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Mailbag: Criticizing the criticism

The Eagles are 8-0. Deal with it.

Philadelphia Eagles v Houston Texans Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles are 8-0. You may have heard about it. The Eagles success has caused some people to absolutely lose their minds. The latest, but by no means only, person to go “well, actually” is Clarence Hill Jr of the Dallas Star-Telegram.

Hall has covered the Cowboys since the Barry Switzer era, which is to say he should be old enough to know the difference between fair criticism and fanboyism masquerading as journalism, and to not say dumb stuff like “argue with your momma.” Hill hit on a few of the go-to vapid criticisms of the Eagles season so far. With some help from the internet, we were able to fill out the rest. Might as well make this a reverse mailbag.

They gave up a lot of points to the Lions 2 months ago

This is both true and a good subtweet of Hog Shaven, excuse me, Hogs Haven. The most points and yards the Eagles have given up this season were to the Lions. Though the Lions are possibly the worst team in the league right now, that game looks better now than it did when it was over. As pointed out after the game, there’s some compelling evidence that teams that rest starters in the preseason play poorly in Week 1, and the Eagles only gave their starters one series in the preseason.

And for the first four games of the season the Lions were moving the ball and putting up points. They gained 386, 425, 416, and 520 yards; and they scored 35, 36, 24, and 45 points, they had the best scoring offense through four weeks. The Eagles defense, with all its rust and all its still figuring things out with a new starting lineup warts, played them better than anyone else had in that four game stretch, holding the Lions to their second fewest points and fewest yards. The wheels eventually fell off in Detroit (they are after all owned by Ford), but in the beginning of the season they were a legitimately tough out and the Eagles put them down better than anyone. And you know, it was Week 1. Who cares.

The same applies to the Jaguars a couple of weeks later. Jacksonville was coming off a 38-10 demolition of the Chargers, and that was off the back of a 24-0 embarrassment of the Colts. Their defense had multiple turnovers in each game, Trevor Lawrence had a passer rating of 103.1 and a 6-1 TD-INT ratio. They were playing really well when they faced the Eagles. They haven’t won a game since, so now the Jaguars look like the regular old irrelevant Jaguars we are used to, so that game doesn’t register the same to most people. But Jacksonville’s 219 yards against the Eagles was their lowest total so far this season, and they had 5 turnovers. Like the Lions the Jaguars were hot at that point of the season, and the Eagles put them in the car seat.

You know that if the Eagles hadn’t beaten every team in front of them, their strength of schedule would be significantly higher?

Strength of schedule is a decent tool to have in the tool box to evaluate teams. It comes with a big problem though: the better your record is, the worse your strength of schedule is. It’s true that the Eagles have the easiest strength of schedule because they played a bunch of bad teams, but they also have the easiest strength of schedule because they won all of their games. The Steelers, who are 2-6 and lost to the Eagles, have one of the hardest. And that’s because they are 2-6 and lost to the Eagles. Strength of schedule is fine for comparing two teams or as a tiebreaker, but let’s not make it out to be more than it is.

“didn’t beat anyone good” besides the two best NFC teams... lol

This is my favorite one. If you want to argue that the Eagles haven’t really beaten a good team, then you must concede that the NFC doesn’t have any good teams, because the 2nd and 3rd best teams by record in the NFC lost to the Eagles.

If you want to say the rest of the NFC isn’t good, I can respect that. I disagree with it, but it’s not a completely insane stance to take. The best team the Vikings beat is... uh, the Cardinals? Teddy Bridgewater led Dolphins? The best team the Cowboys have beat is... uh, the Giants? The Bengals in Week 2? This season feels more than a bit like the 2004 season, where the Eagles were so far ahead of everyone in the standings that they pulled starters in the next to last game of the season. That season two 8-8 teams made the playoffs; the Eagles had an NFC best 13-3 record and 126 point differential, the next best record in the NFC was 11-5 with a point differential of three (3).

More importantly, there isn’t anything the Eagles can do about how good or bad the rest of the conference is, so shut up.

They only beat the Vikings because it was Cousins in a primetime game.

I wrote about this in the lead up to that game. On one hand it is Kirk Cousins, professional national TV choker. Kirk Cousins putting up a stinker in an X-day Night Football game is standard operating procedure for him. On the other hand it is Kirk Cousins, professional Eagles killer. Kirk Cousins rolls out of bed with 300 yards and 3 TDs against the Eagles. They didn’t just beat Cousins, he had one of the worst games of his career. Cousins had his fourth worst passer rating in a game he started, and his three INTs were the second most of his career.

