The Eagles are 5-0, their best start since, well, last year, when they had a +47 point differential though five games and had beaten the Vikings, Commanders, and an NFC West team on the road. This year they have a +37 differential and have beaten the Vikings, Commanders, and an NFC West team on the road. Eerie.
They are undefeated, and decently tested
5-0 is 5-0. It hasn’t always been the prettiest football, but that could actually be a bonus. The Eagles have already won in a variety of ways: an ugly bad weather game (Patriots), on a short week (Vikings), from behind, a divisional game, in overtime (Commanders, Commanders, and Commanders), three of their wins are on the road (Patriots, Bucs, and Rams) and beating the Jets would give them back to back road wins… all things considered this is a decently tested team for five games into the season. The 49ers have trailed for just seven (7) plays. Full credit to them for being the dominant team to start the season and not having to really ever play from behind. But we have yet to see the 49ers dig themselves out of a hole, and that goes back to last year, with Brock Purdy at QB they have trailed by more than 7 points for all of nine (9) plays.
Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the mouth. The Eagles have at least eaten a few stiff jabs in the early rounds this season.
The biggest thing stopping the offense is itself
This is mostly about the red zone, but also about some player usage. Getting down the field hasn’t been a problem for the Eagles, only the Dolphins, on a historic pace to start the season, have more yardage. The Eagles have the fourth most trips to the red zone, but once they get there they grind to a halt. Last season they were 3rd best in scoring rate, this season the Eagles are 27th in red zone scoring, worse than the Giants. That’s inexcusably bad.
One correction should be changing personnel usage. The Eagles have handed off the ball to a RB in the red zone 26 times, 13 each to Kenneth Gainwell and D’Andre Swift. 14 of them have failed to gain the Expected Points, and 10 of those were by Gainwell. Getting Gainwell the ball before the red zone is fine, D’Andre Swift is on pace to set a career high in touches in his 12th game this season, the Eagles have to manage his workload. But once in the red zone, the Eagles already have five great options in AJ Brown, Devonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, D’Andre Swift, and Jalen Hurts. Giving the 2nd string RB the ball is not the best use of the Eagles offense. Throwing a short pass to deep threat Quez Watkins on the Rams 15 yard line on 3rd and 2 is not the best use of the Eagles offense. The Eagles have the talent to dominate in the red zone, they need to lean on it more.
Red zone defense hasn’t been as bad as it seems
The Eagles have the 3rd worst red zone defense so far, giving up 12 TDs on 16 attempts. That is obviously bad (#analysis). But this is small sample size alert territory. On plays from scrimmage the Eagles have a slightly better 5th worst 1st down/TD rate of 38.1%. Again, not at all good. But football is a game full of small samples and five games into the season one game can make a mediocre unit look better or worse than it really is. I’m not here to tell you that the Eagles red zone defense has been good, but a handful of plays are affecting the percentages. Take the Vikings game out of the equation, and the Eagles are 18th in red zone 1st down rate of 32.4%. Against the Patriots, Rams, and Buccaneers the Eagles allowed a 1st down or TD in the red zone on just 28.8% of plays, which would be 11th best.
Sure, you can do this for every team… but you can’t. The Bears have the worst 1st/TD rate, in part because the Chiefs converted 12 of 20 plays against them. But remove that game and they go from 32nd to... 25th. The 49ers are second worst, remove their game against the Rams when LA converted on 5 of 8 plays and they go from 31st to... 25th. Every team looks better when you remove their worst games, but some teams still look bad. The Eagles in their not worst moments have been… fine. Plenty of room to improve, but not a hot mess either.
Nick Sirianni’s approach to health is working
At risk of jinxing it, we are now 43 games into the Nick Sirianni era and his methods to rest players and reduce wear and tear is working. There will always be injuries in football, but we’re now into season three with the team relatively healthy. In 2021 the Eagles were 12th best in Football Outsider’s (RIP) Adjusted Games Lost, with a bulk of that was just two players: Brandon Graham and Isaac Seumalo suffering season ending injuries early in the season. Last year they were 3rd best. This year has had some short term injuries, but you also have to keep in mind that everyone but the Chiefs-who have had their share of minor injuries-had a longer offseason to rest their bodies.
It’s good when the issues are mostly about role players
In training camp one mark of the quality of a team is where on the depth chart the real competition is. Right now the problems the Eagles have, besides the red zone, is with rotational players. RB2. WR3. CB3. Look around the league, and those are very, very good problems to have. The Cowboys just got embarrassed for the second time this season. The Dolphins followed up a blowout by getting blown out. The Chiefs don’t have any WRs. The Bills are getting decimated by injuries. The Browns are already about to start their 3rd different QB of the season. The Steelers are currently the 3rd seed in the AFC, they have a negative point differential. I’ll take the self inflicted red zone struggles over any of that.