Week 14 is approaching and with it, comes the second edition of Dallas week this season. The Eagles will look to bounce back after the drubbing they took at home against San Francisco on Sunday and as Jalen Hurts has said many times in the past, the team has to play to the standard it set for itself.
The Eagles certainly didn’t play to that standard, however it’s measured by Hurts and his teammates against the Niners where the defense allowed six consecutive touchdown drives, missed tackles at an alarming rate and the offense didn’t score its first touchdown of the game until halfway through the third quarter. The Eagles were also outgained by 100+ yards for the fourth time in their last five games in the loss.
Despite some of the continuing woes, the Eagles went 4-1 in the schedule gauntlet everyone had circled in red before the season kicked off with victories over the Cowboys, Chiefs and Bills. That’s certainly noteworthy and something that can’t be taken away from them.
However, it’s starting to become a theme for this year’s Eagles.
Trail in the first half, come alive in the second half, the defense bends but doesn’t break and they squeak out wins. After celebrating the victory, Hurts and other leaders of the team like Brandon Graham, Jordan Mailata and Jason Kelce consistently say that the team has yet to put together “their best game”.
While that may be true, this isn’t Week 4 where a team could still be ironing out some kinks. It’s Week 14. We are a little over two months away from the Superbowl, a game in which the Eagles expect themselves to be playing in.
This isn’t a “the sky is falling” take, but to deny that there are some concerns on how sustainable this style of play is and always having to come-from-behind to win games certainly warrants some questioning.
Inside the Numbers
The Eagles have flashed signs of dominance in games this year, even in the first quarter of the game against the 49ers, but they’ve been unable to sustain it for entire games. Compared to last year’s team where they outscored their opponents in the regular season 477-344 and simply dominated, this year’s scoring margin is +41 (329-288). Now, of course this season the Eagles have a much tougher schedule for compared to last year and the NFL isn’t the NCAA where style points in wins don’t matter. However, the proof is in the pudding and perhaps this is the standard for this 2023 Eagles.
Here’s a look at where they rank on both sides of the ball in some key metrics.
Points Per Game: 27.4 (4th)
Yards Per Game: 361.7 (9th)
Yards Per Play: 5.4 (T-11th)
Rushing Yards Per Game: 126.0 (8th)
Passing Yards Per Game: 235.7 (13th)
3rd Down Conversion %: 47.85% (3rd)
Points Allowed Per Game: 24.0 (24th)
Yards Per Game: 350.6 (22nd)
Yards Per Play: 5.4 (T-22nd)
Rushing Yards Per Game: 90.3 (4th)
Passing Yards Per Game: 260.3 (29th)
3rd Down Conversion %: 47.27% (Last)
Statistically speaking, a regression was expected after the banner season this team had a year ago. The offense is better than the defense so far this year, but only ranking in the top-five in two categories.
However, if you simply watch the games, you can see that the offense is still struggling to find a balance and getting off to quick starts. The Eagles are averaging less than a touchdown in the first half in each of their last three games.
Defensively, they are in the lower half the league in many key stats aside from rushing yards allowed (4th), but that was in large part to how stingy the front seven was in the first half of the season. Over the last four games, the defense has surrendered 506 rushing yards (126.5 per game) and 100-plus yards in three of those four contests.
What is this team’s identity?
That’s a question that has been swirling around the city over the last 2-3 weeks. What is this team’s identity? Last year it was easy to point out. Smashmouth running led by a very effective RPO system to go along with brutal physicality. This year, the same can’t be said.
They rely on the passing game much more, but is that truly their identity? Hurts and company haven’t methodically marched down the field with a vicious ariel attack. It’s been more predicated on the home run play where Hurts buys time and gives A.J. Brown or DeVonta Smith a chance on a 50/50 ball. It’s worked more times than not because the Eagles have great talent at quarterback and wide receiver. Is it sustainable to make a Super Bowl run? Most likely not.
Nick Sirianni acknowledged in his press conference this week that the team needs to return to the run game, even if it took some extra encouragement from two fans who took it upon themselves to push the narrative outside the Novacare Complex.
We will see if that’s actually the case against the Dallas rush defense who is worse against the run (12th, 106.0 yds/game) compared to having the 5th best passing defense (181.1 yds/game). The Eagles ran it 33 times for 109 yards in their 28-23 win over the Cowboys back on November 5 with 18 carries going to D’Andre Swift.
Defensively, this team needs to find a way to get off the field on third downs. An opposing 3rd down conversion percentage of nearly 50% is a disastrous recipe for a defense who already has logged a ton of plays to this point. The Cowboys are surging with a potent offense led by Dak Prescott who is in the MVP conversation.
The Time Is Now for the Eagles
There is no better time than this Sunday Night Football clash against the Cowboys to play that complete football game. The “standard”, as it’s been dubbed in South Philly by the players. If they come out sluggish offensively and rally in the second half to hold on to a nail-biting win, then perhaps this is the “standard” for this season.
It certainly isn’t bad all things considered. Holding on to the best record in the NFL at 10-2, a 4-1 record during the toughest five-game stretch any team in the league has seen this year. A defense, for the most part, that has been bending but not breaking and an offense who has capitalized on opportunities and delivering when it’s mattered most.
The 2023 standard isn’t the 2022 version where it was a ride on cruise control all the way to the Super Bowl. This year’s voyage might require fans to buckle up and prepare for some bumps along the way.
AP Photo/Adam Hunger