(thinking of something unique to say about A.J. Brown when it feels like anything worth saying about him has already been said)
A.J. Brown is ... good at football.
(phew. nailed it!)
Brown is the first wide receiver in NFL history with six straight games of at least 125 receiving yards. And he’s showing no signs of slowing down. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him keep extending that streak.
This is a player who looks flat out unstoppable. It’s not even like Brown was always poorly covered by the Commanders; he was well-defended on his touchdown catches. But it didn’t matter! He made the ridiculous look routine with even better catches to beat the defense.
Brown is 75 yards behind league-leader Tyreek Hill, who is obviously a real challenge to defend. But there’s a real case to be made Brown is THE best wide receiver in the entire NFL. And one of the very best players in the NFL regardless of position. He belongs in the MVP conversation at this point in time.
We are watching the greatest Eagles receiver in franchise history.
A.J. Brown in the last 6 weeks:— PFF (@PFF) October 30, 2023
831 yards (1st)
5 TDs (T-1st)
37 first down receptions (1st)
21 catches gaining 15+ yards (T-1st) pic.twitter.com/qWDRt5CnO7
Prior to the game, NFL insider Jay Glazer reported Hurts has been playing through a bone bruise in his knee for weeks now. We saw Hurts look less than comfortable at times on Sunday as he limped around and finished with four carries for six yards (including a 7-yard scamper to convert a 3rd-and-7 to prevent a second three-and-out to start the game):
Hurts just had the best passing game of his career while moving like this. It is truly incredible how far he has come as a passer.— Shane Haff (@ShaneHaffNFL) October 30, 2023
P.S. please heal up fast pic.twitter.com/RjKpNFp3SC
With Hurts unable to rely heavily on his legs, he turned in one of the very best passing performances of his career. Here’s how Hurts’ numbers rank among his body of work:
- Completion percentage: 6th (76.32%)
- Yards: t-8th (319)
- Adjusted yards per attempt: 5th (10.5)
- Touchdown passes: t-1st (4)
- Passer rating: 2nd (135.7)
Based on EPA per pass play, today was the best passing game of Jalen Hurts' career. 29-for-38 for 319 yards, 4 TDs and 0 INTs.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) October 30, 2023
Eagles offense through 8 weeks:
* T-3rd in points per game
* 4th in EPA per drive
* 4th in success rate
Shootouts are inevitably going to pop up during a given season. Sometimes it’s up to the quarterback to lift the team and put up a ton of points. That’s exactly what Hurts did on Sunday. The Eagles might need more of this from him entering a very tough road ahead.
Well, well, the still-mid-QB-to-some Jalen Hurts has a +6.8 completion percentage over expected (CPOE) this season, 2nd behind Josh Allen.— Greg - PhillyCoverCorner (@greghartpa) October 30, 2023
This is Hurts' best CPOE and if the season ended today, would be the highest CPOE since Aaron Rodgers in 2020 (and Allen this season) pic.twitter.com/eYXJY5ATJo
We should note that Hurts did turn the ball over for the 12th time in his last nine games. His fumble on the Brotherly Shove prevented seven points from going up on the board. Of course, with how automatic that play has usually been, it’s not like there’s concern he’s suddenly unable to effectively execute it. But the giveaways seriously need to go down ... and fast.
Maybe the Phillies should’ve tried using Reddick instead of Craig Kimbrel in Game 4 of the NLCS?
I know. Too soon.
Seriously, though, Reddick is developing a reputation as The Closer. He’s come up with some really clutch sacks this season.
It began in the Eagles’ first game against the Commanders, which was his first time playing without a cast this season. Reddick sacked Sam Howell for a seven-yard loss late in the fourth quarter to force a Commanders punt that set up the Eagles’ go-ahead score. (The game eventually went to overtime but that could’ve been avoided if the offense worked the clock better and prevented Washington from getting the ball back.)
Reddick produced back-to-back sacks to force a turnover on downs and kill off a Los Angeles Rams comeback attempt in Week 5.
In his second game against the Commanders, Reddick strip-sacked Howell on 4th-and-5 with Washington down seven. The Eagles took over and extended their lead to 14 to essentially seal the game.
Despite a slow start to the season while navigating a thumb injury, Reddick is actually posting even better numbers than he did at this time last season:
Haason Reddick thru 8 games— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) October 29, 2023
2022: 5.5 sacks, 8 QB hits, 5 TFLs
2023: 6.5 sacks, 10 QB hits, 7 TFLs #Eagles
Reddick would be at 7.5 sacks if it weren’t for Howell weaseling out of a sack in this game by throwing the ball into an offensive lineman for an intentional grounding penalty. By the way, that was another high impact play that ended a Commanders drive after Hurts’ goal-line fumble. Washington was forced to punt and the Eagles tied the game at 17 all.
Reddick is doing his part to force the Eagles to pay him more money after this season. He’ll be entering a contract year in 2024.
Nice to see Smith have his second-biggest game of the season. With A.J. Brown justifiably dominating targets, Smith was only averaging 41 receiving yards per game over his last five starts. He more than doubled that amount on Sunday by catching all seven of his targets for 99 yards and one touchdown that came on a coverage bust. Smith’s 14.14 yards per target qualified for the fourth-highest mark of his career.
