Last season, as the Eagles remained the last unbeaten team in the NFL and ran their record to 8-0, there was a contingent of the fanbase who felt uneasy about the prospects of an undefeated season, openly suggesting it would be better for the team if they lost a game to “get it out of the way.”
I don’t hear anyone saying anything like that after the Eagles’ dreadful 20-14 loss to the Jets yesterday.
The offense was shut out in the second half. They committed four turnovers, capped by the inexplicable, back-breaking, unacceptable pick by Jalen Hurts just after the two minute warning. Injuries piled up as the game went along. The playcalling was mind boggling. DeVonta Smith was dropping everything thrown his way.
You can say there are no “trap” games in the NFL, and deny the existence of “letdown” games, but it’s clear the Eagles were unfocused, dull, and listless against a decent Jets defense that had no business beating them (and hey, the 49ers fell victim to one against a solid Browns defense on Sunday, too) yesterday.
Even with all those things happening, with all those things going wrong, it still took a late interception and return deep into Eagles territory for the Birds to blow the game and fall to 5-1 on the season. It was the first time all year Hurts and the Eagles couldn’t will themselves to a victory. He’s now 22-2 in his last 24 games.
Still, playing an out-of-conference opponent on the road, especially when it’s on the heels of a big win the week before or just ahead of a better opponent the following week, can often lead to teams letting up a bit, and that seems to be what happened here in Week 6. Certainly, the injury bug is biting the Eagles more this season than last, the most concerning of which is Lane Johnson, the all-world right tackle who may be the most important player on the team.
#Eagles, btw, are 84-48-1 in games in which Johnson has played and 13-22 when he has not.— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) October 16, 2023
Without Johnson in the game, the Eagles all but abandoned the run, and with Hurts throwing on virtually every play, the Jets’ pass rushers had a field day.
Jalen Hurts was pressured on a season-high 40% of his dropbacks despite being blitzed on a season-low 16% of his dropbacks, per @ESPNStatsInfo.— Tim McManus (@Tim_McManus) October 16, 2023
Hurts was pressured 20 times, his most in his last 36 games including playoffs.
Sure, Hurts wasn’t good, but he also wasn’t getting much help from his offensive line or his receivers on Sunday. How often have you seen this from DeVonta Smith before?
HOW DID DeVonta Smith DROP THIS!!!??? pic.twitter.com/Nq2R3vZrwY— DIE-HARD Fans (@Eaglesfans9) October 15, 2023
But it’s not just Johnson’s injury. The Eagles were decimated at safety, with Reed Blankenship leaving the game with a rib injury, and cornerback Eli Ricks leaving the game for good with a bad knee. Slot corner Bradley Roby was sidelined with a shoulder injury, and the Birds were already without Darius Slay and safeties Justin Evans and Sydney Brown. The fact the Eagles were able to hold the Jets to a collection of field goals and a touchdown in which they let them score is a testament to Sean Desai and the guys that were out there.
Last year, the Eagles were remarkably healthy, with Hurts’ two games missed at the end of the season the only real injury of note. Dallas Goedert missed a few games, too, but they largely survived that. This year has been a different, if not unexpected, story, and overcoming those injuries, specifically to Johnson and the secondary, will be a major challenge.
Coaches can have an off-week, too. Nick Sirianni is a great head coach, but he did not have a good day on Sunday, and it’s hard to fathom what Brian Johnson was doing for most of the afternoon.
After two runs into the line on first and second down while holding a 14-12 lead with two minutes left, they called a pass on 3rd-and-9, thinking a first down would essentially end the game. Had the Eagles converted, they would have been correct, and errors of aggression are preferred to timidity, but in this case, the call to pass rather than run, punt and pin the Jets deep with less than two minutes remaining turned out to be the wrong call.
It’s also mystifying why the Eagles completely and totally abandoned the running game in a close, one-score game in the second half, giving the running backs just 14 rushing attempts compared to 45 drop-backs for Hurts. Sure, New York was without Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed, but going away from D’Andre Swift, who has been one of the most dynamic runners in the NFL this season, for virtually the entire game made no sense. And where is Rashaad Penny? Why are we seeing Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott and no Penny? Has there been any explanation for this?
Perhaps the injury to Lane Johnson forced their hand, or maybe they thought the wide receiver match-ups were to tempting to ignore, but as Hurts was under unrelenting pressure on Sunday, Brian Johnson did nothing to take the pressure off his QB.
It also must be said, Hurts’ teammates didn’t help him out.
- Smith dropped two long-balls from Hurts that would have put the Eagles in prime scoring position.
- Swift fumbled just before halftime to give the Jets a short field and an easy three points before heading into the locker room.
- Dallas Goedert handed the ball to the Jets with his “interception” that was really a drop.
- Jake Elliott even missed a field goal!
- A.J. Brown, for all the yardage he piled up, stopped running on a route that would have been a sure touchdown.
- And of course, there was the brutal Hurts pick at the end of the game.
If these things don’t scream “letdown” I don’t know what does.
I’m not worried about Hurts or this team long-term. Sure, Hurts threw three interceptions on Sunday and has seven on the season through five weeks, one more than he had all of last year, but the first two yesterday weren’t his fault. The third absolutely was, and is a throw a franchise quarterback simply cannot throw. But Hurts has largely been very good this season, even if he hasn’t played at last year’s MVP-like level.
Still, he’s not the same as last season, at least not through the first six weeks. Maybe some of it is dealing with a new playcaller, some of it is trying to protect himself running the football, some of it is that he played over his head last year and had a career year. He’s still an excellent quarterback capable of taking over a game. He is a Super Bowl QB, and one bad game shouldn’t change that.
And let’s be honest, the Eagles had been trending to have a game like this for a while now. Perhaps our expectations were too high based on how magnificently they played week-in and week-out last season, but the ‘23 version of the Eagles has looked rickety at times. Thankfully, on this talented team full of winners playing the softer part of their schedule, they had been able to stack victories up even as they weren’t playing their best. But since the season began, we had been waiting for the Eagles to “play up to their potential.” We are still waiting.
Last week against the Rams was the closest we’ve seen this year’s iteration of the Eagles look like last year’s, but this time, the sloppiness and cascade of injuries, specifically to Lane Johnson, were too much to overcome.
And the schedule doesn’t do them any favors.
This week, they host the most prolific offense in football, the Dolphins, at the Linc. They play the Commanders on the road the following week, then host Dallas before the bye. Then it’s at Kansas City, hosting Buffalo and San Francisco, and road games at Dallas and Seattle.
To have a shot to finish with a winning record through that gauntlet, the Eagles have to get healthier and Hurts has to elevate his game. The coaching staff has to do a better job putting players in a position to succeed, and work to avoid any letdown games between now and the end of the season.
No, it’s not good the Eagles lost this game, but maybe it will serve as a wake-up call to a team that had gotten away with uneven play through the first five weeks. The big question is, was this just a “letdown” game, or an ominous sign of a downturn?
I’m guessing the former, but it’s no slam dunk.