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What to make of the Eagles electric, confounding, frustrating and clutch offense

It’s a confounding unit, to be sure.

Buffalo Bills v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Jalen Hurts, it appears, is just like us.

For much of Sunday’s exhilarating 37-34 overtime victory against the Bills, it looked like we were in for a true NFL let-down game. That would have been understandable, if not forgivable, given their heart-pulsing Super Bowl-rematch victory over the Chiefs in Kansas City six days before. It can be difficult for teams to come back from that, on a short week, in bad weather, and play their best football.

It looked like that’s exactly what we were going to get for much of the day. The offense had no rhythm. Jalen Hurts committed two costly turnovers that Buffalo converted into touchdowns. Facing a 24-14 deficit in the third quarter, it looked like it was going to be the Bills’ day on a dreary afternoon/early evening in Philly.

Most teams lose games like that. But Jalen Hurts and Nick Sirianni seem to be immune from letdown games.

Even after recovering from early sluggishness and taking a 28-24 lead in the fourth quarter, a clutch TD drive by the otherworldly Josh Allen gave the Bills a 31-28 lead with under two minutes remaining. Things looked bleak until Hurts and the offense did their thing once again, driving the length of the field to set up a long-shot Jake Elliott 59-yard field goal that could send the game into overtime.

Two plays earlier, the Eagles had a first down at the Buffalo 31, but more mistakes, this time two Jason Kelce false start penalties in three plays, pushed them back to the 41. On 4th down, with just 30 seconds left and no timeouts remaining, Elliott’s field goal attempt, in a driving rain, with wind whipping and a soggy field, somehow made it through the uprights, sending this insane football game into an extra session.

This was Hurts’ reaction.

He, like the rest of us, couldn’t believe what just happened, but Hurts’ reaction was perhaps more about not believing it even needed to come to a miracle kick like that.

Hurts, it seems, is as confounded by the Eagles’ offense as the rest of us, a unit that appears to struggle and shoot themselves in the foot for large stretches of games but also has a weekly epiphany that rouses them from their slumber to salvage games they have no business winning.

The Eagles’ offense could not have looked worse in the first half. They trailed 17-7. The Eagles had 99 total yards. They punted three times. They committed two turnovers. Jalen Hurts had 33 yards passing and had completed just 4 of 11 passes. Brian Johnson’s play calling looked off. There was no rhythm. By the end of the game, Buffalo out-gained them 505-378, had 24 first downs to Buffalo’s 29, and the Eagles trailed the time of possession battle 40:30-26:53.

They did this.

The same thing happened last week in Kansas City, when they entered the locker room down 17-7. Hurts was 5-for-7 passing for 46 yards with an interception. The Eagles were held to 82 yards and ran just 25 offensive plays. For the game, the Chiefs out-gained them 336-228 and had 16 first downs to K.C.’s 16. They were 3-11 on third down.

And yet, the Eagles won both games against two powerhouse AFC teams and perhaps the two best QBs the conference has to offer.

How are they doing it? Halftime adjustments? Attitude change? Dumb luck?

The eye test mirrors some of the ugly statistics we’ve seen from the offense early in games. A lot of WR screens and QB draws that go nowhere. The passing game seems stuck in the mud. The offensive line (who was without Lane Johnson on Sunday) has not played up to their standards this season. It feels like the defense is gripping the back of a speeding car clinging for dear life, doing what they can to keep the Birds in games, and yes, the Eagles are benefitting from mistakes by their opponents.

What makes this team different is Hurts’ ability to perform in the clutch and when trailing, both of which are not the product of luck.

The question, of course, is why the offense and Hurts can’t play like this for an entire four quarters. That is the confounding and frustrating part of the Eagles’ offensive experience here in 2023. They have been adept at making the necessary adjustments at halftime, and Hurts, A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith, D’Andre Swift and the offensive line have picked up their game when their backs are against the wall. That’s a huge thing, and because of their success in 2022, none of these comeback wins feels like luck.

In fact, it feels like the cream rising to the top. You just wish it didn’t settle to the bottom in the first place.

At the end of the day, new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson’s offensive production isn’t far off from where they were last year, and are very much among the top offenses in the NFL.

Eagles’ 2023 vs. 2022 Offense

Season Points/Game Yards/Game Rushing/Game Passing/Game EPA/Play Success Rate Rush Success Rate Pass Success Rate
Season Points/Game Yards/Game Rushing/Game Passing/Game EPA/Play Success Rate Rush Success Rate Pass Success Rate
2023 28.2 (T-3) 364.3 (9) 133.3 (8) 231.0 (13) 0.088 (5) 46.6% (T-5) 44.5% (4) 48.1% (8)
2022 29.1 (2) 385.8 (3) 152.0 (4) 233.8 (9) 0.100 (3) 47.9% (3) 50.7% (1) 45.8% (15)

The biggest difference is in rushing success rate, where they were No. 1 in the NFL last season. However, they’re still No. 4 there, and they’ve improved dramatically in their pass success rate, from 45.8% to 48.1%, moving from No. 15 to No. 8. They are averaging one fewer point per game against a much tougher schedule, and remain one of the most efficient offenses in the league.

But there are things to clean up. The Eagles are committing 1.5 turnovers per game, which ranks them in the bottom half of the league. They were at 1.0 last year, 3rd-lowest in the NFL. They’re also a tad worse in the red zone, with a 62.79 TD% that is still 5th-best, down a bit from last year’s 68.00% that ranked 3rd. That number was far worse in the season’s first two months.

But for all their warts, this is a good offense. They just get there in weird ways.

Certainly, we’d love to see a few 35-14 games sprinkled into the mix, but the Eagles are 10-1 this season. Their point differential isn’t impressive, however...

...the asterisks tell the real story. Those other teams both won the Super Bowl.

And before anyone makes the comparison, this year’s Eagles, 7-1 in one-score games, are different than last year’s Vikings fraud that won 13 one-score games.

The Eagles have won the first half of their six-game gauntlet, beating the Cowboys, Chiefs and Bills. Point differential doesn’t matter, and it won’t matter the next three weeks against the 49ers, Cowboys and Seahawks. And for the record, the Eagles’ point differential against winning teams is among the best in football.

Don’t forget, the Eagles entered the season with the toughest schedule in the NFL, and people are pointing their fingers at point differential?

Through 11 weeks last year, the Eagles’ point differential was +87. It’s 20 points worse this year, and much of that can be placed on the feet of the defense, given the offense is scoring just one point per game less in 2023. And to be fair to the defense, they have played against Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, Tua Tagovailoa, Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and, of course, the only QB to beat them this year, the stud Zach Wilson.

This isn’t college football, where aesthetics matter. There is no coaches’ poll. Philadelphia’s 10-1 record and two-game cushion over the rest of the NFL isn’t a matter of luck.

There is certainly room for the Eagles’ electric, confounding, frustrating and clutch offense to improve, a fact Hurts, Johnson, Sirianni and the rest of the team know to be true.

Just imagine if and when they truly do figure it all out.

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