Smith is also apparently the master of getting away with catches that might not actually be caught and helping the offense get a play off to prevent a challenge.
Oh, and Smith making the game-sealing onside kick recovery shouldn’t be slept on. (I say as I almost forgot to mention that.)
Blankenship was having a tough game prior to his interception. He wasn’t shy to show dissatisfaction with his performance while speaking to reporters after the game.
In fairness, though, Blankenship was playing his first game back from a ribs injury. And he was doing it while adjusting to playing with a brand new position-mate in Kevin Byard. And Blankenship has been much more good than not this year.
Being in the right place at the right time is his calling card and making the pick on a poor Howell pass was huge. He set up Philly’s go-ahead touchdown by allowing the offense to take over at 1st-and-goal from the 7-yard line.
Pretty fun to see the future Hall of Famer score a touchdown with the Eagles. And then to see all the players get so excited about it, too.
Everyone’s reaction to Julio Jones scoring his first TD as an Eagle pic.twitter.com/hwKuNMDF9l— Kendall Beck (@KBeckEagles) October 30, 2023
There was some thought that the Eagles signed Jones to help out with their red zone issues. At face value, that makes some sense since Jones is a pretty big target (6’3, 220 pounds). But Jones actually hasn’t been the best RZ threat over his career; his touchdown numbers are lower than you’d expect them to be.
In any case, Jones used his frame to make a great contested catch in traffic after a nice, quick release by Hurts. Nick Sirianni told reporters that that was a play Hurts and Jones repped a ton in practice leading up to this game so they felt especially good about pulling it off.
The Eagles are glad to know Jones still has something left in the tank as another option capable of contributing.
Ricks got flagged for pass interference to wipe out a third down stop on the Commanders’ first drive. Shortly thereafter, he redeemed himself with a tackle for loss on a bubble screen that forced a punt.
Ricks also put a big hit on Logan Thomas at one point to stop the tight end’s forward momentum and prevent a first down. That play set up a 4th-and-1 where the Commanders went for it and turned it over on downs with Howell throwing a near-pick to James Bradberry. The Eagles then went on a touchdown drive to cut Washington’s lead to four points.
According to Pro Football Reference, Ricks is allowing just a 57.6 passer rating when targeted this season.
Elliott has not missed a kick since blowing a 37-yard field goal in Week 6. That was a costly mistake, of course, but credit to him for not letting it snowball.
Elliott is 9/9 on extra point kicks and 2/2 on field goals over the past two weeks, including the 51-yarder that he hit against the Commanders.
With three punt returns of at least 25 yards, Covey is tied for the NFL lead in that regard. He could’ve gained even more if he didn’t experience friendly fire from Nolan Smith running into him.
Covey’s 25-yard return allowed the Eagles to take over at their own 49-yard line and score a game-tying touchdown.
Braden Mann > Arryn Siposs.
Mann had punts of 58 and 59 yards in this game. That 58.5 average is better than the Siposs career high average for a game, which was 52.
In Week 7, the Commanders’ offense managed just seven points (assisted by a short field after a muffed punt) and 273 yards against the New York Giants.
In Week 8, the Commanders’ offense managed 31 points and 472 yards against the Eagles.
The same Eagles team that surrendered just one touchdown and 244 yards to the top-ranked Miami Dolphins offense the week prior.
Eric Bieniemy and Sam Howell apparently have Desai’s number:
SAM HOWELL— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) October 30, 2023
68/93 (73.1%), 687 yards (7.4 avg), 5 TD, 1 INT, 107.2 passer rating … 9 runs for 51 yards … 3 sacks taken per game
VS. EVERYBODY ELSE:
149/234 (63.7%), 1628 yards (7.0 avg), 9 TD, 8 INT, 82.7 passer rating … 20 runs for 114 yards … 5.4 sacks
Going up against a team allowing the most sacks in the NFL, the Eagles took down Howell just once (twice if you count the intentional grounding) and only hit him four times. Part of that had to do with the Commanders getting the ball out quick; Howell had the seventh-fastest average time to throw in Week 8 at 2.54 seconds (per NFL Next Gen Stats). But it shouldn’t be that simple for an offense to neutralize the Eagles’ pass rush. This felt like Jonathan Gannon was coordinating the defense with how easy it looked for Howell.
Desai was certainly hurt by some of his players not playing up to standard. And the defense did ultimately come up with one takeaway in addition to holding the Commanders to 0/3 on fourth down attempts.
Some of the tightening up towards the end was aided by unusually good fortune, though. Howell had two off-target throws to Terry McLaurin on back-to-back plays and the star receiver somehow dropped both.
Fortunately, the Eagles don’t have to see Howell again this year. The bad news is that they’re about to play quarterbacks who are much better than him. One would hope Desai has some better plans against them.