That was no normal primetime game for Cousins, and it was nowhere close to the parking lot of the ballpark of a normal Eagles game for Cousins.

Only won because a backup who hadn’t turned the ball over in 6 games threw 3 picks

Cooper Rush! There were entire segments of talking head shows dedicated to brewing a QB controversy! They were silly but Rush was playing pretty good all things considered, don’t let people gaslight you into thinking the Cowboys were constantly finding ways to overcome his play during their four game win streak, this isn’t the Jets and Zach Wilson. In 118 attempts he hadn’t turned the ball over, had a respectable 7.1 yards per attempt, a 93.9 passer rating, and he had a good sack rate of 5.6%. Those are top 20 or better rates over the course of this season, which is really efficient play out of a backup.

Then he played the Eagles and looked like the 28 year old who cleared waivers to start the season that he is, 18 of 38 with 3 INTs. In retrospect it would have been really funny if the Eagles claimed him instead of Ian Book. Howie Roseman if you’re reading this: if the Cowboys want to open the season with only one QB on their 53 man roster, claim their 2nd string QB. Anyway, yes, Cooper Rush is a backup QB. But the Eagles stuffed him in a locker that night, in five other games this season no one else did. And Rush starting isn’t why Micah Parsons spent most of the game doing nothing.

They were tied with the Texans at half-time and “barely squeaked” by them with a double digit win.

It would have been embarrassing to lose that game. That would be a five alarm fraud alert. And while that was easily their worst game of the season and not as big of a win as we would have liked, it was still a win. As always, context matters. The 1-6-1 Texans have been the other side of close game luck that the Giants are riding. (Coincidentally the Texans and Giants face each other next week.) Five of the Texans seven games this season have been one score games. They have had the lead at halftime twice and been tied at halftime twice, this is not a team that has been backdooring its way covers each week, teams have had to earn their wins against the Texans. The 12 points the Eagles beat them by in Houston was the Texans second biggest loss and biggest home loss. But because it was against an irrelevant franchise, it gets dismissed as a game that should almost count as a loss.

The Texans game will be forgotten in January, and should be forgotten as soon as next week, but there are worse ways to perform against bad teams.

Let’s get back to Hill to wrap this up.

“They are living on borrowed time”

Will they lose a game or two in the back half of the season? I would bet on it, there hasn’t been a one loss team since 2015. That isn’t living on borrowed time, that’s just how a season goes. This isn’t college football.

The only thing you can point to and say is not sustainable is turnovers. That is a fair criticism, the Eagles have gotten a turnover on defense in every game this season and lead the league with 18, while they only have three on offense all year, which also leads the league. It would be nice to see them win a game without any defensive turnovers or where they lose the turnover battle. But no one wants that.

But turnovers alone aren’t why the Eagles are the top team in the NFC.

The Eagles check a lot of “juggernaut” boxes

The Eagles are top five in offensive scoring, offensive yardage, defensive scoring, and defensive yardage. Entering Thursday’s game they were 3rd in offensive DVOA behind the Chiefs and Ravens, 2nd in defensive DVOA behind the Broncos, and 2nd in overall DVOA behind the Bills, with the difference between them and the Bills due to the Eagles’ awful special teams.

The moral of the story is that while I still believe the Buffalo Bills are the best team in the NFL — I respect what the other ratings say about them, plus they have a bigger advantage over Philadelphia in DAVE, which still incorporates preseason projections — I also think that the Eagles are closer to the Bills than most fans believe. It’s less an issue of Buffalo being overrated and more an issue of Philadelphia being underrated, because of their easy schedule and because the public might just be writing off the whole NFC this year. Our numbers would favor the Bills over the Eagles by very little in a hypothetical Super Bowl.

None of this guarantees anything in the playoffs, the Lombardi Trophy does not care what your midseason record or DVOA is.

But at this point in the season to say the Eagles haven’t been an elite team is to ignore everything that has happened during the season. They’ve been up by double digits in every game they have played, they have played only 66 snaps while trailing. Even the weak teams they have played they have beaten better than most other teams have. And they have already played the best teams on their schedule, and beat them too. They’ve beaten everybody.

Argue that with your momma.

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