You can say a lot about the Eagles through the first four weeks of the season.
They’ve scored a bunch of points, 29.5 per game, fifth-best in the NFL. They’ve given up 22.5, 16th in the NFL, while dealing with a myriad of injuries to their linebackers and safeties. Jalen Hurts has, at times, been equal parts frustrating and amazing. The running game is lights out. The coaching staff has largely done well, but it’s clear they have not played a clean game yet.
Despite questionable play-calling and player usage, despite the injuries, despite some moments where it appears the guys throwing the yellow flags have had it in for them, the Eagles are one of two unbeaten teams left at 4-0 (San Francisco).
It’s hard to win your first four games of the season, as evidenced by the other 30 teams that couldn’t do it. Are they winning any style points in doing so? No. The Niners’ start has been more impressive, but the Birds haven’t lucked their way into these first four wins. They’ve made the plays when it matters most, and that’s the most important thing.
A lot will be said about this team until they do clean up a lot of the issues that could cause them to lose their first one, but for now, here are 10 truths about the 2023 Eagles and their imperfectly perfect 4-0 start.
1) Star Players Win the Day
Sometimes, your personnel is simply better than the other guys’ and, against the Patriots, Vikings, Bucs and Commanders, the Eagles’ superior roster has won out. One week, D’Andre Swift is running for consecutive 100+ yard performances, the next, Jalen Hurts is throwing for more than 300 and connecting with all-world receivers A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith on huge plays. Defensively, the front four is led by a group of maniacs, all of whom have become big names in this league. Darius Slay and James Bradberry didn’t have their best days on Sunday, but generally have played well this year.
When the chips were down on Sunday, Hurts dialed up big plays to Brown, who scored two long touchdowns and had over 170 yards receiving. One could argue the last touchdown was a bit foolish, seeing as how they probably could have run out the clock and kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired rather than give Washington a chance to tie (or take the lead with a two-point conversion), but it all worked out in the end.
2) Jalen Hurts Is Playing a Different Style
It’s been a little frustrating watching Hurts at times, simply because we’re used to seeing him break off big runs in times of difficulty.
I really can't believe the number of people in my comments telling me that this is how they want Jalen Hurts to handle this situation. This is a slot corner (who Hurts has 25 pounds on) 1 on 1 in the open field.— Shane Haff (@ShaneHaffNFL) October 2, 2023
I'm not clamoring for Hurts to take unnecessary hits, but this is… pic.twitter.com/pWLM7WkfUs
But when the game was on the line, when they needed to get points on their final drive in regulation, Hurts clicked back into 2022 mode, and it was beautiful.
It’s clear Hurts is playing a safer style and it’s hard to argue with the results.
Jalen Hurts has now won each of his last 5 regular season starts when facing a double-digit deficit, joining Joe Montana (1989-90) and Steve Bartkowski (1980-81) as the only quarterbacks since 1950 with such a streak. pic.twitter.com/1mmOyefGYF— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 1, 2023
With a stud running back and an offensive line that opens gaping holes, Hurts doesn’t need to expose himself to the kinds of hits he took last year. It’s a different style of play and, so far, it’s been good enough. One would think he’ll break out more runs like this as the season rolls along and the competition gets tougher.
3) You Need a Good Kicker to Win in the NFL
Is Jake Elliott the team’s offensive MVP through the first four games of the season?
Consider the 54-yarder he kicked in OT yesterday...
How Jake Elliott's 54-yard game-winning field goal sounded on Washington Commanders radio pic.twitter.com/seAYejpp9y— Nick Piccone (@_piccone) October 1, 2023
(It’s especially fun to listen to it on Commanders radio.)
He knocked a 61-yarder home just before halftime against the Vikings, the second field goal of 61 yards he’s made in his career...
Jake Elliott nails the 61 yard field goal— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) September 15, 2023
He has been big clutch so far
He’s been unreal.
Jake Elliott is the only kicker in the NFL so far this season with 4 50+ yard field goals and the only kicker with 7 field goals of 40+ yards. pic.twitter.com/36MAwTMUqM— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) October 2, 2023
4) Sean Desai a Massive Upgrade Over Jonathan Gannon
Were those linebacker blitzes we were seeing yesterday? Did Nicholas Morrow, a guy they were prepared to lose at the start of the year because he was so underwhelming in training camp, really collect three sacks on blitzes?
This Eagles defense may not be the best of all-time and they can be frustrating to watch when they’re letting Sam Howell work his way down the field and score a game-tying touchdown with no time left on the clock, but Desai has had less to work with than Gannon last year, and you have to like the aggressiveness he’s showed thus far. It’s a more entertaining defense and he appears to be doing something to make the most out of what he’s got at linebacker and safety.
5) Brian Johnson Has Mostly Been Solid
It hasn’t been a perfect start to his tenure as the team’s new playcaller. The passing offense didn’t click through the first three weeks, but on Sunday, it finally took off.
There were hiccups, although fewer than in previous weeks. The 3rd-and-11 running play to Kenny Gainwell that almost ended in disaster was questionable, but we’re seeing fewer play calls like that as the season rolls along. In short, I think Johnson has been improving each week, which is what you want to see. And at the end of the day, the team is averaging 29.5 points per game, and he’s shown a willingness to stick with what’s working, which is the sign of a coach who is willing to put ego aside and not get too cute.
6) The Eagles are the Best in the Trenches
Sometimes, axioms exist for a reason. “You win in the trenches” has been a mantra around the league since its formation, and it remains true today. No matter what is going on around them, the Eagles can rely on their hogs up front to open running lanes and protect the quarterback, and can rely on their defensive line to exert their will at some point. provided they’re not playing on an ice rink of a field.
There are Hall of Famers on both lines as well as young players who will be good for a long time. It’s truly an exciting thing to watch.
7) The Eagles’ Opponents Have Been Pretty Good
All four opponents played the Eagles tough, and maybe they’re not as bad as we thought they’d be.
New England and Tampa have solid defenses, despite what’s happening on offense. The Vikings, with Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson and the rest, can put points on the board. And the Commanders’, specifically Sam Howell, played the game of their lives on Sunday. They made few mistakes, and if they play like that the rest of the way, could be a wild card team this season (not likely, but possible).
8) Too Many Undisciplined Moments
The Eagles were almost done in by penalties at crushing moments on Sunday. While frustrating, most of them were legit (although not this one), and the taunting call by A.J. Brown simply cannot happen. They’ve overcoming those moments, which is admirable, and they’re only middle-of-the-pack in terms of penalties and yardage assessed, but it’s still an area Nick Sirianni has to get under control before it actually does bit them one of these weeks.
9) They’re Not Playing to Their Potential
It’s hard to measure up to how they played last year. So many weeks, they just dominated their opponents from start to finish, but we always knew it wasn’t going to be like that this year. Still, they’ll be the first to admit they’re not playing to their potential, which is both encouraging and discouraging. They’re 4-0 despite all the warts.
10) They Need To Play Better Before the Schedule Gets Rough
That said, they need to put some Compound V salicylic acid on these things sooner rather than later, because if they play like this against the Dolphins, Bills, Cowboys, Chiefs, and 49ers, they’ll probably lose most of those games.
And that’s the concern. Yes, the Eagles are good enough to beat these first four opponents playing like this, and probably the Rams this Sunday, too. That said, everyone acknowledges this level of play won’t work against their fellow elites.