It’s week 15 of the NFL season and the 6-7 Washington Football Team will be facing a 6-7 Eagles team on the road in Philadelphia on Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST. Both of these teams are fighting for a wildcard spot and will likely be desperate to win this game. The Eagles are coming off a bye week and although the decision to delay the game gives them more time to rest and prepare, it also means both teams will be playing their next 3 games in a span of 13 days, with the first and third games being against each other.
The Eagles offense has been characterized by an anemic passing attack, but a prolific rushing attack, as the Eagles are currently ranked 30th in passing yards per game, but 1st in rushing yards per game, per ESPN. On defense, they are more balanced, with the 11th ranked pass defense and 13th ranked run defense in terms of yards per game allowed.
The quality of the Eagles play is largely being driven by their trenches on both sides of the ball. The Eagles OL is ranked 4th in pass block win rate and 2nd in run block win rate according to ESPN analytics (Washington is ranked 5th and 1st, respectively). Similarly, the Eagles DL is ranked 3rd in pass rush win rate and 7th in run stop win rate. As a result, the Eagles have been successful running the ball with a committee approach. Miles Sanders is their lead RB with 578 rushing yards, though QB Jalen Hurts has eclipsed that with 695 rushing yards on the season.
I asked Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation five questions to better understand the state of the Eagles and what to look for in this game.
1) What are your impressions of the new coaching staff?
On the whole, I think they’ve done a solid job this season.
Nick Sirianni has rebounded from a rough start. The Eagles were one of the most undisciplined teams early in the season, leading the league in penalties. They also just didn’t have an offensive identity. That changed when Sirianni committed to running the ball and playing more to Jalen Hurts’ strengths. Since the shift in Week 8, Philly’s offense has been more much effective. A look at some of the numbers:
#Eagles Offensive Rankings Since Week 8:— John Gonoude (@john_gonoude) December 16, 2021
Points/Game . . . 29.7 (2nd)
Yards/Game . . . 366.2 (8th)
Rush Yards/Game . . . 210.5 (1st)
First Downs/Game . . . 22.5 (5th)
3rd-Down Efficiency . . . 51.2% (1st)
Scoring Efficiency . . . 53.4% (1st)
Explosive Plays . . . 65 (3rd)
It remains to be seen how Sirianni will adjust if/when teams are able to find ways to shut down the current offensive approach. He might only be able to do so much given some of the limitations at quarterback. Until then, he might as well continue riding what’s been working.
As for defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, well, evaluating him is interesting. On one hand, the defense ranks sixth in opponent yards per play and 17th in opponent yards per play. Gannon’s unit has done a good job of shutting down the lesser quarterbacks on Philly’s schedule. The better ones, though? Not so much. Five quarterbacks have completed at least 80% of their passes against the Eagles this season. That’s pretty insane when you consider they allowed just six 80%+ passers in THE SEVENTY YEARS BEFORE THIS SEASON.
In fairness to Gannon, he’s made some defensive adjustments since those really bad games early in the year. He’s no longer simply having the defense sit back and disallow the big play at the expense of getting lit up underneath. But, again, the Eagles haven’t really faced a good quarterback since Week 9. We’ve yet to see him prove he has answers against QBs who aren’t bad.
2) A major goal of this season has been evaluating Jalen Hurts. What have you seen out of Hurts; his biggest areas of progress, strengths, and weaknesses? On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you that he’s a franchise QB?
Hurts’ biggest strength is obviously the value he brings as a rusher. And not only his ability to carry the ball himself but the stress he puts on defenses that opens up opportunities for Philly’s running backs. Look no further than how the Eagles ran for 242 yards on the New Orleans Saints’ top-ranked run defense that was allowing just 74 rushing yards per game at the time.
With the notable exception of his last start, Hurts has generally done a good job of not putting the ball in harm’s way. He deserves credit for that as well.
Weaknesses include not often throwing with anticipation and lacking arm strength/accuracy. Not even his biggest believers could argue he’s easily on track to become one of the best passers in the league.
I’d put my confidence at 3.5. Hurts undoubtedly has some things going for him. He’s one of the very best running quarterbacks in the NFL. He checks all the boxes when it comes to intangibles and leadership. Ultimately, though, I just don’t think he’s good enough of a passer to warrant consideration as a long-term franchise quarterback. People like to excuse his weaknesses by saying he’s young and can improve. And while there might be some truth to that, there are real questions about his ceiling. He’s yet to prove he can lead the Eagles to victory against a team with a top tier quarterback. The best QB on the other side of a Hurts win is … Teddy Bridgewater? Matt Ryan?
