest strength of schedule in NFL rest of the way and face these QBs— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) November 15, 2021
5-4 Trevor Siemian
3-6 Daniel Jones
2-7 Zach Wilson/Mike White
3-6 Taylor Heinicke
3-6 Daniel Jones
3-6 Taylor Heinicke
7-2 Dak Prescott
Birds have tiebreaker over Panthers & Falcons pic.twitter.com/GHWQMMUU6h
Jalen Hurts is better than every one of the QBs left on the Eagles’ schedule except for Dak Prescott, who likely won’t even play in the season finale.
It’s not unreasonable to think that 8-9 will be good enough to land that final wild card spot and despite what I said a few weeks ago, the odds now seem better than not the Eagles will do well enough over the last two months to sneak into the postseason tournament.
They say the NFL is a week-to-week sport.
Ain’t it the truth.