You probably haven’t noticed but I’ve been expressing frustration with the Eagles’ inexplicable Gainwell over-utilization since Week 1 (when they gave him 18 touches while D’Andre Swift only got two). I’m getting pretty tired of beating a dead horse, so I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible: KENNY GAINWELL CANNOT BE THE EAGLES’ RED ZONE BACK!
Swift has 18 carries. 11 were positive EPA.— Brent Cohen (@EaglesRewind) October 30, 2023
Only four running backs have more fumbles than Gainwell this year: Raheem Mostert, Christian McCaffrey, Antonio Gibson, and Eric Gray.
Unlike Gainwell, Gibson and Gray have returner duties, so that’s a factor. Mostert and McCaffrey have provided plenty of value to more than compensate for fumbles.
Not the case for Gainwell, who is now averaging just 3.0 yards per carry.
This isn’t to suggest Gainwell is worthless. He can reasonably contribute as a dump-off option in the passing game and he’s probably the team’s best pass-protecting back.
But it’s so insane that the Eagles continue to use him in high-leverage situations.
At the time of Gainwell’s costly goal-to-go fumble, Gainwell had two carries while Swift only had one.
I totally get that the Eagles can’t just run Swift into the ground. They can avoid doing that while also not overusing Gainwell, though. Get Boston Scott more involved. Actually use Rashaad Penny. Maybe make a move for a running back at the deadline?
So much for keeping it brief.
I’d also say that Gainwell probably doesn’t need to be engaging with fans on his phone during halftime:
Bradberry got beat for another touchdown, which means he’s allowed four in seven games this season. He only allowed two in 17 games last season.
Bradberry is allowing a 113.0 passer rating when targeted. That’s way worse than the 51.6 rating he allowed last season.
Credit to Bradberry for good coverage on the Commanders’ first failed fourth down conversion (though he dropped a potential pick six) and on the Howell interception. But there has to be concern that the 30-year-old might be on the decline.
Opeta is clearly a weak point on the Eagles’ offensive line.
Only 11 guards have allowed more pressures than him this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
There’s also evidence to suggest he’s hurting the Eagles’ rushing attack:
#Eagles Rushing Attack with Cam Jurgens:— Shane Haff (@ShaneHaffNFL) October 30, 2023
D'Andre Swift EPA/Play: 0.26
D'Andre Swift Yards/Attempt: 6.4
Team Rushing Success Rate: 56%
Without Cam Jurgens:
D'Andre Swift EPA/Play -0.08
D'Andre Swift Yards/Attempt: 3.7
Team Rushing Success Rate: 42%
Come back soon Cam! pic.twitter.com/9DkmsQu7il
The good news is that Cam Jurgens is eligible to be activated from injured reserve in time for the Eagles’ Week 9 game against the Cowboys. We’ll soon see if he’s ready to ramp up in practice this week.
Should the Eagles need to go back to using a backup guard at some point, it’s fair to wonder if Tyler Steen should overtake Opeta. Steen held up well in a very sample size when Opeta missed six snaps. And Opeta is going to be a free agent after this season while Steen could be a long-term starter if he pans out.
I DON’T KNOWS
No question about his talent. Carter helped to prevent a deep touchdown to Byron Pringle by generating pressure — along with a blitzing Nakobe Dean — up the middle on Howell.
The question is regarding his health status. The Eagles really need to hope that his back injury isn’t too severe because they NEED him out there for their upcoming stretch.
Dean led the team in tackles with 12. Of course, tackles aren’t always a good stat. But PFF’s “stops” metric helps to contextualize impact tackles that constitute a ‘failure’ for the offense and he had four of those, which was a team-high.
Dean also logged two pressures, including the one where he blitzed to help Carter in preventing a deep touchdown.
But whereas Dean positively contributed as a run defender and occasional pass rusher, he struggled in coverage. The Commanders clearly saw him as weak point; Dean was targeted eight times and he allowed eight catches for 81 yards and a 108.9 passer rating.
In fairness to Dean, this is essentially his rookie season in terms of actually playing on defense. I think it’s fair to wonder if this two-down linebacker profile is largely who he is, though.
Brown got off to a hot start with two TFLs on the Commanders’ first drive. Like Dean, he looked good as a run defender while lining up at nickel cornerback.
Also like Dean, he looked shaky in pass coverage. The rookie was targeted five times and allowed four catches for 41 yards, one touchdown, and a 140.4 passer rating.
It’s bit of a tall order to ask Brown to immediately excel in the slot. He might very well be miscast there ... or at least there might be growing pains along the way.
Brown did flash his big-hitting potential by absolutely laying the wood on Terry McLaurin at one point.
Byard had seven tackles but it felt like a relatively quiet debut for him. Not exactly shocking that he didn’t light the world on fire mere days after joining the team. That he was able to play 100% of the snaps was really nice. But it’s probably going to take some time for him to get adjusted to playing with new teammates in a new system.
THE EAGLES’ UPCOMING GAUNTLET
The Eagles have largely been able to get away with not playing their A-game to this point. They must be sharper with a number of high quality opponents coming up, starting with the Dallas Cowboys this weekend.
Can they do it? Absolutely.
Will they? Well, I don’t know, we’re about to see.