3) With Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave, the Eagles have some of the more capable interior DL in the league. Javon Hargrave seems to be in contention for NFL sack leader amongst DT almost every week, what do you think accounts for his breakout year? Conversely, Fletcher Cox only has 1 sack and 25 combined tackles on the season, a significant regression from last year. What do you think accounts for his struggles and is he in decline?
Hargrave was a disappointment for the Eagles in 2020 in large part because he entered the season injured. He flashed down the stretch as he got healthier and that success has carried over to 2021. He’s had more of an opportunity to be aggressive and disruptive in Philly than he did as a gap-controller in Pittsburgh.
Hargrave was red hot to begin this season but then had a six-game stretch without a single sack. He has 1.5 in his last two outings, so maybe he’s heating back up? One would think he’ll be able to taking advantage of a Washington team starting their fourth-string center.
As for Cox, he’s definitely in decline. In fairness, he’s coming down from a pretty high peak. He’s still a pretty good player, especially as a run defender. But there’s no denying that he’s not the elite difference-maker he used to be. The Eagles are paying Cox like a top five interior defender and he’s produced just two sacks in his last 17 games. Cox’s impact often goes beyond the box score but, still, that’s just not good enough.
The Eagles really should’ve looked to sell Cox instead of restructuring his contract to make it harder to move on from him. That the Eagles had talks about moving him ahead of this year’s trade deadline points to the team potentially trading him in the offseason.
4) What do you hope happens with the Eagles’ three 1st round picks in the 2022 draft?
The Eagles should be striving to acquire an elite quarterback. There are those who don’t want Russell Wilson because they think he’s too old and/or washed up. People are overthinking this. It’s Russell Wilson, a perennial MVP candidate and future Hall of Famer. If the Eagles can get him (which they might not be able to if he rejects their interest with his no-trade clause), they should.
Assuming the Eagles can’t acquire a veteran QB (such as Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson), I’d look hard at options in the draft. Everyone says this quarterback class isn’t great and maybe that’s true. But sometimes QB classes are a lot better/worse than originally expected. Everyone thought Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were such great prospects … and look at where they are now. The Eagles probably shouldn’t look to make a Carson Wentz-type trade to move up for one of the quarterbacks in this class. But if, say, Kenny Pickett or Matt Corral falls to their top pick, it’s an option worth considering.
Beyond QB, taking an edge rusher makes a lot of sense. The Eagles’ pass rush needs help. Safety and linebacker are two positions of need but the Eagles don’t draft guys at those spots in the first round. Wide receiver is also still a need despite the Eagles using their last two first-round picks on that position.
5) How would you gameplan to beat the Eagles on both sides of the ball?
I would build a time machine and try to take steps to prevent 20 players from going on Washington’s COVID list. Seems like that might help.
If we’re talking about what I would do as Washington specifically, well, it’s hard to say. I’d say I’d look to get the ball to Terry McLaurin but it seems like he status might be in question with him missing Wednesday’s practice with a concussion. Also might not be able to merely force feed him with Darius Slay, who is having a good season, likely shadowing Washington’s leading receiver.
Taylor Heinicke’s best chance could be to get the ball out quick and limit turnovers. The Eagles will look to take away the big play, so the Football Team will need to find a way to go on some long touchdown drives. Playing so shorthanded, Ron Rivera needs to be very aggressive; he can’t settle for red zone field goals and punts.
I don’t even know what Washington’s defense can be expected to do when they’re potentially missing their top four edge rushers, three of their top four interior defenders, a starting cornerback, and a starting safety. It feels like the Eagles’ offensive line could have their way with Washington’s front.
If Hurts is playing, which is currently unclear, Washington should be looking to contain him in the pocket and force the Eagles to beat them with his arm. Again, that might be easier said than done given the potential personnel issues.
Thanks again to Brandon Lee Gowton for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Eagles.
As of right now, Vegas has Philadelphia as 7.5 point favorites over Washington. How would you bet?
This poll is closed
Philadelphia wins by more than 7 points
Philadelphia wins by 7 points or fewer or it’s a tie
Washington wins outright
As of now, Vegas has the over/under for this game at 43.5 points. Which would you bet?
This poll is closed
44 or more total points are scored (both sides combined)
Fewer than 44 total points are scored (both sides combined)
Which Washington player are you most hoping to get back for Tuesday’s game?
This poll is closed
QB Taylor Heinicke
QB Kyle Allen
RT Sam Cosmi
WR Terry McLaurin
DT Jonathan Allen
CB Kendall Fuller