Ha. That is the word that you might greet this article’s title with as you fall into a fit of laughter at the thought of this Eagles team appearing in a playoff game. This Eagles team, whose rookie head coach can’t ever run the ball. This Eagles team, whose defense has no swagger or identity. This Eagles team, whose quarterback is unproven and shoddy in his accuracy.
That Eagles team, I would have given you the right to laugh hysterically at the discussion of playoff possibility as you wipe tears away, closing your device or the paper on this article. The hungry, energized and ever-improving team we have been seeing over the past few weeks, on the other hand, deserves much more respect in the discussion of a potential playoff appearance. The coach now loves running the ball, the defense has confidence and a swagger in every tackle, hit and pick, and the quarterback is winning fans, analysts, coaches and players over with every day. This Eagles team is a bunch of hungry dogs and we all know what center Jason Kelce told us about them.
“Hungry Dogs Run Faster.”
Going into the season, many fans knew that this was not going to be a super competitive team. Much of the success was going to hinge on the performance of second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts, who, in experience as a starter, was virtually in the beginning of his rookie season. Although he didn’t deserve it, the fanbase, coaching staff and front office of the team was now putting the former Oklahoma/Alabama alum under immense pressure on every snap on a sped up clock. Most rookie quarterbacks are given a full season or two to be evaluated and it is understood that there will still be growing pains in this period. The Eagles, however, are armed with quarterback optionality unlike most teams. With two, potentially three first round picks in next year’s draft, the birds can very easily make a trade offer to grab established star quarterbacks who are available such as Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson. Of course, the option to select a quarterback with one of the first round picks is also a possibility.
In my opinion, however, a move like that would be tragically nearsighted on behalf of the Eagles front office. This young team would be much better off if the draft resources were used to get as much first round talent as possible to surround whoever is under center in Philly. If Hurts continues to improve, let him play another year to prove he is the future, if not, let him duke it out with former starter-turned second stringer Gardner Minshew. Either way, the team as a whole is improved by the first round talent and now a quarterback can potentially be drafted the next offseason should things not work out with who they have currently. Besides, Hurts has not even been a bad quarterback.
Early on in the season, Hurts played fairly solid, but as of late, he has massively turned it up. With a newfound running game, the pressure of throwing 30 times a game no longer wears upon his shoulders and has opened up the play action game, allowing the offense to flourish. The thunder and lightning combination of Jordan Howard and Boston Scott has worked wonders over the last string of games, leading to an utter demolition of Detroit, a nail biting showdown with the playoff-ready Chargers and a beatdown in Denver. Through it all, Hurts’ intangibles have glimmered through the noise as his most admirable trait. His teammates are ready to go to war with him every week and his chemistry with receivers has grown with every week. He brushes off criticism from the media and absorbs teaching points from coaches and apparently the Manning brothers who have been having their brains picked by the eager to learn Hurts. There is no doubt about the fact that Hurts’ mentality is razor focused. The kid does not get rattled and when he makes mistakes, he learns from them. Sure, his accuracy and arm strength have been legitimate questions, but even those two primary critiques of number one are beginning to lose ground as he has started to fill the highlight reels with deep ball touchdowns to Devonta Smith and pinpoint strikes across the middle of the field to tight end Dallas Goedert. He works hard, he plays hard and his presence as the starter here will seemingly die hard.
Going back to the running game, the full on reverse in play calling from earlier this season has paid dividends not only in relieving Hurts as I touched upon earlier, but also gashing defenses and wearing them out through four quarters. For example, in Denver, Philly’s offense, after having pulled out to a lead in the first half, was able to overrun the Broncos defense, burying them as the clock ticked closer to zero. Over these last three games, the Eagles have run the ball better than anyone in the league. Only the Ravens have displayed a more dynamic rush attack over the season in terms of average per game. Even better for the running game, this success has been going on without the lead back Miles Sanders who will be returning soon. One would expect that Sanders’ presence should inject an even more dangerous element to the running game as paired with Jordan Howard’s heavy hitting style and Boston Scott’s Darren Sproles-esque style.
Although there has been very concerning success against the Eagles defense in terms of quarterbacks completing over 80% of their passes and having almost no pressure in their faces, things have begun to look better. Gannon’s system has finally allowed the cornerbacks to play closer to the receiver and allow them to disrupt the routes, giving the defensive line a better chance at getting to the quarterback. They’re playing with a confidence and swagger we’ve not seen in years. Time will tell if this energy and the improvement of these young players will pan out in a playoff experience. To be honest, it would be a great scenario to get these young, hopefully future franchise players some playoff experience. And since we have the Dolphins likely top 10 pick and another potential first rounder from the Colts, our own draft positioning doesn’t matter that much. Until next time, Fly Eagles Fly.
Joseph Gill is a third-year English major with a minor in Journalism. JG923276@wcupa.edu