Cowboys vs. Eagles: “Make no mistake, the Eagles have their place in the playoffs”
It’s Eagles week for the Cowboys, but it’s weird. First of all, it’s week 18 which in itself is unusual. Plus, the game doesn’t seem to matter much given the playoff position of both teams. Still, they’ll play the game so we talked to Bleeding green nation on the Eagles before the contest.
Blog boys: Can you identify a game, a moment, a coaching decision, something that marked the Eagles’ turnaround in 2021. How did they end up qualifying for the playoffs?
The bleeding green nation: Things were going badly for the Eagles after they basically blew themselves up by the Las Vegas Adventurers and fell to 2-5. It was seriously believed that they could lose to the Lions, who still hadn’t won at the time, in Detroit.
This does not happen.
Instead, an Eagles offense that previously lacked an identity quickly uncovered one that focused on managing football. It’s funny because it’s the offensive approach many thought the Eagles should be using before the season even started. But it clearly took a while for Nick Sirianni to figure out that going with a happy pass attack wasn’t the formula for winning football games. Instead, the Eagles had to rely on one of the best offensive lines in the league, one of the best quarterbacks in the league and a more than capable full back. As of Week 8, the Eagles have generally been able to race across all teams. They’re averaging 194.3 rushing yards per game over their last nine. As a result, the Birds lead the NFL in rushing yards per game this season at 160.4.
Now, have the Eagles benefited from a lighter schedule? No question. Ahead of this race they continued, with many pointing to weaker Philly opponents as a point of optimism. The defense was particularly strong against some really unimpressive quarterbacks (Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater, Trevor Siemian, Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson, Garrett Gilbert, Jake Fromm / Mike Glennon, Taylor Heinicke). Still, not all teams consistently beat bad quarterbacks, so the Eagles deserve some credit for doing the same.
BTB: What’s your best guess of how much the Eagles are trying to win the game on Saturday night?
BGN: I don’t expect the Eagles to play a lot, if at all, with their starters. In this regard, they are clearly not trying to win.
That being said, I expect the backups to put in a good effort. These guys will be eager to release some great movies. Take Gardner Minshew, for example. He probably wants to prove he’s more than just a replacement.
The Eagles won’t have enough field talent to beat the Cowboys starters, but they could make the game competitive… if only for a little while.
BTB: Looks like the Eagles have injury issues plus COVID, can you update us on that aspect of the squad?
BGN: My reading on the COVID additions is that they were tactical. The Eagles have likely encouraged a number of players to get tested so that 1) if they are positive they will not have to get tested again for 90 days and 2) if they are on the reserve roster. , the Eagles can raise more than two players from the practice squad as COVID substitutes.
The names currently on the COVID list as of Wednesday evening:
LB Genard Avery DT Fletcher Cox S Marcus Epps TE Dallas Goedert OG Nate Herbig RB Jordan Howard C Jason Kelce CB Avonte Maddox S Rodney McLeod RB Boston Scott LB Alex Singleton TE Jack Stoll
It is possible that a player or two will test the protocol before Saturday, but I think most will remain unavailable to play.
As for the injury situation, Miles Sanders has a broken hand and is not healthy enough to play. But the Eagles wouldn’t play it anyway.
Starting left goalie Landon Dickerson and starting right tackle Lane Johnson haven’t trained this week and will likely miss this game. The Eagles will launch an offensive line made up entirely of backups.
BTB: The Eagles have three first-round picks in the upcoming draft. How should they use them, which positions are a key need and do you think they will use all three or trade?
BGN: I’d be pretty shocked if they use all three.
I think the Eagles would be remiss not to at least check the cost of veteran quarterbacks potentially available via trade this offseason (see: Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson). Jalen Hurts shouldn’t be Plan A. But Hurts has positioned himself to be Plan B if those deals turn out to be too costly, which they probably will.
Assuming the Eagles stick with Hurts for 2022, they must have a contingency plan. Acquiring a first-round pick in 2023 seems like a much needed maneuver. The Eagles need to be prepared in case the Hurts doesn’t turn out to be a franchise quarterback. Once again he has shown promise this year, but he still has a lot to prove. Like showing he can lead the Eagles to victory over a good quarterback. The best starter he has faced and won in his career so far is either Teddy Bridgewater or Matt Ryan.
So one of the three picks should be used to acquire a 2023 prime. I wouldn’t mind if they traded another pick for a top player. Maybe a wide star receiver, for example. If the market weren’t there for such a deal, they’d better sit down and make two choices.
The Eagles could really afford to add a little more flair to their defense. Edge rusher is a primary need when considering the importance of position. Many want to see the Eagles add a linebacker and / or a safety.
BTB: What do you think of the Eagles in the playoffs? One and done or could they really make some noise?
BGN: The Eagles have the ability to win a playoff game. They are strong in the trenches. Their racing game was hard to stop. Jalen Hurts is showing signs of improvement. The defense is able to make a few plays.
It’s hard to just assume the Eagles will win given their struggles against good teams. Of course, those games arrived earlier in the year before Philly really established an identity. But it’s tough to have a ton of faith in Jonathan Gannon’s defense against better quarterbacks given he’s allowed five of them (Dak Prescott included) to complete over 80% of their passes. And you’d think a playoff team might be better equipped to stop the race, putting more pressure on Hurts to carry the Eagles with his arm. Can he do that?
Make no mistake: the Eagles have their place in the playoffs. They have earned their place. But they have yet to earn the benefit of the doubt when it comes to beating the best teams in the league. I expect their wild card to come down to the wire. If they win one way or another, it will be pretty hard to imagine them leaving Lambeau Field with another win.
Thanks for the knowledge, The bleeding green nation.