The Eagles are preparing to face the New York Jets tomorrow as they return to MetLife Stadium just one week after their embarrassing defeat against the Giants. To get back to winning ways, there are five elements of the game that will be absolutely crucial.
Darius Slay meets an electric young receiver
Darius Slay is enjoying a huge year. He’s only allowed 39 catches all season and has given up a career-low 9.5 yards per catch. Quarterbacks are only able to amass an average rating of 74 against him up to this point and his ball-skills have led to three defensive touchdowns. This week, he’ll face one of the more exciting young wideouts in the league.
Elijah Moore was a second-round pick earlier this year and while a little shorter in size (5’10), has become a dependable target for whichever Jets quarterback is lining up under center. He had a pretty slow start to the season but is likely going to draw Slay’s attention all day thanks to his recent breakout.
Moore has 382 yards over the past five weeks, along with 4 touchdowns and a catch rate of 71%. Without much of a backfield, the Jets are going to be leaning on their rookie wideout early and often. It will be down to Darius Slay to ensure he has a tough day at the office.
Does anyone have a spare running back?
With Jordan Howard listed as OUT and Boston Scott drawing a ‘questionable’ tag, the Eagles are going to be down to Miles Sanders and Kenny Gainwell in the backfield in a worst-case scenario. For a team that has ascended the NFL rushing rankings at a rapid rate in recent weeks, this isn’t ideal.
Sanders has been used sporadically all year and is still yet to show out as a consistent three-down back. He’s very boom or bust right now. As for Gainwell, his usage has dipped, ducked, flipped, and everything in between. It would be nice to see him get some more offensive snaps this weekend, and he’ll likely see them as a receiving back.
The Eagles do have Jason Huntley on the practice squad, but whether or not the team decides to elevate him is another question entirely.
Expect plenty of Jalen Hurts rushes this weekend if he’s able to start. If not, idk maybe give the rock to Jordan Mailata and hope for the best?
Zach Wilson vs the Eagles defense
To say that Zach Wilson has had a bumpy first season in the NFL would be an understatement. The Jets lead the NFL in interceptions thrown and 10 of them stem from the rookies arm despite the fact he’s only played 7 games and tossed 4 touchdowns. Much like Jalen Hurts, read progression and decision making seem to be fatal flaws, and his completion percentage of 57% certainly mirrors that sentiment. Unlike Hurts, there is no insane athleticism to save the day.
The Eagles defense have been inconsistent this year, but Jonathan Gannon is finding his floor. The turnovers are increasing, the DB’s are thriving, and we’re seeing far more press-man plays and aggressive fronts than we did in the early stages which were haunted by incredibly soft cover-2 shells. Blitzes, stunts, twists, and allowing the fast players to pick up speed is the name of the game and it’s working.
Getting pressure on Wilson has to be the aim here. The ball is eventually going to find its way into a favorable situation for the defense to capitalize on. They know that. They just have to be ready for when it gently drops in their direction.
Jalen’s ankle Hurts
Jalen Hurts is officially listed as questionable but expects to start this weekend. Even if he does, it will be interesting to see if the ankle limits his mobility. The quarterback actually leads the team in rushing up to this point and can be accredited for a lot of the rushing success over the past month or so. Even when he isn’t breaking ankles, the threat of it alone is enough for defenses to freeze, opening up the floodgates for the backs to do damage.
If Hurts plays, he may have to sit in the pocket longer and face another big test in his development as a passer. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing given how badly he looked last week. He needs to improve in many areas as a passer and the only way he’s going to do that is if he’s forced to throw the ball regularly.
He’s thrown the ball fewer than 25 times in four of the last five weeks. That’s shockingly low and not sustainable in the long run. While the injury is concerning, it may end up doing him a huge favor providing he’s still able to step up in the pocket and deliver strikes.
One last shot for Jalen Reagor
To say that Jalen Reagor has been a disappointment this season would be an understatement of epic proportions. The second-year wideout has struggled from the very first snap of the year and it’s getting to the point where fans are turning to Nick Sirianni. Either Reagor takes a stride in his development, or Sirianni does the right thing, pulls him to one side and helps him on a personal level while opening up the WR2 doors to a more dependable target.
The Eagles head into a bye next week which acts as a perfect reset for Reagor. If he struggles this weekend, it would behoove Nick Sirianni to allow him to utilize the lack of spotlight in the bye and maybe spend the next few games on the bench while he gathers himself, in the same way Doug Pederson did for Nelson Agholor in 2016.
It’s so unfair on DeVonta Smith to have to carry the WR group every week, let alone on Hurts who has two dependable targets out of an offense many deemed to be stacked. It’s time for Reagor to ball out step aside in hopes that some time away will help him battle anything going on mentally and come back refreshed and stronger.
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